Lifestyle: Tom Bernstein chronicles of radio

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The Milline Club was the advertising industry’s version of the Friars, committed to the principal that people can enjoy each other in a completely relaxed, informal environment, with nothing sacred. Originated in San Francisco, in 1961, Elton Rule, then General Manager of KABC TV, and the editor of the leading Advertising Industry magazine brought the concept to Los Angeles. The initial gathering attracted around 30, but over the years, more than 1,000 attended the annual holiday show held at the Century Plaza Hotel. Eventually official membership, all male, was set at 100, with a wait list of about the same number. Monthly luncheons, mostly in a private room, at the Tail ‘O the Cock restaurant on La Cieniga Blvd. featured celebrity, political or sports guest speakers. And all where treated to the same irreverence as the attending members. They included Milton Berle, Mayor Sam Yorty, Tom Lasorda, Brent Musberger, Gary Marshall, Baxter Ward and singer J. P. Morgan (she was really one of the guys!) There were two lunches where ladies were welcome: Pretty Friend Day, held at a trendy club, where you brought a “date” that wasn’t your wife, real girl friend, etc. and danced to the latest hits. The other was “Topless/Bottomless Day” usually at The Classic Cat on Sunset Blvd.

The annual December show was the main event of the year, a parody of a hit Broadway show, or blockbuster movie, tied into our local advertising industry. Names of prominent people in advertising along with notorious business deals were mixed into the plot. Again, the first was in San Francisco, “My Bare Lady” and in 1962, the Los Angeles Milline Club did its’ version of it at The Coconut Grove. In all. There were nineteen shows (I was involved in fourteen) including “Souse Pacific”, “The Whizzer of Ads”, “The Thing and I”, “Faygelah On the Roof”, “The Odd Mother” and “Astounding Music” to name just a few. The productions were quite extensive. Costumes from Western Costume (it was a fun day going there to pick out your wardrobe), a professional set designer, and a small orchestra. In fact, we actually flew an actor in “The Thing and I” at the Palladium. The majority of the performances were in the Los Angles Room of the Century Plaza Hotel. It could seat 1,000 and it always sold out – plus half the hotel staff stood in the lighting area above the room to watch the show every year. Early on there were four shows at the Coconut Grove and two, including the final at the Palladium.

We soon stopped repeating the San Francisco shows, and a Radio Sales executive, wrote most of the books for L.A.’s original productions. Dal Williams, of “Culligan Man” fame, and a few others in the business, did the music/lyrics. There was a very complete Play Bill for each show, with cast notes written by a Radio station Promotion Manager.. It was also filled with “off color ads” paid for by just about every L.A. radio, television station, advertising agency and many clients. Awards given for the most “creative”.

The, almost, all male casts were mostly non-professionals like me. Only two or three had done any professional performing. One being Wally Sherwin, Program Director for Channel 9, a former vaudeville and commercial actor, directed most of the shows and

took some of the key parts. Jon Ross, KTTV’s Program Director, had a decent tenor voice and great stage presence, took most of the leads. Jim Isaacs, a voice actor, was the perennial “gay” in most of the shows. The cast always included one female, who closed every show in a most dramatic “fashion”.

Tickets were in demand and not cheap. After paying off the all the expenses, along with the revenue from the Play Bill Ads there was always enough for a lavish cast and crew party at the Bel Air Hotel where we sang the best of that year’s songs for our wives and lady friends who of course, didn’t attend the show.

The final curtain came down in 1981. Women had become more prominent in the ad business, particularly in media sales. Ladies were admitted to the last two shows and it wasn’t the same. So all good things must come to an end – and The Milline Club did. In retrospect, The Milline Club provided a truly unique social environment that does not exist today. There were many other advertising industry associations and events where all facets of the business got together just for fun or to support a cause, but none experienced the special bonding and long term friendships that were formed through The Milline Club.

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