Ventriloquist dummies, the distributor of Mexican wrestling films, Buddy Holly, kitschy game shows, vampires, Frank Zappa collaborating with Burt Ward, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and The Gong Show. What do all of these things have in common? Well, other than annoying my girlfriend and just being super awesome, they mark the varying cornerstones of a remarkable and eccentric musician, composer and bandleader named Milton Delugg.
My first conscious introduction to Delugg was through an instrumental novelty LP called Vampire's Ball on United Artists that, like so many of my favorite albums, I randomly stumbled upon in the depths of the immense CBC Radio record library (a dungeon where you're likely to bump into not just myself but, occasionally, WFMU's Otis Fodder). Milton Delugg's name appears modestly in small print on the back cover and in the vernacular of sixties liner notes, boy, does this record move! You can download the whole album here. Not only does it feature the faux-Karloff voices that were standard on the post-Monster Mash cash-ins, it also has references to S&M, a take-off on Stan Freberg's John & Marsha and some stereotyped Gay lisping. This album is as good an introduction to Delugg's music and personality as you can get - now let's learn about his career. Plenty of fun - guaranteed.
Delugg studied music in his native Los Angeles and entered the Radio Production Unit of the army during World War Two. During that spell he was Frank Loesser's song writing collaborator. He made the transition back into civilian life with steady work playing with various studio orchestras on regional radio. Working together on an undetermined radio program, Delugg met nightclub comic and former vaudevillian Morey Amsterdam who had co-written the hit Rum and Coca-Cola for The Andrews Sisters. Delugg had no part in that composition, but he and Amsterdam teamed up to write several songs together, including some unsuccessful numbers for the vocal trio. Delugg and Amsterdam remained friends for life, and both were at the doorstep when the earliest television shows started broadcasting regularly from Manhattan.
Until then, Delugg remained in L.A. - the epicenter of radio - working on programs like The Bob Hope Show and The Bing Crosby Show. He was a regular on music specialties like Spade Cooley and His Dance Gang and the show Matty Malneck and His Orchestra. Malneck and Delugg published a song together called Bebop Spoken Here. It was covered by many jazz giants like Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan and Charlie Barnett and has been used as the title for many tired essays on the nature of jazz music. Milton's band was, at the same time, backing up the fresh-faced Mel Tormé at most of his live performances. Starting in 1947, it was The Milton Delugg Quartet that provided all the music on The Abe Burrows Show, the forgotten fifteen-minute comedy program hosted by the erudite New York playwright. Delugg was not just the conductor and arranger, but the featured soloist, showcasing his abilities as a "jazz accordionist." Listen to three full episodes of The Abe Burrows Show here (One episode features Delugg's marvelous accordion rendition of Stompin' at the Savoy).
Delugg arranged music for early television on NBC, CBS and the Dumont television networks. In 1948 he joined Morey Amsterdam in New York to conduct the orchestra on Dumont's The Morey Amsterdam Show. The program not only introduced the faces of Amsterdam and Delugg to many people for the first time, but it also featured an unknown talent named Art Carney. Remarkably, most episodes of the show's two-year run actually survived and reside at the UCLA film archive. Check a full episode featuring the promising Art Carney here.
A few years later Milton Delugg and His Orchestra backed up an Olympic diving champion and former Miss Houston turned songstress named Jean Martin on her lounge LP Please Be Gentle with Me. Martin had been the regular singer on The Morey Amsterdam Show, with Delugg's group playing behind her each week.
In 1949 Delugg was the music coordinator for The Herb Shriner Show. The early television installment spawned from CBS Radio's successful Herb Shriner Time. The orchestra leader on that program was the man championed by WFMU's Irwin Chusid and all self-respecting animation fans as a God: Raymond Scott. Scott and Delugg had plenty in common. They were both talented jazz musicians with a penchant for veering off into strange directions and weird sounds. After The Herb Shriner Show was cancelled by CBS, ABC gave Shriner a contract for a television show called Herb Shriner Time - but it featured neither Raymond Scott nor Milton Delugg. Eventually they changed the name once again, and back to The Herb Shriner Show. In all, the program lasted seven years and was nominated for an Emmy. Watch a combined eleven minutes from a later season of The Herb Shriner Show here and here.
