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A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to a Career

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to a Career

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A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to a Career

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3 horas
Dec 18, 2013


Bill Saylor provides an interesting well written trip through the last half of the Twentieth Century. His insights are those honed by years of an observer who was bound to report the facts. His disappointments and successes are detailed with his humor close at hand. His experience covering the nudist convention is, shall we say, reveling and worth the price of admission.
J. Richard GrayMayor, City of Lancaster, PA

The pleasure of reading Mr. Saylors biography and historical narrative comes from his wealth of anecdotes. Enriched by the details of a life lived with passion, spontaneity, and frequently on the edge, readers will be transported by boyhood adventures during the Great Depression, coming of age near the mid-20th Century, career struggles and successes, as well as, personal triumphs and disappointments. For readers familiar with life and personalities in Lancaster, PA in the 1960s - 1990s, this is a must-read.
Sally LyallChair, Lancaster County Democratic Committee

Dec 18, 2013

Sobre el autor

Bill Saylor decided to share his life with all his friends. His book begins with his childhood, proceeds to his Naval career, the many jobs he performed, his life as a broadcaster, first in radio, then television, and finally politics. Along the way there is a great emphasis on baseball, a major part of his life. What American kid doesn't have a baseball background?

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A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to a Career - Bill Saylor



1 -   In The Beginning

2 -   Old Reading

3 -   The School Years

4 -   Family Ties

5 -   From Saylor To Sailor

6 -   Back To Baseball

7 -   The Wonderful World Of Work

8 -   The Radio Days

9 -   The Big Jump To The Small Screen

10 -   A Special Kind Of Television Market

11 -   How Stories Are Made. Finding The Hook

12 -   Trust And Honor

13 -   Producers

14 -   Fame And Fortune

15 -   Greener Pastures

16 -   Fighting Fear

17 -   Star Struck And Ego

18 -   Precious Moments

19 -   Kids Made It Worthwhile

20 -   Beauty In The Buff

21 -   The Union Came

22 -   The World Of Politics




In the Beginning

I WAS NOT BORN IN a log cabin. I think it’s important to establish that from the outset. I wish I could say I had been, but it just isn’t so. People who were born in log cabins always seem to have more interesting stories to tell. Actually, my great grandfather was born in a log cabin. I know that doesn’t count, but I thought I’d mention it for whatever it’s worth.

We couldn’t afford a log cabin. So, during my earliest years we lived in a house owned by my grandmother. That isn’t a complaint, but merely a statement of fact. I suppose we were relatively poor. After all, it was during, what they called, the Great Depression, and we certainly weren’t rich. Still, I often felt sorry for some of my friends in the neighborhood who had a lot less. If we were poor, and I didn’t realize it, it was because no one told me. My Father had a way of making the most dismal things seem absolutely perfect. When he burned a piece of toast, he would say, Ah, golden brown, just the way I like it. And I believed it.

I believed everything. I was not only the eternal optimist, I was also incredibly naive. Friends and neighbors would tell me outrageous stories and I believed them. It never occurred to me that anyone would lie. Why would they tell me something that wasn’t true? Part of the set of family values I learned as a young boy was that you always tell the truth. But, if no one got hurt, you could embellish a story just a bit.

I can still remember my Dad telling me how he almost single-handedly won World War I. He had never been in the service, but that didn’t matter. I believed it anyway. Another favorite was the story of his long bicycle trip miles from home. He told me of a sudden thunderstorm, that developed, and how he had to race home 20-30 miles. The raindrops never touched anything but the rear fender. Preposterous? Yes but I believed it for many years. One day, I retold the story. My Father, upon hearing it, asked if I really believed it. I said of course I did. When he said it was just an entertaining tale he had made up, I was stunned.

Did I become a cynic? Did I suddenly take things people told me with a grain of salt? No. Although I was a slight bit more skeptical, I maintained an abiding faith in people’s basic honesty. At times, in later life, it hurt me.

All this took place in Reading, Pennsylvania, in a working class neighborhood, in a working class city. Reading has often been described as the poor man’s San Francisco, not because of an abundance of great restaurants, or an overwhelming air of sophistication, but because of the steep hills and streets. Some of those streets would have been better served with cable cars than automobiles, especially in the winter.

For all that Reading lacked in big city sophistication, it made up in other redeeming qualities. People lived by strong family values. I can’t ever remember locking a front door, or fearing the loss of personal belongings left outside overnight. It was that kind of town. Growing up, I couldn’t have imagined living anywhere else in the world.

The city had schools within walking distance, parks, playgrounds, ball fields, trolley cars with 7 cent fares, minor league baseball, college football, a fantastic amusement park and neighborhood ice cream stores. What more could a kid ask for?

The Things That Made Life Sweet

I suppose I was a child of the times. As I mentioned earlier, we were not rich. It was the time of the depression and items of luxury were not everyday things. For that reason, every little thing seemed to have taken on an even greater importance.

