Convention report!

I’m happy to say the Garroway at Large delegation to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention is now home after a successful and fun visit. While it was an intense two days or so, and while it was much less time than I’d have liked to spend there, it was well worth the effort.

The journey started for me at the nearest airport providing direct flights to Baltimore. It was a brief but pleasant flight up. Then at the Baltimore airport, it was off to the light rail station for what turned out to be a long ride out to Hunt Valley. As it happened, the light rail trip was longer than the flight up. At Hunt Valley itself, I found that my estimate of the place via Google Maps was mistaken, and that walking from the light rail station to the hotel took some inventiveness. A couple times I crossed myself up. But, eventually, I got there.

The Hunt Valley Delta Hotel is a sprawling hotel. It reminds me a lot of the Doubletree across from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: a lot of jogs and doglegs connecting various wings. But, like my memories of countless nights at the SeaTac Doubletree, if you’re fortunate in which room you draw, you feel like you’re staying in a nicely secluded place, and the rooms are pretty nice. I was very happy with my room, which was at the end of a corridor and had a view of a peaceful courtyard. It was certainly a nice place to unwind after a busy and slightly weird day of travel.

The next morning I headed downstairs to the convention. Now, having recently helped plan and run a large national convention, I know what the organizers of something like this are up against. And if anything went wrong while I was there, I certainly could not tell. There were plenty of volunteers on hand, all wearing bright shirts, ready to help (and staying busy helping in a hundred ways large and small). I encountered no difficulties of my own, and I didn’t see anything go off the rails in the time I spent on the convention floor. This convention was competently run and everyone I encountered seemed happy.

The hallways and one ballroom were given over to the vendors. I’ll show you a few photos, and perhaps your billfold will run in the corner and hide when you see it’s possible to find just about anything and everything there:

Here’s one of the hallways. Many vendors emphasized items related to the many celebrity guests; you could buy, for instance, that Annie poster and have Aileen Quinn sign it. (Wasn’t it only yesterday, by the way, it was 1982 and the film version of Annie was everywhere? Aileen Quinn was all over just about every magazine cover when I was a kid. And all of a sudden I’m in a vendor room and I look over and there’s a grown-up Aileen Quinn signing autographs, and I’m reminded again how time flies in this small world of ours.)

Entering the ballroom where more vendors were set up. Some of the guest celebrities were signing in here; other tables hosted some of the most amazing collections of this-and-that you could find. My wallet was not immune.

Here’s another view. Wouldn’t you just enjoy trying to get that framed art on the airplane back home? Heh.

And, this being a convention for fans of pop culture, there’s no shortage of opportunities to indulge your geekery. This particular display had a steady stream of takers.

Here’s a few wares that I found particularly interesting:

Some of those caricatures are better than others. But that one of Ray Bradbury is truly for the ages.

I grew up a Twilight Zone fan and understood what these were supposed to be. But, so help me, the only thing I could think of was a certain stanza of this song.

I’m still kicking myself for not buying this.

But the convention isn’t just about the merchandise. (It isn’t?) Nope. There are panels, presentations, movies and rare programs for the viewing, re-enactments of radio programs. Here, for instance, is a presentation by author Johnny Ray Miller about his research into The Partridge Family.

Another session featured Jeremy Ambler, Cindy Williams, Gary Conway and Dawn Wells discussing their experiences on iconic television series:

(Forgive the pixelation on this; I was at the back of the room when I took this and the next one, and the zoom on the iPhone was screaming for mercy.) This session was particularly fun. Cindy Williams shared a couple of very sweet stories about working with Robin Williams. And Dawn Wells is a hoot. If you ever get to see her, do so.

That collection of pixels depicts Shirley Jones about to take questions from the audience. I didn’t have any interactions with any of the celebrities and really wasn’t around them – the most I did was pull myself to one side in a crowded hallway to let one of them through – but from everything I saw at the signing tables and in the seminars, all the celebrity guests were grateful for the fans’ interest and interacted with them kindly.

While it was neat seeing a few famous faces, the real reason I was there was to meet people and make connections. And I met some nice folks along the way. Novelist John French was very generous with his advice on getting started in fiction, crime writing in particular, and I had him sign a couple books for me (and yes, I bought them when he signed them. Look, make your own jokes on your own blog, will you?).

