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John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV

Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Marian Spelman, A Local Icon, Passes

UPDATE: Memorial Services Set for Marian Spelman
A memorial service, open to the public, for singer Marian Spelman will be held at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, in the chapel at Arlington Memorial Gardens cemetery, 2145 Compton Road, Mount Healthy.
Posted Jan. 23:
If you ever had the pleasure of hearing Marian Spelman sing, you knew who she was. Ruth Lyons and Channel 5 had many talented singers on TV -- Ruby Wright, Bonnie Lou, Colleen Sharp -- but Marian Spelman -- who died today at 85 -- was unique. She had this wonderful soprano voice, and a wonderful range -- and a wonderful sense of humor. She could do serious songs and hit these terrific high notes on Ruth Lyons' "Fifty-Fifty Club"... and the next day do a hilarious novelty song.
Marian Spelman seemingly could do everything. She sang with the CSO and Cincinnati Pops. She did musical theater. She MC-ed fashion shows. She performed each year at the Ohio State Fair with other Channel 5 stars. On some Saturday mornings, she would schlep up to the WLW tower in Mason, and perform on the "Everybody's Farm" show.
And longtime Reds fans remember that the baseball season never started at Crosley Field (and the early days of Riverfront Stadium) until Marian Spelman sang the National Anthem.
I only met her once or twice, including seeing her perform with Ruth Lyons stars at Towne Mall in Middletown in 1986 or so to benefit the Ruth Lyons' Children's Christmas Fund. I was a bit nervous to meet her, thinking she might be stuffy (because she had That Voice), but she was as friendly as could be. And that's what her coworkers tell me about her today, that she was a sweet, funny, gentle lady, as I prepare the obituary for our Web site and tomorrow's paper.
Anyway, I'm hoping some of you have fond and favorite memories of Marian Spelman.... and I'm looking forward to reading your postings.


at 1/23/2007 5:03 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of items:

1) Married Bill Nimmo for a time.

2) Was the featured singer on the Paul Dixon "Chicken Wedding" episode, singing the ever-popular "Bird in a Gilded Cage" and, along with Bonnie Lou, was Paul's sidekick for the first 10+ years of the Dixon Show (pre Colleen Sharp).

In her honor, I am going to go out and buy some Bounty towels, Folger's coffee and a tub of Nu-Maid margarine.

On a serious note, I am looking to see how WLWT treats this. To see how destroyed the Ruth Lyons Christmas Fund has been treated, their past needs to be respected.

at 1/23/2007 5:12 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marian also hosted the repackaged (and poorly hacked) 15 episodes of the Paul Dixon Show in the mid 80's.

at 1/23/2007 10:10 PM Blogger ajhornbaker said...

> In hearing of Marian's death today from Bill Myers,
> and on reflection, I recalled years ago (probably in
> the Enquirer clips) I did either a People Today
> story
> on her or one for my column.
> I spent quite a bit of time with her before the
> story
> and detected a warm, funny woman who revealed that
> growing up she was very shy, an introvert.
> Many said they found her "aloof" on first contact.
> She
> knew this but confessed it was hard for her to
> display
> the extrovert style most entertainers project
> naturally --that didn't come naturally to her.
> I really liked her. We talked on other occasions.
> She
> was such a talent and will be missed, but also
> remembered with sincere admiration.
> Alice Hornbaker

at 1/24/2007 8:47 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Channel 5 just doesn't get it.

The news of Marian Spelman's passing was just a couple of paragraphs and several photos, 14 minutes into the newscast (just ahead of weather for the 3rd time).

How tough would it have been to bring out some old video and go into some biography on the local legend?

I would imagine that no one in the newsroom other than Ken Broo and John London even knew who Marian Spelman was.

at 1/24/2007 9:14 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marian Spelman was the first guest performer when the Middletown Symphony started its conductor auction/pops concert. It was held at the DAV hall in Madison Township. I can check back and find out who the candidates for the conductor auction were....
She was a delight!
Lee Ann from the neighborhood

at 1/24/2007 9:14 AM Blogger John Kiesewetter said...

