Regis comes to town .. with Rickles

Tom Williams AT LARGE:

Everybody knows Regis Philbin. For more than half a century he has been entertaining America and hosting some of television’s most popular shows. He will be in Atlantic City on Saturday with Don Rickles, doing one show at The Borgata.

“There is nobody funnier than Don Rickles,” Regis said. “More than 50 years ago I was working in San Diego and I read that he was coming to town. I went to see him with a cameraman and he agreed to an interview. In those days the cameras needed a lot of light so we had to go outside to record it. He asked me my name and when I told him it was Regis – well, that was all he had to hear. He did four minutes just on my name. I couldn’t stop laughing and I couldn’t get over how fast his mind worked.”

“He’s been on my shows many times through the years. I remember going to interview him at a big comedy show. There were lots of great comics but he was the one I wanted. They came onto the stage one by one and I was waiting. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back to the station in time with the interview. Finally, he was the last one to come on. I asked Jack Benny why Don came on last. He said it was because none of them wanted to follow him.

“For a while in New York I was doing a stage show, some singing and some comedy. My first gig was opening for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme but eventually I started opening for Don. We’ve had a long friendship. Recently he suggested I come do some shows with him. So here we are.”

Regis and Rickles will be at The Borgata on Saturday night for one show. It will bring together Rickles, one of the funniest men in the business with an inter-active act that is different every night, with Regis, who holds the Guinness World Record for the most hours on television in the United States. The last time his record was updated, in 2011, he had been in front of a camera for 16,746.5 hours.

“I hate to even think about it,” he said. “I’m proud I’ve lasted but that is a really long time. I’m just glad people aren’t sick of me.”

The Borgata show will include video from both of their careers, which will certainly be fodder for both of their senses of humor. Both men have a strong history with Atlantic City, having appeared in casino showrooms over the last couple of decades. Regis even emceed the Miss America Pageant, both by himself and co-hosting with Kathie Lee Gifford.

He remembers an entertainer who inspired him early in life.

“I was a great fan of Dean Martin,” Regis said. “He was a great singer and a very funny guy. When I graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School (Bronx, NY) we went to the Copa in New York to celebrate and to see him and Jerry Lewis. I couldn’t take my eyes off Dean, I thought he was great. I’d met him through the years. I always marveled at his ease. You couldn’t rattle him. Then I met him one last time late in his life in a restaurant. He was cordial but he wasn’t the same old Dean. Some felt he never really got over the death of his son in that jet crash.”

Regis graduated from Notre Dame University and has a well-documented love for the school. “My father was in the Marine Corps and he ran into Moose Krause (former Irish athlete, coach and athletics director). They’d all sit around the fire at night and he’d tell these great Notre Dame stories. He told my dad that I should go to Notre Dame and he agreed.

“I try to go a couple times a year to a football game. This year I’m taking my eight year old grandson with me. He’s quite a little athlete and he wants to go see Notre Dame play. I’m gonna show him the entire school. Of course, it keeps changing. They’re expanding the stadium – building it higher. Sometimes it gets me a little crazy because I used to know where I was going out there but with the changes I’m not always sure.”

Regis and Rickles on the same stage brings together two show business icons – they are a combined 174 years old with more than 100 of those years entertaining people. This event happens once around here, Saturday night at The Borgata. 

Bobby Rydell tells his story

Tom Williams AT LARGE:

Bobby Rydell wrote a book. A book about his life in the spotlight and behind the scenes. It’s called “Bobby Rydell – Teen Idol on the Rocks.” The book tells about the Philadelphia native’s rise to fame and his struggles with alcoholism and other problems.

This is one of the biggest and most talented entertainers of the late 1950s and 1960s. The producers of the gigantic hit “Grease” felt he was such an important part of the era that they named the high school in their film and stage show, Rydell High. He was an influence on the Beatles. He was the youngest headliner ever to appear at the legendary New York night club, “The Copacabana.” Even Frank Sinatra was a fan.

Writing the book was quite an experience.

“The whole thing came about from being on the road so many years and sitting around after shows and telling stories,” Rydell said. “People would tell me I had great stories and suggested I write a book. I wondered who would want to read a book about Bobby Rydell. But my wife, Linda, convinced me to write an autobiography. The only guy I would want to do it with was (Grammy Award winner) Allan Slutsky. We’ve been friends for years. We talked back and forth and wrote notes for two years to gather information.”