There were some folks I was really hoping to meet, and I met two of the most important. One of them was Mitchell Hadley, of It’s About TV. I met up with him and his wife on Thursday morning. I wish I could tell you about our conversation, but I would have trouble describing it because (a) I don’t think 90 minutes have ever elapsed so quickly in my life, (b) we all got one another’s references on even the most obscure things about so many topics – I mean, how does a conversation that starts out talking about Dave Garroway wind around to us talking about Jimmy Clark and Swede Savage? – and (c) it was just so much fun that putting that conversation into words just would not do. I think at least half of those 90 minutes were consumed by laughter. Having only known Mitchell through his blog and through e-mail, it was great not only to put a face with the name, but to have so much fun and connect so quickly on so many levels (and to find his wife is as much fun as he is)…that was a treat.

The other really good meet-up I had? That was with Carol Ford, who was there promoting her book Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. In two really good conversations I had with her, Carol shared the lessons she’d learned while working on the book, and gave me several pointers on how to make the process less stressful for everyone involved. And I brought home a signed copy of the book, too, which I am reading and enjoying. There’s a prevailing perception about Bob Crane that’s been reinforced through the years by various stories, a motion picture, and countless tasteless jokes. Ford’s massive, incredibly well-sourced book looks at Crane as a complete human being, and works to put his story into an appropriate context. In my conversations with her, I told her I was interested in how her book handled Crane’s complex story, because we’re dealing with a complicated and sensitive story in writing about Dave Garroway. Carol was incredibly generous with her time and advice, and I am deeply grateful; as I read the book, I am learning not only how to handle such a subject, but I am also enjoying it. (Get yourself a copy, too. And now. You won’t regret doing so.)

What else did I bring home? Well, what good would it be if I spoiled the surprises now? Suffice to say that I found a few Garroway-related items; not many, but just enough to help deplete my cash supply.

Soon, it was time to get back up to the room and prepare for a really early departure. After too few hours of rest, it was out the door and waiting for the ride back to BWI. As I waited out front at 5 am, I caught a glimpse of vendor tables slumbering in the wee hours.

And all too soon, my ride was here; off to the airport, and soon I was headed home.

The world stands out on either side — no wider than the heart is wide;
Above the earth is stretched the sky — no higher than the soul is high.

It was too brief, yes, but it was too much fun. And I’ll be back soon. With some luck, it’ll be with a completed book.

Thanks to everyone who made this convention possible for everyone, and special thanks to everyone who made it extra special for me. And if you’ve never been to one of these, give it some thought. As a satisfied customer, I think you’ll be happy if you attend.

On the road again

Brief update: I’m well north and east of Irma, and well inland too. Friends and relatives in Florida report they’re safe, and that’s what matters most. We’ve had remnants range out our way, bringing a lot of rain and some wind, but nothing I haven’t seen before; we haven’t been hit the way other areas in our state have been. My husband and I are safe and dry, the power and Internet and satellite TV have all stayed on (knock wood), and our two cats have aggressively napped through it all. We are fortunate, but there have been many who have lost much, if not everything. Keep them in your thoughts, always.

Looking ahead: If all continues to go as hoped I will be headed out Wednesday morning to the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. I’ll only be there for Thursday (you can mainly thank a tighter budget than I’d like), but I’m looking forward to making the most of my time there, making a few contacts, and putting some faces with some names I know. And, of course, scouring the vendor room for items I can’t live without – related not only to Garroway, but to any of the 17 million other things I’m interested in.

If you’re planning to be there and want to say hello, drop me a note. And if you’re not…if I get a chance, I’ll post from the convention, and if I don’t I’ll write about it when I get back. And, of course, if I find anything interesting that relates to Dave Garroway, you’ll find out about it here! Stay tuned.

Detective work

Back in June I spent a day at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a long story, but Wisconsin has a huge collection of papers related to broadcast history. And, as things turned out, it’s where the NBC papers ended up. For anyone needing to conduct research into broadcast history, Wisconsin is a mandatory stop. (And don’t think one day will suffice, either. I am certain that had my schedule allowed, I could have spent a week and not scratched the surface. The NBC collection is huge.)

It had been about a decade and a half since I’d last done honest-to-goodness research in archival materials. Teaching at a small college means you don’t get much time to do research, because you have a dozen other duties demanding your attention and the day only has so many hours. Research has been one of those “I’ll get around to it” things. The Wisconsin trip let me break that cycle, and getting back into the documents was as delightful as I remembered. I had missed it, and each box the archivists brought out for me contained a new treasure.

