Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seven-Inch Vinyl excerpt - Chapter Thirteen: King of the Wild Frontier


Leo Klein, his wife Gloria, and their sixteen-year-old daughter,
Marlene, finished dinner in their apartment on Pelham Parkway.
Marlene cleared the table as the adults spent a few minutes together
before Gloria left for her weekly Mahjong game at the Adleson’s
apartment two doors down the hall.
“This is going to be the biggest Christmas season we’ve had
since the war ended,” Leo bragged.
Dark haired with sharp features, Gloria Klein was a vain woman,
who always tried to look glamorous and younger than her actual
age. She pampered herself with trinkets and jewelry. Gloria had no
real interest in the business beyond the profit margin, of which she
kept close track. As long as she could indulge in her vices, shopping
at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, a two-week vacation every summer
in the Catskill Mountains and weekly visits to the beauty parlor,
Gloria remained a happy woman. She was even happier lately since
the Rabinowitz boy starting working for her husband.
“I’m telling you, that kid has got some great ideas,” Leo went
on.
“You should give him a raise.”
“I already did, twice. He deserves more but he never asks for
anything.”
“Well, I hope he doesn’t come in one day and tell you he’s opening
up his own shop.”
His wife’s comment made him think, until he dismissed the
whole idea. “Nah, he wouldn’t do something like that.”
“So, what’s it all mean, Leo?”
“It means, my dear, that if business keeps up like this maybe we
can start looking for that house in Scarsdale you want so much.”
Gloria’s eyes widened. She dreamed of owning a house in that
plush area of Westchester County north of the city. Her younger
sister already lived there with her husband, a lawyer. To think that
she too might be able to afford a house in Scarsdale made her very
happy.
“Give the kid a raise, Leo, a big one.” She stood and walked
around the table, lingering behind him long enough to plant a kiss
on his head. The peck left a spot of red lipstick between the thinning
stands of his hair.
“Does Marlene have homework?” Leo asked.
“She’s all finished. She wants to watch that Disney program on
television tonight.”
“Television,” Leo scoffed, “another fad. Joseph will want to put
those in the store next.”
“That might not be such a bad idea. Nearly everyone we know
has one. The Feldman’s own two.”
“Two television sets? That’s ridiculous!”
Gloria was halfway out the front door. “I’m sure you’re right,
dear. I love you.”
The heavy door slammed shut before he could respond.
An hour later, Leo sat in his easy chair reading the Daily Mirror,
a newspaper he bought every morning but seldom got the chance to
read anymore. Marlene sat cross-legged on a throw rug in front of
their Dumont console television set. She was a smart, studious child
who’d yet to fall prey to the worldly pleasures her mother embraced
so vigorously.
At seven-thirty, the ABC television network broadcast another
weekly installment of Walt Disney’s “Disneyland,” a popular show
that premiered in October.
The current king of animation and creator of Mickey Mouse
had moved into television production as a way of financing his pet
project, Disneyland, a huge amusement park he planned to open in
Southern California.

On this night, viewers watched the image of Disney behind his
desk. In the background, a bouncy tune began to play. Disney’s image
faded into a series of hand drawn sketches that resembled the
panels of a comic book. The lyrics of the song described the illustrations.
They told the tale of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.
Crockett was a simple backwoodsman from Tennessee. He fought
Indians, served in Congress and would go to his death in a desperate
battle at a place called the Alamo. Disney told his viewers that this
would be the first of three installments, entitled “Davy Crockett:
Indian Fighter.”
Leo hardly took notice but Marlene was transfixed. So were
thousands of other viewers.
By the time the second and third episodes of the Davy Crockett
saga aired in February of 1955, the entire country was caught in
a “Davy Crockett” marketing frenzy. Consumers spent millions of
dollars on toys, books, clothing, or anything linked to the television
hero.

“We’re selling fur coats now?” Leo asked Joseph when he arrived
at the store to find him unpacking one of five large cardboard
boxes, which contained dozens of furry looking items. He picked
one up and examined it. “Or rats, maybe? They have tails. They
could be rats.”
Joseph took the item and placed it on his boss’s head.
“They’re coonskin caps, Davy Crockett caps. All the kids want
one.”
Boys and girls everywhere played frontiersman games in backyards,
vacant lots and city streets. They all wanted to look like their
favorite hero. The demand for raccoon fur had jumped from 25 cents
a pound to $8.00 a pound.
“So we sell hats instead of records?” Leo asked, unaware of how
silly he looked.
“No. We sell records, too.” Joseph reached down and handed
Leo a 45 record in a paper sleeve. “This one is headed up the charts
like a rocket.”
Leo read the sleeve. The record was called, “The Ballad of Davy
Crockett,” by Bill Hays.
Walt Disney realized that since Crockett’s story unfolded over
three separate segments airing nearly a month apart, he needed some
way to tie them together to flow easily from one episode to the next.
What better way than to have a catchy little tune, with several verses,
to remind viewers of what transpired before?
“Coonskin caps?” Leo complained. “Joseph, really?”
Leo didn’t notice the attention he was getting from a small child,
browsing through the store with his mother. When the boy of about
seven saw the hat on Leo’s head, he wandered away from his mother’s
side. He stood next to Leo, staring up at him.
“Mister,” the wild-eyed youngster asked, “is that a Davy Crockett
hat?”
Leo looked at him. “Why, yes it is, sonny.”
“Mommy! Mommy!” The boy hurried off yelling to his mother.
“Look, they sell Davy Crockett hats here! Can I get one, Mommy,
please?”
Leo took the hat off his head. “We can get more of these,
right?”
Joseph had a big smile on his face. “Yes, Leo we can get all we
could possibly need.”