Writing the book caused him to relive experiences, both good and bad.

“There are things in the book that are hard to talk about, that you might want to forget – the death of my first wife, Camille, after 36 years of marriage; the problems I had with my mother who, as we know now, was bipolar; and my struggles with alcoholism.”

When Rydell’s career started it was important for a new artist to get exposure on American Bandstand, which was located in Philadelphia. 

“Dick Clark was a wonderful person,” Rydell said, “but just because we were from Philadelphia didn’t mean we would get preferential treatment. He turned down my first three records, he wouldn’t play them on American Bandstand, but when we brought him “Kissin’ Time” he said, ‘That’s a hit’ and he started playing it every day to a national audience. He had a great ear for what was a hit.

“I like to say that Dick Clark was like the Mike Schmidt of disc jockeys. He would really come through with the bases loaded. If your record was selling in Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago, for example, you had three on base and he would deliver.”

Rydell loved his native South Philadelphia and his summer home in Wildwood. They were both very special to him.

“Absolutely. My grandmother had a boarding house at 232 E. Montgomery Avenue in Wildwood. My mother starting taking me there when I was an infant and I went there every summer up until about 17 when things started to happen in my career. Both Wildwood and South Philadelphia are very dear to me. A lot of people in South Philly those days would visit Atlantic City. But my special friends would go to Wildwood and they would go every summer. Some of the best times of my life were hanging out with friends in Wildwood – on the beach, the boardwalk, on the rides, at the record hops. It was a great time in our lives.”

He even recorded a song about it – “Wildwood Days.”

“I just found out a few years ago,” Rydell said, “that ‘Wildwood Days’ was originally a flip side of one of the Dovells’ hits (‘You Can’t Sit Down’). They knew about my love for Wildwood so they suggested I record it. We got a new arrangement and it became a nice hit for me. Whenever I perform on the East Coast, in particular, they want me to sing that song. I love it.”

The same year that “Wildwood Days” hit the charts, Rydell was Hugo Peabody in the hit film “Bye Bye Birdie.” His love interest in the film was Ann-Margret.

“I got a call from her when I was just in Florida,” he said. “I was actually in the shower and her message went to voice mail. She had read the book and was calling to say she didn’t know about all the things that happened in my life. I called her back and we had a great conversation. We talk every few months. She calls me Hugo and I call her Kim.”

Rydell still performs with fellow Philadelphians Frankie Avalon and Fabian as The Golden Boys of Bandstand. They will next be in this general area on Oct. 2 in Bethlehem, PA.

“Frankie and I go back to when I was about 10 years old. We used to go to hospitals and other places and put on a little show. We have been friends for more than 60 years. And Fabian lived right up the street from me – I was at 2400 S. Eleventh and he was 2500 S. Eleventh. It’s one of the great things about South Philadelphia – the friendships never wane. Even though you might not see somebody for years, when you run into them again it’s like you’re hanging on the street corner again.”

Rydell will also be performing in the Wildwoods Convention Center on Oct. 15 with Little Anthony and Shirley Alston Reeves of The Shirelles. He will be at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City on Nov. 12. And, on Sunday night from 8-11 p.m. in an appearance broadcast on WOND Radio, he will be signing books at Jerry Blavat’s Memories in Margate.

“I love Jerry,” he said. “He is a super dynamite guy who is always there for you. We do a cruise together called ‘Malt Shop Memories.’ We’ve been doing it for about seven years and he goes all over the ship to meet people, even in the boiler room. When the book came out he called and said we have to have a book signing at Memories. I love that club and I love the people there. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Four years ago Rydell underwent a double organ transplant to replace his liver and kidneys. The donor was a young girl named Julia, who had died after being hit by a car.

“The donor program is called ‘The Gift of Life’ and you aren’t supposed to contact the family of your donor until at least a year goes by,” Rydell said. “We waited a year and then got together with Julia’s mother. It was very warm, but very emotional. I placed her hand on my stomach just to show that her daughter still lives within me.”    

Bobby Rydell is one of the major names in the history of popular music, starting from a row house in South Philly and touring the world. But he always will come back to the Delaware Valley.

“I intend to stay here,” he said, “at least until either I die or the Eagles win the Super Bowl, whichever comes first.”

