Interview With Ralph Edwards
- Version 2.22
- Ralph Edwards ’35, Class Yell Leader
- Dan Cheatham, Drum Major, 1957
- October 15, 1992
- Ralph Edwards’ Home Overlooking Los Angeles
- Barbara Gabler
- [Cheatham edited his own remarks for clarity and grammar. Inserted by Barbara Gabler on January 26, 1993 and April 21, 1993. Cheatham entered some additional clarifications on 26 April 93.]
- [Ralph Edwards edited his own remarks for clarity and grammar in January 1993 and in (enter new date).]
- [Editorial notes are attributed thus:
- Norden H. (Dan) Cheatham - NHC]
Keywords: Freshmen dinky hats, Bonfire Rallies, Chancellor Tien, Class of ’35, Big Game Reunions, Cal Band, “Truth or Consequences” Show, Brussels Fair, Honorary Membership in the Band, Touchdowns in Memorial Stadium, Brussels Band Reunion, Professor Sara Huntsman Sturgess, Professor Charles D. von Neumeyer, Yell Leader John McGill, Men’s Swimming Pool, Model-T Ford, Garff Wilson, Arleigh Williams, Pappy Waldorf, Pete Newell
Dan: In order to conduct today’s interview, I had to trek up Hollywood Boulevard, past Graumand’s Chinese Theater and into the hills overlooking Los Angeles. Today’s interviewee, in his own words, wants this interview to be: “a warmly intended contribution to the Cal Band as experienced by a grateful alumnus whose devotion to the University of California Band goes back to the September day in 1931 when I walked through Sather Gate and into a freshman’s magical world of the University of California campus.” That entering freshman of 6l years ago and today’s contributor to the Cal Band Oral History Project is Ralph Edwards, a national radio and television performer, producer, a program creator for 56 years and still going strong. Ralph, in late 1936, one year after his graduation from Cal paid $30 to a friend to share a ride to New York where he soon began a radio career that led, in a few years, to include television. Among his many radio and television shows are Truth or Consequences, which is the longest running half-hour commercial program in commercial broadcasting and This Is Your Life -- still on television. And now, here is the yell leader of the class of l935, Ralph Edwards.
Ralph: Dan Cheatham. Thank you. Thank you very much. The last time we saw each other you know Dan was on Wheeler Hall steps in 1958 when I surprised ll0 Cal Bandsmen by making it possible for the Cal Band to get over to the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium. But if this is about my days as a Cal man who is partial to the Cal Band, let’s start in l931 when I entered the University of California. The magic I felt that day as an entering freshman at Cal wore off pretty quickly when a big sophomore ran up, yanked off my frosh dinky hat, tried to tear off a piece of it and plunked it back on my head. There was still plenty of hazing of Freshmen men students at that time at Cal, but I found a lot of out-of-the-way back paths and in one instance, a very ingenious (if I may say so) kind of hiding place that involved the Cal Band guys without their being aware of it, I think. Now let me explain that. It was the beginning of a whole new year when occasionally, the Cal Band, or at least some of the Band members, would be playing one of their rousing renditions at the top of the steps there [referring to the top of the stairs of what is now called the “Class of ’35 Court”, located between Stephens Hall and Moses Hall. NHC], by Eshleman Hall [now called Moses Hall. NHC]. I was coming out of Wheeler Hall and watching other freshmen getting hazed by upper classmen, I was doubtful I could dodge the hazers all the way to Stephens Union [ then, the Student Union, now called Stephens Hall. NHC] , the “non-Orgs” haven, [Referring to Stephens Union as being a “hang out” for independent students, not associated with organized student groups. NHC] I saw the modified Cal Band as a possible welcoming fortress. They were out there playing for us between classes and I sprinted over to the Band and stayed as close to them as I could without an instrument in my hand and tried to look completely involved with the Band members. Well it was magic. The hazers would come up only part way to the Band and look at me and then turn and veer off and look for prey elsewhere. Wherever the Cal Band would hold its brief impromptu performances in those very early frosh days, I seemed always to be close by. I’ll be honest with you, I never have relinquished that association. I see the Cal Band, I stand.
Dan: I’ll vouch for the fact that you have never relinquished that association of which you speak. I certainly remember the surprise you sprang on us on the steps of Wheeler Auditorium in 1958 We’ll learn more about that but, for the moment, I’m thinking about the frosh dinky you were speaking about. Now, a dinky to me is a museum piece. They are something out of the past. They are something you hear stories about. Dinks are matters of nostalgia that people talk about at class reunions of the pre-WW II classes. I’d like to know, did people really wear those things?
RE: Well the dinky - of course they wore them. I mean you couldn’t get on campus if you were a freshmen unless you had your dinky on [There was such a small student body and the cluster of buildings on campus in those days was smaller, so the upper classmen easily recognized each other and a newcomer could be easily spotted and hazed for not wearing his dink. NHC] They were a kind of dark blue felt you know, sort of thing and it went all the way around the brim more or less, as I recall. Remember, this is a long time ago. I never took it off so I never got a good shot at it but at any rate, the sophomores, they wanted to get at you. They didn’t want to completely ruin the thing. I mean they would get it down to where they would strip it almost, [ i.e.tear enough pieces off to where there was hardly any hat left. NHC] and some just had, like a braid across there to hold it on their heads. The more the dinky was scarred up, the more you would salute the son-of-a-gun when he came around. (laughs) [Referring to a well-“battle scarred” Freshman. NHC] I, on the other hand, tried to keep it with just that little bit the first guy gave me, and thank goodness, the Band was the great salutary group for me. As a matter of fact, I didn’t talk about that very much because I didn’t want a bunch of the frosh up there, trying to lay in there with the Cal Band. I had it pretty much to myself... that little ploy.
DC: From my museum-goers perspective, I imagine that the dinks were designed in such a manner as to make the freshmen appear goofy and look foolish and added to the whole idea of making a freshman feel humble and awkward in those early days of entering on his new adventure at the University of California. But, you used another expression that I would like you to set the scene for. You referred to Stephens Union as being the “non-Orgs” haven.