Delugg naturally followed Abe Burrows to the tube when he was awarded a new variety piece: Abe Burrows' Almanac. The show aired for a mere three months at the start of 1950. Burrows followed the failure by returning to Broadway with a vengeance, writing the book (with Delugg's old writing partner Loesser) for the eternal gangster musical, Guys and Dolls.
Broadway Open House premiered on NBC in 1950 and is considered the forerunner to The Tonight Show. It was the first variety program to specifically target a late night viewing audience, running weeknights at eleven. The show was initially hosted by Morey Amsterdam and Jerry Lester on alternate nights and then solely by Lester for the rest of its run. Musical director Delugg wrote the show's theme with writing partner Willie Stein. It was titled The Beanbag Song - a reference to Lester's inexplicable nickname. It consisted mostly of comedy sketches and solo singers, although occasionally a stand-up comedian (Lenny Bruce made an early appearance) would come on and do their act. Writers of the show included Allan "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" Sherman (Sherman was all over the place in the years of early TV), Danny and Neil Simon, and future Steve Allen and Get Smart gag man, Stan Burns. The program was incredibly freewheeling, self-referential and, when a bit faltered (which was often), full of hilarious ad-libbed banter. Watch clips of the show: Parts one, two and three.
That same year Milton sat down with Willie Stein and punched out his most famous composition, Orange Colored Sky. Stein collaborated with Delugg for a brief period before committing himself full time as a television producer. Stein worked on To Tell the Truth in the fifties and on David Letterman's morning show in 1980. The tune became an enormous hit for Nat King Cole in the summer of 1951 and it was subsequently covered by countless artists including Danny Kaye, Paul Anka, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis, Bert Kaempfert, Oscar Peterson and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Jerry Lester himself performed it with the songwriter's orchestra backing him up on Broadway Open House several times (Lester even released it as a single on Coral Records) and Delugg used it as incidental music on many of the shows that he worked on. Frank Zappa produced the most demented version of the lounge standard for MGM in 1966. With Zappa's help, Burt Ward recorded a ridiculous novelty single based on actual fan mail to his Robin character titled Boy Wonder, I Love You. The B-Side was a schmaltzy and sarcastic interpretation of Orange Colored Sky, well suited for the young Batman star. Delugg's original lyrics include the memorable refrain, "Zap! Bam! Alakazam!" resembling the onscreen sound effects that appeared during the fight sequences on Batman. Listen to Burt Ward's version by clicking on the second track here (Hear Boy Wonder, I Love You by clicking on the first track).
After Broadway Open House was cancelled in 1951, Milton Delugg stayed put to work on its replacement. A comedy variety program called Seven at Eleven debuted in the same timeslot (hence the eleven; the seven was a reference to the number of guests on each episode). Seven at Eleven was primarily a sketch comedy show with intermittent, very white, balladeers. It had a distinct New York feel, featuring some of the most Damon Runyon-esque comedy actors available. The exasperated face of Herbie Faye (familiar figure on The Phil Silvers Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and in Drew Friedman's collection Old Jewish Comedians) was a regular. The man that Jerry Lewis wished dead, Sammy Petrillo, also appeared. Petrillo was a tedious comedian riding the coat tails of Lewis by, essentially, doing an impression of Jerry alongside his Dean Martin look-a-like partner, Duke Mitchell. Mitchell and Petrillo are known for their starring roles in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (read an interview with Sammy Petrillo courtesy WFMU's Dave the Spazz over here). Stand-up comedian Sid Gould made several appearances in the few weeks that Seven at Eleven was on the air. Gould was a nightclub star and had success in early television, but faded from the public mind soon after. Stars that knew him from years in the nightclubs did their best to keep him working. Despite regular appearances, he was one of those familiar faces that few knew by name. After cameos galore in several Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Lucille Ball projects (he was Lucy's cousin). Sid attended the funeral of cult icon Lord Buckley. When it was his turn at the casket, Gould placed a marijuana cigarette in Buckley's breast pocket. Gould's last known role was a lightning quick bit part in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1984), a movie that also featured unknowns Sharon Stone and David Spade. Skateboard legend Tony Hawk was David Spade's stunt double in that film and it featured some elaborate skateboard scenes accompanied by awful eighties rawk (I was six years old when I saw the film, promptly ran out and bought a skateboard, and promptly had it confiscated by the school principal - or as I called him - Officer Mahoney - the very next day). WASPy nightclub comedian and singer George DeWitt was the compere of Seven at Eleven. DeWitt went on to host Name That Tune and was one of Sinatra's opening acts. He was the comic relief in The Rat Pack until he was bounced in favor of Joey Bishop. In the end Seven at Eleven lasted an even shorter period of time than Broadway Open House, but Milton Delugg was able to walk right into another full time job.
