Arts & Culture

Ladies and Gentleman . . . The Nicest Kids in Town!

Keeping the memory of The Buddy Deane Show alive.

If I have one regret in life, it’s that I wasn’t a Buddy Deaner. Sure, as a teenager I was a guest on the show. I even won the twist con­test with Mary Lou Raines (one of the queens of The Buddy Deane Show) at the Valley Country Club.

But I was never a Deaner. Not a real one. Not one of the Committee members, the ones chosen to be on the show every day—the Baltimore version of the Mouse­keteers, “the nicest kids in town,” as they were billed. The guys who wore sport coats with belts in the back from Lee’s of Broadway (10 percent discount for Committee members), pegged pants, pointy-toe shoes with the great buckles on the side, and “drape” (greaser) haircuts that my parents would never allow. And the girl Deaners, God, “hair-hop­pers” as we called them in Towson, the ones with the Etta Gowns, bouffant hair­dos, and cha-cha heels. These were the first role models I knew. The first stars I could identify with. Arguably the first TV celebrities in Baltimore.

I’m still a fan—a Deaner groupie. I even named some of the characters in my films after them. So you can’t imagine how excited I was when I finally got a chance to interview these local legends twenty years later.

The Buddy Deane Show was a teenage dance party, on the air from 1957 to 1964. It was the top-rated local TV show in Baltimore and, for several years, the high­est rated local TV program in the country. While the rest of the nation grew up on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, (which was not even shown here because Channel 13 already had Buddy Deane), Baltimoreans, true to form, had their own eccentric version. Every rock ‘n’ roll star of the day (except Elvis) came to town to lip-synch and plug their records on the show: Buddy Holly, Domino, the Supremes, the Marvelettes, Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian, to name just a few.

You learned how to be a teenager from the show. Every day after school kids would run home, tune in, and dance with the bedpost or refrigerator door as they watched. If you couldn’t do the Buddy Dean jitterbug, (always identifiable by the girl’s ever-so-subtle dip of her head each time she was twirled around), you were a social outcast. And because a new dance was introduced practically every week, you had to watch every day to keep up. It was maddening: the Mashed Potatoes, the Stroll, the Pony, the Waddle, the Locomotion, the Bug, the Handjive, the New Continental, and, most important, the Madison, a complicated line dance that started here and later swept the country.

Although the show has been off the air for more than twenty years, a nearly fanatical cult of fans has managed to keep the memory alive. The producers of Diner wanted to include Buddy Deane footage in their film, but most of the shows were live and any tapes of this local period piece have been erased. Last spring, five hundred people quickly snapped up the $23 tickets to the third Buddy Deane Reunion, held at the Eastwind, in Essex, to raise money for the Baltimore Burn Center. Buddy himself, the high priest, returned for the event. And more important, so did the Committee, still entering by a special door, still doing the dances from the period with utmost precision. I was totally star-struck and had as much fun that night as I did at the Cannes Film Festival. All on Pulaski Highway.

In the beginning, there was Arlene. Arlene Kozak, Buddy’s assistant and den mother to the Committee. Now a receptionist living near Towson with her husband and two grown children, Arlene remains fiercely loyal, organizing the reunions and keeping notebooks filled with the updated addresses, married names, and phone numbers of “my kids.” She met Winston J. “Buddy”: Deane in the ’50s when she worked for a record wholesaler and he was the top-rated disc jockey on WITH—the only DJ in town who played rock ‘n’ roll for the kids. Joel Chaseman, also a DJ at WITH, became program manager of WJZ-TV when Westinghouse bought it in the mid-’50s. Chaseman had this idea for a dance party show, with Buddy as the disc jockey, and Buddy asked Arlene to go to work for him. On the air “before Dick Clark debuted,” the show “was a hit from the beginning,” says Arlene today.

The Committee, initially recruited from local teen centers, was to act as hosts and dance with the guests. To be selected you had to bring a “character reference” letter from your pastor, priest, or rabbi, qualify in a dance audition, and show in an interview (“the Spotlight”) that you had “personality.” At first the Committee had a revolving membership with no one serving longer than three months.

But something unforeseen happened: The home audience soon grew attached to some of these kids. So the rules were bent a little; the “big” ones, the ones with the fan mail, were allowed to stay. And the whole concept of the Committee changed. The star system was born.

