Vaughn Monroe, the
$1,000,000-a-year music maker, leads a youngster's idea of a perfect life.
He's a childhood dream come true . . . an airplane pilot, a six-gun-shootin'
cowboy, motorcycle speed demon, model maker, and midget-auto driver all
rolled into one.
A FRIEND of mine, age 8, was
telling me not long ago what he plans to do when he grows up. It's a real
"I wanna be an airplane
pilot, and a cowboy with a horse and pistols, and a motorcycle cop," he
"Is that all?" I asked.
"'Course, I'll need a cowboy
suit, and a flyin' uniform. And a motorcycle, naturally, and an airplane."
"Wow!" I exclaimed. "Anything
"Well, for fun I want a
midget auto, and some model trains, and a set of buildin' tools."
A pretty large order, I
figured, even for Superman. Never had I imagined that anyone could really
be an airplane pilot, a six-gun-shootin' cowboy, a motorcycle speed demon,
and a midget-auto driver all rolled into one.
It seemed even less likely
that the person who could measure up to this impossible ideal would turn
out to be a popular orchestra leader. I called it impossible, anyhow,
until I went up new England way recently and bumped into an individual
named Vaughn Monroe-- the walking, 6-foot-2 picture of my young friend's
dream come true.
Not only is virile Vaughn at
home with a horse, plane, motorcycle, or roadster, but with everything
else an 8-year-old mind could concoct: the cowboy suits, uniforms, and
guns, the model trains, the workshop full of tools.
I decided that although Peter
Pan may be the most famous literary example of a boy who refused to grow
up, Vaughn Monroe is the greatest living proof that it's possible to grow
up and get all the things that every boy wants.
I had heard it said that Mr.
Monroe was the most successful singing-band leader on the American scene
since Rudy Vallee. I had also heard critics call his singing style an
"uncultivated barbershop baritone," and other equally insulting things.
However, when I visited his home in the sedate Boston suburb of West
Newton, Mass., I discovered a group of Monroe admirers who don't really
care whether he ever sings another note.
THESE are the kids in the
neighborhood of the comfortable 10-room house where Vaughn lives with his
wife, Marion (sic) [should be spelled Marian], their two
daughters, and a mixed-breed pup named Penny. To this bunch he's the local
Pied Piper, who leads a youngster's idea of the perfect life.
When I arrived there on a
recent Sunday afternoon, I found Vaughn in the back yard, his husky frame
draped casually in blue dungarees and a sport shirt. His own blond, pretty
children, Candace, 8, and Christina, 5, were entertaining a dozen
playmates of all ages.
"Daddy, " I heard Candy say,
"you promised to take everybody for a ride. Don't' forget, you promised."
Vaughn was in the middle of
so many kids that I was reminded of the old woman in the shoe, except
that, unlike her, he knew exactly what to do.
"Make yourself at home," he
told me, "while I perform my duties."
He went to the garage and
pulled a shiny black motorcycle, with fringed leather saddlebags, out from
between a big, well-polished limousine and a slightly beat-up station
wagon. One at a time, he gave each of the older kids a ride around the
block, holding them in his lap between the handle bars. Then we all
trooped across the street to a neighbor's garage, where I found that
Vaughn kept a low-slung midget roadster. This vehicle provided thrilling
excursions for all of the younger grade-school set. Afterward there were
hamburgers for everybody, cooked by Vaughn on the back-yard fireplace.
This, it turned out, he had built, himself. In fact, I learned later that
most of the gadgets around the house were built, remodeled, or improved by
The back-yard circus which I
witnessed is a regular feature of life at the Monroes' whenever Vaughn is
at home between tours with his band. Not only is he a neighborhood hero on
the ground, but occasionally, as he shuttles back and forth between
engagements, his young followers catch a thrilling glimpse of him humming
overhead in his silvery twin-engine plane, which he pilots himself. To add
another touch of glory to the Monroe saga, they recently had the
breath-taking experience of watching him expertly rob a stagecoach, bust
up a couple of barroom brawls, and sock his leading lady in the kisser
while playing the hero of a bullet-spattered Western movie called
Singing Guns. Since last fall, for the first time, they've had Vaughn
Monroe on television.
It seemed like a good time to
try to separate Monroe the man from Monroe the $1,000,000-a-year music
maker, and find out how somebody goes about acquiring exactly what every
American boy considers the good things of life.