RE: Well, a “non-Org” was a student not affiliated with an organization. That’s why Stephens Union was just kind of a haven for us. If you were in a frat house or well I don’t know if it went so far as to say if you were in the English Club, you wouldn’t be a “non-Org.” I always felt the “non- Orgs” meant pretty much that they were not affiliated with a fraternity house.
DC: In other words, in the parlance of the day, someone who was referred to as a “non-Org” was somebody who didn’t have any campus affiliations in the usual sense. A “non- Org” was someone who was an independent. Many “non-orgs” commuted from home or lived in a local boarding house.
Well that leads me to the next question. In the introduction, I mentioned that you were a class yell leader and for the sake of our listeners, I should mention that in those days, the class government structures were a very, very active thing. In fact, each class had its own yell. Hence, a class yell leader. [See page 9 for the yell of the class of l935.] This is a matter of University of California heritage which the students of today don’t have a feeling for.
So, there you were as the yell leader of the freshmen class.
RE: Yes, three of my four years at Cal, freshmen, sophomore and senior years, I was class yell leader and during my junior year, I was assistant varsity yell leader. Johnny McGill was varsity yell leader and Bill Johnson was the other assistant yell leader. Now during those freshmen, sophomore and senior years, as the class yell leader, I always tried to make our class of ’35, the most lively at the big game rallies at the Greek Theatre, cheering the loudest, we hoped, when the University of California Marching Band came royally marching onto the Greek Theatre stage. As frosh yell leader, I always made sure the UC Berkeley Band got an extra rousing cheer from our class of ’35 at those rallies and later when I became assistant varsity yell leader, our head yell leader, Johnny McGill, had us working very closely with the Band and there was always a recognition on campus to us from many of the Bandsmen, with a warm “Hi, how are you?” You couldn’t stand on the platform of the rooting section in the stadium, as a yell leader, which at that time, were always men, without most of us, the Band and the yell leaders, exchanging happy conversation with each other. We were pals. The Bandsmen were my pals even though we may not have known all their names. Now one of my prize photos is one that somebody took of me at the stadium in my yell leading whites at the base of the rooting section on the long narrow platform, arms outstretched for a yell and three Cal Bandsmen, just below me, resting from their performance, and thousands and thousands and thousands of Cal rooters and their adversaries glued into every seat in the Cal stadium.
DC: I’m holding the photograph here in my hand and there in a good yell leader’s position, with white trousers, white shoes and a white sweater embellished with a felt megaphone in yellow and a blue block C on top of the megaphone is Ralph Edwards. In very close proximity to him, are three Bandsmen in a dark tunic with a white Sam-Browne belt and in the background there’s a completely full stadium; looking at it, there’s not an empty seat to be seen. Cal spirit must have run very high in those days in order to fill the stadium as Chock-A-Block as shown in that photograph.
I’m sure that the bonfire rallies were equally as spirited and full of Cal enthusiasm and loud noise and yelling and all the good things that go along with a bonfire rally. Perhaps you could describe from your perspective what a bonfire rally was like.
RE: Well anyone who’s been up to Cal knows the inside structure of the Greek Theatre there and that’s where we had the Cal bonfire rallies. The biggest thing about it was this big bonfire in the middle of this great theater and as it burned down, piece by piece, the seniors would yell out, “Freshmen, more wood!” and those who were freshmen had to run over to the wood pile or the log pile and throw more wood on the fire. This, of course, would be way into the rally itself. The rally was exciting beyond just having the Cal teams there. It was exciting because you would enter, each in your own class. The freshmen would come in and go all the way around and sit over on the far side over there. Then would come the sophomores, and so on, the juniors and then the seniors would take up the near side so that actually, the freshmen were looking straight across at the seniors, and the bonfire was right in the middle. My feeling about it is that it was a little more to the side of the seniors, but I think I’m probably wrong in that, looking back now from ’32, ’33, ’35 or what - to l9..where are we now..’92. The excitement that would just permeate the Greek Theatre - it was dark outside and it was getting darker and darker and here’s the fire and as they came in, the freshmen maybe doing some yells of their own and so on, but that was a part of it. Being the yell leader for it, I made darn sure that our freshmen class was just the outstanding class there, quote, unquote; of course, we all felt that. The Band would enter on stage and that was a rouser. I mean when that came along why you know, you could never top the Cal Band and then the rally would come along to the point of where you’d have the team come on, and the coach come on and maybe the Captain of the team would have something to say. Whatever manner the young captain would have, it would always be stirring and he could get all the support in the world from the classes there. The coach would save his best bit of ammunition for the Greek rally, the bonfire rally - whoops - the fire’s going down a little bit - “FRESHMEN, MORE WOOD!” and wham - the frosh would have to run and get more wood and throw it on the fire. The team itself then would come on, and it just was an extraordinary evening. If it had been in a larger place, say the end part of the stadium or something like that, it wouldn’t have had the force and the meaning, the camaraderie of this. The team members must have been just exalted by this. As for the games themselves, it seems to me now that we’d roar with the winning games and die with the losing, but each Saturday held a whole new experience. After all, we had Arleigh [Williams] suited up. [Arleigh Williams, Honorary Life Member of the Band, holder of the Cal record for the longest punt, 72 yards, set 28 October 1933 against USC. It stood until 9 September 1978 when it was finally broken, 84 yards, by Dan Melville in the Nebraska game. He was also Executive Director of the ASUC in the late l950’s and Dean of Students starting in l965. NHC]
Our class of ’35 had a yell that we put togeter on the very first Freshmen get together bonfire rally. It was, “GIVE THEM HELL! EAT THEM ALIVE! CALIFORNIA ’35!” (Laughs)
You went way over to the left as you came in and then when you became a sophomore why what do you know, you went to the third position. When you were a junior, you were in the second section--getting older and wiser (we hope), and then when you were a senior, you came in last and had the seats for which you didn’t have to walk so far -- you just walked in as mighty seniors and sat in your position on the mature right. Now that’s the way that I figure it, looking back a long way and maybe I’m wrong about the way the classes kind of came in but I think that was it.
