Don Hassler's Times in Hollywood with Johnny Grant and the Hollywood Jaycees
Interview with Don Hassler (and Paula Hassler)
January 18, 2008
Nori: Let's begin with Johnny Grant. He just died nine days ago at the age of eighty-four. My stepdad is seventy-eight, going to be seventy-nine this year, so they were pretty much the same age. So tell me, how did you know Johnny Grant?
Don: Johnny Grant was a disk jockey on radio station KMPC, the AM station, one of the biggest ones in the L.A. market. He started working there I think probably in maybe late forties. I arrived in Hollywood in fifty-five, then in 1956 I was working as a promotion manager at Capitol Records, and I was calling on disk jockeys, especially the ones in Hollywood, where most of the radio stations were. I got to know all of them and Johnny particularly, because he was such an outgoing guy. He spent a lot of time working in the community. He was available as an emcee at various charity events. He would promote things on his radio program that were good for the community. He helped the Chamber of Commerce. That year, fifty-six, I also joined the Hollywood Jaycees, and that year we had a road race out in Agoura, which is now covered with houses. Back when we had the road race out there in fifty-six there weren't any houses, just a little road and Highway 101, and a bunch of jack rabbits and sage brush.
The other thing about Johnny that was very important, right then he became the emcee at the opening of the Capitol Tower in 1956. It was like a Hollywood premiere of a movie. We had searchlights there and we had people driving up in limos and a red carpet. Johnny was at the door of the Tower where the red carpet ended, and everybody that was coming in welcomed by him, and if you were a celebrity, he talked about it, and I imagine it was on television.
A year after that, after the road race, after the Jaycees had the road race, we promoted the Golden Gloves divisional finals at Hollywood Legion Stadium boxing arena. The Golden Gloves was a good project for the Jaycees and it went on for five or ten years as one of the activities we did.
Nori: So every year you invited Johnny Grant to emcee?
Don: He emceed it part of that time and he helped us at the beginning, for sure. Also, Hollywood had the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade the day after Thanksgiving. That was Hollywood's way of kicking off the holiday season, the Christmas season, and Johnny Grant was always heavily involved in that. Probably the parade marshal several times. When the Chamber of Commerce decided to start putting stars in the sidewalks, Johnny Grant got in on that at the ground floor. I imagine he was involved in almost every ceremony they had since the beginning, putting stars in sidewalks, and that must have been 1960 when they started that.
Nori: Why did they start that? How did it get started?
Don: Because it was a civic promotion. They wanted to make more things in Hollywood attract people. They knew the Hollywood stars in the sidewalk would be one way to get people to come there because they would walk along and see the name of their favorite movie star. Of course, there weren't any studios left in Hollywood, even before that, but the name Hollywood was associated with the movie industry. The first Brown Derby was there, and all those other things, so the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce wanted to have that entertainment concept associated with Hollywood Boulevard. Hollywood and Vine.
Nori: That's where Capitol is.
Don: The Tower is just up the street from that. That was the idea, get people to come to Hollywood and Vine.
Nori: So when you were living back there in those days. Mostly you saw Johnny Grant at these events?
Don: First of all I saw him at the radio station every time I came in there to promote Capitol Records and talk about interviews with artists, things like that. He was able to do that for us. If there was a new release from an artist, like Kay Starr, or Stan Kenton, or Joe Fingers Carr, or Stan Freberg, we tried to take the artist to the radio stations and have them make an appearance with the disk jockey and have the record played, as a way of introducing the record. It was record promotion, and getting more record play, and getting that information out to the public by way of the disk jockeys was an important factor. Those were single records, not albums.
Nori: That was how you mostly knew Johnny Grant.
Don: That was how I first knew him. Then later on, all of his civic activities. That's right. He was really the de facto mayor of Hollywood, because he did so much. Just about all of that was donated. He didn't get paid for it at first. He probably got paid for the stars in the sidewalk thing later on, but in the early days, he just did that as part of his disk jockey work.
Nori: He just loved Hollywood.
Don: He did. And the stars at KMPC - that was a radio station owned by Gene Autry, who was a movie star and a country artist. So that was a pretty big station. The other four disk jockeys there, there were three other daytime guys there and an all night disk jockey, they all had pretty strong followings. As far as a record playing disk jockey station, I think KMPC was, if not the largest in the L.A. market, it was certainly within the top one two or three.
Nori: I remember it. Your first wife [Jane Hassler] worked there.
Don: My first wife worked there from about up, oh, about 1965 to about well gosh, about eight-five, about twenty years, I guess.
Nori: What did she do there?
Don: She worked in the programming department. She worked for the program director as an assistant. She worked on writing copy, making sure commercials were scheduled correctly, and a whole lot of other things. Basically, in the program part of the radio station.
Nori: Let's talk about the Hollywood Jaycees. That was the Junior Chamber of Commerce and I think it still exists, the Hollywood Jaycees.
Don: I hope it does, because there are Jaycees all over the country. The Jaycees are young guys who are just - most of them - are just coming to be active in business. Many of them are small business people or professionals, lawyers, doctors, dentists, CPAs, people like that, or other small businesses, and they join the Jaycees to help do civic promotion. When they reach the age of thirty-five they have to resign. That's the age limit. It's one of those very few organizations that has an age maximum and not an age minimum. If you're too old, you can't be in the Jaycees, and that is age thirty-five.
Nori: So then you have to get into the regular Chamber of Commerce?
