Wednesday 1 May 2019

Acting By DeVol

One of the most inspired bits of casting on Fernwood 2 Night was Frank DeVol as humourless bandleader Happy Kyne.

DeVol’s name was well-known to TV credit watchers. I think I saw it first on My Three Sons. He also wrote The Brady Bunch theme in 1969. DeVol’s musical career went back far before that. His obit in the National Post tells of how he joined the musicians union when he was 14, played at a Chinese restaurant in Canton, Ohio to save money for a saxophone, and after fronting a band in the 1930s, wound up in California working for Lockheed during the war. It was there a radio station on the Mutual network asked him to lead its studio orchestra. He scored his first picture, World For Ransom, in 1954, for $3,500 (“I never turn anything down,” he once gave as his reason).

DeVol got away from his charts and got on camera at the dawn of the coaxial cable age on TV, though he first appeared on local television in Los Angeles. It’s nice to see he was interviewed a number of times in the days before Fernwood. Here’s an Associated Press story from November 30, 1950.
New Sound in Music

HOLLYWOOD (AP)—Frank DeVol has generous-sized ears and a deadpan expression. The ears recently devised what he calls a new sound in music. The expression masks an astonishing talent that keeps goading him on to new melodic enterprises.
He rises at 4 a. m. to work on musical arrangements. Five nights a week he broadcasts coast to coast with Jack Smith, Dinah Shore, and Margaret Whiting. He makes at least one phonograph record a week. He's preparing to crack TV and has accordingly dieted off 20 pounds. Drama lessons two nights a week are training him for comedy skits. And next summer he'll barnstorm around the nation's ballrooms with his new, 22-member dance band.
"Frank DeVol and His Music of the Century" it was named in a nationwide contest conducted by about 2,200 disc jockeys. The winning suggestion paid $500 to Mrs. H. L. Davis, 26, a housewife living in a trailer at Dodge City, Kan. Between 500 and 600 listeners suggested '"Music for All by (or with) Frank DeVol." A Southerner in Athens, Ga., gave the idea a drawl: "Music for You-All."
DeVol wanted a new tonal style for his orchestra. It came about almost by accident. A couple of stenographers at the network studio were listening to one of Frank's nightly arrangements. "They said, 'What's that? You ought to do more of that'." Frank relates. "An alto flute, which has a deeper tone than a regular flute, carried the melody. Three clarinets played harmony, and an alto sax doubled the melody, an octave lower, without tremolo."
A piano or celeste in Frank’s experiments with his new sound plays the same notes as the five winds, giving them a ringing quality. A Minneapolis fan letter called the effect "clean and modern."
DeVol's smaller radio orchestra is in its third year on the air for the same sponsor. He's readying the new one for possible TV deals and nearby one-night dance stands. Radio employment of musicians here is dropping off, he reports. “Musicians who had four shows now have two; those who had two have none. A lot are leaving for New York, where television is really booming.”
But Frank thinks that in five years Hollywood's pleasanter climate and time differential—coast-to-coast programs are over three hours earlier here—will make this the TV capital.
What about his acting? He appeared on one of Betty White’s shows in the 1950s (with a rug). His biggest role before he arrived in Fernwood, Ohio may have been in the short-lived comedy I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster. Here’s a story from December 1, 1962. There’s no byline, so this could be a production company or network release.
Musician Frank DeVol Doubles as an Actor
HOLLYWOOD—Frank DeVol, the baldish Mr. Bannister who bosses Harry Dickens and Arch Fenster in ABC-TVs comedy series, "I'm Dickens . . . He's Fenster," has two identities.
"Music by DeVol" is his trademark and billing in the recording and concert fields.
As Frank DeVol, actor, he's carving a niche for himself as a droll comic on TV, and occasionally in movies.
The musician is sorely tempted to give way to the comedian-actor identity, he reports, despite the security and worldwide recognition he has received for many years as a conductor and arranger.
"I'm really hipped on this Bannister character," he says. "And I'll have to admit that the applause which comes from the live audience for some of my contributions to the show is music to my ears.
"I could be very happy in this sort of activity for the rest of my professional life.
"I find myself composing far into the night to meet my commitments. And I orchestrate backstage what I've written the night before. My Bannister dialogue and stage business is a pipe by comparison."
It is doubtful, though, the DeVol could completely drop the making of record albums of familiar old melodies which sell faster than he can turn them out. "You won't hear tricks or licks on my albums," he declares. "The buyers want to hear the melody." I make it so simple they can sing or whistle the tune while the platter spins."
The musicianship in DeVol is inherited from his father, but it has taken him a good many years to find his groove as an actor.
His father, Herman F. DeVol, was a pit orchestra leader for years in the Canton (Ohio) Grand Opera House, and Frank fell into the habit of hanging around the theater, helping his father by taking care of his music library.
At 15, Frank had a six-piece band on a Canton radio station and, following his graduation from Miami (Ohio) University, Frank rejoined his father at the theater and learned to conduct the pit band.
In the years that followed, Frank has established himself in music with his own bands, as musical director of a Los Angeles radio station and an executive for Columbia Records.
He now scores two of ABC-TV's series, "Our Man Higgins" and "My Three Sons," and did the score for the Bette Davis-Joan Crawford movie, "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"
But, judging by his reactions, Frank is getting his biggest charge out of Bannister and "I'm Dickens ... He's Fenster."
DeVol was nominated five times for an Oscar and five times for an Emmy. Not one was for Fernwood 2 Night where, to absolute brilliant perfection, he played—and SANG!—the music you’d least expect from a straight-laced bandleader, such as “Boogie Fever,” and an incredibly funny 1950s-girl-friend’s-been-killed parody called “Skateboard Angel.” Frank DeVol was 88 when he died on October 27, 1999.

1 comment:

  1. Loved his low-key, put upon, " I really don't have time for this " style acting in many television shows. He was also Mr. Higgins, opposite Nancy kulp. Both Summer Camp councilors in the 1961 version of " The Parent Trap "