Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Before the Band With a Thug

“Broadway Open House”? Before my time. “The Doodles Weaver Show”? Same thing. “Breakfast With Burrows” on radio? Definitely before my time. “The Gong Show”? Ah, that’s different. And that’s where I first heard the name Milton DeLugg.

His small orchestra was perhaps the only sane part of the show, a competent and enjoyable aggregation that was only involved musically. There was no hint that DeLugg had ever spoken on camera, let alone he had been a pioneer in the early days of network television.

DeLugg died this week at the age of 94.

The absolute best insight you can get into DeLugg’s career (and personality) is by heading to Kliph Nesteroff’s blog. Part One of his conversation is HERE. Part Two is HERE. It’s a terrific tete-a-tete.

How far did DeLugg go back? Well, the 1940 Census reports his occupation as “Musician, Radio Broadcasting.” He was with Matty Melnick’s band that year, and an Associated Press story that June says DeLugg’s “unruly mop of hair causes him to be known professionally as ‘O’Cedar.’”

Perhaps DeLugg’s everlasting accomplishment was he was the first sidekick bandleader when he was tabbed to provide the music for “Broadway Open House,” NBC’s first stab at late-night programming. Here’s a column that appeared in papers starting July 23, 1951. I believe it’s from the National Enterprise Association.


NEW YORK — Milton DeLugg, the droll accordion maestro of the "Broadway Open House" video program, may not be as pulchritudinously endowed as Dagmar, another alumnus of Jerry Lester's pre-midnite madness, but his wry wit, black cigar and adept musicianship have made him quite a character and attraction in his own right.
Milt’s father unknowingly started DeLugg on his musical way at the age of seven when he brought the boy home a miniature accordion. Within five years the youngster was being heralded as a boy wonder among musicians and he soon formed his own band in his Los Angeles High school.
Right now, DeLugg is at the stage of his career where he is five things at once. Although his naivete before the cameras draws laughs. Milt is foremost a musician and composer. His “Hoop-Dee-Doo” and “Orange Colored Sky” were number one songs on the Hit Parade for many weeks.
“Frankly, I didn't start out to be a comedian," he said. “At first, I didn't know whether the audiences were laughing with me or at me as I looked the part of a dupe which I had to play in many of the skits on the Lester show.”
Milt's private life seems to run true to the pattern set by his video personality. He met his wife when he was told to report to his draft board and she was behind the desk. His frau snared him first before he enlisted in the Air Force.
“Talk about the man behind the man behind the gun,” he said. “Well, my wife is the man behind the man behind the pun. Invariably people will ask me where I dream up some of my song titles as ‘Orange Colored Sky’ and ‘Hoop-dee-doo’, which seem to be a little off the beaten track.
“If I had had my way the titles would have been different and the royalties probably non-existent My wife, the supposedly steady member of the family, was the one who stumped for the whacky titles and deserves a pat on the bankbook for their long runs on Hit Parade.”
And it was his young son who badgered him into taking him for a ride on the roller coaster at Steeplechase Park. Out of that ride came his “Roller Coaster,” an impressionistic piece which the symphonies across the country are greeting very favorably.

Steady work in TV followed DeLugg after the demise of “Broadway Open House.” In fact, he spent time with the programme’s successor, “The Tonight Show.” But he was gone in less than a year. Oddly, a United Press International column of July 21, 1967 opined: “Skitch Henderson, is not at ease as a foil for Johnny Carson; he simply is not funny.”

Here’s a piece published in the Binghamton Press, April 8, 1961. It must be an NBC news release; under no other circumstances would a newspaper use the phrase “on another network.” Looking at the names, you realise that DeLugg was a connection to an earlier era of show business.

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Musician-composer Milton DeLugg became a well-known television personality as a regular on NBC-TV's first late-evening variety show Broadway Open House, then-spent a year trying to live down his fame.
"The program changed my career completely and created some serious problems for me," explains DeLugg, who is now music director for NBC-TV's The Jan Murray Show daytime color series.
"Before I went on Broadway Open House," DeLugg said, "no one heard of me. Although I had been in movies, on radio and TV, I was always in the background as a musician. But on this new informal show, everyone was involved in the hap-hazard on-camera proceedings.
"Blonde Dagmar, dancer Ray Malone, the Mellowlarks vocal croup and myself all shared the spotlight with host Jerry Lester. And the boys in the band kidded around so much the group was nicknamed ‘DeLugg's Phony Philharmonic.’"
It was when the show left the air and DeLugg sought other assignments that his fame began to hinder him. He explains, "No one would believe I was a serious musician. As a result of the show, I had become a character. Everyone had the impression I was just a comical cigar-smoking accordion player. It took me a year to live down this image and once again become accepted as a capable musician. It was an experience I'll never forget."
It was inevitable that DeLugg as a serious musician would not be long hidden. Music has been a part of his life since he was seven, when his father brought home, a pint-sized accordion. Within five years DeLugg was an expert.
In high school he formed his own band and appeared, as an amateur accordionist, on Fred Allen's radio show. (Years later, without accordion, he was music director of Allen's TV series.)
After graduation he joined the Sons of the Pioneers and was staff musician at radio stations in his native Los Anueles, playing on the Rudy Vallee show and other programs.
He has appeared in movies with Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and Jack Benny; in Broadway musicals and at some of the country's top night spots. Since Broadway Open House DeLugg has been music director of almost a dozen television shows, Including NBC's All Star Revue, Fred Allen's show and Jan Murray's Treasure Hunt. He is currently also music director of The Paul Winchell Show on another network.

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The Archive of American Television interviewed DeLugg a number of years ago. You can see it by going HERE.


  1. I read an interview with Chuck Barris in which he stated he wasn't thrilled having to work with Milton on the "Gong Show", as he thought that NBC was forcing him on Barris. That changed, as Barris said after working with Milton for a few days, "Milton was as nuts as the rest of us!"

  2. And don't forget, he scored that classic film "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."