Yesterday, iconic TV host Art Linkletter passed away. Even as a little kid Art seemed a little square to me but there’s no doubt that he pioneered many of the formulas of today’s TV shows with segments like celebrity guests, cooking, talking to kids and audience quizzes. His big two hits which between them ran from 1952 to 1970, House Party and People Are Funny, were massively popular. This ‘party game with cards’ spun out of the latter and continued in people’s living rooms what was so popular on Art’s shows –  getting everyday people to do dorky stunts like trying to cash a check written on a watermelon and make fools of themselves, oftentimes ending up with a pie in the face for failing. It’s obvious that Linkletter’s tactics are still very much alive on TV today.


As simple as the concept of the TV show was, the instructions for this 1954 game made by Whitman Publishing Company, known mostly for the books they made of popular TV shows, are exhaustive. I would’ve been tired from reading them and gone to sleep without starting the game.


But I think the gist is that one card describes an aspect of your character, the second your occupation, the third a hobby and the fourth assigns an attribute to all of it.


Then something like Charades happens. I swear I’d be in the kitchen baking brownies as I have no patience for long instructions OR Charades.


A little known fact about the TV show People Are Funny is that it pioneered computerized dating in 1956, matching up couples who answered questions from a Univac computer.


In the late 60’s, Art made this commercial for ‘Circus-Vac-In-A-Box’ Circus Nuts with his daughter Diane.


They also recorded this message about the necessity of clear communication between parent and child:


In 1972, Diane jumped out of the window and met her demise six stories down. Art then became a crusader for the perils of LSD.


I guess most people would show you a classic Art clip from his most famous tv segment on House Party, “Kids Say the Darndest Things”, but as an avid aKITSCHionado I must fast forward to 1990 and show you Art and his chairs.


So, Art, your time has finally come…


Your People Are Funny game caused people to think about themselves in different ways and try new things and I’m always in favor of that.


R.I.P. Art Linkletter.



This late 60’s Soul Grabber sign for Budweiser malt liquor is one of my favorite possessions. Everything about it screams late Afro 60’s, one of my favorite periods in Soul. In my personal life there’s one supreme SOUL GRABBER and her name is Patti LaBelle. She was the first singer to start regularly doing my songs, starting with “Little Girls” in 1978 and continuing throughout the years with others like “Come What May” and “Stir It Up”, which won me a Grammy when it was on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. When I first met her Patti also introduced me to Herbie Hancock and between the two of them that led to Earth, Wind & Fire.  So when it comes to grabbing souls Patti got a hold of mine, shook it loose and got it soaring.

Last night I went to a surprise birthday party thrown for Patti. As surprise parties go, as parties in general go, this was a killer, a real SOUL GRABBER. Here I am with Patti and her mom:


And here with Anita Pointer (of The Pointer Sisters, also responsible for me getting that Grammy with “Neutron Dance”), Luenell (hooker extraordinaire in Borat and fantastic comedienne/friend), Bunny Hull (who wrote “New Attitude” for Patti), Constance Tillotson (inseparable from Luenell – we call ourselves Twinkie, Ding Dong and Hostess Snowball):


And here I am with Loretta Devine, original Dream Girl…:


… and Siedah Garrett, singer extraordinaire who also wrote  “Man in the Mirror”:


And for the second day in a row here I am with RuPaul who I just saw at my party:


Don’t worry, I  haven’t forgotten about the Soul Grabber…


Here I am with Charlo Crossley (one of my oldest friends, a former Bette Midler Harlette and also a Church Lady on Broadway in my musical, The Color Purple) and Rudy Calvo, who’s always with Patti whenever I see her:


The great Kym Whitley:


And the so great Brian Dickens, Fantasia’s manager. I co-wrote and just co-produced “I’m Here”, Celie’s big song in The Color Purple, with a live 40 piece orchestra and Fantasia, who starred as Celie.  It comes out July 13.


I still haven’t forgotten about the Soul Grabber…


Here I am DEEP in conversation with the birthday girl:


And with Cheryl Dickerson and Freda Payne (“Band Of Gold”, “Bring the Boys Home” and party regular here at Willis Wonderland.)