I will always remember the ice cream men. Each day, during the hot, sticky summers, they came with their horse drawn wagons. We could hear them a block away, and we raced indoors to ask for a nickel for ice cream. (Yes, a nickel went a long way in those days). There were two ice cream companies and they could be identified by the color of their wagons. The Reading Ice Cream Company had bright white wagons. The Crystal Ice Cream Company had yellowish, cream colored wagons. I preferred the bright, white Reading Ice Cream Company wagons because they looked cleaner. They had one thing in common. The horses that pulled them seemed to know the route better than the drivers.

When the horse and wagon stopped in the middle of the street, a crowd of kids immediately surrounded it, shouting their orders. There was quite a selection. There were Popsicles, Creamsicles, Icesicles and the ever-popular ice cream sandwiches, which consisted of a large brick of ice cream (usually divided into chocolate, vanilla and strawberry) placed between two wafers, that were a cross between a waffle and an ice cream cone. The ice cream was usually so cold that when you bit into it, the wafers lifted away at both ends and crumbled as you tried to eat it. My favorite was an item known as the Cho Cho. It was sort of chocolate ice cream on a stick, wrapped in paper. The trick in eating it was to roll it between your hands until you produced enough heat to release the cone shaped ice cream from the paper wrapping.

The ice cream wagons weren’t the only temptation for the kids. Kercher’s Ice Cream and Candy corner store was just a block away from my house, and just across the street from my first school. There we could get ice cream sodas, the usual Popsicles, sodas and everything else kids loved.

During that time, there was a special incentive to buy Popsicles. After eating the frozen delicacy, you next checked the stick. If it had the magic word FREE printed on it, you were entitled to another Popsicle at no cost. Of course, it didn’t happen often, but I can still remember the kind of day kids dreamed of, when my luck came through. I licked the stick, turned it over, and there it was, FREE. I had a second Popsicle and there it was again, another free one. So, I ate the third one, and again the word FREE appeared. After stuffing down four Popsicles, and feeling like the luckiest kid alive, I suddenly realized that I could have saved the stick for another day. But, in the excitement of the moment, I felt it had to be done immediately or the magic would go away.

There was more to Kercher’s, though. The proprietor had a huge glass display case filled with penny candy. For just a few cents, it seemed possible to fill your pocket with enough chewy delights to last forever. That was the good part. The bad part was that I usually became so entranced with the candy; I was unable to make a decision. Financial decisions of that magnitude were not meant to be made hastily. So, I frequently missed the school bell.

The bell was a large brass thing with a steel clapper inside and a wooden handle. Each morning, a student (we called him the Teacher’s Pet) got the privilege of running around the school, loudly ringing the bell, telling all that it was time for school to begin. Missing it meant that I had to walk into the classroom late, while the teacher and the class recited, A dillar, a dollar, a 10 o’clock scholar. It was a bit embarrassing, but I got used to it.

Kercher’s also had a special deal, which came in handy during the summer months. We could take a quart jar or bottle to the counter, name a flavor and see it mixed with seltzer water, producing an entire quart of soda for a nickel.

And if that was a bargain for the kids, even the grown-ups got a deal. My uncle and all his friends who had graduated from high school and couldn’t find jobs hung around outside and talked big guy talk. Their deal was that they could go inside and buy single cigarettes for a penny apiece. Back in those days, a pack of Luckies, Old Golds or Chesterfields cost about 20 cents a pack, but if you were economical, you could get a pack of Wings for 11 to 14 cents a pack, and there was even a card inside with a color picture of a World War II fighter plane.

Another piece of nostalgia was the introduction of Pepsi Cola, the new kid on the block in soft drink sales. For years, Coca Cola had been king, but coke bottles were not really very big. So, Pepsi came out with a much bigger cola for the same price and even marketed it with a catch slogan. Who could forget the melody and the words of the jingle? Pepsi Cola hits the spot. Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot. Twice as much for a nickel, too. Pepsi Cola is the drink for you. In an age where frugality was a necessity, it appealed to kids everywhere, and Pepsi became a hit.

We were kids of the street. As soon as we were released, we hit the open door and we were gone. There was so much to do. When we weren’t catching baseball, we were playing street games. There weren’t many cars on the streets in those times, so the street became a magnificent playground. On any given day the neighborhood kids could be found engaged in such games as three-step mickey, bat the wicket, hide and seek, or even one called lemonade that today would closely resemble Charades.

In the fall and winter months, we played football; running pass patterns designed around telephone poles and parked cars. There weren’t many parked cars in those days. Most people in the neighborhood couldn’t afford a car. For many years I remembered the street as being very wide. It wasn’t until many years later, when I returned, that I saw that there was barely room enough for parked cars on one side and a single lane of traffic. As a kid, the street was ours. It was only on a seldom occasion when we returned from school and saw a Buick parked along the street that we said, Wow, someone must be sick. Only Doctors owned Buicks and, yes, they made house calls.

In our street football games, we even mastered the trick of dropkicking field goals over the electric wires that crossed the street. Everyone knows that dropkicking is a lost art but, in our day, we were experts.

We were never far from home, and occasionally the games were interrupted by the melodic voice of one of the mothers, beckoning her offspring to finish up and get home.