The way you do it, I learned
right away, is to start out by being a typical American boy. First, you
have to develop a taste for apple cider, doughnuts, popcorn, and roasted
chestnuts. These were the usual refreshments at Saturday night socials on
Vaughn's grandmother's farm in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. You have to take
naturally to swimming naked in the pond in summer, skating on the ice in
winter, and walking two miles to a one-room schoolhouse--with a snow
shovel to dig your way home on stormy days.
That was the kid of barefoot
country boyhood that Vaughn enjoyed with his brother Bill, who today is a
bass fiddle player living in Boston. Their father, Ira C. Monroe, was a
rubber engineer working at the Goodyear plant in Akron when Vaughn was
born. When Mrs. Monroe became ill during the flu epidemic after World War
I, the family went to live on the farm. After that there were camping
trips to the lakes around Akron, where Vaughn learned woodlore and
fishing, how to pitch a tent, and how to knock a can off a fence with a
VAUGHN'S musical career began
at the age of 11, when a friend of the family gave him an ancient,
corroded cornet which had been hanging in a woodshed, and Vaughn soaked it
in coal oil for week to get the valves to work.
"My folks almost put me in
the woodshed myself when I began to blast away on the thing," Vaughn told
me. "We didn't have a nickel to spare, but they decided--probably in
self-defense--to sacrifice a dollar a week for lessons."
By the time he finished
eighth grade, Vaughn was playing on key often enough so that his father
gave him a new trumpet for a graduation present.
I asked him what became of
the old cornet. "Follow me," Vaughn said, and led me into the pine-paneled
den. There, over the fireplace on a plaque, was the old-fashioned
instrument, shining like new with a coat of silver plating.
"A fellow named Edgar
Kaufman--I'd known him as a kid on the farm in Ohio--came to see me while
the band was playing in Columbus a couple of years ago," Vaughn said. "He
had this horn under his arm, and said he thought maybe I'd like to have it
back, because he'd gotten his money's worth out of it. Reminded me that
I'd sold it to him 25 years ago for a dollar, payable at ten cents a
I admired the handsome,
mahogany-colored shield on which the cornet was mounted, and also the
other furniture in the dean--a pair of lamps made from two gold-plated
trumpets, an elaborate gun rack holding 6 rifles and shotguns, an
antique-looking cobbler's bench. "Made 'em all myself," Vaughn told me
proudly. "Come on down to the workshop."
IN a room in the basement I
found another one of Vaughn's boyhood dreams come true. "I always liked to
monkey around with a hammer and saw as a kid," he explained, "but, at the
same time, it looked as if there ought to be a faster way to get things
Vaughn found the speedier and
easier way a few years back, when he bought himself a band saw with an
electric motor. He had so much fun with it that pretty soon everybody who
wanted to give him a birthday or Christmas present went out and bought him
another power tool. Members of the Monroe band, I learned, have chipped in
together and contributed a ripsaw, wood lather, metal lathe, drill press,
and planer, and a fancy instrument called a rabbeter, which can make the
edge of a board look like lace work. Vaughn now spends half his spare time
in the basement, knee-deep in sawdust.
I noticed also, a dozen or
more model trains scattered around the house, and asked Vaughn which of
the girls--Candy or Christy--like to play with them. "I like to play with
them myself," was the answer.
Mrs. Vaughn Monroe tells band leader
hubby to take
|There's no stopping Vaughn when he's
making things in his home workshop. So his wife, Marian, has to
bring him lunch on a tray.
Vaughn went on to explain
that when the Monroe band played its first big-time theater engagement at
the Paramount, in New York, in 1941, he found out, as he put it, "That you
can go crazy sitting around a dressing-room waiting for the next show to
go on--especially if you're doing five shows a day." So, to keep from
going batty, he took to carrying a model kit and some tools in his
luggage, and gradually assembled his present collection of miniature
locomotives, freight trains, and passenger cars.
In fact, Vaughn confessed
that his luggage, when on the road, calls for extra-strong porter and
band-boys to haul it around. This is because it contains enough dumbbells,
weights, and various other athletic equipment to fill a small gym. Vaughn
believes firmly in exercise, because he used to be a skinny kid who wanted
to fill out and look like a man. Today, as a 38-year-old singer, band
leader, and budding movie and television star, his problem is somewhat
different, namely, to keep the scales from bouncing much higher than 200
pounds when he steps aboard.