The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show went through several different name changes over the course of a decade but every incarnation followed basically the same format and was always highly entertaining. Winchell was, arguably, the most convincing ventriloquist of all time and a great voice actor to boot (Winchell's daughter contributed a bizarre Paul Winchell LP to WFMU's 365 Days Project in September). He's probably best known today as the voice of Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons (a voice that was essentially the same as his dummy Knucklehead and the creepy fuzzy body he voiced on The Banana Splits Show). Like most ventriloquists, he was also fucking crazy. Winchell suffered a troubled home-life, by most accounts a cold and distant personality, and an inability to communicate normally without the help of a puppet. Milton Delugg enjoyed billing alongside Winchell and his dummies and often took part in sketches. Other than having a dark personal life, Winchell was also sued by Candid Camera's Allen Funt and invented the artificial heart!
Doodles Weaver was a very funny, red-haired, character actor who is remembered as the unofficial member of Spike Jones and His City Slickers. The man many consider to be the inventor of late night television, the person who spearheaded Broadway Open House and Seven at Eleven, and the fella many bill as "creator of The Tonight Show" was Doodles' brother, NBC President, Pat Weaver. Having a sibling in the upper echelon of the major network did not hurt when Doodles was granted his own show on NBC. The Doodles Weaver Show was the 1951 summer replacement for Sid Caesar's legendary Your Show of Shows and Milton was leading the band. TVParty.com describes the show thusly, "Co-starring his wife Lois, the concept was a fresh one - Doodles is told to put on a network variety show, but given no costumes, sets or budget of his own, just the discards from the other shows on hiatus for the season." Doodles Weaver was prominent in campy nineteen sixties television like Dragnet '67, Batman and Land of the Giants (in which he played a giant hobo). He was a fixture in many terrible drive-in pictures such as Road to Nashville (1967), Bigfoot (1970), The Zodiac Killer (1971), Macon County Line (1974) and Trucker's Woman (1975). Doodles was the uncle of Sigourney Weaver and he tragically shot himself in the head in the early eighties.
1952 marked Delugg's first of many ventures into the world of game show music. Battle of the Ages was, by all accounts, total junk that pitted adult celebrities against child celebrities in a duel to find out "Who is most talented?" It once again had Delugg working alongside his friend Morey Amsterdam who was host. It didn't last.
Although Broadway Open House essentially failed, it did launch a star (not to mention the late night genre). Blonde bombshell Dagmar received a spin-off based on her popularity (she appears on the episode of BOH posted a few paragraphs earlier). In fact, she was such a hit, that she landed herself on the cover of Life Magazine, something that even the star of the show, Jerry Lester, didn't achieve. Such things were a major source of contention between the veteran Lester and the new starlet. NBC wanted to give Dagmar top billing in the show, a suggestion that Lester would abandon the show over. Delugg was the bandleader on Dagmar's Canteen, which aired on NBC for a mere four months. The show had Dagmar welcome a variety of performers in front of an audience consisting of nothing but American servicemen. Even after her show was cancelled, Dagmar continued to be a busty staple of fifties television appearing as a regular on Masquerade Party, The Colgate Comedy Hour and the many varied versions of The Milton Berle Show. She recorded a duet with Frank Sinatra and had an affair with Howard Hughes. Berle remembered her at the time of her passing in 2001, "She was extra-talented. She could sing, she could dance, she knew how to throw a line, and she was a good 'feed,' like a straight woman. She was a pro."