And here I am with Norwood, songwriter and owner of my favorite front lawn in LA…


… the one with all the statues of David in front of it:


That house grabs my soul and everyone else’s who spots it and does an abrupt turn off of 3rd Street to park in front and take photos.

So happy birthday Patti LaBelle and may your soul continue to be grabbed so that you may regularly grab all of ours!


Photos: Prudence Fenton and Allee Willis


Newberrys, before and after dropping the J.J., was an American five and dime store, my favorite genre of store growing up later supplanted in my affections by 99 and 98 cent stores, thrift shops and any other place I could find a wide and often nonsensical variety of goods for bargain prices. These foot long metal rulers encouraging shoppers that “For a Full Measure of Value The Year-Round Shop Newberrys” featured calendars from September 1957 through December 1959, peak years for the chain whose beckoning portals invited shoppers to drop their cash on lots of cheap and oftentimes fantastically cheesy finds inside.

newberry-ruler_2070 newberry-ruler_2069

Although green on green was a popular color combo in the late 50’s it would have been even better if the rulers featured the store’s original gold serif signature logo on bright red that used to spread across the entire width of the top of the stores.


The logo changed over the years, dropping the serifs and going to a more modern script font but very little changed inside and it became one of the more excellent trips down memory lane before all the stores disappeared, gobbled up by time as chain monsters like Wal-Mart, K-Mart. stomped through the land.


This 1928 Newberrys on Hollywood Blvd. in LA is now the Hollywood Magic Shop.


Thank God I still have two full measures of Newberrys..



I bought this Liberace mug at the first Hollywood estate sale I went to when I moved to LA in the late 70’s. I think Jack Hellman, the recipient of this inscribed mug from Liberace, was a critic at Variety.  I know that he was a Taurus.


Whatever he was he was a big deal who had very fancy clothes and a lot of personal gifts from a lot of  Hollywood stars.  I also bought a tux jacket there, maybe Jack’s, that I wore a lot right after “September” came out and I started getting invited to fancy music events.


Of course, no matter what I wore I never was going to dress better than Liberace….


….to whom I lift my/Jack’s mug now!



This has sat over my refrigerator for at least 15 years after being rescued from a no longer existent unbelievably insane junk store nestled deep in the Adirondack Mountains in Old Forge, New York where I used to make a pilgrimage every summer with a group of friends. I wasn’t into swimming, fishing, hiking, canoeing or any of the other outdoor things that most people who go to the Adirondacks do. There were no roads going to the house we stayed at but I faithfully schlepped a couple miles via canoe across the lake a few times per trip to pilfer through the literally thousands of items that cluttered the shelves at the joint, Antiques & Articles, and would spend whole days poring over every single shelf, drawer or box in the place. The shopkeeper, about 100 years old, wasn’t sure exactly where this clock came from but he thought it was from some American Legion Hall in the vicinity.

I don’t really know what American Legion is all about but I love all the artifacts they turn out – salt ‘n pepper shakers, combs, shirts, paperweights, string paintings, pie plates, you name it, if it could have a name and a logo stamped, painted or stitched on, there was an American Legion version of it.

This baby is a hefty 20″ x 14″ x 4″ and tic tocs like the day it became a Legionnaire.


Manischewitz is the premier manufacturer of kosher foods. I can’t tell you how many boxes of their matzo or those squared off bottles of wine sat upon seder tables of my youth but one Manischewitz product I never saw before is this special edition single released in 1958. I never even knew there were Jewish cowboys let alone that Harold Stern was one of them.


Stern regales us with almost 9 minutes of chatter about being a Jewish cowboy and the joys of Manischewitz.


Many famous songwriters have been Jewish, among them the very founders  of Pop music like George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein, but who knew about “Avram”?!


This record is fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which is that it was put out by a big legitimate company yet it’s just a demo, not an officially recorded record.


I personally usually love demos, what the songwriter records as their idea of the song, better than the actual records made of them. But back in the day, very few people who couldn’t afford to go the full record route copped to the fact that what they were putting out was the demo. Here they didn’t even spring for a back label.


Who knew that Centerville, Texas was such a hotbed of religious passion?


I always liked Peanut butter and jelly on my matzo.  Perhaps I’ll crack open a box and spread a little of that on now, fill my Swinger Glass with  grape wine and lie back and enjoy all the fruits of Manischewitz and The Jewish Cowboy’s labor.