If you were a Buddy Deane Committee member, you were on TV six days a week for as many as three hours a day—enough media exposure to make Marshall McLu­han’s head spin. The first big stars were Bobbi Bums and Freddy Oswinkle, ac­cording to Arlene, but “no matter how big anyone got, someone came along who was even bigger.” Joe Cash and Joan Teves became the show’s first royalty. Joanie, whose moth­er “wanted me to be a child star,” hit the show in early ’57 at age 13 (you had to be 14 to be eligible, but many lied about their ages to qualify), followed a few months later by Joe, 17. Like many cou­ples, Joe and Joan met through the show and became “an item” for their fans. Many years later they married.

“I saw the show as a vehicle to make something of myself,” remembers Joe. “I was aggressive. I wanted to get into the record business”—and years later he did.

Joe started working for Buddy as “teen assistant” and, along with Arlene, over­saw the Committee and enforced the strict rules. You received demerits for almost anything: Chewing gum. Eating the refreshments (Ameche’s Powerhous­es, the premiere teenage hangout’s fore­runner of the Big Mac), which were for guests only. Or dancing with other Com­mittee members when you were supposed to be dancing with the guests (a very unpopular rule allowed this only every fourth dance). And if you dared to dance the obscene Bodie Green (the Dirty Boo­gie), you were immediately a goner.

“I got a little power-crazed,” admits Joe. “I thought I was running the world, so they developed a Board, and the Com­mittee began governing itself.” Being elected to the Board became the ultimate status symbol. This Committee’s com­mittee, under the watchful eye of Arlene, chose new members, taught the dance steps, and enforced the demerit system, which could result in suspension or ex­pulsion.

Another royal Deaner couple who met on the air and later married was Gene Snyder and Linda Warehime. They are still referred to, good naturedly by some, as ”the Ken and Barbie of the show.” Gene, a member of “the first Committee, and I underline first,” later became presi­dent of the Board. Linda reverently de­scribes her Committee membership as “the best experience I ever had in my life.” They later became members of the “Permanent Committee,” the hall of fame that could come back to dance even after retiring. “That was our whole social life, being a Buddy Deaner,” says Gene. “It was a family: Buddy was the father, Arlene was the mother.”

Even today Gene and Linda are the quintessential Deaner couple, still social­izing with many Committee members, very protective of the memory, and among the first to ”lead a dance” at the emotion-packed reunions. “Once a Dean­er, always a Deaner,” as another so suc­cinctly puts it.

The early “look” of the Committee was typically ’50s. And although few will now admit to having been drapes, the styles at first were DAs (slicked back into the shape of a duck’s tail), Detroits, and Waterfalls (flowing down the front) for the guys and ponytails and DAs for the girls, who wore full skirts with crinolins and three or four pairs of bobby socks. Joe remembers ”a sport coat I bought for $5 from somebody who got it when he got out of prison. I was able after a while to afford some clothes from Lee’s of Broad­way” (whose selection of belted coats and pegged pants made it the Saks Fifth Ave­nue of Deaners).

One of the first ponytail princesses was “Peanuts” (Sharon Goldman, debuting at 14 in ’58, Forest Park, Chicken Hop), who went on the show because Deaners were “folk heroes.” She remembers Paul Anka singing “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” to her on camera as she did just that. She became so popular that she was written up in the nationwide Sixteen Magazine.

“On the show you were either a drape or a square,” explains Sharon. “I was a square. I guess Helen Crist was the first drapette: the DA, the ballet shoes, oogies [tulle scarves], eye shadow—eyeliner was big then—and pink lipstick.”

Helen Crist. The best little jitterbugger in Baltimore. The first and maybe the biggest Buddy Deane queen of all. Debuting at a mere 11 years of age, taking three buses every day to get to the show, wearing that wonderful white DA (created by her hairdresser father), and causing the first real sensation. She was one of the chosen few who went to New York to learn how to demonstrate the Madison, and was selected for the “exchange committee” that represented Baltimore’s best on American Bandstand. She was the one of the biggies who refused to be on the Board (“they had power; a liked because of it”)

Helen’s fans flocked to see her at the Buddy Deane Record Hops (Committee members had to make such personal appearances and sign autographs.) “I got these letters from the Naval Academy,” Helen remembers, “so I went there one day, and all the midshipmen were hanging out the windows. It was a real kick!” Her fame even brought an offer to join the circus.

“This man approached me, telegrammed me, showed up at the show. He wanted me to go to a summer training session to be a trapeze artist. I wanted to go, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I was really mad. I wanted to join the circus.”

Two other ponytail princesses who went on to the Buddy Dean hall of fame were Evanne Robinson, the committee member on the show the longest, and Kathy Schmink. Today they seem opposites. Over lunch at the Thunderball Lounge, in East Baltimore, Kathy remembers, “I could never get used to signing autographs. ‘Why?’ I’d wonder.” She wasn’t even a fan of the show. “It was a fluke. My mother wanted me to go, she took me down to the tryouts. At first I was so shy I hid behind the Coke machines.”