Two For the Money was the next game show assignment for Milton and it had him meet up with a comedian he had already worked with, Herb Shriner. Shriner starred in another hit, riding the wave of success that quiz shows were starting to enjoy. Two For the Money would last five seasons (one on NBC and four on CBS). It also gave enduring announcers Kenny Williams (Hollywood Squares) and Ed McMahon their first real gigs. Of course it was just one of many for the show's orchestra head, Milton Delugg. Milt used one of his previous compositions as the theme song, Hoop-Dee-Doo. Delugg and Frank Loesser wrote the song a couple years earlier and it had been a hit for Perry Como. In later years Lawrence Welk and Bobby Vinton covered the song. Despite the square nature of those covering the track, it included the lyric, "It's got me higher than a kite."
Bill Cullen is the most prolific game show host in television history, but before he became solely identified with that world, he hosted his own daily morning chat program, The Bill Cullen Show. Milton Delugg and His Orchestra stood in close proximity to the host and enjoyed plenty of screen time and banter with the endearing Cullen. It lasted less than a year and you can watch large chunks from a couple episodes (one featuring Betty Brewer singing Let's Fall in Love to a dead squirrel) here.
After it had been well established as a hit, Delugg joined Beat the Clock as its new music director, eventually composing a new closing theme for the legendary game show. Beat the Clock was hosted by Bud Collyer, the man who had portrayed Superman on the radio. It was also around this time that Milton composed a new end theme for the program Bill Cullen was identified with for many years, What's My Line? At some point in the fifties Delugg had the musical duties on The Garry Moore Show, however I haven't been able to determine if it was during the 1950-51 incarnation or the more popular version that started in 1958. There is actually a pretty good chance he worked on both at some point, however in the late fifties episode I have posted here, the musical director is Harry Zimmerman (and one of the writers is Buck Henry).
Delugg found a new niche in the mid-fifties, landing several gigs composing music for children's records like Big Bad Wolf and Cinderella for RCA Camden and Pinocchio (featuring voices by Paul Winchell) for Decca prior to moving onto Golden, the undisputed champion of vinyl for kids. Delugg got into the kid's music racket after being hired to Americanize the soundtracks to several creepy German children's films (like Snow White and Rose Red) that were brought in by Florida's legendary schlock importer K. Gordon Murray. Murray was responsible for dubbing films like The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, Wrestling Women vs. The Aztec Mummy and all those films featuring Mexican wrestler Santo. Murray's craziest import was the most terrifying Christmas picture ever made, René Cardona's Santa Claus (1959), a film featuring Santa battling Satan. Read about the second-rate children's films Murray combed the globe for, and occasionally got Delugg to record new music for, here.
Decca Records was obviously impressed with Delugg's abilities and was afraid of losing him. Delugg was busy as a freelancer, doing plenty of work for the Dot Records label where he arranged stuff for The Mills Brothers and an album for his late night television contemporary Steve Allen, with the Dot LP Steve Allen Plays the Piano Greats. Dot also had Delugg churning out rock n' roll numbers for Sonny Curtis (at the same time Delugg was arranging Jackie Wilson's To Be Loved over at Brunswick Records). Decca, panicking, moved him out of the children's department and straight into pop, country and rock n' roll, where he became an arranger and producer. Delugg was assigned to come up with appropriate songs for a young punk named Buddy Holly and ended up producing Rave On. Milton worked on some more rockabilly, recording tracks for Terry Noland who had just arrived in the big city. Another Milton composition that received heavy airplay at the time was A Poor Man's Roses that Patsy Cline recorded for Decca. It was the B-side to her standard Walkin' After Midnight. Patti Page also had a hit singing the tune.
Charge Account was a game show hosted by nightclub comedian Jan Murray that debuted in 1960. Once its host proved popular with viewers it was renamed The Jan Murray Show, and less game was being played in exchange for more banter between the quick witted Murray and his contestants. You know who did the music. Delugg was strongly associated with game shows and he always would be. The early sixties saw Milton strongly associate himself with another genre he would be affixed to for life. Monstrous things.
