Ask Mr. Know-It-All ‘American Idol’ of an earlier day

Sunday June 3, 2012

United Feature Syndicate

Q: I grew up on the East Coast in the late ‘50s. There was a weekly talent show called "The Ted Mack Amateur Hour."

Did any of the acts from that show ever make the big time? I guess it was a prelude to "American Idol" without all the fluff.

D.W., Manhattan Beach, Calif.

A: "The Original Amateur Hour" has its roots in radio. Major Edward Bowes created the program in 1934; Bowes also played the role of master of ceremonies. He left the show in 1945.

Ted Mack, Bowes’ assistant, took over hosting duties in 1948. At the same time, the program made its debut on DuMont Television Network with Mack as host.

When "The Original Amateur Hour" was canceled in September 1970, it had the distinction of being one of only a few TV shows to have appeared on all four television networks.

Some contestants did, in fact, become at least minor celebrities, but only a few became really big stars.

In the early TV days, two of the greatest successes were Gladys Knight and Pat Boone. Success stores later in the show’s history include Ann-Margret and Irene Cara.

During its radio days (which lasted until 1952), the biggest success was Frank Sinatra.

Q: Is John Russell (who starred in the Western "Lawman") the husband of actress Jane Russell? And is he still living?

C.A.B., York, Pa.

A: John Lawrence Russell (1921-1991) was an American actor and World War II veteran. He is most noted for playing Marshal Dan Troop in the successful ABC television Western "Lawman" from 1958 to 1962. He was married twice; neither of his spouses was named Jane Russell.

Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell (1921-2011) was an American film actress. She was one of Hollywood’s leading sex symbols in the 1940s and 1950s. Russell walked down the aisle three times, but with only one John -- John Calvin Peoples.

Q: In baseball, an easy-to-catch high pop fly to the outfield is called a "can of corn." Why?

D.D., Studio City, Calif.

A: As I often say, there are a lot of theories on this, but this one makes an awful lot of sense to me.

Let’s take a look at the "easy catch" part. In the 19th century, a grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from high shelves was to use a stick with a hook on the end. The grocer would tip the canned item and let it fall into his open apron. Corn was often the most popular canned item in a store, so it was stocked on a lower shelf, making for an easy catch.

Another theory states that in the very early days of baseball, the outfield was called the "cornfield." In early amateur baseball, especially in the Midwest, the outfield may have been a farm field. Think of the movie "Field of Dreams."


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