But Evanne “used to come right home and head for the TV. I had always studied dance, and I wanted to go on [the show]. I’m the biggest ham.” Although she denies being conscious of the camera, she admits, ”I did try to dance up front. I wasn’t going to go on and not be seen.” But even Evanne turned bashful on one show, when Buddy made a surprise an­nouncement: “I was voted prettiest girl on this whole Army base. I was so embarrassed. Buddy called me up before the cameras, and I wasn’t dressed my best. The whole day on the show was devoted to me.”

Being a teenage star in Balti­more had its drawbacks. “It was difficult with your peers,” recalls Peanuts. “You weren’t one of them anymore.” Outsiders envied the fame, especially if they lost their steadies to Deaners, and many were put off by boys who loved to dance. ”Everybody wanted to kick a Buddy Deaner’s a–,” says Gene, recalling thugs waiting to jump Deaners outside the stu­dio.

It was so painful. It was horrible/’ says Joe. ”I used to get death threats on the show. I’d get letters saying, ‘If you show up at this particular hop, you’re gonna get your face pushed in.'” And Evanne still shudders as she recalls, “Once I was in the cafeteria. One girl yelled ‘Buddy Deaner” and then threw her plate at me. My mother used to pick me up after school to make sure nobody hassled me.”

The adoring fans could also be a hassle. “I must have had ten different phone numbers,” says Helen, “and somehow it would get out. There were a lot of obscene phone calls.”

And the rumors, God, the rumors. “They all thought all the girls were pregnant by Buddy Deane,” remember sever­al. “Once I was off the show for a while, and they said I had joined the nunnery,” says Helen, laughing. “It was even in the papers. It was hilarious.”

Some of the rumors were fanned on purpose. Because Buddy Deane‘s compe­tition was soap operas, the budding teen­age romances were sometimes played up for the camera. “One time I was going with this guy, and he was dancing with this guest I didn’t like,” says Evanne. “Buddy noticed my eyes staring and said, ‘Do the same eyes.’ And the camera got it.” Kathy went even further. “I was with this guy named Jeff. We faked a feud. I took off my steady ring and threw it down. We got more mail: ‘Oh, please don’t break up!’ Somebody even sent us a miniature pair of boxing gloves. Then we made up on camera.”

Romance was one thing; sex was anoth­er. Most Deaner girls wouldn’t even “tongue-kiss,” claims Arlene, remembering the ruckus caused by a Catholic priest when the Committee modeled strapless Etta gowns on TV. From then on, all bare shoulders were covered with a piece of net.

Other vices were likewise eschewed. If a guy had one beer, it was a big deal. Some do remember a handful of kids getting high on cough medicine. ” Yeah it was Cosenel,” says Joe. “They would drive me nuts when they’d come in the door, and I’d say ‘Man, you’re gone. You are out of here. You are history.'”

Buddy Deane2
The Buddy Deane Show, a teenage dance party on the air from 1957 to 1964, was the top-rated local TV show in Baltimore.

Although many parents and WJZ insisted that Committee members had to keep up their grades to stay on the show, the reality could be quite different. With the show beginning at 2:30 in some years, cutting out of school early was common. “I’d hook and have to dance in the back so the teachers couldn’t see me,” says Helen. “I had to get up there on time. My heart would have broken in two if I couldn’t have gone on.” Finally, Helen quit Mergenthaler (Mervo) trade school, at the height of her fame. “The school tried to throw me out before. I couldn’t be bothered with education. I wanted to dance.”

“We had a saying: ‘The show either makes you or breaks you,'” says Kathy. “Some kids on the show went a little nuts, with stars in their eyes; they thought they were going to go to Hollywood and be moviestars.”

Yet Joe was a dropout when he went on the show and then, once famous, went back to finish. And according to Arlene, Buddy encouraged one popular Committee member (Buzzy Bennet) to teach himself to read so he could realize his dream of being a disc jockey. He eventually became one of the most respected programmers in the country and was even written up in Time magazine.

With the 1960s came a whole new set of stars, some with names that seemed like gimmicks, but weren’t: Concetta Comi, the popular sister team of Yetta and Gretta Kotik. An then there was teased hair, replacing the ’50s drape with a Buddy Deane look that so pervaded Baltimore culture (especially in East and South Baltimore) that its effect is still seen in certain neighborhoods of this great Hairdo Capital of the World.