And did anyone hear much coverage of Marian Spelman on WLW radio yesteday or today? What the present owners/managers of WLW-AM fail to understand is that Marian Spelman -- and Ruth Lyons, Bonnie Lou, Bob Braun, etc. -- were radio stars as much as they were TV stars. Before the widespread penetration of TV, many people heard the Crosley/Avco Broadcasting entertainers on radio. In fact, Ruth Lyons' "Fifty-Fifty Club" was simulcast on 700 and Ch. 5 well past Ruth's retirement in 1967. Hopefully some WLW veteran will provide that date in a subsequent post.

at 1/24/2007 10:34 AM Anonymous Bud Steigerwald said...

I worked a couple of years as a summer replacement engineer back in the late 1950s. One of my duties was running one of the old black and white cameras on some of Marian's evening shows.

One evening I was supposed to get a close-up on Marian in front of the band, so I pushed the camera over closer to her. Marion was looking lovely and swaying to the music with her arms extended. I was in pretty close. To keep her within the frame I had to move the camera slightly. The director, Dick Winters(?), was not thrilled a bit, but I finally convinced him I was "dancing" with her and he stayed on the shot. Marian got the idea and it looked all the world like we were dancing. I have told the story of dancing with Marian and that old camera many times over the past 50 years. It's one of my favorite memories.

at 1/24/2007 10:45 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard Brian Combs announce it during one of the newscasts on 700WLW yesterday. I think he probably was one of the few who might have a clue to who she was.

I really wish the kids running these stations and newsrooms would understand the historic appreciation and would also understand how much these people impacted the listener and viewer.

Cincinnati is an unusual market. We like people-persons. From Ruth Lyons to Ira Joe, from Uncle Al to the Cool Ghoul and all points inbetween, people connected with those on the radio and television in this city. The current stable of talent in this city, sadly, probably could care a less about 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's in this city. Even the 80's with Jerry, Norma, Mark Sebastian and the whole Jacor drama. This is sad, since Cincinnati was the base of the true 4th network, Crosley/AVCO.

at 1/24/2007 1:29 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw 5 run singing clips of Marian in their noon, 6, and 11p newscasts, as well as several memorable photos from the good ole days. I also saw the same singing on Ch.9. I'm guessing someone over there gave them some of the highlights of her career...

at 1/24/2007 2:48 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of you are upset with how WLWT covered this? I'll let you in on a little secret...probably 90-percent of the news people who work there NEVER grew up in Cincinnati. They are from another city! Why should they care who Marian Spelman was? They have no sense of history! Blame the News Directors and consultants who don't hire locals.

-Small-market weatherman in Indiana (AND a Cincinnati native.)

at 1/24/2007 4:38 PM Blogger John Kiesewetter said...

From colleague Jim Knippenberg, who screwed up trying to post this Marian moment:
I could go on for the next three days with "Marian moments," but I'll limit it to one: Years ago, when she was still doing daily TV, she did a live commercial for some kind of Cheeze doodle snack. Walking across the set, she tripped. She didn't fall or anything, but the bag of Cheeze doodles went flying into the air. Later that day, she and I were doing a late lunch at the Maisonette and she was complaining about how badly her scalp was itching. She reached up and scrached, pulled out two or three Cheeze doodles and laid them on her plate.
Seconds later, the server came by and pulled the wine off the table and said, "Would Madame like some more wine with her doodles?" Without missing a beat, Marian said, "Red wine with Cheeze doodles? You must be mad."
She then went on to complain to him that there was "a hair on my Cheeze doodle. What kind of kitchen are you running here?"
About five minutes later, the server reappeared with a fresh and unopened bag of doodles on a silver tray.
She opened them and stuck two in her well-teased bouffant.

at 1/24/2007 7:15 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Local news rooms don't hire local talent?

I interviewed at Ch 5 a few years ago for an assignment editors job. I had 28 years EXPERIENCE in the market. I was sure I had the gig, except I was too old for them.

A 24 year old from Floria was brought in and stayed a few months. I wonder if he knows who Marian Spelman is.

at 1/24/2007 9:09 PM Blogger Terry Foster said...

How well I remember...

