Slim Whitman: The Haunting High Tenor of Country

Were you a late-night television-watching insomniac in the early 1980s? If so, you undoubtedly remember all those commercials that peddled “Not Sold in Any Store!” record albums and cassette tapes by a singer you’d never heard of whose most distinguishing features were a pencil-thin mustache, outlandishly flared sideburns and a towering lacquered widow’s peak. He  warbled country ballads in a mellifluous high voice, occasionally breaking into a full-throttle yodel that put Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music to shame. …

The Behind-the-Scenes King of Comedy

Bernard “Bernie” Sahlins, co-founder of Chicago’s Second City theatrical troupe, wasn’t a comedian himself. But thanks to him, we’ve all had a lot of laughs over the past few decades. Without Sahlins, who died on June 16 at age 90 in Chicago, George Wendt – best known for his role as Norm Peterson in the iconic 1980s-early 1990s sitcom Cheers – might have abandoned comedy and perhaps even become an accountant. As Wendt recently recalled, after he and other Second City newbies in the …

Bob Thompson: He Made Music to Sip Martinis By

To embrace the swinging bachelor lifestyle touted in Playboy magazine in the late 1950s and early ’60s, you needed a few accessories to set a properly free-spirited, licentious ambiance. They included a cocktail shaker, a turtleneck to wear inside your button-down shirt and the just-invented Lutron dimmer switch to turn the lights down low. You also needed some records that would show off the utter aural magnificence of your top-of-the-line hi-fi, and that’s where arranger, composer and bandleader Bob Thompson came …

Esther Williams: Who Says Mermaids Aren’t Real?

You don’t have to watch a recent controversial cable TV documentary about mermaids to see convincing visual evidence that the mythical creatures might actually exist. Just rent a few of Esther Williams’ classic Hollywood aquatic musicals – Bathing Beauty, Neptune’s Daughter and Million-Dollar Mermaid, to name a few – in which the teenage national swimming champion turned glamorous actress thrilled 1940s and 1950s moviegoers with her graceful underwater maneuvers and lithe, shapely figure. But for fate, Williams, who died on June …

Gil Henry: Thank Him for Your Guacamole

Enjoying a slice of avocado on a sandwich or mixing up a little guacamole to eat while watching a football game seems like the natural thing to do today, which is why it’s strange to think that 30 or so years ago, fewer than half of Americans had ever even tasted one. Indeed, the avocado was considered an exotic California fruit, as alien to people in the Northeast and the Midwest as a palm tree. But even if you lived …

Frank R. Lautenberg: Oldest U.S. Senator, Last World War II Vet

Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who died on June 3 at age 89 in New York City, was the oldest sitting member of the Senate by a decade – California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who turns 80 in a few weeks, now takes his place – and the last remaining veteran of World War II. (Here’s a Wikipedia list of U.S. Senators by age). But that’s not the half of it. Lautenberg, the son of a silk-mill laborer, served in the U.S. Army Signal …