Some of the old Committee kept up with the times and made the transition with ease. Kathy switched to a great beehive that resembled a trash can sitting on top of her head. (“I looked like I was taking off.”) And Helen, Linda, and Joanie all got out the rat-tail teasing combs.

Fran Nedeloff (debuting at 14 in ’61, Mervo, cha-cha) remembers the look: “Straight skirt to the knee, cardigan sweater buttoned up the back, cha-cha heels, lots of heavy black eyeliner, definitely Clearasil on the lips, white nail polish. We used to go to stand in front of Read’s Drugstore, and people would ask for our autograph.”

Perhaps the highest bouffants of all belonged to the Committee member who was my personal favorite: Pixie (who died several years later from a drug overdose). “You could throw her down on the ground, and her hair would crack,” re­calls Gene. Pixie was barely five feet tall, but her hair sometimes added a good six to eight inches to her height.

But by far the most popular hairdo queen on Buddy Deane was a 14-year-old Pimlico Junior High School student named Mary Lou Raines. Mary Lou, the Annette Funicello of the show, was the talk of teenage Baltimore. Every week she had a different “do”—the Double Bubble, the Artichoke, the Airlift—each topped off by her special trademark, suggested by her mother, the bow. “We really sprayed it,” remembers Mary Lou today from her home in Pennsylvania. ”The more hair spray, the better. After you sprayed it, you’d get toilet paper and blot it. Some­times you’d wrap your hair at night. If you leaned on one side, the next day you’d just pick it out” into shape.

Mary Lou was the last of the Buddy Deane superstars, true hair-hopper royal­ty, the ultimate Committee member. “We have a telegram,” Buddy would shout almost daily, “for Mary Lou to lead a dance,” and the cameraman seemed to love her. ”When that little red light came on, so did my smile,” she says, laughing. At her appearances at the record hops, “kids would actually scream when you’d get out of the car: ‘There’s Mary Lou! Oh, my God, it’s Evanne!’ Autograph books, cameras, this is what they lived for. They sent cakes on my birthday. They’d stand outside my home. They just wanted to know if you were real. I was honored, touched by it all.”

Mary Lou was aware that in some neighborhoods it was not cool to be a Buddy Deaner. “Oh sure, if you were Joe College [pre-preppie], you just didn’t do The Deane Show.” “Did you ever tum into a Joe College?” I ask innocently. “No!” she answers, with a conviction that gives me the chills.

But as more and more kids (even Deane fans) did tum Joe College, many of the Committee made the mistake of not keeping up with the times. Marie Fischer was the first “Joe” to become a Commit­tee member—chosen simply because she was such a good dancer. As with the drapes and squares of the previous decade, she explains, “there were two classes of people then—Deaners and Joe College. The main thing was your hair was flat, the antithesis of Buddy Deane,” she says, chuckling. “I was a misfit. Every day I’d come to the studio in knee-highs, and I’d have to take them off. You had to wear nylons. Before long I started getting lots of fan mail: ‘I think you’re neat. I’m Joe, too.’ There was a change in the works.”

Part of that change was the racial inte­gration movement. ”I had a lot of black friends at the time, so for me this was an awkward thing,” says Marie. “To this day, I’m reluctant to tell some of my black friends I was on Buddy Deane be­cause they look at it as a terrible time.”

Integration ended The Buddy Deane Show. When the subject comes up today, most loyalists want to go off the record. But it went something like this: Buddy Deane was an exclusively white show. Once a month the show was all black; there was no black Committee. So the NAACP targeted the show for protests. Ironically, The Buddy Deane Show intro­duced black music and artists into the lives of white Baltimore teenagers, many of whom learned to dance from black friends and listened to black radio. Buddy offered to have three or even four days a week all black, but that wasn’t it. The protesters wanted the races to mix.

At frantic meetings of the Committee, many said, “My parents simply won’t let me come if it’s integrated,” and WJZ realized it just couldn’t be done. “It was the times,” most remember. “This town just wasn’t ready for that.” There were threats and bomb scares; integrationists smuggled whites into the all-black shows to dance cheek to cheek on camera with blacks, and that was it. The Buddy Deane Show was over. Buddy wanted it to end happily, but WJZ angered Deaners when it tried to blame the ratings.

On the last day of the show, January 4, 1964, all the most popular Committee members through the years came back for one last appearance. “I remember it well,” recalls Evanne. “Buddy said to me, ‘Well, here’s my little girl who’s been with me the longest.’ I hardly ever cried, but I just broke down on camera. I didn’t mean to, because I never would have messed up the makeup.”