DC: As you were talking about the content of the bonfire rally, the image that was going through my mind was one that I think is really quite stirring. I envision the freshmen class coming in bewildered and shy but wanting to show the world that they had as much spirit as anybody else at the University. But they entered as newcomers and had to walk the furthest distance and suffer the indignity of nobody being in the Greek Theatre to honor their arrival. The following year, they would be sophomores and they would enter second and would sit as a group in a section that was the next shortest distance and the freshmen were all ready there to honor their arrival. And so it would progress as you advanced to your junior year and finally senior year. The senior class, I presume would strut in as the boss of campus and the other three classes basically had to pay homage as they arrived and walked the shortest distance. Now, the program can start because we are here and we are sitting in the honored position in the Greek Theatre as the class which (theoretically at least) has the wisest and the oldest students. We will yell the loudest when it comes time to do group yells.
I think that’s a wonderful image and I agree with you that it would be so nice to return to those days. Hopefully, this unabashed kind of school spirit will come back. If anybody’s gonna do it, it’s gonna be Chancellor Tien. Here’s a guy that behaves like someone who really wants to see this revival.
I must diverge for just a moment to indicate that a lot of the traditional activities died out during those unfortunate periods of the late sixties and the seventies when there was so much student turmoil on Sproul Plaza. It became “uncool” to get involved in “school spirit.“ And, now comes Chancellor Tien who, I think, is a guy that understands the role of tradition. I would like to hope that Chancellor Tien, if I can use the expression, is the “second coming” of Benjamin Ide Wheeler and Robert Gordon Sproul wrapped up into one individual. Chancellor Tien is out there on Sproul Plaza on the first week of school, literally walking among the students. There are appropriate tables set up to greet the freshmen, dispense information on where to go and what to accomplish and there is the Chancellor himself greeting the students. Of course, he wouldn’t be there all day. Before long, he’d wander off in the crowd shaking hands.
When the team comes out on the field, out of north tunnel in Memorial Stadium, there’s the Chancellor standing there to cheer the team. They see him, and they appreciate this. When the Band comes off the field from its pre-game performance, after a very intensive eight-minute pre-game (out of breath and sweat dripping down their brow), there’s the Chancellor standing on the side line greeting them and clapping them on the back and shaking their hands.
So I hope the day is here Ralph. The Chancellor is leading the way and he might be successful.
RE: I endorse your statements about Chancellor Tien one thousand percent. I’m tremendously impressed by this fine gentlemen. I was there at the meetings and so forth that they had for we old dogs you know and his lovely lovely wife. He’s come here twice. He’s visited my darling Barbara, here at the house, who has Parkinson’s disease but he made it - a long shot he was just coming by you know and the last time he was here, I was thinking well, he’s got to hit me for something. What is it? But it was more of saying, “Hey, thank you for just showing us that you’re still a Cal person.” He’s remarkable. He just had me at the first local meeting of the Sproul Associates. With Barbara not able to go anywhere, why I was alone; he called and said come on and eat and sat me right up there by him and his lovely wife and he’s just l00 percent -- not because he calls me once in a while but because the feeling I get when I walk around on campus and all -- and I see some of that kind of - I wouldn’t say brotherly love, but that great great feeling of togetherness that the University has and I’m happy to hear that it is really - things had seemed to be at - the problems about coming here are really dissolving and that’s wonderful. That doesn’t mean we are sitting down and talking about all this and saying, well, it should be that and that way, that things don’t change - they DO and we meld too. I mean we must have changed, we must have been something to our ancestors when we came along. Anyhow, I endorse the Chancellor Tien movement l000 percent.
DC: As this interview goes on, we’ll be hearing more about your role in the early days of the Sproul Associates but for now, I’d like to ask you if you would share with us your next memorable involvement with the Cal Band?
(END OF SIDE ONE OF TAPE 1)
(Side Two of Tape 1)
RE: Well let’s see Dan. I got to know the Cal Band as family -- fraternity -- in the sense that although you guys were a mixture of backgrounds and recipients of learning degrees, when that uniform went on and your instrument was poised for playing, you were a family, defenders of each other and of the Blue and Gold. I’ve seen opponents or mischief makers snatch a Cal Bandsman’s cap and before the snatchers got three feet away, a half dozen Cal Bandsmen take after and catch the trouble makers. What procedure did they have for cap snatchers Dan? Did you do anything to those guys?
DC: We certainly would defend our hats with great vigor as you have explained. In my marching days, anyway, we felt that... doggone it... if you’re gonna be so brash as to steal one of our hats, we’ll get back at you by piling upon you and overwhelming you. We not only got our hat back, but, on occasion, we also went away with your pants, leaving you in public with just your skivy shorts on.
RE: Oh boy, that’s getting back at them all right.
I’ve shared Cal Bands at many different Cal nights through the years and felt the thrill of a rally one more time. The Cal Band has often given me pleasant reminders of many years as a deep friend. Documentation of that is in one of the pre-big game nights, with our class of ’35 reunion, at the Fairmont Hotel and the Cal Band has often given me pleasant reminders of many years as a deep friend. When the Cal Band arrives, starting from the doorway and blasting out with the opening to Big C, I heard someone in the crowd say, “Here comes Ralph’s band.” Can you imagine what a shot that was for me. Wow. This was after the Brussels extravaganza which we’ll come to in a minute. My arm has permanent extension from jumping up at alumni parties at which the Cal Band has just performed and Hail to Cal has been sung. Thinking I’m still in my thirties, I jump up and yell, “Come on, let’s go Cal Band, 12 not 6, 12. Cal Band! Rah! rah! rah! rah! rah!...[ 12 hahs!]” Holy smoke. Crazy. I’d like a hundred bucks for every time I’ve heard the Cal Band join me in the Oski yell at various home rallies. Up there at Cal Berkeley and around here in Los Angeles and all the environs here, that’s a neat yell for a yell leader. The Oski. It’s just terrific. Give me an O... O... . Give me an S... S.... Give me a K... K... . Give me a I... I..., you know and you go on and all of that stuff. It’s a very dramatic thing ... if you could see me, I’d get out there, it’s worth something I know, I’ll charge a couple of bucks some time.