Marian Spelman visited our home everyday from 12 Noon to 1:30 p.m., when my Mom would religiously watch "Mother" (Ruth Lyons) on our one little black and white TV. I had every reason to believe, that as a child in the 50's & 60's, she was a part of our family... along with Ruby Wright, Bonnie Lou, Peter Grant, the whole crew.

I always thought Marian Spelman was very pretty. And what a voice. I still play the Ruth Lyons Christmas albums around the holidays and Christmas Lullabye was her signature song.

I have an old tape of a rebroadcast show from 1966 when Ruth Lyons returned after the death of her daughter. Marian sung "The Sound of Music" which was Ruth Lyons favorite song. Marian Spelman was at the height of her beauty, her voice, and I'm glad I have that performance captured on tape.

Thank you, Marian Spelman. So many people loved you from afar.

at 1/24/2007 11:19 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

it reminds me of 700wlw when they had their last big birthday and they didnt celebrate it because they said no one would be interested and i will bet that that is what news5channelcincinnatiwlwt management thinks. which i think sucks because in my opinion the news media should now be called elecronic tabloid news

at 1/25/2007 1:16 AM Blogger SophiaZ123 said...

As one who also grew up watching Paul Dixon and the Ruth Lyons and Bob Braun show, I am disgusted to the lack of appreciation for history in tv and radio in general. It's even sadder when the local big station, 700, appears to poke fun at such icons.

The tv in my parents home always had these local shows on and I remember Marian's singing and the other gals as well. It was truly a time when talk shows were, dare I say it "Nice!". No rudeness or somebody trying to rattle folks cages, just a tv visitor that came into our home and warmed up a cold winter day.

Can't say that about any show today.

I was listening to Cunningham as I did things around the house yesterday...whenever he would start playing some singing by Marian, he sounded disgusted and asked the person running the boards to turn her off. He can be such a pig some days and riveting talk show on now, rare events.

I was waiting for Burbank to come on but missed his opening but dont' think he mentioned her either...but I would think one of the serious talk show hosts would've.

Now that mister arrogance McConnell is syndicated, I RARELY listen, and lost interest in his ego some time back.

WLW is nothing but a radio for shock, vulgarities and some decent radio in between. It's sad as some days Cunningham can be really good and other times a total jerk.

I certainly expected more from 700 though Marian's passing was mentioned on most of the afternoon newscasts.

I have listened to WLW for 25 years out of habit and the only alternative is syndicated rubbish. But sadly, Willie runs hot and cold and Gary is about the only show I listen to.

Mr. Kiesewetter, you really need to have a half hour show with Gary as I enjoy your brief calls on his show.

Thank you for providing this blog.

Sorry for meandering off topic from Marian but she really deserved better. I did channel surf across Channel 5 and some brown haired guy said she was very nice to him when he came to Cincinnati years ago. One of the black haired girls on WLWT pretended to be interested but as mentioned, not being from AROUND HERE had no clue to who she was or her great addition to this community.

It's too bad all those shows can't be put on DVD or something. I would rather listen to those old shows of days gone by than today's radio and the daytime tv is useless.

R.I.P. Marian...I remember your great smile and your voice.

at 1/25/2007 8:24 AM Anonymous Jim Gross said...

I used to watch the 50-50 Club when I was out of school in the summers, or if I was playing hookie. I always loved the singers on the show, especially Ruby Wright, Bonnie Lou, and of course, Marian Spelman. They all felt like family who were stopping by to visit you in your living room.

What I liked best about Marian was her sense of humor, her integrity as a television personality and of course, her beautiful soprano voice. As a child, I didn't fully appreciate her range and vocal abilities. But now, when I listen to the Christmas CD of the 50-50 show cast, I'm totally impressed with the amount of talent that was so prevalent on that show.

I feel truly blessed that I have such great memories of these wonderful performers, and I have a sense of respect for the historic value that's represented here.

In one word, Marian was "wonderful." She'll be definitely missed, and certainly never forgotten.

