It was announced that Cincinnati, Ohio television personality and performer, Bob Braun, only two years after taking over for the legendary television host, Ruth Lyons, and his talented crew would be coming to perform in Elwood’s Wendell L. Willkie High School’s massive gymnasium that was a popular vehicle for much more than indoor sports and physical education classes.
The Bob Braun Show would go up Sunday evening, March 16, 1969. My grandparents, Donna and Leroy Barmes, purchased tickets for the entire family, serving as a triple celebration for my father’s birthday (March 22), my parents’ wedding anniversary (April 4), and Mother’s birthday (April 6). I would watch the Bob Braun Show with my grandmother or my mother at lunchtime nearly every day until I began school, so I was understandably excited to be going.
Now, when I was a child, if someone said, “we’re headed to the gym” it had absolutely nothing to do with working out or personal fitness.
The Gym in Elwood, Indiana was located at the northwest corner of the Wendell L. Willkie High School’s city block-sized campus and while it was known for its impressive size for indoor sports events, it was also recognized for entertainment and the performing arts.
Every spring, the high school’s Variety Show, begun in the late 1950s, was a near-Great White Way staple for the community showcasing the concert band and choirs, under the direction of Clifford Brugger and Rex Jenkins, and the majorettes (baton’d color guard of the 1960s), choreographed by the nationally celebrated Tudy Smith, and a number of ensembles and solos. This was not just any ordinary high school presentation; it was a stellar production that continues to this day, still based on the blueprint of its solid 1950’s origins. It was my training ground for music education and theatre. The old gym was my Disney World of adventure, Main Street USA, the future, and a world of magic.
We arrived at the high school gym, early. If you were with Grandpa Leroy, you were always 30-45 minutes early! There were dressing and headquarter trailers next to the building and trucks to transport all the television equipment and costumes.
As we were seated on the southwest side of the door, a few rows up from the main floor, my grandfather slipped away to speak with a gentleman with a clipboard, giving directions to production staff. They chatted a few moments and Grandpa turned to indicate where we were seated; the gentleman made a note on his clipboard and nodded to Grandpa.
The show began and I was mesmerized. The familiar images from television were live and up close. The process of recording a television show was beyond magical.
Singing cast member, Bonnie Lou, left the stage with a bright spot light operator following her; she walked near to where we were seated.
“I understand there’s a man named Danny in the audience who will be celebrating his birthday next week. Can he stand?”
My father could be a bit shy but he had enough performance instinct to manage situations, even one like what he was about to experience.
Bonnie Lou asked an audience member for one of the vacant metal folding chairs where a large section of the audience was seated and motioned for my father to sit. looking out toward the audience; Bonnie and my father were bathed in the spotlight as she sang, “Danny Boy.”
At first I was confused because in my piano lesson book, the melody was identified as “Londonderry Air.” Did she change the words just for my dad?
For years, I thought Bonnie Lou had basically written the song for Danny Jolliff.