But let’s get on to the greatest surprise and most exciting l5 minutes a Cal Bandsman probably ever experienced on that memorable day, Friday, May 30, 1958, on the steps of Wheeler Hall. Now wait a minute. When you come to think about it, the most exciting time may not have been at Berkeley that day but in my office in Hollywood where we were desperately trying to get Continental Trailways to take ll0 frustrated Bandsmen to New York en route to Brussels and home again via New York. George Boston of my office had been desperately awaiting a go-ahead from Continental Trailways. Late in the afternoon of our deadline, George - disheveled and drawn and in a voice hardly audible - came bursting into my office and we all held our breaths, not saying a word, just staring at me hoping for the miracle, until he said, “It’s a go. It’s a GO!” I said, “Thanks God” and called our secret contact at Cal Berkeley, Arleigh Williams, and in no time, we were at the University of California at Berkeley on Wheeler Hall steps ready to telecast l5 minutes of our national television show, Truth or Consequences. I’d left Bob Barker back with the show in Hollywood for the network. He was at the last part of it and he said, “Here we go with Ralph up there in Berkeley” and unknown to anyone, we’re going to pull the biggest surprise in any band’s history. The unknowing members of the University of California Band were already on Wheeler Hall steps, all ll0 of them, thinking I was putting them on national television in their best dressed uniforms -- oh boy, they looked snappy -- to tell America how hard they were working to get money enough to take them to New York and Brussels and back again. So far as they knew, to no avail in getting the wheels to take them to and from New York. Well, I guess there isn’t a Cal Bandsman, before or after that surprise who doesn’t know what happened. I told a handsome-looking but totally-needing-money-and-method-to- get-to-Brussels-and-back-ag ain-Bandsman that their hard earned efforts had been REWARDED and at this point, two big Continental Trailway buses that we had kept concealed, came rolling up to Wheeler Hall steps. The rest of the next ten minutes was bedlam. Every cap in the Band went flying off their heads and I don’t know if you guys ever found those hats again or not - the way they were sailing. Oh, they jumped, shouted, screamed, grabbed at each other and I have to admit this old grad was an octave or two higher himself. The guys had to touch the buses to believe it was all for real. Mr. Bill Hilton, Vice President and General Manager of Continental Trailways spoke to the ecstatic Cal Bandsmen from the East, over the television we were going through, saying, “Hello gentlemen, I’d just like to add to what Ralph Edwards has said, not only will you ride to New York by Continental Trailways, you’ll be met and driven to the Brussels Fair in the new super Golden Eagle bus, manufactured in Europe and it will be at your disposal all the time you’re in Brussels and then when you’re ready to go home, Continental Trailways will take you back to the plane, meet you in New York at the airport and drive you safe and sound to the Berkeley campus again.” I added, “How about that guys?” Again... bedlam.
Well I have to tell you folks, oh boy, the Cal Band was the raging hit at the World’s Fair of Brussels, sapping all of Russia’s spectators, following in pied piper fashion to the U.S. exhibit. Dan tells me that the Russian officials were so struck with the Cal Band that they followed the Band with their version of Cinerama cameras.
There’s always a one-of-a-kind thrill for me when some l958 Cal Bandsman walks up to me and says, “Hi Ralph, I’m a Cal Bandsman of l958, year of Brussels,” and I hasten to say, I am a forever friend of all Cal Bandsmen and those of you have gone on to become leaders in this great University, we always will share; and to all Cal Bandspeople, let me tell you I treasure the plaques and the proclamation you gave me in ’58 and the giant Cal Band blanket that hung or still hangs. We had it in our first home just a mile below us over here on the second floor bannister until we moved to this non-bannister home where it’s been given full salute on the staircase to my den below. It speaks well for this organization’s loyalty to the on-going Cal Band that so many of you earlier Bandsmen are still knee-deep or should I say, up to your necks, in maintaining the brilliance that has been the trademark of the Cal Band organization through the years. (Dan Cheatham, Drum Major ’57, including the Brussels trip, Dick Coleman, Manager of the Brussels Band, Paul Bostwick, Student Director.) [The Brussels trip was a joint effort that included the incoming 1958 Executive Committee (names listed below) and a few prominent alumni too. NHC]
I treasure the afternoon I stood at the head of the Cal Band at halftime of a Cal USC football game, October l8, 1958, when the Cal Band had triumphantly returned from the Brussels World’s Fair and with then-Manager Hugh Barnett and the entire Cal Band backing me up, this University of California marching band presented me with the fantastic plaque that hangs on our hallway in our home right now. We, Barbara and I, have two Cal Band treasures hanging there. You think that doesn’t ring the heart of an old blue. One is titled Proclamation by the University of California Marching Band and which the Band conferred on me honorary membership in the University of California marching band and gave me the giant Band award blanket and dedicated the halftime performance at the California USC football game that year, to me. How about that. October l8, 1958. The fellows who signed the proclamation were Hugh Barnett, Senior Manager; James Berdahl, Director; A. Chapman Dix, Drum Major; Lawrence E. Anderson, Student Director; and, Fred J. Saunders, Representative At Large.
DC: Ralph, while you were giving us your rendition of the Oski yell. I was thinking myself what a great yell leader you must have been. I wish we could clone you and put you up on the ramp today because I’m sure the rooting section would respond in a very positive sort of way.
On behalf of the Band, I’d like to thank you for that fine description of the events leading to the Brussels trip and your subsequent “appointment” as an Honorary Life Member of the Band.
On one of the other oral history interviews, I think it was the one with Clark Kerr [note to myself: I’ve got to look that up to insert it in the proper context of this interview], the person being interviewed made a very cogent and articulate argument that the Cal Band is the depository of the California spirit.
(A note to myself: that was Bob Steidel’s interview. Note: Dan will improve this paragraph later)
Bob was recounting the ups and downs of our athletic fortunes and the resulting up and downs of the enthusiasm of the rooting section and remarking that no matter what kind of a lean period we went through, there residing in the Band, was the California spirit, so that when it came time for it to reawaken, everybody took their cue from the Band. What I mean to say is that the seeds of this California spirit that could be transported to the less than enthusiastic rooters was there waiting to blossom and be transplanted by those in the Band who, all the time, were yelling and rooting and receiving the plaudits of people like Bob Steidel, for always being there no matter what the fortunes of the Cal athletics were at the time.
