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