Maury Foladare tipped his golf cap, the blue one bearing the logo of the Crosby tournament at Bermuda Run, N.C. Foladare, four months shy of his 80th birthday and a Hollywood publicist for 56 years, isn't one to let a chance to plug the tourney slip away. And, after all, he's been on the Crosby payroll since Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys were wowing them at the Cocoanut Grove.
It was 1930, Foladare recalled, when he met Crosby. Foladare is an encyclopedia of Hollywood history, a man who not only remembers dates and details but for whom each name evokes another memory, another "Can I tell you a story . . . ."
There was the Louis Armstrong story. It seems a young Armstrong had been making a little whoopee during an engagement in Baltimore and had encouraged two young women to visit him in Los Angeles. To his horror, the women were arriving momentarily--and so was Armstrong's fiancee, Lucille, who had decided to pay a surprise visit.
"Louis told me, 'Pops'--he called everybody 'Pops'--give them $100 apiece and put them back on the train to Baltimore.' "
Foladare pulled it off, even though "I thought they were going to claw my eyes out."
And there was the "King Kong" story. It was 1933 and Foladare, on the payroll of the Fox Theaters chain, had been dispatched to the Pacific Northwest to publicize the classic horror film. "Well," he said, "I got a big guy and rented an ape costume from Western Costume. I had this big ape walk into the Wenatchee (Wash.) Department Store. This one woman fainted. Later, she sued me and the studio (RKO) for $100,000." The matter was settled without the studio having to pay.
And then there was the Gary Cooper story. In 1929, as Foladare tells it, he accompanied a "very bashful" young Cooper to San Francisco for the premiere of "The Virginian" at the California Theater. But Cooper refused to go on stage, pleading stage fright. Some bootleg bourbon negotiated by Foladare through a hotel bellhop did the trick. "I got him on stage and he was there for 45 minutes. I couldn't get him off."
And the Mario Lanza story. It was 1955 and opening night at the New Frontier in Las Vegas for tenor Lanza, the bad boy of MGM. "He got $50,000 in advance," Foladare said, "and never came out on stage." It seems that, as the audience waited, Lanza was in his suite "laid out with champagne, uppers and downers," as Foladare described the scene.
A frantic Foladare dashed across the road to the Desert Inn, where he knew Jimmy Durante was in the house, scheduled to open in a few days. "Jimmy, you speak Italian, don't you?" he asked, persuading Durante to try to reason with Lanza. "We had 110 press people there," Foladare said, but Lanza wouldn't be budged--so
Durante did the show for him. The official explanation: Lanza was ill. Four years later, Lanza died of a heart attack at the age of 38, a victim of obesity, barbiturates and alcohol.
Later, Foladare was able to return Durante's favor, in his role as chairman of the board for the Los Angeles County Department of
Adoptions, interceding in behalf of Durante who initially had been considered too old to adopt a child.
Foladare, a native son, wasn't thinking about a career in show business in 1927 when he took a job ushering at the old Tower Theater during the premiere of the first talkie, Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer." Foladare was a student at USC, thinking of a career as a newsman.
Later, a night job on the Los Angeles Examiner sports desk--at 25 cents an inch--led to a full-time job right out of college, at a whopping $18 a week. When Foladare found out that reporters who had been there for 20 years or longer were getting $29 a week, he figured, "If that's my future, I better get out."
He was hired away by Arthur Wenzel, publicist for a group of theaters including the Morosco and the Majestic. "I thought they were a bit off," Foladare said, "because they hired me for $55 a week." As it turned out, there was a catch: "I wouldn't get paid. I'd have to chase them down the street and then I'd get $2 thrown at me. That lasted about five or six weeks."
Through the newspaper job, he had met a number of press agents and, in 1930, Foladare had an offer to become publicity director of the Paramount Theater at 6th and Hill streets, where part of the job would be booking vaudeville acts to run with the films.
Meeting Bing Crosby
It was through the Paramount connection that he met Crosby, who with the Rhythm Boys was doubling nightly at the Cocoanut Grove and the theater. That was a year before Crosby went solo on CBS radio and the road to superstardom.