Bobby 'Boris' Pickett's Monster Mash was a huge hit (for the first of what would be three different years) in 1962. The song inspired countless knock-offs and Milton Delugg made a pair of vinyl contributions to the monster themed novelty song world. Vampire's Ball on United Artists doesn't even have Milton's name on the cover (the band credited is The Vampires) and it is well worth the download at the top of the page. Music for Monsters, Munsters, Mummies and other TV Fiends was released by Epic in 1964 and featured great cover art by Mad Magazine's Jack Davis. Davis had illustrated a ghoulish novelty recording for RCA the year before titled Dracula's Greatest Hits by Gene Moss. Delugg had his orchestra perform the standard theme songs one would expect like The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Alfred Hitchcock Theme and The Outer Limits, but he also added several neat originals like Theme For a Mummy and Ghost Meets Ghoul. Download the whole LP here.
Milt's other contribution to monstrous fandom was his beloved soundtrack for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). The famous B-movie is often the first introduction many people have to Milton Delugg. His memorable and exciting opening theme for the film, Hooray for Santa Claus, is heavily circulated around the internet during Christmas, as it deserves to be. Some people have It's a Wonderful Life (1946) as their holiday tradition, others enjoy Charlie Brown or the Grinch - but the nerdiest of us have Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (or for those who like to scare our children on Christmas Eve, there is the aforementioned Mexican feature, Santa Claus). Other than Delugg, the film featured Pia Zadora in her showbiz debut. Miraculously, both a Soundtrack LP and Dell comic book adaptation were made from the no-budget stinker. Watch the film in its entirety here.
Comedy actor Dick Shawn released a children's LP in 1964 on the 20th Century Fox record label with music arranged by Delugg and his Orchestra. Dick Shawn Sings with His Little People features mostly standard kiddie fodder and a cover photo of Shawn with a crazed look on his face surrounded by kids. Shawn is remembered as the surfer dude who dances in his room through most of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and as Lorenzo St. Dubois (his friends call him LSD) in The Producers (1968). He died in the middle of his stand-up act in 1987 while performing a routine about what would happen in the event of a nuclear war.
In 1965 Delugg composed an impressive novelty album for kids on Golden called Dance and Sing Mother Goose with a BEATLE BEAT. You might assume that he arranged nursery rhymes so that they sounded like Lennon-McCartney compositions. However, it appears that the title was slapped on after the fact to cash-in on Beatlemania. In reality, the concept album featured versions of Humpty Dumpty that you could dance "The Frug" to and an interpretation of Little Miss Muffet done in the style of Bo Diddley. Nothing Beatle-like appears in the songs, but it's cool nonetheless. New lyrics were written for some of the standards by Milton's regular collaborator, Anne, his wife.
The same year Delugg put out an LP on MGM's budget Metro Records titled Man From U.N.C.L.E. & Other TV Themes. Other than the title track, Delugg included the music from Flipper, Daniel Boone, 12 O'Clock High, and some great incidental music. Other musicians like David Rose and Leroy Holmes contributed tracks. Actor Richard Chamberlain also has a song on the album. After his success as Dr. Kildare , he convinced MGM to let him have a go at a singing career and he released several mediocre LPs in the mid-sixties.
Milton was the go-to man for another motion picture import that needed to be declawed of its foreign origins. Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon was a 1965 feature length animated film from Japan. The musical about a magical homeless boy needed to be purged of its Japanese sounds. Milton and Anne Delugg were up for the task. Isao Tomita, who you probably know simply as Tomita, composed the original score. Tomita's many LPs of electronic music were prevalent in America throughout the seventies, and these RCA Red Label albums remain easy to find in thrift stores across the plain. Shinichi Sekizawa wrote the film, fresh off the success of his screenplays for Mothra (1961) and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). The movie was released theatrically in the United States in 1966 to raving apathy.
Johnny Carson inherited Skitch Henderson as The Tonight Show bandleader when he was named host of the show. Skitch eventually left and for one year, during the 1966-67 season, Milton Delugg was leader of The Tonight Show band. He was then, of course, replaced with Doc Severinsen. Before leaving Milt had the group record an LP for RCA.
