Edward “Torchy” Smith may be a familiar name/voice to those of you who make listening to IHeartRadio a routine activity. He’s the host of Baby Boomers Talk Radio, a program that from its inception has made its mission to appeal to what Smith calls “the new Lawrence Welk generation minus the bubbles” by interviewing celebrities (over 100 at present count) from those misty watercolor memories of the way we were. Torchy has gone one-on-one (not in a threatening sense, I should emphasize) with the likes of yesteryear faves such as Peter Mark Richman and Joyce Bulifant…and in some cases, the offspring of famous folk: Chris Korman (son of Harvey), Chris Costello (daughter of Lou), etc.
Smith has gathered up many of these interviews and has assembled them in book form: Shooting the Breeze with Baby Boomer Stars (Surprising Celebrity Conversations for the Retro Generation). Due out on March 4 from Archway Publishing, it’s “a collection of first-person stories and histories” shared with our hero Torchy on his show, and for those of us in the nostalgia/pop culture business (present company included) it’s a kick catching up with people who may have lived solely inside the little tee vee machine but were a part of our real-life family all the same.
Shooting the Breeze is sliced up into several sections; the heftiest being “Mouseketeers Roll Call…Count Off Now,” which chronicles the post-Mickey Mouse Club careers of ten of our favorite performing mice including Cubby O’Brien, Tommy Cole, Darlene Gillespie, and Doreen Tracey. (Paul Petersen is also included amongst the rodent alumni although he’s better known for his eight-season gig with The Donna Reed Show.) You may remember that Bobby Burgess later became a regular on The Lawrence Welk Show and Sherry Alberoni (Van Meter) did voice work on animated cartoons (Josie and the Pussycats, Super Friends) but although I knew of Sharon Baird’s long association with Sid and Marty Krofft (Lidsville, Land of the Lost) I did not know that she played the titular Ratboy in the 1986 film directed by the late Sondra Locke. (Sharon’s billed as “S.L. Baird” in that, which I have admittedly not seen because…well, Sondra Locke.) There are also glances at non-Mouseketeers who nevertheless have a Disney connection in David “Marty” Stollery and Tommy “Merlin Jones” Kirk.
Sisters Angela (Make Room for Daddy, Lost in Space) and Veronica Cartwright (Leave it to Beaver) are also profiled in Shooting the Breeze, as our Veronica’s LITB co-stars Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow. There’s also a section—one of my favorites in Smith’s book—on actors who appeared on The Virginian: the big man himself (James Drury) along with Gary Clarke and Thrilling Days of Yesteryear favorite Roberta Shore. At the risk of being pedantically nitpicky, the “Six Favorite Sons” section is actually comprised of eight scions: Stanley Livingston (My Three Sons), Butch Patrick (The Munsters), Billy Gray (Father Knows Best), Darby Hinton (Daniel Boone), Billy Mumy (Lost in Space), Larry Matthews (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Clint Howard (Gentle Ben), and Jon Provost (Lassie). And while Marion Ross (Happy Days) is ideal for “These Moms Knew Best” including Kathleen Nolan (The Real McCoys) is a tad out of whack because her Kate McCoy was not a mother (Hassie and Little Luke were her husband’s brother and sister). (I supposed if you stretched it by describing her as a mom to big kid Grandpappy Amos [Walter Brennan] it might work.)
At the Archway Publishing website their motto reads: “Powered by experts. Published by you.” I gather from this that proofreading and fact-checking is the responsibility of the author, and I have to be brutally honest: this is where Torchy Smith falls down on the job. To its detriment, Shooting the Breeze is riddled with awkward inaccuracies: for starters, the aforementioned Alberoni Van Meter is credited with voicing “Josie” on Josie and the Pussycats (except Sherry was “Alexandra Cabot”—OTR veteran Janet Waldo voiced Josie). In the Jerry Mathers chapter, Leave it to Beaver is described as having aired on CBS and then ABC (correct)…but by the next chapter (Tony Dow), it states that the show was on NBC before being adopted by the American Broadcasting Company. (Sir John Gielgud does not appear in Star Wars, for that matter. That one made me do a double-take.) There are embarrassing punctuation mistakes and spelling errors (it’s Roger Corman, not Korman) that I thought hurt the book despite my keen interest in the subject, and I think that if a concentrated effort had been made to cut back on the sloppiness Shooting the Breeze would be a most engaging book. (At the very least, Smith could have shopped some of these chapters around to family and/or friends, asking: “Does this look right to you?”)
Shooting the Breeze not only features a chapter (the last in the book) on Geraldo Riviera he’s graciously penned the foreword. “This chapter is my pet as I have known Geraldo for over 15 years,” Smith writes. “Although your perception of the man may, or may not change, after reading this chapter.” (I’ll spare you the suspense: my perception did not change, and if it were me…I’d keep that 15-year factoid to myself.) Still, my white-hot-intense dislike for Geraldo (I consider him a boil on the bum of TV “journalism”) didn’t detract from enjoying portions of Smith’s book (there are some interesting takes on celebs like Nolan, who’s one of my favorites, and Animal House actors Mark Metcalf and Stephen Furst) but as a fellow “nostalgia junkie” I wish Torchy had paid a bit more attention to detail since the concept for Shooting the Breeze is a solid and appealing one. My Facebook chum Jeff Abraham (of Jonas PR) was kind enough to send me a review galley of Breeze and while I cannot stress caveat emptor enough, pop culture mavens will enjoy the experience.