Yes, Ralph, I remember the steps of Wheeler Auditorium. I remember the glum countenance of the Bandsmen who were standing there. We still have the video recording of that moment. You interviewed some of the Bandsmen and I remember Dave Max, in particular, was being interviewed with a long face, doubting that we were going to get to Brussels in spite of all the work we put in. As good as the Cal Band is at so many things, it somehow lacks the necessary skills to fund raise and there we were faced with the prospect that we weren’t going to make it. And, yes indeed, around the corner comes those Trailways buses, and it’s well captured in the footage that you so kindly supplied us with at a later date.
Regarding some of the significance of the events at the Fair itself - you mentioned the piped piper fashion in which the fans at the Fair followed us from the Russian exhibit to the American exhibit next door - it went something like this -- it was the period right after the space age was born. The Russians surprised the world by putting up the Sputnik satellite, the first man-made object to orbit the earth. The cold war was at its height and the Russians were making a lot of mileage out of Sputnik. They had a model of it right inside the door of their exhibit. There was a lot of competition between the officials of the two exhibits, the Russians and the Americans, trying to outdo one another. The Americans were the underdog because of all of the admiration that went to the Russians on account of Sputnik. My fantasy image is that the American staff would stand there on the steps of the U.S. exhibit, wringing their hands as they would watch crowds going up the steps of the U.S.S.R. exhibit to look at Sputnik. Then literally the following scene happened, at least on one occasion...In the distance, there was the sound of the drums and the sound of the Cal Band coming down from its performance up at the Esplanade where they had just completed a full half-time style performance, (marching eight steps for five meters) and as the Band would get closer, the spectators on the steps of the Russian exhibit would stop and pause and listen and see the Cal Band marching by. The crowd would then turn around and follow, pied piper fashion, to the steps of the American exhibit where we would form up in a concert formation and play a concert for the assembled crowd, much to the glee of the American exhibit officials.
Indeed, at one point, we were filmed by the Russian Cinerama cameras that wanted to capture this unique group that the world had never seen, and in fact that’s true. The European world had never seen, an organization like an American college marching band. Among other things, we marched at a very fast tempo, somewhere between l40 and l60 beats a minute. Pardon if I get a little dramatic here... our arms were flying back and forth in a perfect position with white gloves, looking very machine-like and our feet were picked up with our spats flying. Having a very machine- like motion is exactly what we wanted to do to catch the eyes and the ears of the crowd. The uniform was in fact, designed just to accomplish this. Never had anyone at the Fair seen a musical organization of this sort. In the oral history interview we had with Clark Kerr, I asked him for his reactions to the trip to Brussels from his lofty position as the then Chancellor of the University. His answer went something like this: “Oh I was aware that the Cal Band was going to Europe and I thought that was fine but we’ve sent groups on trips before. We sent athletic teams, we sent singing groups, we sent other kind of performing groups and I thought, what a great experience it would be for the members of the Band and I was happy to support it as best I could. But what I was unprepared for was the flood of mail and correspondence that came in with such high praise for this organization that the Europeans had never seen.” Clark was taken aback by the volume and the emotional response of this correspondence.
I’d like to get back to that proclamation that you referred to just a minute ago. You described a time in October, 1958 when you received a proclamation from the Band, while standing on the football field in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at the Cal vs. USC football game. I’d like to take a few moments to read just a couple of things out of that proclamation. The first quote is relative to your story about presenting the Trailways buses to us on the steps of Wheeler Hall. The proclamation says: “Whereas in the darkest hour of this campaign, Ralph Edwards presented to the California Band, on Truth or Consequences, the use of bus transportation, courtesy of Continental Trailways, across the American continent and made the Band’s trip to Brussels a reality...” and there are several other “whereas” clauses but it winds up saying: “Be it further resolved that the Band confer upon Ralph Edwards honorary membership in the University of California Marching Band and present to him as a Bandsman, the Band award blanket in grateful appreciation for his Band service and dedicate this halftime performance at the California USC football game to him.”
Now I should let you know that you were in good company at the time because you were the third person to have received an honorary membership in the Band. There are now ten people so honored. The only two people that preceded you were Chris Tellefsen who has a special place in the hearts of Cal Bandsmen and is talked about in other interviews, and Robert Gordon Sproul. Right after that, comes the name Ralph Edwards. In l958 you were the third person to receive that honor.
But this was not the first time that you had been on a football field in front of an intercollegiate crowd of rooters and fans. It seems to me that in your youth you once had that opportunity in Memorial Stadium at Berkeley. Perhaps you could tell us a little about that.
RE: Well yes Dan, I thought everybody in the United States had heard of that tremendous day when I made 3 touchdowns for the student body, right down there on the U.C. gridiron. Let me really get to the heart of this because there’s a little catch to it. I used to work in a drug store over on Park Boulevard in Oakland. I started just bagging epsom salts for the druggist there, Mr. Pedley and I was, I don’t know, about l2 years old and on Saturdays, sometimes, he’d let me off for an hour or so to go play a little football, hard football, no touch football at all, up at a school ground up above Park Boulevard in Oakland, and when I knew I was going to do that, I’d get my older brother Paul’s old cleats and part of his old football outfit and helmet and go on up there and we really played quite a game of football, good enough to have someone ask us to play a short game between halves at Cal’s Memorial Stadium, out there where the CAL football game was going on, the real football game. Wow! I got the time off again and went on out there to the stadium and doggone, I scored three touchdowns there in that little 20 or so minutes. It was a play where I took the ball from the center as a quarterback, and started around right end and our guy over at the right end would turn and come behind me and I would pretend to give him the football. It looked very much like I’d ditched it off to him. It’s just an old play -- they’ve done it all over the years but this thing really worked and then I’d straighten up as if I didn’t have the ball any more and the other guy would keep running as if he had the football and the other team all ran after him. I would just go at an easy little jog so nobody could pay much attention -- go across the line and doggone there I scored a touchdown. Well this happened two more times out there and the half-time audience began to look. A lot of them were going out for coke or something in halftime but this was pretty good and they gave me a yell out there! Somebody asked what the name of this 3-touchdown guy was and they gave me a yell. I did three of those and scored 3 touchdowns on the University of California Stadium and they gave me a great big salute there and I went through life for a long time being able to say I made 3 touchdowns at the University of California football field. [That would have been the mid-1920’s. (Right, ’25 or ’26. RE) The Band didn’t put on half time performances with such regularity as they do now. I am sure there was no conflict between the Band and the “PeeWee” football games at half time. NHC]
DC: So at a young age, Ralph Edwards became proficient in the hidden ball trick and what would today be called a “fake hand-off.” You were, at least momentarily, a star on the turf of the stadium of what later became your alma mater. You received the accolades of the rooting section not knowing that you yourself would later be a yell leader in front of that same rooting section. I think that’s a wonderful anecdote.
