Frank Lloyd Wright and other mysteries

October 21 2009

What’s My Line?, CBS, 1950-67.

Frank Lloyd Wright. June 3 1956.

Surreal to have this nineteenth-century gentleman, born in 1867, here. He died in 1959.

Salvador Dalí, January 27 1957:

Eleanor Roosevelt, October 18 1953; she comes to life at the end:

William Schuman, composer and first president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, September 30 1962:

Schuman, unlike Copland, Barber, Bernstein – and even Piston, Hanson, Harris – never had a popular hit. Lincoln Center had opened on September 23. Bernstein conducted his friend’s eighth symphony at Avery Fisher Hall on October 4. There is a recording of the work on YouTube from a performance there on October 9. It’s worth hearing if you like that phase of American cultural history.

Noël Coward from 18:15, looking rather dissolute, March 1 1959; he’d appear again five years later:

Ronald Reagan, July 19 1953; charming … but:

Maurice Chevalier, April 4 1965:

He had been on once before. His mother was Belgian. He has a Belgian persona.

Van (Harvey Lavan) Cliburn, April 5 1964:

Cliburn was the young Texan who in 1958 won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. This was one of the great cultural episodes of the Cold War, like Gould’s visit (1957), Nureyev’s defection (1961), Ogdon and Ashkenazy (1962), Stravinsky’s return (1962). Gagarin vs Glenn if you look more broadly. Cliburn’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s first concerto and Rachmaninoff’s third gave him an eight-minute standing ovation. The judges asked permission of Khrushchev to give first prize to an American. “Is he the best?” Khrushchev asked. “Then give him the prize.” Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York. This was his third appearance as mystery guest. (The first was soon after Moscow, the second in 1962.)

The regular What’s My Line? panelists, under John Daly as chairman, were the journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, the actress Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf, the co-founder in 1927 of Random House.


The Daily Telegraph published a sad obituary a few days ago of an Australian pianist, Geoffrey Tozer, who died in August in Melbourne aged 54.

I have one of his Chandos recordings – of the concerto which Tchaikovsky made at the end of his life from part of a discarded symphony. The third concerto is a fascinating but rarely played work, full of new sounds.

What went so wrong with Tozer’s career? Was it his name? Paul Keating gave some answers in a eulogy delivered at his memorial service, which is worth reading. It’s very – Paul Keating.

Neither the Telegraph nor Keating mentions Noel Mewton-Wood, another Melbourne pianist, as one of Tozer’s forbears, but clearly he was one, in more ways than one – especially with his championship of Busoni. Mewton-Wood committed suicide in London in 1953. Here’s an account of how it happened. He looks rather like Cliburn.


In Mewton-Wood’s small recorded legacy is a performance of Tchaikovsky 2, to complete our survey of the Tchaikovsky concerti. All three – Cliburn, Mewton-Wood, Tozer – are on iTunes, though the Cliburn may be from a return visit.

Mewton-Wood was a pianist of the front rank, the equal of Lipatti. He was one of a group of classical musicians – Neveu, Lipatti, Ferrier, Kapell, Cantelli, Brain – who died young at around that time. Neveu, Kapell and Cantelli died in plane crashes, like Thibaud, Buddy Holly and Hammarskjöld, Brain in a car crash, like James Dean, Pollock and Camus.


There was an English version of What’s My Line?, which ran on BBC television from 1951 to ’63. Unlike the vast archive of the American version on YouTube, there is very little of this. What there is (link here) is so innocent – with that charming central European postman – that one can hardly believe that this is what the British masses were watching half a century ago.

It is also curiously depressing. We are glad, at the end, to have moved on. This is from the year before Suez. Three regular panelists appear, with Eamonn Andrews as the host. Two were tragic figures. Lady Isobel Barnett, the exemplar, perfect hostess, immaculate public speaker – not an aristocrat, but the wife of a knighted mayor of Leicester – electrocuted herself in 1980 after she had been convicted of shoplifting. She was, or had become after the death of her husband, a kleptomaniac. Gilbert Harding, a broadcaster, was a repressed homosexual in a 1950s mould, whose life was even sadder. He only prefigures modern BBC celebrities by having attracted mass audiences by outbursts of rudeness.

If you want a UK example, equivalent to Frank Lloyd Wright, of a major artist with pre-television age roots entering the quiz-programme studio, you have William Walton, on a programme called Face the Music which ran on BBC2, in its main sequence, from 1966 to ’79. A team – Richard Baker, Joyce Grenfell, Robin Ray – would pretend to be more ignorant than it really was when answering questions posed by the pianist Joseph Cooper. Here is the second half of the programme, where Walton, the Oldham boy who seduced a series of rich women, married an Argentinian heiress and settled in Ischia, lumbers in at the time of his seventieth birthday, Easter 1972. His Sitwellian affectations are worth studying, the sycophancy of the studio is a sign of things to come. It’s a pity they chose his bombastic Spitfire prelude as one of the pieces he was supposed to recognise. A decade later, Walton was the subject of a remarkable film by Tony Palmer, At the Haunted End of the Day.

7 Responses to “Frank Lloyd Wright and other mysteries”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    In the 1940s perhaps the most famous broadcaster in England (after Churchill) was a public intellectual and philosopher called CEM Joad. He appeared on a radio programme on the BBC Home Service called The Brains Trust, which ran from 1942 to ’49. But he regularly cheated the railways. In 1948, he was convicted for travelling between London and Exeter without a ticket and his career ended.

    I’ve looked at the ethos of early radio and television in posts on the Reith Lectures (work back from here) and on Bertrand Russell.

    I showed a couple of satirical drawings from 1934 about television done by my grandfather, who illustrated one of Joad’s books, here.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Dalí appeared on other US game shows: The Name’s the Same at least twice, and I’ve Got a Secret. These three are on YouTube, and there may be others.

  3. richard Says:

    In the Noel Coward clip he is asked “are you a television personality?” His answer is “No.”

    That really sums up the difference between our own time and that of the clips, I think.

  4. […] to return to yesterday’s theme. Fulbright reminds me of John Daly in the CBS quiz of the time What’s My Line? It is all quite soothing to listen to. The Cold-War world seems two-dimensional and simple […]

  5. davidderrick Says:

    John Cage on I’ve Got a Secret, CBS, January 1960:

  6. davidderrick Says:

    People who “disappeared” on plane flights: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (June 1944), Glenn Miller (December 1944), Subhas Chandra Bose (August 1945).

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