Jim Gross
North Port, FL

at 1/25/2007 10:21 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really doesnt have anything to do with Marian's passing, but thanks to Sophia for her comment that Kies should have his own radio show with Burbank. I totally agree. When the powers that be at the enquirer "phased out" his TV/radio job,and he was in the Butler county office, Burbank and friends were talking about dumb things being done on air and on TV and someone called in to complain about that move.
I had just passed the entrance to the building and couldnt turn around in time to thank all of them. They were right on!
Lee Ann from the neighborhood

at 1/25/2007 10:25 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

i will give fox19 kudos for the tribute that they made and ran for Diick von Heine(?) aka the cool ghoul. to channel 5 a big thumbs DOWN

at 1/25/2007 11:32 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me, the whole issue boils down to: who do you trust, admire, look up to or who inspires you?

From American Idol to Bill Cunningham, wit and comedy seem to only come from insults, vulgarity, double entendre and one-upmanship. Gone are the days of respect and inspiration. I have stopped listening to WLW for that main reason. It brings me down. Cunningham is always smarter and insulting to just about everyone he disagrees with. News5 is always looking for the sensational crap to stir people up. This barrage of negative media from both local and national sources just isn't worth my time.

at 1/25/2007 1:03 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree - "kneesville" and yet another pitch for "Nu-Maid Margarine" might have been hokey, but no feelings were hurt; no personalities slandered; no one was demeaned. I like that kinder, gentler time. Marian's sweet sound is a reminder of that time I hope we never forget. And by the way Kiese, who's left of that crowd now? Cliff Lash, Bonnie Lou, Colleen Sharp, Ruby Wright and the others...

at 1/25/2007 3:00 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with several others, there is something sadly absent from that time in TV/Radio. I realize folks get their news from lots of other places now, like blogs and the 'net. But there was something really comforting about those shows and those personalities. When I was a wee lad, my mother and one of my great Aunts took me to the Bob Braun show to be part of the audience. I don't really remember much about the specific show, but what I do remember was I had the time of my life, and for years afterward, would alway ask Aunt Ceil when we were going back to the Bob Braun Show again. It was something that bridged generations. Sadly, that is fading from our 24hr news cycle society. Back in December, there were some folks who posted about 94.1 playing Christmas music, and how they were playing the same 15-20 songs over and over again. I agree with them, it is sad and disappointing that the music directors who programmed that schlock couldn't get beyond the 15-20 same songs to realize how many REALLY GOOD Christmas songs there are out there, and that it would be possible to not play the same song at least not by the same artist for an entire WEEK, and still not run out of stuff. And when I play my Time-Life Christmas collection CD's aroung the house, I try to explain to my kids the historical context that makes a song like "I'll be home for Christmas" important, I am never sure that they really really get it, just like the way the "kids" in the Channel 5 and 700WLW newsrooms don't get what a big deal this one person's death really is to lots of people.
I remember the day Bob Braun died, I felt the whole day like I lost a family member myself. I will give credit to 700 and Willie for that one, that day, they truly did a great job on that particular story.
Oh well, I have rambled long enough.

Dave B.
White Oak.

at 1/25/2007 7:17 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a regional (if not national) show, ala Braun (not Braun & Company!), would work. There are enough celebrities and network appeal, along with CCM and other talent pools to make a show like that work.

Several things about Braun's, Dixon's and the 50-50 Club worked:

1) Connection to the audience
2) It was clean without it being beaten over your head
3) It was entertaining
4) Live commercials. OMG!
5) Mistakes! You mean talent isn't human? Live TV! There's nothing like it.
6) It was always community minded. Regardless whether it was Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus or Indianapolis, Crosley/AVCO/Multimedia never ignored its core purpose.

There's only one studio in this city that could handle the amount of people and also be in HD.

In this day and time, would a daytime show work?