This was my view most of the day: a big box of folders full of documents from yesteryear, each of them its own little time machine. I had little time for reverie; as soon as I opened a folder with a worthwhile document, I had the phone on my camera going like crazy capturing pages. It got really interesting in correspondence files, for so many of those documents were file copies produced with carbon paper (anybody remember that stuff?) on onion-skin paper. I’d hoped to get a copy of one especially intriguing document, only to find about ten pages in that it was just about half a ream of onion-skin paper, and I’d expend precious time and battery life to get a document not really related to Dave Garroway. (Argh! The choices we must make!)

Sometimes, though, I’d come across a box that left me speechless. For instance, a box containing the scripts, coordination charts, and other miscellany for each installment of Wide Wide World. I’ve watched this countless times, and yet before me was this:

It was the genuine, game-used (in the coordinating studio) script from that very telecast. In my hands. It was truly a moment. (And reading the script as written really drove home to me just what Dave Garroway could do with a piece of material – that little intangible something that took plain words and made them magic.)

There were dozens upon dozens of finds during that trip, and all of them will come to play somehow in this book we’re working on. But of all of them, this is definitely one of my favorites. It reminded me why I love the historian’s craft, how much I’ve truly missed it, and why I’m so glad I get to engage in it from time to time.

Well, here we are.

Happy birthday, Dave!

Welcome to Garroway at Large, an online tribute to Dave Garroway, the original Master Communicator. And more specifically, welcome to Wide Wide Blog, where we’ll occasionally post thoughts, essays, discoveries, and other musings about Dave Garroway’s life and times. We’re especially pleased to launch this on July 13, which was Dave’s birthday. (Happy 104th birthday, Old Tiger!)

Why Dave Garroway, you ask? Well, because the man’s life and work have been sadly neglected. Chances are good you know him only from his work on Today, and that your vision of him is frozen in what little there is from that first morning, or you remember him trying to keep a certain primate within the bounds of good behavior. And while it’s important to remember Dave Garroway for his time on Today, there’s more to the man than just that, or Wide Wide World, or any one program in particular, or even his broadcasting career.

As we explore Dave Garroway’s life, we are finding a man of many interests and many layers, and the portrait that is emerging is much more nuanced than the stories and rumors and legends would have you believe. Certainly Garroway had his troubles, and we shall deal with those well-known troubles in as appropriate a manner and context as possible. But there are other stories to tell of this man who was headmaster of a new school of broadcasting, a very shy and private man who somehow had the ability to look into a camera and make millions of viewers feel he was a friend talking to them and them alone. Here was a man who somehow fit dozens of interests – broadcasting, automobiles, telescopes and astronomy, engineering, music, you name it – into his life. And, sadly, here is the story of a man who was once virtually everywhere in popular culture, then vanished into obscurity, his efforts to restart his career too often ending in a fizzle.

In telling the story of this fascinating man, the journey will be long and far-ranging, and it’s already taken us many places. It will take us to many more, scouring archival holdings and conducting interviews and doing all the other tasks necessary to reconstruct Garroway’s 69 years in accuracy and detail. But we’re doing it because it’s a story worth telling, and we think you’ll learn some neat things along the way.

Along with this, we extend an invitation. We are always looking for people who somehow had a connection with Dave Garroway, because while documents and recordings can tell us much, they only go so far in telling us what the man himself was like. That’s where you could come in handy. Perhaps you met Dave Garroway, either in passing, on business, or in connection with one of his programs. Perhaps you worked with him. Or perhaps you’re related to him. (We’d especially welcome a chance to talk to Garroway’s family, especially members of his immediate family.)

Even if you didn’t have an encounter with him, perhaps you have some item of Garroway-related memorabilia, some original photos, or some rare documents. Maybe you have a recording of one of his shows that has heretofore been thought lost forever. We’d welcome hearing from you too! Just click on the “Contact” button in the menu above to get in touch with us. We’ll get back to you soon as we can (day job permitting, of course).

We’re glad to be here, and we’re happy to have this chance to honor Dave Garroway. There’s a long journey ahead, and it may well be a sentimental one. We’re looking forward to it, and we hope you’ll join us.