These little hard plastic record coasters were all the rage in the 1950’s and 60’s when 45’s and 33-1/3’s were blasting from hifi’s all over the world and Tom Collins, Manhattans and Hi Balls were resting on them as everyone did The Jitterbug and Stroll, topping it off with The Twist.   Some of the coasters were just cheesy versions of records featuring hit drinks:


Others used them as an advertising tool:


All of them came in handy little record jackets:


They were cute and practical as water rings no longer ruined blond wood kidney shaped tables and other groovy Atomic furniture the drinks were set upon.

I had a set of these last night with me in the recording studio so I didn’t leave rings on the mixing console. Although we’re not holding our drinks or displaying our coasters they were there in full force. I wanted my mind in peak enjoyment mode as I got to hear/produce Fantasia recording my song, “I’m Here” from my musical, The Color Purple, LIVE with a 40 piece orchestra.

fantasia,aw,im-here_6984(L-R) Frank Filipetti (engineer), Brenda Russell (my co-writer/ co-producer), Stephen Bray (co-writer/ co-producer), Joseph Joubert (arranger, conductor), Fantasia, Greg Phillinganes (keyboard player extraordinaire) and me (co-writer/ co-producer).

I’ve been collecting these coasters long enough that I could have brought one for everyone but the night was about making music and not decorating so the bulk of my stash stayed safely at home awaiting the next cocktail, Slurpee or Vernors to be placed upon it.

record-coasters_5863 record-coasters_5864 record-coasters_6181


I’ll be waving one of these  all day and night today as these are the final two performances of the First National Tour of my musical, The Color Purple. The  whole 4-1/2 years I was writing this with Brenda Russell and Stephen Bray we waved these church fans and others from my collection of 60 from the 1950’s and ’60’s daily. I’ve been stuck on songs before but being stuck on a song for a musical when one has to consider way more then the singer or the content of the song like the plot, which we were writing at the same time as the songs, the dialogue, whether something should be musicalized or spoken, is there dancing to it or not, does the wig guy have enough time to make the wig changes, on and ever-increasingly on…, let me tell you the sweat pours down and these church fans, totally organic to what we were writing other than a couple decades too late, came in mighty handy.

As a passionate collector, I love things to be very organic. In its simplest form, if you find a poster for an album you need to collect the album and anything else related to that group of recording sessions. I had collected my church fans for years but I never had more organic moments then when Alice Walker, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Color Purple novel, would fly into LA  every few months to listen to our progress and curl up in a fetal position in my Chromcraft purple lounger, close her eyes and listen to the new songs, smiling as wide as a mile while waving one of the fans, a different one each time, of course.

Today I wave my final two fans, one at the matinee and one at the evening performance. I’ll say goodbye to Fantasia who made an absolutely and insanely stellar Celie (along with LaChanze, Jeanette Bayardelle and our other wonderful Celies along the way since we opened on Broadway in 2005).  I’ll say goodbye to the rest of our glorious cast, many of whom are from the original Broadway cast, not the least of which is Felicia P. Fields aka Sofia, the first actor we cast in 2003. Rumor has it that tons of actors from the original cast are showing up tonight and will be in the final show along with the tour cast. If both of my hands aren’t gripping Kleenex this is the fan I’ll be waving. One last time…


… until the second national tour begins in two weeks. That will be a total surprise as I’ve never seen the production or met any of the cast. But I’ll be sure to have my fans in tow when I do.

church-fan_6057 church-fan_6055 church-fan-TCP_6064


Not quite sure why no chair was provided for the female of the species as by the time this photo was taken for this vintage Hamm’s beer sign in the late ’70’s feminism had surely raised its voice loud enough to demand equality in seating arrangements. At least they’ve got a few beers to tip back this Valentine’s Day so her muscles won’t cramp in that position. Maybe one of her gifts to him is a pedicure. In addition to candy and flowers I hope one of  his gifts to her is a nice, comfortable chair.

Hamm's-beer-sign_5867 Hamm's-beer-sign_5868 Hamm's-beer-sign_5869 Hamm's-beer-sign_5864 Hamm's beer sign_5870