One last memory that I have regarding your relationship with the Brussels Band is your coming to one of our reunions -- probably the l970’s I believe, in which the assembled group was in its best form - one line jokes were being called across the room from person to person and from table to table. The Band’s creativity was at its best, and a lot of conviviality was in the air. I remember some of your remarks in which you observed the quality of showmanship and creativity in the Band and said what a pleasure it was for you to be associated with the group.
RE: It was a night for me to remember, seeing you guys again, seated around the table and knowing that you’re the same guys I met there on the steps at Cal. You fellows laid some barbs at me too, kidding around about why there were no dancing girls on the bus and that sort of thing. You were always a group that were and have and will be forever in my heart. You can invite me again one of these days and we’ll make it.
DC: Well it was certainly a different group than the one with the long faces that you first encountered on the steps of Wheeler Hall. (End of side two, tape one)
(Side one of Tape two)
DC: Ralph, let’s reminisce a little about your undergraduate days. With your permission, I’d like to turn the tables on you for a few minutes.
RE: I’ll have a go at it.
DC: Well I’d like to pretend that I’m a T.V. host in a circumstance where I might say something like this: “THIS IS YOUR LIFE... RALPH EDWARDS.” And in the context of that scene there would come a voice from off stage, in such a manner that you wouldn’t know who it is. It is a feminine voice and it says “I had a student once. He was a young red-headed freshmen boy who had a voice to remember.”
RE: And I would have to react in shock and happiness and everything to see, walking out on stage to me from my life, Sara Huntsman Sturgess. Oh boy, what a teacher! What a love. You’ve really brought up something here believe me my buddy. Sara Huntsman Sturgess was my public speaking teacher at Cal and the first day in her class, she asked that each student stand in front of the class and simply speak...or orate...using any topic, any style. I stood up and quoted from King Lear. I quoted with lots of gusto: “BLOW WINDS AND CRACK YOUR CHEEKS! RAGE! BLOW YE CATARACTS AND HURICANOES, VAUNT COURIERS TO EARTH CLEAVING AND THUNDERBOLTS, SINGE MY WHITE HEAD.” You know, like that. I did that and I wondered what was going to happen and after I’d finished, she said, “Comments?” and one girl from the front row said, “Well I thought he was very loud!” and Mrs. Sturgess pounced on her and said, “You don’t know a voice when you hear one. I’d follow that voice all around the campus” -- Wow! You think that didn’t puff me up. Oh my! I remembered that when I went back to Broadway and to New York to try to get in the Theatre. That was taking too much time so I went over to CBS and got into radio instead.
DC: “Well, thank you Sara Huntsmen Sturgess for having had the astuteness to recognize the voice of the young man who went on to become very well known for his voice. So, Sara if you’d go sit over there and wait for a few minutes, we’ll listen to the next voice from offstage.” This is a male voice and says, “Well young man, I see you took my advice to make your way to New York City and to find a career.”
RE: Where are you digging these up from? Yeah I’m telling you. I could just wish that every student got the same treatment as I did. That was Professor Charles D. von Neumayer who was a great drama coach, a director. We were doing a production class assignment of Greek drama up at the Greek Theatre again. No bonfires this time. This was our class up there in the seats and doing the class auditions down in the round. I quoted from a Greek play, “OH WARDER HERMES OF THE WORLD BENEATH -- SON OF THE FATHER WHO IS LORD OF DEATH. SAVIOR BE THOU MY SAVIOR.” When I’d finished, Professor von Neumayer stood up and pointed his finger down at me and said, “If I were you, I would crawl on my hands and knees to New York if I had to and talk to every producer on Broadway until I got in the theater.” Wow! You think that didn’t boost my hopes!
DC: The next off-the-stage voice Ralph, is male voice and it says, “I’ll never forget the time you tangled with a goal post at Stanford Stadium.”
RE: Bill Shriner was and still is a great pal of mine. We shared my model T and street car rides when necessary. Bill Shriner and I had great times together. Bill and I went down with the Band and others when we were freshmen and helped tear down the goal post at Stanford when Cal beat them. As the goal post fell, it knicked my big toe. Next Monday, I was walking gingerly around the campus feeling very sorry for myself so I said, “I think I’ll go to the Cowell Hospital and, ....maybe get a day or two off...maybe they’ll put me up for a couple of days.” Next morning I took my big toe into Cowell Hospital. The wonderfully accommodating nurse looked at it, gave me a little salve, and said, “There, it’s going to be just all right.” She patted me on the shoulder and I reluctantly walked out of the hospital, defeated and over to another important area for me, the swimming pool. I’m sure that many of the older Cal Band members and other guys will remember with me the brief, windy, wooden-slatted Cal’s all-male swimming facilities. My swimming class came early on Tuesday morning. I swear the sideboards and roof of that ancient so-called dressing room and the brief jockey swim shorts brought the temperature down another 20 degrees. It was “run for the pool” or freeze to death. I can’t say the pool was all that warming. Most every novice in the pool set a record for speed in that first lap that none of us ever could quite repeat. Now what made matters worse, immediately... immediately following the outdoor swimming class, I had ten minutes to shower, dress, get into my ROTC uniform, and sprint from the very top of the campus down past the Campanile, Wheeler Hall, Life Sciences Building and all the way down to the lowest end of the campus for a section class on military subjects in the Gianinni Building. The first three times I made the awful dash, I threw up. By the end of the season, I could travel the whole distance in half the time.
