December 31, 2011

Remembering Guy Lombardo, Mr. New Year's Eve and the sweetest music this side of heaven


To me, New Year's Eve has never been the same since Guy Lombardo passed away in 1977. He lived in Freeport, on Long Island's south shore and owned a popular seafood restaurant there, Guy Lombardo's East Point House.

According to Wikipedia: "Lombardo's orchestra played at the Roosevelt Grill in the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City from 1929 to 1959, and their New Year's Eve broadcasts (which continued with Lombardo until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria) were a major part of New Year's celebrations across North America. Even after Lombardo's death, the band's New Year's specials continued for two more years on CBS. The Royal Canadians were noted for playing the traditional song Auld Lang Syne as part of the celebrations. Their recording of the song still plays as the first song of the new year in Times Square."

"Lombardo later became promoter and musical director of Jones Beach Marine Theater, which is a still-popular concert venue south of Freeport - the venue was built specifically with him in mind by Robert Moses, who regarded himself as one of Lombardo's fans. Lombardo's final production at Jones Beach was in 1977."

While in college in the early 1960s, I worked at the Jones Beach Marine Theatre for four summers as an employee of the Long Island State Park Commission, which was headed by Moses.

Some nights, Lombardo arrived at the theatre on his boat, a short ride from his waterfront home in Freeport. Most evenings, he showed up in a gleaming white Cadillac. His brothers Victor, Carmen and Lebert also drove to the theatre. I was a parking lot attendant, except for one summer when I was the night watchman, and remember waving to the Lombardo brothers each evening when they entered. Usually, they responded with a wave and a smile. The band's lead singer was the husband of Guy's sister Elaine, Kenny Gardner.

The Lombardos had private parking spaces next to the Marine Theatre. In front of each space, on a pole, was the first name of each brother. I remember that one summer someone painted the word "Wise" above Guy's name. It remained there for weeks, so I guess he was not offended.

As I write this, we are only a few hours away from the ball dropping on Times Square. The memories flood back of parties I attended over the years, old friends with whom I spent those fun times and perhaps most of all, Lombardo, a Long Island guy. With apologies to Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest, Guy will always be Mr. New Year's Eve to me.


Anonymous said...

From Lillian Smith Handleman, class of 1962:

We loved Guy Lombardo! Watched him every New Years Eve with my parents who allowed us to sip a glass of Port wine every year on this special night. I vowed one day I would dance at the Waldorf to Guy Lombardo on New Years Eve, but somehow it never happened. Good memories, though.

Marilyn Monsrud Frese said...

Great info- especially on this special day Frank. And lovely memories for you!! Wishing you, Vivian and Randy a Happy and Healthy New Year... and hopes for lots of great blogs in 2012!

Marilyn Monsrud Frese said...

BTW- my ex-father-in-law used to be the drummer for Guy's band for a number of years! That was back in the early 50's- mid 60's.

Toni Crescenzo Gelfer said...

Our family all watched the show, together and kissed each other at midnight..My mother had a real thing for Kenny Gardner..who apparently did some sexy move with his shoulders..sort of like what the Beatles did to us girls when they shook their long hair..Happy New Years, again Frank and family..Thanks for the memories...

Frank Barning said...

My mother had a thing for Kenny Gardner, too. It was rare that she would express feelings for anyone. She also liked Kathy Lee Gifford, considered her a member of the family.

I got to see Kenny up close at the Marine Theatre dozens of times and saw him sing often during my break. I loved songs such as "Enjoy Yourself, It's Later Than You Think" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."

Do you remember The Twin Pianos, a regular part of any Lombardo show?

john m stalberg said...

I worked at Jones Beach from 1961-67 on the landscaping crew. In the summer of '64 we were planting some flowers at the Marine theater.I met Louis Armstrong, who was performing before each show that summer. He had just had his biggest hit, "Hello Dolly." As I recall, he was a nice guy.

Best to all for a great 2012. Keep up the fantastic work, Frank.