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Chance of A Lifetime - October 16, 1952
by Arnold Koch (Written while a student at Colgate U.)

The car and its six occupants sped through the Catskill Mountains area from Oneida to New York City (before the N.Y. State Thruway). It was 4:30 a.m. and a faint glow could be seen in the east over the mountains where the sun would rise in about an hour. lt was my burden to be the driver of the car at this weird hour. The other five sleeping occupants were known as the Salt City Five dixieland band and it was my questionable good fortune to be their manager. (This was the original band with Will Alger, Jack Maheu, Don Hunt, Bob Cousins and Charlie French).
We had left Oneida, N.Y. at 1 a.m. as soon as the guys finished playing at Club Dana. The band was on its way to appear on the national TV show “Chance of A Lifetime” in New York City. It was a professional talent competition with the winner receiving $1,000, a week at the Palace Theater in Manhattan, an audition with Columbia Records and Columbia Pictures and a celebrity party at Bill Miller’s Riviera. Each contestant was given a free room at the beautiful Hotel Roosevelt.
We arrived in front of the hotel at 8:15 a.m., six unshaven tired individuals whose appearances would have generated a tidy collection if we’d had tin cups in our hands. The drums and instruments were taken off the roof of the car and then up to the rooms which were, to us, the ultimate in luxury.
While the Five lay down in their rooms to rest until the noon rehearsal, I began the exhausting ordeal of walking around town gathering up tickets for the show. Since the winning contestant was judged by a show of hands, not by applause like the Godfrey Talent Scouts show which the Five had won four months before, it was imperative that we have known supporters in the audience. Each contestant, or group, was given twelve tickets. By noon, however, thanks to friends ABC -TV, the sponsoring network, I’d rounded up 25 additional tickets. Much of the day was punctuated by numerous phone calls to friends in the Manhattan area, resulting in the disposal of 20 tickets.
Early in the afternoon I arrived at the theater to watch the rehearsal and fill on contracts. Half of the orchestra pit was filled with equipment leaving most of the 500 seats in the balcony.Because we had won the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show on CBS-TV four months before we were told we had to change the band’s name to “Will Alger and the Dixieland Band” so as not to be associated with the Godfrey show. So much for “truth in labeling”. The other contestants were a dance team, a male singer with a voice reminiscent of the late Buddy Clark. (Those damn baritones are the ones to watch out for !).
The first rehearsal in the theater of the entire show took place around 3 o’clock. The Five was in the unenviable position of being on first, especially as far as getting votes since the show had no reprises. The Five decided to play “That’s A Plenty”, the same number they’d won on the Godfrey show. It was the only good arrangement that could be squeezed into the allotted two minutes and twenty seconds.
During the rehearsal, Dennis james, or “Denny” as the director affectionately called him, gave an ad lib commercial in which he urged his listeners to, “hurry the hell down to your corner drug store and buy lots of these god damned Old Golds, or else we sons-a-bitches up will go broke.” During the show, big cards were held up with more appropriate copy for Demiy to read.
The third and last rehearsal was at 6:30 p.m. It marked the appearance of Eileen Barton, the guest singing star. lt also marked the appearance of the “mystery girl” - namely, the girl who danced inside the Old Gold pack on TV. Call me a sexist but I could see why only her legs were shown to TV viewers. lf they had seen her face, Old Gold sales would have plummeted. Truly, her legs were her main asset.
Throughout the dress rehearsal, it seemed as if everybody was looking at their own stopwatch. When the baritone had finished his stint, the rehearsal ended and comparative times of various parts of the show were studied. It was too long. (It was live tv). Sitting with the director in the orchestra, Dennis James pointed to the time chart, while nervously biting his fingernails, where various parts of the program had to be cut down. At one point the director pleaded, “You know that the Roosevelt Hotel gets sore if they get less publicity than the Palace Theater.”
As show time neared, everyone got more tense. At 7:30, I walked in front of the theater to get rid of my remaining five tickets and to see if our Z0 “fans?’ had arrived. I was astonished to see that the line extended the length of the block. Walking the length of the line, I could see that those I’d called were there. I gave the remanning five tickets to five disheveled guys who looked like they were from the Bowery. Of course, I first made them promise that they’d vote for us. Even if they didn’t vote, at least they’d have a warm abode and some free entertainment for the evening.
Returning backstage I noticed Ms. Barton standing with what looked llke a large eraser holding her jaw open (obviously to increase flexibility !) I overheard the baritone remark, “I don’t really care if l win this show. I’m just worried about straining my voice because I have a recording session with RCA Victor tomorrow.” Restraining an impulse to deliver a swift kick to the rump, I walked out and took my place in the audience. There were few young faces, mostly the elderly, which is bad news for a dixieland band (not today).
The show went on - the Salt City Five, the dancers, and the singer. It appeared to me that the Five got the most applause. Then came the moment of truth when the votes were cast. Four tellers were spread out in the audience to count the raised hands. The number of hands was doubled to give the tv audience the impression of a larger audience. The Five got 194 votes. The dancers got more and the baritone the most.
The baritone went to the party at the Riviera and we went to sleep at the Roosevelt. Financially, the trip was a success as the band cleared $100 each. There were many reasons why I think we lost...the main one being the age of the audience.
There is also another possible reason for our defeat. Perhaps, when some in the audience saw my Bowery recruits raise their hands for us, they kept theirs down!