Assembling a Laine Collection (Summer Series: Part Three)

(Continued from the June 2017 blog)

“Helen and Bert” (Dedicated to the memory of Helen Snow and Bert Boorman)

During my first visit with Frankie at his home in November 1985, I was allowed to look through a large stack of 45 r.p.m. Frankie Laine records in Frankie’s music room.

Carefully, I lifted up a pile of Laine 45s and started writing down the titles as quickly as I could. I knew my time there would be brief, and I wanted to obtain as many as possible. This list would allow me to know what I needed to complete my collection. Briefly, I glanced through the seemingly countless Frankie Laine albums, but I mainly focused my attention on writing song titles.

Frankie drove us on his rounds that day. During the ride, I asked him to name for me the titles of the movies he’d made. Now that I had that information, I knew that I must search for the movies.

During the first few years following my first visit with Frankie, I slowly began enhancing my Laine collection. The movies were difficult to locate as they were not commercially produced on videotape. There were six Columbia films and one MGM film that Frankie was part of. Eventually, I discovered a couple of movie rental companies, acquired catalogs, and rented 16 mm prints of Frankie’s Columbia films. These I videotaped while focusing the VHS camera onto the screen for each movie. The result: I obtained the movies, but the sound quality was bad due to poorly-constructed audio line outputs between projector and camera. The video of the movies came complete with an annoying flicker from the shutter of the projector. But, I had copies of Frankie’s movies in my collection! I actually wrote a letter to Turner Productions to be able to purchase a copy of MGM’s Meet Me in Las Vegas. Frankie sang a song in that 1956 movie. I had to sign a paper before they dubbed me a VHS copy. Today, that movie is available on DVD at any major online video retail outlet.

Helen Snow and I became close friends, especially during the time during the late 1980s and 1990s when she was president of the Frankie Laine Society of America (FLSOA). We continued our letter writing and telephone conversations as we had before she was president. I know she felt, as did I, that we shared karma, especially when it concerned Frankie Laine. Helen kept me informed regarding all the behind-the-scenes gossip and activities within Frankie’s group of people and associates. Even though we lived hundreds of miles apart, we developed a closeness that fans of Frankie Laine can appreciate.

I researched all aspects of Frankie’s career. I frequented the library and searched through magazine archives. I also subscribed to various magazines designed for music collectors.

Helen called one day and said she had a surprise for me. It turned out to be an audiocassette copy of an old radio commercial with Frankie Laine as the speaker.

I once surprised Helen when I’d sent her several audiocassette tapes containing several old radio shows with Frankie as a guest. I’d purchased them through a library that specialized in archiving classic radio programs. The agency had performed a computer search on Frankie. To my amazement, the library included several Laine items. I’d bought copies of them all. The productions were a wonderful discovery and encompassed programs such as Bing Crosby’s Philco Radio Time and Spotlight Review with Spike Jones. A number of the armed forces specialty shows on which Frankie had hosted were also included. In all, those programs covered a span of years from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.

When Helen received the copies of the shows I’d sent, she was ecstatic! “When I opened your package and looked inside, I said to John, ‘Look what that kid did for me,’ ” Helen related to me over the phone.

After that, Helen became determined to make tape copies of all the Frankie Laine songs I still required for my collection. She sent me a discography, and all I had to do was to write down the songs I needed. Because of Helen, I virtually completed my Frankie Laine audio collection.

This is a fine example of how important fellow collectors are when building a collection. By networking, collectors can really assist each other with locating elusive material or other collectable items.

Helen and I wrote or telephoned each other on a constant basis. We had a blast when we discussed Frankie and his music. Thanks to Helen, I always eagerly anticipated the latest news regarding Frankie’s career.

Besides keeping in touch with Helen, I delighted in making my first overseas telephone call. The late Bert Boorman of the FLIAS, the Frankie Laine International Appreciation Society—in England, had been corresponding with me for a while. Like Helen, Bert had assisted me with several audiocassette tapes of rare Frankie Laine material. I was grateful to him. He became a great Frankie Laine music collector friend.

Helen and I continued to build our respective Laine collections by sharing items we found. It was fun and extremely interesting.

In my opinion, that was the purpose of the FLSOA—fans discussing their favorite singer and sharing coveted rarities, such as records, tapes, movies, and various other Frankie Laine career memorabilia. We were having a ball.

Helen attended Frankie’s eightieth birthday party in San Diego in 1993. It was lucky for me that she was able to do so. I was able to meet Helen in person for the first time.

 (To be continued in August)


About the Author:

Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.