The swimming pool area was important to me for another reason. That’s where I kept my old Model-T Ford and my typewriter to work on my night time shows on KROW and KTAB, radio stations there in Oakland. Sometimes, back in those early days when I was through with my radio shows, a morning and night job during my college days, I would jump into my old Model-T regardless of time of night, go out to the Greek Theatre stage at the University and in total darkness, rehearse my lines for next day’s drama class of Professor Charles von Neumeyer, that wonderful man. It would be pitch dark. One particular night, I had boomed out in loud voice all my stirring lines in absolute darkness. When I had finished, I heard two people slowly applauding from way up on the left side seats of the Greek Theatre and in a few seconds, another couple slowly applauding from the other side. I, in all graciousness, responded, “thank you” and ran out to my Model T and headed home to a waiting supper and hot chocolate my mom, in person, always had waiting for me.
One morning, I was going out Telegraph Avenue to Cal in the old Model-T when I heard a crash-wham-bang and I looked around and thought “some poor guy has lost his car door, for heavens sake!” I looked over to the other side and saw it was my door that was lost! I got out of the car and ran to pick up the door. The gasoline guy there at the station helped me carry it over to the gas station. The nice guy wired it on, and for two months, we all had to enter from the driver’s side. I was out a total of $5.00 getting it fixed. That was big money in the early thirties.
DC: Well I enjoyed that little story about the Model-T and the Greek Theatre. I can’t imagine what a couple would be doing in the out-of-the-way spaces of the Greek Theatre in the dead of night, Dan says, giving a wink.
I think I should mention to some of our younger readers that in those days, goal posts were made out of wood. They probably weren’t much more than 2 x 4’s and it was traditional for the winning rooting section to rush out on the field to tear down the goal posts and break them into pieces for souvenirs to put on the mantel piece of the fraternity house or wherever. I should also note that the swimming pool in those days was located roughly in the vicinity of present-day Wuster Hall so in fact, when Ralph ran this gauntlet from the swimming pool to Giannini Hall, he did have to pass all those buildings that he was describing.
I enjoyed playing this little game of “This Is Your Life” with you. I’ve run out of cues but I have a feeling that you have some other friends you’d like to talk about so I’ll let you, at your own pace, mention your memories of them.
RE: Dan Cheatham don’t leave me now, Buddy, you and I have plowed our way through this thing (laughs). Now here at the very end you want to jump off-- and I don’t blame you. It’s marvelous the way you brought all this about. I’m going to come back and listen to many more remembrances of CAL people in your archives. It’s just a great library of information and wonderful thoughts that everybody can go in and listen to and I’m just proud to be a part of it. You helped me recalling so many things -- Dan -- especially the Cal Band and I want to say particularly to them now, you members of the Cal Band had lots of great boosters in important positions in the life of UC Berkeley. Dick Erickson, a fine football player for the Blue and Gold. Later he became the head of the Alumni Association and other high positions, inspiring CAL alumni to higher deeds for their Alma Mater. About that time, a brilliant young man named David Gardner came out of the Salt Lake area and worked with the CAL Alumni Association helping Dick Erickson to keep the Cal Band and all other aspects of our proud University, a major force in all our lives and eventually becoming President of the entire state-wide U.C. system.
And of course, Garff Wilson (gee whiz!) - I think of Garff as one of the awaiting guides the good lord provided me. It further hastened our relationship that Garff was a member of the same fraternity as my good pal, Johnny McGill. Just watching Garff as a very young man come along and have the abilities he had then and how he’s used that great mind of his -- a true product of our University (forgive the commercial time). He’s a joy to all of us. If ever the Cal Band had a built-in rooter and brilliant backer, it was Garff. In the early thirties, Garff was my English-A teacher, might as well tell them that, Garff.
Wherever the Cal Band was, you could always expect Garff Wilson. You could expect Garff every other place on campus too, working for the good of our Alma Mater. As a matter of fact, Garff just helped my brother Paul and me in contacting wonderful Bonnie Hardwick, Ph.D. for material in the Bancroft Library concerning our grandmother and great grandmother.
Arleigh Williams was a top man on campus, honorary class of ’35 President and a great guy, a very special man, as you know. He went on to become an important part of the administration at Cal. Arleigh had such a way with the students. He could take an entering shy freshman and direct or guide him or her into confidence. I was always grateful for the way he worked in this fashion with Barbara’s and my two daughters when they entered Cal. Those young students were the luckiest people in the world to have help from Arleigh -- not to mention CAL’s mid-thirties’ football teams. Arleigh was so natural. he disguised his role as an extraordinary influence for good. We were great pals throughout college and into our later years until he passed away a couple of years ago. We even dated the same girl in high school for a while, Margaret Jones. How about that.
And, let’s not forget Pappy Waldorf, a super football coach. His Cal football team came down to southern California to play in the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s day, years ago. Pappy wanted to get the players out of Los Angeles and all the hoopla the night before the game, New Year’s eve so they made arrangements to take the team to Mission Inn in Riverside, and he asked me if I’d come on down to help entertain them a bit there without too much hoop-te-doo. So, I took my producer, Ed Bailey and Carl Fredericks from my staff and the three of us went to Riverside and did a few little Truth or Consequences things, you know, just tried and true little stuff. The team members were pretty uptight in a way, but we gave them something to do, some stunts. The football team was loaded with some of Cal’s greatest: Paul Keckley, Jim “Truck” Cullom, Dick Erickson, Jack Swaner, Jackie Jensen, and Jim Monachino. The team came back the next morning, my guys and I went back late that night, and Barbara and I were up early the next morning making breakfast for a group of Cal buddies from up north who had come for the game. We all went out to that Rose Bowl game which was great.
Pete Newell, there’s a great one too. A wonderful basketball coach [1955-’60] Years after I was a yell leader at Cal, Pete Newell would get my wife Barbara and me to go to the alumni parties and the games and had me lead the Ax Yell, you know: “Give ’em the ax! the ax! the ax!” Barbara and I were in Palm Springs the night the Cal basketball team was playing for the National Championship. This was a night to remember. I was never more excited in my life. I was out by the swimming pool there, just taking it easy, listening to the game back East, the Cal basketball game when they defeated West Virginia. I wired Pete of my excitement! When he returned, he came over to thank me when he got home. He was that kind of a guy -- Pete Newell..