In 1985 the Committee members are for the most part happy and healthy, living in Baltimore, and still recognized on the street. ”They kept their figures, look nice, and are very kind people,” says Marie in her lovely home on Falls Road before taking off for the University of Maryland, where she attends law school.

Most are happily married with kids and maintain the same images they had on the show. “We are kind of like Ozzie and Harriet,” says Gene Snyder as Linda nods in agreement. ”I’m a typical housewife,” says Peanuts. “Girl Scout leader, very active in my kid’s school.” Mary Lou is still a star. That she has an affluent life-style surprises no one on the Committee. In her home, near Allentown, Pennsylvania, she serves me a beautiful brunch, models her fur coats, and poses with her Mercedes. “When I get depressed, I don’t go to the psychiatrist, I go to the jeweler,” she says.

Oddly enough, few of the Deaners I’ve talked to went on to show biz. Joe Cash has Jonas Cash Promotions, in Columbia and Silver Spring.. (“my own promotional firm—we represent Warner Brothers, Columbia, Motown—85 percent you hear in this market”)—and Active Industry Research, in Columbia (a “research firm—I’m chairman of the board”). Evanne and her brother run the John Brock Benson Dance Studios, in Pasadena, and have a line of dancers who appear at clubs all over the state. But most have settled down to a very straight life.

And none are bitter. Although the Committee was a valuable promotional tool for WJZ at the time, and belonging was a full-time job, no one (except teen assistants) was paid a penny. Even doing commercials was expected. Mary Lou laughs at the memory of doing a pimple medicine spot on camera. And who could forget those great ads for the plastic furniture slipcovers that opened with the kids jumping up and down on the sofa and Royal Parker screaming, “Hey kids! Get off that furniture!”? Or the Bob-a Loop? Or Hartford Motor Coach Company? Or Snuggle Dolls? The Deaners didn’t mind.

As Marie puts it, “The rewards were so great emotionally that you didn’t have to ask for a monetary award.”

Many had difficulties dealing with the void when the show went off the air. Gene calls it “a big loss.” “It was living in a fantasy world,” says Helen. “and later on, growing up, it was a definite blow: reality.” “I still have a whole box of fan mail,” says Evanne. “If I’m ever depressed, sometimes I think, ‘Well this will make me feel better,’ and I go and dig in the box.”

Holding onto the memories more than anyone is Arlene Kozak, who is by far the most loved by all the Committee members. (They gave her a diamond watch at the last reunion.) ”Do you miss show biz?” I ask her. “Not show biz,” Arlene answers, hesitating, “but the record biz, the people. Yes, I miss it very much. I don’t think I’ll ever get over missing it, if you want to know the truth.”

Many of the Committee members’ spouses faced an even bigger adjustment. In “mixed marriages” (with non-Deaners), many of the outsiders resented their spouses’ pasts. “At 21, I married a professional football player,” Helen remembers, “and he made me burn all the fan mail. I had trunks of it. He was mad because I was as popular as he was. He just didn’t understand.”

But some have dealt with the problems in good humor. When Mary Lou’s husband gave me the long and complicated directions to their home on the phone, he ended with “And there you will find, yes, Mary Lou Raines.” He later confided that when he first started dating her, he had no idea of her early career. “Everywhere we went, people would say ‘There’s Mary Lou.’ I wondered if she had just been released from the penitentiary.”

The Buddy Deane.phenomenon is hardly dead. Each reunion (and a new one is in the works) ls bigger than the last. Deaners seem to come out of the woodwork, drawn by the memory of their stardom. Buddy returns on a pil­grimage from St. Charles, Arkansas, where he owns a hunting and fishing lodge and sometimes appears on TV, to spin the hits and announce multiplication dances, ladies’ choice, or even, after a few drinks, the Limbo. Some of the really dedicated Committee members get tears in their eyes. Was it really twenty years ago? Could it be?

Why not do The Deane Show on TV again? Just once. A special. The ultimate reunion.From all over the country, the Deaners could rise again, congregate at the bottom of Television Hill, and start Madison-ing their way (“You’re looking good. A big strong line!”) up the hill to the famous dance party set, the one that now houses People Are Talking. The ”big garage-type door” they remember would open, and they’d all pile in, past George and “Mom,” the Pinkerton guards who used to keep attendance, and crowd into Arlene’s office to comb their hair, confide their problems, and touch up their make-up. Buddy ­could take his seat beneath the famous Top 20 Board, and the tension would build. “Ten seconds to airtime. . . . three, two, one. Ladies and gentle­men, the nicest kids in town!”