“Bobby Rydell – Teen Idol on the Rocks” can be purchased online through or at You can watch him perform live in an outdoor concert in North Wildwood here.


Words of Wisdom: “Bobby Rydell was discovered by the bass player for Dave Appell and The Applejacks, Frankie Day. Bobby was in the group Rocco and The Saints. Both groups were working in Somers Point. During a break, Frankie caught Bobby and was impressed. Bobby had that knack, his tremendous talent came out very quickly on stage.” (Dick Clark)

Bobby Rydell (left) with Frankie Avalon and Fabian – “The Golden Boys of Bandstand”

PoPsie & Sinatra – together again

Tom Williams AT LARGE:

Here comes Old Blue Eyes again.

This month Frank Sinatra, who died in 1998, is being celebrated as the 100th anniversary of his birth approaches. It is coming up on Saturday.

There was a TV special on CBS Sunday. The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles has an exhibition of highlights from Sinatra’s career through February. And, on Saturday in Hoboken, where he was born, the town will hold a birthday bash at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Sinatra has ties to the Atlantic City area. He appeared on the Steel Pier with the Harry James Orchestra and was a regular visitor to Skinny D’Amato’s 500 Club. When Sinatra was appearing, D’Amato would rent billboards that simply said, “He’s Here!”. Everybody knew what that meant.

Award-winning author Gay Talese, who got his start writing for local newspapers while growing up in Ocean City, was honored this week in New York for his Esquire piece almost 50 years ago that many feel was the ultimate Sinatra story.

In 1978, Sinatra gave a benefit concert to help the Atlantic City Medical Center. The event raised $600,000 and a wing at the hospital was named in his honor.

He also became a regular at Steve Wynn’s Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, frequently renting homes in Ventnor and Brigantine while performing there. And he looked into the possibility of purchasing a gated estate in the Gardens section of Ocean City.

Sinatra had many careers. He was the heartthrob singer during the Big Band Era, singing primarily with bands led by Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. He moved out on his own and continued to produce hit after hit. When his singing career hit a slump, he got a part in the film “From Here to Eternity” and won an Academy Award.

Many more movies followed and Sinatra emerged as one of the top night club singers in the country.

During his years in New York and after, Sinatra was frequently in the camera lens of award-winning photographer William “PoPsie” Randolph, a resident of Ocean City. PoPsie was known as “The Legend of Broadway” because he was on hand whenever a significant musical event was taking place. He took photos of stars from the big band era right through the British invasion of rock and roll. A book of PoPsie’s photos was successfully produced eight years ago and is still available online.

In honor of Sinatra’s 100th birthday another book has been produced of PoPsie’s photos, most of them exclusive shots of Sinatra. Mike Randolph, PoPsie’s son and an Ocean City High School graduate, has gathered these photos into a coffee table book with a forward by Barry Singer, renowned author and columnist on The Huffington Post.

Randolph, one of the most respected people in sports broadcasting, travels the world organizing boxing events for HBO and Showtime. But during the next week he will be signing copies of the book he produced of his father’s Sinatra photos.

The first signing will be on Saturday, the 100th anniversary of Sinatra’s birthday, at Chartwell Booksellers on East 52nd Street in Manhattan.

The next day – Sunday from 1-5 p.m. – Randolph will be at Gregory’s Restaurant in Somers Point. And, on Dec. 18, he will appear from noon until 2 p.m. in the lobby of the medical facility hosting Atlantic Gastroenterology on Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township. That lobby has always displayed photos by PoPsie on its walls.

“The last time I saw Frank in person,” Randolph says in the book, “was at his coming-out-of-retirement dinner party at the good old Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami Beach. Great show. After his performance, my date and I jumped into the Corvette, put the top down and headed for South Beach.

“It’s easy to stay in touch with Frank. His spirit is with all of us…when I’m editing my father’s photographs of him…when I’m playing his anthology of songs on the piano…when I’m listening to the Sunday broadcasts hosted by Sid Mark.

“It was Frank’s voice, his intimate posturing and his facial gestures that carried his lyrical rhapsodies to his worldwide audience. And it was PoPsie’s photographs that captured the memories in intimate portraits for the world to embrace forever.” If you are a Frank Sinatra fan, or are close to one, Mike Randolph has created a book of photos by his legendary father that you need to see.