Todd Osborne

at 1/26/2007 10:50 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

The present people that run Channel 5 could care less about the history of it. WLWT is owned by Hearst-Arglye. When Hearst bought Ch. 5, they seriously considered changing the WLWT name to something different as to distance themselves from its glorious past. How shallow of a company to even consider such a thing. Just look at what little resources they put into the Ruth Lyons Children's Fund. A tenth of the money is raised each year as compared to what it use to raise under the Multimedia corporation. All WLWT cares about now is how to scare people into watching their news. Like a blizzard is on the way and you better watch or you might die. The viewers are smart enough to see thru their deceptive way of presenting the so called news of the day. Maybe some day 5 will realize how to run a station. It's just not today.

at 1/27/2007 2:03 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met "the gang" a few years ago at the Metropolitan Club, It was my pleasure, indeed to serve these treasures of my childhood, Elsa Sule, Marian Spelman, Ruby Wright, Cliff Lash & Dick Murgatroyd. Such pro's and truly fine folks. All were entertainers but more than that people of our time and our age.... God Bless them all
Lou Meyer Jr

at 1/27/2007 4:57 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading Nick Clooneys column, as I do religiously, I was saddend to learn on Marian's passing. Since I live in California, I keep up with the local "goin' on's" via the internet. I knew that the local papers would have massive write ups about her, so went to this site to recap my fond memmories of local Cincinnati television.

I am not surprised that local radio tv talent overlooked this artist. We are in an era of narsasistic people who next to nothing for social skills. I seeth when I look at so called talent on the air today. No class, really---sounding uneducated showcasing a dumbing down of the broadcast waves.

Cincinnat is a major broadcast market and managements jobs are competitive. They are going to find the pretties look possible and its usually not from Cincinnati. No dis to Cincy, but when you have a mr. model guy in Pittsburg, or a fabulous babe in Indianapolis boasting strong numbers, you're going to take him/her over a UC grad with a meaninless BA in Radio TV.

We are living in a era of "limited talent, spokes holes that are not hard news folk-- but news readers". Why would you expect them to honor such greats as Marian? They are so busy checking their hair and surface elements. They havn't time for anything but themselves.

If you were to play DVD's of some of these greats, kids today wouldn't appreciate it anymore than classical music. They would gravitate towards hip hop. (those great love songs)

I have such little faith in the youth today that even the best of the kids wouldnt recognize Marian's talent! After all, they havent been exposed to any (on air talent) during their years watching the local, 5, 9 & 12. They would probably comment on her hair during that day.

I only hope Marian shines in Cincinnatis museums as Cincinnati has one of the riches broadcast histories in the USA! Marian Spelman is a part of that history.

As the greatest generation passes on, my generation sadly is watching American Idol to peek in on all that rich culture exuding from the boob tube.

I sincerely hope you, Cincinnati, fire the General Manager, Operations Director and Program Director at WLW. This is an oversite that is unforgiveable.

When a famous local talent passes on in Cincinnati, it still means something to me. I watched my paternal grandmother watch Ruth Lyons everyday when I was child. I went down Uncle Al's slide. I won a coca cola cooler on Bob Brauns show. I never missed Bob Shreeve on Saturday night. I still remember Dad & Mom driving by some street downtown where you could see Peter Grant on the air live. (all I remember is that he was an old guy with dark rim glasses and a big nose) But these people were in your house every day and very respectful as a guest. Its called manners, respect.

Rest in Peace and thanks for the memories Marian.

at 1/27/2007 10:58 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have recently noticed that WLWT refers to it as the Ruth Lyons Children's Fund and not the Ruth Lyons CHRISTMAS Fund as it was originally known as. But they still use the logo of the Christmas tree.

at 1/29/2007 11:05 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Dave B's Christmas music broadcasts, I would love to see how many commercial stations played ANY cut from the two Ruth Lyons' Christmas albums.

If it was good enough for John Waters to use in one of his movies, surely it's good enough to play in the hometown!

(For the trivia buffs, the song used was "Have a merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas". It's still one of the best Christmas songs to get into the mood :) )

at 1/29/2007 11:27 AM Blogger John Kiesewetter said...

Don't know if any commercial stations played Ruth Lyons' Christmas music, but I do know that WMKV-FM (89.3)at Maple Knoll Village did. WMKV also aired some Ruth Lyons' show songs not heard since broadcast in the 1960s, which were provided by a listener on a reel-to-reel tape. The station converted to digital, and played some cuts on the air. I learned about this too late, and have put in my story file for next December.

at 1/29/2007 12:51 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe channel 48 will step up to the plate and do a great tribute to the late great marian

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