DC: Ralph, I really appreciate the comments you’ve made on the people that you just named because over the years, they played very important roles in the history of the Cal Band, each in their own time and their own way. I would encourage any of the Bandsmen reading these histories to look up our oral histories with these people and see the individual roles that they played. For example, Ralph talked about Arleigh Williams and mentioned his skill at working behind the scenes and having things happen while keeping in the distance and out of sight. If I’m not mistaken, it was Arleigh who carried out your needs for Truth or Consequences gig on Wheeler steps. He went on to be one of our best supporters in the campus administration and is another Honory Life Member of the Cal Band. Pappy Waldorf. There’s a lot said in our oral histories about Pappy and I urge our readers to look them up.
You mentioned Pete Newell. I call to the attention of the reader that we’ve done an oral history with Pete and talk about the relationship that we developed with him as the result of the Straw Hat Band going back to that very basketball game you talked about in Kentucky where we won the national championships. Pete is quoted at one time as saying that the Straw Hat Band was the sixth man on the floor. In his oral history, he recalls how the Straw Hat Band had, through its antics, and by playing the songs of the other schools in the tournament (including My Old Kentucky Home and other Steven Foster songs), soon had all the other fans rooting for our team, there in Kentucky, so far away from Berkeley. In his oral history, Larry Anderson talks about this in great detail.
You mention Dick Erickson. It turns out that this very year, the Friday night before the Stanford game, the Cal Band is having a reunion at the Claremont Hotel and Dick Erickson will be the featured speaker. [See Dick Erickson’s Oral History for an anecdote about the time he and Ralph Edwards visited Hollywood union boss Ira Kornblum for a favor and discovered he was the guy who wrote the words to Fight em. [Down from the North Comes the Purple and Gold... NHC]
Garff Wilson, my goodness gracious, you couldn’t have mentioned a guy who was more important to the Band over the years. For twenty years or more, Garff was the speaker at Sather Gate, the first stop on the Cal Band’s Silent Walk, introducing incoming Cal Band freshmen to the history and the lore of the University of California. Garff Wilson is also an honorary Bandsmen. In 1992 Garff gave the Band a major cash contribution toward badly needed replacement uniforms.
So it goes, Ralph...through the names of all the people who have been important to the Band. Your contribution is equally as important in its own way.
(END OF SIDE ONE OF TAPE TWO)
DC: Ralph, we’re nearing the end of a great afternoon and a very pleasant interlude with you and so this is a good time for me to give you a few moments to ad lib any general remarks you might like to make as you look back from the vantage point of the l990’s.
RE: Well Dan, for me, the University of California meant more than just a four-year higher academic experience, punctuated with exciting football games and rousing band performances by America’s best University band. The University of California represented for me a new and fulfilling family experience, far beyond my l2 years of Colorado farm and small town life and learning that had its own worthy contribution to my life, but not the more worldly experience of an internationally heralded University.
Fortunately, it was not an overnight, small-town to grammar-school-to-university experience. Junior high and high school in Oakland, California helped prepare the way. By the time I hit Cal Berkeley, my mind was eager to experience this exciting next offering on my academic platter, and I ate heartily of it.
I can not remember a day at Cal that I was disheartened, defeated, or without the experience of some new and exciting enrichment in my growing awareness of life. Much of my future, I realize now, just grew as an extension of those class assignments and the meaningful statements offered by my instructors. I knew then, and I have continual reinforcement of the knowledge that I was part of one, or, indeed, the most outstanding universities in the world. Everything I have done or accomplished since then, I have tried to measure by the standard of our University of California, Berkeley.
I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to salute my alma mater and the faculty, thereof.
DC: During this interview today and while we were preparing for it yesterday, you opened both your heart and your home to me in a most gracious manner. For this, I give you my personal thanks and appreciation. Yours is an amazing and interesting story and my only regret is that limited time and opportunity prevented us from doing a definitive interview covering the complete Ralph Edwards story. Among other things, I know you were proud of the fund raising achievements of your “Truth or Consequences” show, in not only raising large sums for the war bond efforts in the early l940’s, but for numerous other charitable causes also. When your “This is your life” show came along, you used it in the same fashion. For Good.
One final thank you. Since you’ve been such a good sport and since you told the truth, you have to pay the consequences! (A twist on the usual circomstance.) I have here for you a copy of the most recent recording of the Cal Band [the 1991 compact disc], which I now present to you on behalf of all of my friends and colleagues in the Cal Band. As your “consequence” for spending the last several hours with me, you are doomed, in “Flying-Dutchman-fashion”, to keep this recording at the ready so that you may at a moment’s notice, produce the melodious sounds of the “Best Damn Band in the Land” for all and sundry who are willing to indulge you in this ... your “consequence” for being such a good friend of the Cal Band. Ralph, thank you so very much for such a pleasant few hours.
About a month after the interview, I saw Ralph at a luncheon held at International House just before the Big Game. Stanford substantially out-played us and it was a sad day for Old Blues, but on its way up to the stadium, a portion of the Band crowded into the ballroom at International House to pay tribute to the assembled group, Sproul Associates. I saw Ralph in the crowd and so informed Student Director Evan Yeh. Between numbers, they shouted, “Hello Ralph Edwards!” in unison. I could see the joy of recognition that it brought to him. Later, he penned a note to me that said, “Last week, November 2l, l992, when the Cal Band let out its heart-stopping fanfare and came roaring in to the pre-game, Robert Gordon Sproul Associates lunch at International House, this old yell leader was the first of over a hundred die-hards to jump up and start clapping! I also had the “Old Grads” barking off a “CAL BAND SIX!” Gad it felt good! -- Some of those guys -- and girls -- must have yelled with me at Bonfire Rallies when I was Class of ’35 yell leader.”
It is fitting that he should be there because it was under Ralph’s leadership that the Sproul Associates were formed and it was Ralph who suggested the name. (See the interview with Dick Erickson.)
[Note: While I was with Ralph Edwards, his Executive Secretary, Mrs. Joellen Martin, gave me xerox copies of approximately 30 documents from Ralph’s files, relative to his interaction with the Band, on its trip to Brussels. It is my intention to have these documents on file with the Cal Band History Archives, located with the Cal Band. NHC]
Interview with Ralph Edwards