Ed Hurst is back where he started

Tom Williams AT LARGE:

Ed Hurst was probably the guy that Marconi had in mind when he invented the radio. For more than seven decades the Atlantic City High School graduate has entertained people throughout the Delaware Valley on radio and, later, television.

Hurst is the type of guy we like to hear on the radio. He talks on the air the same way he does off the air. And he tells a great story.

It all started on WFPG Radio, 1450 on the AM dial, when he was still in high school. 

“My shift was from 7 in the evening until 1 a.m.,” he said, “then I got a few hours sleep and got up for high school. The studios were on the Steel Pier and I had an engineer who actually played the records and operated the board.”

After high school, he moved up to WPEN in Philadelphia.  

“I came to Philadelphia with a resume, so they put me on in the mornings playing classical music and reading news. That didn’t last long. I knew nothing about the classics. But they were also looking for a co-host to work with Joe Grady in the afternoons on the 950 Club. He had a good teenage audience. They agreed to give me a six-week trial and the rest is history.”

For nearly a decade the team of Grady and Hurst dominated Philadelphia airwaves, eventually moving the show into television where it was just as successful. They later worked out a deal with the Steel Pier to broadcast from there. That led to “Summertime on the Pier”, which Hurst hosted for two decades.

“I’ve had some great times and people were very nice to me. Joe and I had great success and the TV show on the Steel Pier was a lot of fun. I did it for 20 years. We mixed in shots of people on the beach and in the ocean. We knew there were people watching in Reading and Philly and Wilmington where the temperature was in the 90s. They loved those beach shots.

“I convinced (Steel Pier owner) George Hamid to book some of the young acts at the Steel Pier. I arranged for him to get Stevie Wonder for seven days for something like five grand. We got the Delfonics for a pre-summer weekend at the Pier for $500. There were about 25,000 people on the Pier that Saturday.”

Hurst built a great relationship with the singers whose songs he played.

“The artists have been very nice to me,” he said. “Bobby Vinton was on recently. I was one of the first to play his records and he’s never forgotten. Tony Bennett and I are very close. He calls me every few weeks just to make sure I’m alive and kicking. Life Magazine just did a special hardback booklet all about Tony. He sent me a copy. It really is great. I went and saw him at the Borgata. It was a sellout. In fact, I’ve got a painting in my house that he painted – a portrait of me.”

But, not every artist was cooperative.

“We had Chuck Berry booked on the Steel Pier show – he was playing there. He asked us how much he’d get paid. When we told him we didn’t pay guests on the TV show he packed up his guitar and left.”

Hurst also hosted a Teen Talent Night every summer at the New Jersey State Fair and did another successful TV show from Aquarama, a popular aquarium in Philadelphia.

Hurst thought he had retired from radio until he ran into Harry Hurley and his brother, Don, about seven years ago.

“I was playing golf at Linwood Country Club a few days a week. One day I was having lunch and Harry came over. We talked for a while and then he told me he wanted me to do a radio show. I didn’t want to – I wasn’t sure how well I could ad lib anymore. But they kept after me for a year and finally convinced me.”

The show, called The Steel Pier Show, has been on the air for six years, now running every Saturday from 4-5 p.m. on the same station where Hurst started as a 16 year old – 1450 AM, only now it’s WPG Radio with its shortened call letters.

“Listeners will usually hear a top name artist that we interview. And they hear a lot of good music. We play a lot of the standards done by new artists. And they’ll hear Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow and Barbra Steisand – great artists like that.”

This Saturday, Donny Osmond will be the guest interview.

Hurst, who has lived in Margate for over 30 years, is a Hall of Fame member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia and has received dozens of other awards. There is a plaque on Philadelphia’s Walk of Fame with his name on it – right alongside Dick Clark, Frankie Avalon, Mike Douglas and Bill Haley, among others.

“It’s right across from the Bellevue-Stratford. It was a thrill. They told me they sent somebody over to polish it a few days ago.”

Ed Hurst has had a great career that continues today. He created a teenage dance show before Dick Clark and his teen talent shows preceded American Idol. There have been many thrills. But the biggest one was 71 years ago.

“They had a big electric sign over the Steel Pier ballroom,” he remembers, “that you could see for blocks. The attractions would scroll across it. When they first put my name on there – it said Ed Hurst Record Hops – I stood there for 20-25 minutes just watching it come by. It was quite a thrill for a kid from the Inlet.”      

Ed Hurst