Back when he was still
scrawny and underweight, one of the ambitions he shared with most other
kids was to fly an airplane through the wild blue yonder. It wasn't until
1938, however, when he was a young singing trumpet player for a pair of
Boston society band leaders named Jack and Harry Marshard, that he
actually applied for a student pilot's license and began hedge-hopping
around the countryside.
No one objected to this hobby
until a couple of years later, when a tall, blond high-school sweetheart
of Vaughn's named Marion (sic) Baughman finally consented to marry
him. One of the first things she asked was whether flying was really
necessary. Vaughn pointed out that a band leader had to travel constantly,
and that if he had his own plane he could get home a lot oftener between
engagements. Marion (sic) decided to accept this argument.
Vaughn's first plane was a
bright yellow two-seater which he named Cantina, combining the names of
his two baby daughters, Candace and Christina. To show Marion (sic)
how safe it was to fly, he suggested one Sunday afternoon that they hop up
from New York to Bridgeport, Conn., to visit some friends. The weather was
beautiful, and they didn't start back until almost nightfall.
Marion (sic), herself,
described the return flight to me. "In that little plane, I felt as if I
were hanging onto a kite tail in the dark," she said. "I kept acting like
a back-seat driver, pestering Vaughn and asking him if he knew where we
were and which way we were going. He kept saying yes, yes, yes. Finally, I
asked him whether he'd ever made a night landing before. 'No, I haven't,'
he hollered. 'Now kindly let me alone so I can fly this airplane in
"After that," Marion (sic)
told me, "I just shut up and prayed."
They got down to earth
safely, and since then Vaughn has logged up 2,000 hours at the controls.
He has taken to collecting airplanes the way some successful men collect
race horses or chorus girls--never satisfied that the one they have is the
fastest and prettiest available.
SOON after buying the little
two-seater, Vaughn decided that it wasn't comfortable for business travel,
and traded it in for a 4-passenger ship--named Cantina II. A year later he
found he needed more speed and cruising range, and bought a twin-engine
5-seater--Cantina III. Then he thought it would be a fine idea to have a
ship that could carry most of the band members, while the baggage and
instruments traveled by bus. The result of this plan was Cantina IV, a
powerful 14-passenger airplane which it took two pilots to handle.
Vaughn's boyish enthusiasm
had carried him too far this time. Cantina IV turned out to be so big that
she couldn't use the landing fields in many of the small towns where the
band played one-night stands. Vaughn's bunch often found themselves
dropped at the nearest large municipal airport, with 50 weary miles left
to travel overland to the job.
Today he has compromised with
a smaller Cantina V, a two-engine plane which carries 6 passengers--or
used to, anyhow, until Vaughn had two of the seats torn out to make room
for extra fuel tanks and navigating equipment. Like a school kid hanging
coon tails and spotlights on his hot rod, Vaughn has filled Cantina V with
practically every instrument known to commercial flying., including a gyro
pilot, and instrument landing system, ground-control approach system, and
If anyone asks him about the
risks of flying nowadays, Vaughn tells them about the occasion last year
when Cantina V was grounded owing to bad weather, and he had to travel by
bus with the rest of the band from Richmond, Va., to Morgantown, W. Va.
Halfway through the trip the passengers smelled something burning. The
smell got worse. Finally the driver stopped and everyone made a dash for
the door. As Vaughn jumped out last, flames leaped from a rear wheel, and
in 20 minutes the bus was a charred mass of steel, with thousands of
dollars' worth of instruments and luggage cooked to a crisp inside.
"Nothing like that ever happened to me in a plane," Vaughn told me.
Vaughn's faith in airplanes
is, in fact, second only to his confidence in his own musical ability.
This he has in spite of the anti-Monroe propagandists who call him "old
Mellow Bellow," and "the voice with hair on its chest." Nor is he bothered
by the musical know-it-alls who complain Vaughn Monroe is becoming as
famous as Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring, or Bing Crosby, although he has
neither the original musicianship of Whiteman or Waring, nor the natural
vocal talent of Crosby.
Vaughn's dazzling glow of
self-confidence dates back to the year when his family moved to Cudahy,
Wis., just as Vaughn was about to enter high school. He found that in
Cudahy the school band was an even more important activity than the
football team. He proceeded to make a name for himself by becoming one of
the star brass players, and at 14 won the Wisconsin State trumpet
championship with a soul-stirring interpretation of a piece called
Pearl of the Ocean.
"We all went down to
Milwaukee for the contest," Vaughn recalls, "and John Philip Sousa was
there. He directed the combined high-school bands from all over the state.
