A Tale of Two Books

(Remembering Bob Landry)


The new year, 2008, marks a 60th anniversary for a couple of books I own. Both are closely associated with Variety.

One is Variety’s “Radio Directory” 1937-1938. It was acquired as a slightly used book from a store on New York’s Cortland Street. The other was bought new from a fancy book store in Rockefeller Center. The title of the book, “This Fascinating Radio Business,” was in keeping with my sentiments at the time. It was written by Variety’s own Robert J. Landry, then Director of the Division of Progressive Writing of the Columbia Broadcasting System.

The books were acquired because I was working in the mailroom of the Mutual Broadcasting System. Filled with youthful ambition and enthusiasm, I needed to know everything there was to learn about radio broadcasting. I saw it as a tremendously colorful yet endangered species and wanted to hang on to every detail before the colors faded.

The “Radio Directory” was compiled and published by Variety as the first of what was projected as annual volumes. It contains more than 1100 pages of hard information. The book’s dedication is explained succinctly in its foreword: To cover the “incessant” changes as reported in Variety each week; and to compile “a record of these events as they become a part of the past.”

Do you want to know what happened in radio from its infancy to adolescence? The “Directory” tells all. The amount of information is staggering. The subjects covered include advertisers, advertising agencies, educational radio, engineering law, music, networks, news and publicity production and production aids, program titles, radio and newspapers, station representatives, stations in the U.S. and Canada, talent, technical and research, and unions.

Within these broad categories are detailed breakouts. Especially impressive is a compilation of the best known songs and orchestral pieces in the light opera, musical comedies and motion pictures of the previous several decades. And where else could I find the professional records of Richard Kollmar, network actor, free lance announcer and singer (Fred Allen program for Ipana toothpaste), as well as network comedian Parkyakarkus (Harry Einstein)?

Variety sold for 15 cents a copy at that time or $6 annually. The paper had three other offices beyond New York’s 154 W. 46th Street. The Chicago office was at 54 W. Randolph, Hollywood was at 1708 N. Vine Street, and London at 12 St. Martin’s Place, Trafalgar Square. Sid Silverman was president of Variety, Inc., and Edgar A. Grunwaldwas “Radio Directory” editor.

The bright red lettered (against a black and blue background) book jacket of “This Fascinating Radio Business” identified Landry as an editor of Variety. While there, it explained, he established its radio program reviews department.

I read this more than 300-page book cover-to-cover. I never formally met Landry but glimpsed him from afar when visiting the New York office after I joined the paper in Hollywood. Years later, with the book’s cover in tatters from frequent use, I contacted Landry by mail. I told of my admiration for his work. I said his book remained in a prominent place in my personal library. Landry, in response, called. He offered to autograph my copy of the book if I sent it to him. It took several weeks, while the book traveled back and forth across the country.

When the book returned, packaged carefully to prevent damage in the mail, I opened it with the anticipation of receiving a great gift. I wasn’t disappointed. Landry’s inscription was, I guess, indicative of the man’s graciousness and lack of pretension. He wrote: “To Morrie Gelman

“40 years after publication of a book, an author must appreciate any, but especially an appreciative reader. Thanks.”

The inscription was signed Bob Landry and dated 10/24/86.

Now more than 20 years after receiving my autographed copy, 60 years plus after the book’s publication, it’s still front-and-center in my bookcase.