The recent tumult about Kate Smith brought back a rush of memories that had fallen out of my brain.
I had great affection for ol’ Kate. Nobody belted out “God Bless America” the way she did. My affection really intensified years ago when “… One night, Kate Smith saved the day.”
Before I begin my Tall Tale, here’s an update. Kate died more than 30 years ago, but the Yankees and the Flyers have played her version of “God Bless America” as a good luck charm for years – until a fan sent an anonymous tip about racist lyrics. If you’ve seen the 1933 movie, “Hello Everybody,” in which African-American children are listening to Kate, well, it’ll make you cringe. That’s why the Yankees and the Flyers pulled her song off their playlist.
That leads me back to my Tall Tale.
It was 1982. We were one of the few hospitals in the nation doing open-heart surgery and cochlear-implant surgery. Very expensive. Our foundation assisted patients and their families. We were trying to come up with something different to fill up the foundation coffers.
Everybody in Kansas City held a gala. Everybody held a golf benefit. We needed something different. Who says a team can’t come up with a great idea?
Ours was a USO-type cabaret. Most of our medical and clinical staff had been involved in Korea or were fresh from the Vietnam War. They’d lived the MASH experience and remembered the celebs who came out to entertain them. The name of the hospital was Trinity and so, Trini-MASH was born.
One thing I learned all those years I spent in health care is that medical people are very musical. They play instruments. They sing. And they clammered to show off in Trini-MASH.
We had a winner. What we didn’t have was a closing, a spectacular way to end the show and get the crowd to part with its money. Really, that’s what it was all about.
Coordinating this craziness was Carl, a former military guy – and New York chorus boy – now our social services director. He remembered seeing Kate sing. He talked an ICU nurse into belting out “God Bless America” at the end.
Trini-MASH was a hit. The crowd was astounded at our musically talented medical staff. They were astonished by those of us with no musical talent, but could we lip synch!
The finale was spectacular. True to his Broadway roots, Carl choreographed the whole thing. “Stars and Stripes” blared over the sound system. Uncle Sam – white hair and goatee glowing – marched down the center aisle with the performers (practically our entire medical staff) trooping behind. All marched up the stairs, lining up in front of the closed curtain.
The house went dark. The music stopped. The silence, yes, was deafening. Behind that curtain, turmoil whirled. The ICU nurse had opening night jitters. Refused to go on. Left the building.
But the show MUST go on. Ever-resourceful Carl popped on the Kate Smith wig, clipped on the Kate Smith earrings and pearls, slipped into the Kate Smith full-figured dress and pumps.
The curtains parted. The spotlight glowed. That memorable musical intro blasted through the speakers. Into the spotlight stepped Carl’s Kate. The crowd went wild. Every Kate Smith gesture was perfectly executed.
We made so much money that night. And that’s the night Kate Smith saved the day.