Don: Some do, some don't do anything else. When they reach thirty-five, they're called an "exhausted rooster." It just means they're not active members anymore, and that's what they're called. An interesting side light, the president of Capitol Records at the time I worked there, Glenn Wallichs, was an active member of the Hollywood Jaycees when he was younger. He was the owner of Wallichs Music City down at Vine and Sunset and he was president of the Jaycees in the late thirties to early forties, maybe forty-two, forty-three, something like that. He knew everybody in Hollywood, and of course being a business owner there, he knew a lot of recording artists. That's what helped him start Capitol Records.
Nori: What was the purpose of guys joining the Junior Chamber?
Don: The Hollywood Jaycees, all the Jaycees organizations, the entire national movement, was two pronged. Number one, was to be active promoting and helping in civic affairs in the community where you lived. The other activity, which was equally important, was leadership training. Young men, some just out of college or trade schools or professional schools, learning to get along in their first business, or their first profession, and learning how to lead people, and how to develop their own ability to be active in things. It led to politics for many Jaycees. Successful Jaycees would go to the State Assembly, they would run for public office in a lot of areas, city councils, things like that. I would guess that if you took an informal poll, maybe all the way around the country at city councils and state legislators, I bet you would find a third of them were former Jaycees. It helped train them to be in the public eye, and to do things, and to work with other people.
The Jaycees in every community do a lot of good work. There are plenty of them around, right here in Phoenix there's a good Jaycees organization. They promote the Parada del Sol every year. That's a Western-type parade in Scottsdale every year. They do other things besides that.
Paula: Did they have oratory, also?
Don: I went to Toastmasters, which is an entirely separate organization. A lot of Jaycees were in Toastmasters, especially if they didn't do well standing up in front of others and making a presentation. Toastmasters teaches you how to do that.
Nori: One thing I've never understood. Were the Hollywood Jaycees connected with the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
Don: Walk of Fame? Well, the Walk of Fame is promoted by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The Jaycees are essentially the Junior Chamber of Commerce, but not really affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce. They're strictly an independent organization, but we used to use the Chamber of Commerce office occasionally for things. We would get our telephone calls there and they maintained our mailing list for us. If we wanted to send out a mailing, we went down there. They had metal plates. It was the old fashioned - this was before any computers would be in use - and we would set up these plates and run them through a machine. Addressograph was what they called it.
Paula: When I worked for your father [Bill Muster], I used the Addressograph, so did Marci and Sue Warner.
Don: I remember! Of all three good looking women to put in charge of the Addressograph!
Paula: All three of us. Anyway, one of the jobs I took on was, when the girls changed an address, or moved, or something, they wouldn't go into the Addressograph and make a new plate. They would just cross it off and write something in pen. So your dad showed me, you had to type in the name pressing hard on the keys. I would go in there and type out a new thing, but it was a metal plate. If you made a mistake, you had to throw that plate away, and it was a little metal thing. Then they went in the machine and it inked them and they stamped the envelope. It revolved.
Don: It was like a letter press printer, is what it was.
Paula: It was huge and had big iron things all over it and it was scary! But I conquered it and I made all new plates. But as soon as I didn't do that anymore, they probably went back to just writing it on the plate.
Don: We would use the Addressograph to make mailings to our own members. We had about forty, fifty members at that time. Or, we would make mailings to businesses in Hollywood who were members of the Chamber of Commerce. We had a little newspaper that we published every month, mostly for our activities, but it was designed to generate interest in everything going on in the community. We called it the Hollywood Premiere. We had a masthead with searchlights on it like you would see, sort of a fanciful example of what you would see at a real Hollywood movie premiere.
Nori: We might have one of those mastheads.
Don: I have some of those in the documents. I was one of the ones who started that. I became president of the Hollywood Jaycees in 1958.* I still have the gavel I used as president, as a matter of fact.
Nori: So it was the Chamber of Commerce that did the sidewalk?
Don: They did the Walk of Fame and it was the Chamber that came up with the idea.
Nori: So were you still in Hollywood when you turned thirty-five? What did you do then?
Don: Well, let's see . . . Yeah, I lived in Los Angeles, but I wasn't working in Hollywood. I was working throughout Southern California as a manufacturer's representative. I left Capitol before I reached my thirty-fifth birthday, yeah. I left the Jaycees. I wasn't able to stay active anymore.
Going back to Johnny Grant for a minute, the big thing about Johnny was that he was such an agreeable guy. Early on he was active and aggressive in his promotion and it was good for his radio promotion, but his appearances helped the community in general. He was probably off the air for quite a long time, just doing the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and he might have been on the payroll of the Chamber of Commerce.
Nori: I could probably look that up. There are so many obituaries. How well did you know him?
Don: I knew him well enough that we called each other by our first names. I knew most of the disk jockeys that way, but especially Johnny, because he did stuff for the Hollywood Jaycees. He was always the guy we would ask first if he was available. The best thing was that he was on the air and he had a lot of listeners and he would talk about the events that we were promoting. He was real generous doing that. I think everybody will remember him very fondly because of that. He did as much to promote the Hollywood name and Hollywood as an attraction, a place to go to see things, as just about anybody I can think of.
Nori: I can't think of any other single person who is an icon of Hollywood like he is. Like, when you think of Hollywood, you think of different movie stars of different directors, or whatever, but when you think of the city - it's not even a city, but a neighborhood - you think of Johnny Grant.
Don: That's right.
A side note about the Addressograph machine.
Nori: Is this what it looked like?
Paula: No, the Addressograph was a monster black iron thing that almost filled up a room. The "keyboard" was huge and hard to the touch. The whole thing probably weighed close to a ton. Think of an old coal burning train engine that got into a big wreck. Maybe the Internet has some history.
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Capitol Records Index