I've never heard so much noise before or since, and I decided right there
that I was going to be a band leader like Sousa when I grew up."
That determination lasted
until Vaughn was 17. By that time the family was living in Jeannette, Pa.,
where Vaughn completed his last two years of high school, and where he had
his first date with Marion (sic). One evening he dropped in at the
Methodist church, picked up a hymnal, and joined the choir rehearsal.
Afterward, the director told him she needed another bass singer, and to
come regularly. That was the end of John Philip Sousa and the beginning of
the vocal ambition which has made Vaughn Monroe the most successful
singing band leader in business today.
NOT that Vaughn planned to
become a popular crooner. His goal was to make himself a great opera
singer or a star of the concert stage--a Lawrence Tibbett or a John
Charles Thomas. He decided to go to college and study music, but since
there was no money for higher education in the Monroe bank account, he
first got a job as a mold-man's helper in the tire plant where his father
worked. For a year Vaughn wrestled heavy tire molds all day and played
trumpet in a dance band two or three nights a week.
He enrolled at Carnegie Tech,
in Pittsburgh, the following year, and signed up for voice lessons, piano
lessons, harmony, theory, languages. In order to learn to move gracefully,
he took up fencing.
This program was supposed to
produce a great American basso for the opera and concert stage, but,
unfortunately, the plan collapsed in 1931 because of lack of funds. Vaughn
left college to go on the road with a dance orchestra, and spent the next
four years in constant travel.
In 1935, the Marshard
brothers, whose lucrative specialty was providing music for the coming-out
parties of millionaires' daughters around Boston, offered Vaughn a job. He
took it for two reason. The first was that he liked Boston, and wanted to
make his home there. The second was that he hadn't forgotten his ambition
to become a first-rate singer instead of a second-rate trumpet player. He
settled down to his do-re-mi-fa's once more at the New England
Conservatory of Music.
The Marshards, however,
decided that Vaughn would make a presentable band leader for their deb
parties, and put him in front of a 6-piece unit. During the winter of
1940, while Vaughn's group was playing at a hotel in Miami, Fla., Jack
Marshard and a New York band manager named Willard Alexander dropped in
one night to check up on things. Alexander had heard that Vaughn could
warble a few notes, and had a hunch that a singing band leader might be a
novelty for the public. It was decided that night that Vaughn would put
away his trumpet and be groomed as a big name in the music business.
His reaction to this stroke
of fortune was to put in a long-distance call to Jeannette, Pa. When
Marion (sic) answered the phone, she wasn't sure whether she was
listening to a poor connection or whether Vaughn was talking from under a
bar stool. Finally she figured out that he was trying to ask her to marry
him. Being a cautious girl with business training, she told him to put it
in writing. She still has the letter.
Once married, the Monroes'
first home was a $20-a-month cottage near a roadhouse outside Boston
called Seiler's Ten Acres, where Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra were
introduced to an unenthusiastic public. Vaughn's take-home pay amounted to
$25 a week during this first summer, even with Marion (sic) doing
the bookkeeping for the band.
To make things worse, Jack
Marshard--who was since killed in an auto crash--decided that as a popular
jazz singer Vaughn was strictly from the New England Conservatory of
Music. In other words, nowhere. He hauled a recording machine up to
Seiler's, and a vocal coach from New York named Ticker Freeman, who set
out to cut Vaughn's overdeveloped tonsils down to microphone size and turn
his booming basso into a domesticated baritone.
This program worked so well
that a year later the RCA-Victor company signed the refurbished Monroe
voice and band to a recording contract. The band played its first big date
the Paramount Theater in New York not long after, and was soon playing in
hotels and dance halls all over the country, and broadcasting a weekly
radio show on the CBS network
Being a mere band leader,
however, had never been Vaughn's idea of a great career. He decided that
if he couldn't become an opera singer right away, why not try something a
little different--namely, horse opera? If he couldn't be Faust or Figaro,
maybe he could at least give Hopalong Cassidy a run for his money. There
was only one drawback: He didn't know how to ride a horse.
Vaughn set out to remedy this
shortcoming with his usual determination. The members of his band began to
wonder why their leader disappeared every afternoon, in whatever city,
town, or whistle stop they happened to be playing. They never guessed that
Vaughn had suddenly gone crazy over horses, and was patronizing the local
Also as a subtle part of the
build-up, Vaughn began singing more and more Western ballads, in an effort
to persuade his public that he was a sure-'nough rootin'-tootin' cowhand
from the lone prairie. It got so bad a couple of years ago that you
couldn't' get near a radio or juke box without hearing him blasting out
some melancholy Western ditty like "Cool Water."