Milton Delugg was the pre-eminent choice for composing game show music. His groovy beats were one of the few bright points in a dull and odd 1967 game show pilot that just surfaced on the internet the week this article was written, seeing light of day for the first time ever. What's the Law? featured music by Delugg and appearances from Linda Lavin, Joan Rivers, Barry Nelson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. It was hosted by radio personality Henry Morgan (the subject of a previous WFMU article, much like this one), but has since been removed from the internet.
From The Tonight Show, Milt moved to the The Dating Game and its newly released spin-off The Newlywed Game. Chuck Barris' first jobs in television would be on these two programs where he acted as head of the music department and, eventually, producer. It was here that he and Delugg first crossed paths, forging a bond that would remain important for both of them for many years to come. Delugg moved back and forth from The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game for various spells throughout the sixties and seventies. Whatever new project Barris was working on, Delugg was there too. The New Treasure Hunt (watch it here), The $1.98 Beauty Show (watch it here), Three's a Crowd (watch an insane cat fight from that one here) were all quintessential 1970s game shows with great music by Milton. There was also a little something called The Gong Show.
The Gong Show had Milton Delugg returning to the role he had at the start of his television career. With the exception of The Tonight Show, Milton had been in recent years relegated to a name in the credits, the man who arranged, conducted, and often composed the music on a television show. Now with The Gong Show he was on camera again, joining in the kind of frivolous antics he had with Paul Winchell and Jerry Lester. Delugg composed the theme song and led the band that was now billed as Milton Delugg and His Band with a Thug, a take-off on Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Delugg would occasionally put down the baton and appear on screen as phony comedian Naso Literatus or an ancient philosopher named Old Drool. The Wikipedia entry on The Gong Show gives a different take on the relationship between Delugg and Barris, one that contradicts mine somewhat. "DeLugg, a popular musician and bandleader during the 1940s, got the Gong Show by default. As musical director for the network, he was responsible for any NBC project that required special music ... Barris initially regarded Milton DeLugg as 'an anachronism,' but he soon found that DeLugg was very much attuned to the crazy tone of the show..." I have not heard of Barris' initial disdain for Milton, so I can't confirm the notion, but it seems unlikely that after ten years of working with the man, he wouldn't know what Milt was all about. Here's a gallery of footage from The Gong Show.
See Milton conducting at the 3:18 mark of this clip.
Oingo Boingo appears on The Gong Show with panelists Buddy Hackett, Shari Lewis and Bill Bixby here.
Milton and the boys back up a Shirley Temple impersonator with Milt Kamen on the panel here.
Chuck Barris introduces The Unknown Comic with a rhyme about Milton Delugg here.
One of several appearances by Paul Reubens on the program. Arte Johnson rightly predicts, "we'll be hearing from [him] again" here.
You can see Milty with his fat headphones conducting at the start of this episode.
A woman gets stuck in a folding chair in this one.
A woman gets stuck in a crock-pot box in this one.
Steve Martin as a celebrity panelist.
Affiliate promo for The Gong Show with Barris shouting, "Hit it, Milt!"
Gene Gene the Dancing Machine.
A different kind of dancing machine, shaking it to The Coasters.
David Letterman as a celebrity judge.
The Popsicle Twins.
Barris starts the show by asking, "What the f*ck is that!?"
Pat Paulsen and Pearl Bailey on the panel.
Some pretty good tap dancing.
More tap dancing.
More people, more tap dancing.
Phil Hartman's cameo in The Gong Show movie.
Five more minutes of this shit.
Eight more minutes, Dionne Warwick on the panel.
Nine more minutes.
A full episode beginning to end.
After The Gong Show, Delugg remained active throughout the eighties, composing the music for a TV movie starring Don Rickles and Don Adams called Two Top Bananas, many unmemorable game shows and into the zeroes with The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Milton is alive and well today at the age of eighty-nine and, yes, that's him in the photo with Chuck Barris and Rip Taylor at a Los Angeles bookstore where Barris was promoting his latest book in the Summer of 2007.
A decision was made to spell Milton's last name as "Delugg" for this piece, but throughout his career, albums and television credits have given the variations "delugg," "De Lugg," "deLugg," and "DeLugg."