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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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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bonnie Lou, One Of My Favorites

I've gotta tell you, I had a great time visiting with Bonnie Lou, the retired Channel 5 entertainer, for the story that ran today.

I chatted with her and Judy Perkins, another former "Midwestern Hayride" star, at Bonnie Lou's Green Township home earlier this month, and then went back a second time to chat some more. She has great stories to tell about working with Ruth Lyons, Paul Dixon and the Channel 5 stars of the 1950s and 1960s. Sad to say, with Marian Spelman's passing last January, Bonnie Lou is the last of Channel 5's big stars from Ruth Lyons' "50-50 Club" 1958 Christmas album, which sold 250,000 copies(!)

To this day, at 83, she still refers to Ruth Lyons as "Miss Lyons." Why? "I always have. My mother taught me that way. Miss Lyons would razz me about that. But I said, "I’ve got to call you Miss Lyons."

So did she call Paul Dixon "Mr. Dixon?" That brought a huge cackle from the country star, and Dixon’s sidekick for nearly 20 years. "No," she said. "He was Paul Baby!" (Which is what everyone called him.)

Bonnie Lou was one of Channel 5's busiest stars. She was on "Midwestern Hayride" every Saturday night, co-hosted the "Paul Dixon Show" mornings M-F, appeared at least once a week on Lyons' "50-50 Club" at noon, and hosted "Six Star Ranch" from WLW-AM on the Mutual radio network.

Plus she did personal appearances to promote her records made at King Records. Her "Seven Lonely Days" and her comical "Tennessee Wig Walk" ("I walk with a giggle and a wiggle and a squak, doing the Tennessee Wig Walk!") each sold about 750,000 copies in the early 1950s, and each made Billboard's weekly country music top 10. And her "Daddy-O" was a King rockabilly hit, reaching No. 15 on the weekly pop chart in 1955.

She had offers to go to New York, but didn't. I'm sure many of her fans were glad she stayed in town. "I couldn’t have asked for any better. Everything worked out wonderful for me here. I made good money here," says Bonnie Lou, who lives in Green Township with her husband, Milt Okum, a retired Cheviot furniture store owner and magician. (Her birth name was Mary Joan ("Jo-Ann") Kath. Once I was puzzled to get a note from her with a return address label of "Mary Okum.")

In the coming months, Bonnie Lou will get some deserved attention – on Lee Hay's WVXU-FM "King Records Christmas" (11 p.m. Dec. 22), a WVXU-FM hour about King Records rockabilly music (in February) and a downtown Public Library panel discussion marking King Records 65th anniversary in April.

If you have a favorite Bonnie Lou story or memory, please post it here.


at 11/29/2007 11:23 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

On top of her talent, she had some great gams...she's wear those short dresses and Paul would grab her hand and pull it sraight up as she held her skirt at a "respectable" level!

at 11/29/2007 12:01 PM Blogger Toddy-O said...

Very nice article!

It's too bad WLWT doesn't run some Dixon and Braun episodes late nights, especially after Saturday Night Live.

One of the best things I produced/directed was during my time at TKR Cable of Northern KY. Dick Von Hoene, who hosted "Northern Kentucky Magazine" (the last regular live show in the city) was on his annual Halloween week vacation, so we arranged a special reunion show of the Paul Dixon Show. Along with some clips, we had Colleen Sharp, Bruce Brownfield and Bonnie Lou on, talking, singing and laughing.

When Bonnie Lou sang, it had that WLW-T/Dixon feel, complete with stopping the song, asking the poor floor director "Honey, which camera am I on?" (The cameras didn't have talley lights and like a pro - she was wanting to follow the talleys).

I understand that, to this day, it is one of the two most requested programs we did at TKR (the other being the Braun Show reunion, complete with Bill Myers on the Madison Theatre marquee giving the weather).

I believe it may be the last time all three survivors of the Dixon show were on television.

I think Dick donated a copy of the program to the Cincinnati Historical Society's television collection.

at 11/29/2007 1:49 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

kiese where are the sweeps numbers.

It was a great story though

at 11/29/2007 3:04 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article, John. I remember being taken as a kid to the Bob Braun show with my mom, my grandma, and my great aunt Ceil. I don't really remember much at all about the show, except that it my mom, grandma, and great aunt happy.
For those who constantly berate Cincinnati for being so backward, again you won't understand the significance of Bonnie Lou etal to us native folk. Just remember, as backward as you think we all are, these icons of ours come from a period where Cincinnati was THE innovator in electronic media. Maybe the reason we cling to our past so fervently is because it is sucha good one in the first place.

One last thought, I felt last week when Nuxhall passed, to me and probably lots of others, it was like losing the Bob Braun of Cincinnati sports.

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