AT THIS point Hollywood was
convinced, and Republic Pictures, which have probably produced more
oat-fed films than any other studio, dressed Vaughn up in a sombrero and
pistol belt and turned him loose on an old-fashioned thriller called
Singing Guns. They gave him a couple of songs to sing, a pretty
heroine to slap around before the final kiss, and a double-crossing
so-and-so to exterminate with his trusty 6-guns.
Vaughn is proudest, however,
of the way he got along with the range hands and wranglers on the set in
Arizona, where the picture was made. "They looked at me at first like I
was the world's lowest from of animal life--a band leader trying to act
like a cowboy. When they introduced me to my horse, everybody seemed
surprised that I knew which side to get up on. Then I showed them I could
do a running dismount, without breaking a leg, and after that everything
Today Vaughn Monroe is no
longer just an entertainer, but is engaged in a large-scale business
enterprise. In addition to being president of Vaughn Monroe Productions,
Inc., the corporation which reaps the $1,000,000-a -year rewards of his
band business, he also has an interest in the movies in which he will
appear, owns a small music-publishing company, and is a major partner in a
mammoth country restaurant outside Boston know as The Meadows.
This last investment occurred
4 years ago, after Vaughn put in a bid to buy Seiler's Ten Acres--the same
spot where he once earned $25 a week. He offered the owners $50,000, but
the place was snatched up by a rival band leader. Vaughn's answer was to
pitch in with the Marshards and another partner, buy out a turkey farm in
a superior location on a main highway, and build on it a $500,000
ranch-style dine-and-dance establishment seating 1,100 guests. The Meadows
did $120,000 of business in its best month this year.
It has been estimated that
all the Monroe enterprises together roll up a gross of about $2,000,000
yearly. Yet, in spite of the rich, full life he leads today, some of
Vaughn's friends told me that he actually is a frustrated person, and that
he has never been happy since he gave up studying for grand opera and
switched to what some people call his "million-dollar monotone."
I questions Vaughn on this
subject, and am happy to report that there's no truth to the rumors. In
the first place, he feels that most of his youthful ambitions have been
fulfilled. The schoolboy who wanted to ride a motorcycle, drive a snappy
automobile, and fly an airplane now does all three.
Nor does Vaughn believe for a
minute that he ruined his classically trained voice by singing popular
tunes. He points to Ezio Pinza, who went form opera to Broadway to
Hollywood, and Dorothy Kirsten, who switched from opera to radio duets
with Frank Sinatra, and back to opera again.
It wouldn't surprise Vaughn
in the least--thought it would certainly surprise everyone else in the
music world--if he turned up on the Broadway stage in a show like South
Pacific. It wouldn't even surprise him if the gold curtain of the
Metropolitan Opera parted some evening and revealed his manly frame to the
occupants of the Diamond Horseshoe. "I can still sing the prologue to
Pagliacci," he told me proudly.
I DECIDED that probably the
only boyhood ambition which Vaughn had actually outgrown was the one we
all remember from early childhood, when we were told that some day we
could be President. But I discovered later that I may have been wrong
about that, too.
I learned that a couple of
years ago--on April 15, 1948, to be exact--a member of the legislature in
Vaughn's adopted state of Massachusetts invited him and his orchestra to
perform for the assembled lawmakers in the State Capitol. The idea was
that the Monroe organization was a credit to the commonwealth, and
deserved this unusual form of recognition.
It was quite an occasion.
Both houses of the legislature assembled in the State House, and Vaughn
and the band arrived in a bus, followed by 1,000 cheering school kids,
some of whom got by the guards and swarmed onto the floor. The band played
a few numbers, and Vaughn sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" from the
In discussing the unique
performance with me, Vaughn pointed out that politics and showmanship are
very much alike. "I don't see why an experienced band leader wouldn't make
a darned good public official," he said.
I've been mulling over this
point of view, and I wouldn't be surprised, some day soon, to hear that
Vaughn Monroe has descended by airplane in the middle of a crowed of
cheering fans, played them a chorus of "Stars and Stripes Forever" on his
trumpet, sung the prologue to Pagliacci, and announced his
candidacy for the highest office in the land. Anyhow, if the kids in his
neighborhood were old enough to vote, I'll bet he could at least get
elected mayor of West Newton.