The hot, sticky days were rivaled by the hot, sticky nights, and one of the occasional treats was the arrival of the watermelon wagon. Like the ice cream wagons, it, too, was horse drawn, but was a considerably larger, long, almost flat, wooden wagon piled high with watermelons. The driver moved the cumbersome wagon slowly through the street shouting in a high-pitched voice, Watermelons. Cold, fresh watermelons. The response to the call was like the response to the ice cream wagons, except that it brought the mothers from their homes and into the street.

Buying a watermelon wasn’t a simple task. The neighborhood women would carefully examine the large green fruit for bruises or blemishes. They would tap the thick skin with their knuckles, listening intently for something only discernible to the well-trained ear. Even after finding the perfect melon, the selection process wasn’t finalized. My Mom, like the other women, would ask that the melon be plugged. The driver would take a sharp knife and cut a triangular piece for the final taste test.

When the final choice was made, we got big slices of the cold, refreshing red fruit. There were fewer ways better to cool off a summer evening, than cold fresh dripping watermelons. Half the fun of eating it was watching the other kids with streams of the watermelon juice dripping off their chins and down their shirtfronts. Of course, we were told not to let it drip on our clothes, but the warning was to no avail. You just can’t eat watermelon neatly. And, of course, the tasty treat was followed by a battle of seed spitting. That was later followed by the admonition, Just look at yourself. You are a mess. Get those clothes off and get in the tub. The dreaded bath which meant the end of a day on the streets.

Actually the end of the day wasn’t all that bad. Of course we missed the street games and hated to see them end. But the evening hours were also very rewarding. Our family had dinner together and when we were finished we shared long talks and even some very interesting games my Father made up. Sometimes he suggested famous phrases and we had to decide who originated them. But it was really the sharing of the family at dinner time that was so rewarding.

After dinner we retreated to the living room and it was radio time. We had one of the old fashioned radios. It stood about 5 feet high and was supported by finely carved legs that held up the radio itself. My Father and Mother would sit on chairs on either side, and my brothers and I would sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the huge radio. Together we would listen to such old time favorites shows as Crime Marches On and Inner Sanctum, a really good and frightening horror show. When the show began we would turn out the lights and listen in the dark. As the show progressed each of us got really scared and upon its conclusion, my Father would ask us if we were frightened. Of course we denied any fear and tried to look as brave as we could. It was quite an act because we were scared to death.

It’s hard to imagine how today’s youngsters can whine and complain that there’s nothing to do. Are there no streets? Are there no more neighborhood kids? Are there no more street games waiting to be played? I loved my neighborhood, my friends and the time we were lucky enough to be able to share.

The Movies

Then, there were the movies. From an early age, I developed a love for movies. It wasn’t entirely by choice. My father was a projectionist and it followed that I would spend a great part of my growing years in a darkened theater, watching and listening to the early screen greats. My father held the distinction of being the first projectionist at Reading’s legendary Astor Theater. In my early years, a Saturday matinee featured a few short subjects, a cartoon, the newsreel, a weekly chapter, a full length feature film, and, if that weren’t enough, a full scale stage production with a big band and novelty acts of tap dancing, ice skating, magic acts, and even a major star or two. The modest price of admission brought several hours of top entertainment.

In our family, my Mother usually did all her shopping on Saturday morning. That meant my older brother and I were dropped off at the Astor with my Father. We got there an hour or more before it all began, and carried the huge film cans to the top of the large building. (I later learned that the Astor boasted the highest projection booth in the city. Of course that came as no surprise to my brother and me. We managed to find games to play while Dad cranked a handle that ran the films through his fingers as he checked for bad splices. Then, there was some editing of his own as he inserted the coming attractions and other short subjects onto the reels, scribed the cue marks which appeared in the upper corner of the screen as a cue for the projectionist to start the next projector. I was always amazed that most people never even noticed the reel changes, which occurred without missing a word. It was the magic of movies, and my Dad made it happen.

When the show started, my brother and I would depart the booth for a pair of seats in the empty balcony. The balcony was rarely used on Saturday mornings, so we had choice seating. We watched show after show, including the stage productions, and by the third showing, we were able to recite the lines along with Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, Jimmy Cagney or any of the other movie stars. As we watched, we ate cheese sandwiches, my Mother had prepared, to hold us over for the hours we spent in that deserted balcony. The Astor was my baby sitter and I never complained.

I’ll never forget the thrill of hearing the big band sounds, slightly muffled by the huge curtains, and when the curtains parted and the full sound hit us, it took our breath away. The stage show was an act of precision, and it was during that time that my Father became a major part of show business. As each band member was featured, or skaters raced from one side of the stage to the other, he followed them with various colored spotlights. As a kid I never fully appreciated all that my Dad did. He made the show come to life, and most of the time, there was little or no time for rehearsal.

There were, of course a few extras. My brother and I got to meet many of the stars. Just imagine the thrill of walking out through the lobby on our way home, and noticing Curly, Moe and Larry, the

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