If you should happen to encounter a woman coming out of the Post-Dispatch Building carrying a huge bundle of assorted packages, don't feel sorry for her - she may have been the day's winner on Russ Severin's daily television show "To The Ladies." Each day, some lucky woman, in addition to making her television debut via this program and having a lot of fun to boot, carts home enough loot to launch a fair-sized auction.
Russ Severin, the young tenor responsible for "To The Ladies," owes his present success to an attack of appendicitis some years ago. He had been "found" by the producers of a New York musical and was scheduled to take over an important role in that production - that's when he began to notice a recurring pain in his side which eventually necessitated a trip to a hospital. When he recovered, he learned that someone else had stepped into his much sought-after part. However, this bad break soon developed into a good thing, because it was right about here that he became interested in television and the bright prospects for an experienced singer in this medium. The rest is St. Louis television history. Russ sang and successfully produced several of his own TV shows, and the crowning climax at this point seems to be his latest television attempt - "To The Ladies."
The twenty women who converge upon KSD's television studio do so with the knowledge that they are in for a fast-moving hour and fifteen minutes of entertainment. In fact, so many women in the St. Louis televiewing area know this that "To The Ladies" will be a "sell-out" affair for the next six months - the demand for seats to this show is that far in advance.
Supplementing the usual question-and-answer routine, Russ Severin has put an old parlor game into a new package and everybody gets into the act. At various times throughout the program, Harry Honig, Charlotte Peters, Charlie Sherwood, Frankie Helms and Carl Martin team up to do several clever dramatic charades which the visiting ladies are asked to identify in their quest for prizes.
It's during these charades that the talents of these performers become evident. Harry Honig and Charlie Sherwood, for example, are right at home in portraying the stereotyped versions of any number of characters with foreign accents complete with the appropriate gestures. Too, Charlotte Peters is equally at home in any charade role. On one set she is the typical Fifth Avenue society girl, and on the next she is a hoarse-voiced girl from across the tracks.
In addition to their emceeing and announcing labors, Charlie and Harry also double as co-producers of the show, and to them goes the credit for dreaming up those charades. Incidentally, we might point out that the cast doesn't leave the studio as soon as the telecast is over - no indeed. As soon as one show is over, there is a meeting of the minds, and the script for the next day's show is written. Actual rehearsal for the day's show begins about two hours before the show is scheduled to go on the air, and it continues until camera time.
Because so many of their sponsors are food manufacturers, this group of people is daily put through the supreme test - that of consuming the sponsor's product for the benefit of the television audience. Now when you stop to consider that a different sponsor foots the bill for each of the five fifteen-minute segments of the show, you can see that it could total up to be a lot of groceries. One day, for example, Frankie Helms, who doubles as Russ' secretary when she is not on camera, ate spaghetti and meat balls on one segment of the show, followed it up with some ravioli on another segment, and spent the next two segments chasing the above-named foodstuffs with alternate sips of Bosco (a chocolate drink) and Grapette. For this display of sustained eating and drinking, Frankie has earned the dubious honor of being dubbed "The Girl With The Cast Iron Stomach."
Harry Honig, too, has had cause to remember show business' old battle cry "the show must go on." Once, for instance, when he was in the midst of delivering a commercial for a dairy sponsor,
he was supposed to pour a glass of milk for himself, drink it, and then, true to all good commercials, say something like "Boy, that's good!" What he didn't know was that some joker backstage had put the quart of milk in a deep freeze, and when Harry tried to pour the milk, nothing happened - that is, nothing happened until the hot studio lights had sufficiently thawed the mighty sponsor's product. Then, instead of flowing out of the bottle smoothly, the semi-frozen milk just plopped out of the bottle - much of it missing the glass. Trouper Honig thereupon picked up the glass, tossed its contents in the general direction of his mouth, and choked "Believe me, this milk is delicious whether it's frozen or not."
How did all these people get into television? That's easy - by hard work. For example, Honig, who is a St. Louis University graduate, began his career on radio as a staff announcer in Illinois. While there, he formulated many original shows and was offered the job of program director. However, Harry had a yen for the bright lights of television, so he left to take a position with Russ Severin's Television Productions as a salesman. The ironic twist to that development is that Harry has yet to work in the capacity of a salesman - he's too busy entertaining the audience with his special departments "Korn Korner" and "Uncle Harry's Tinker Shop."
Our nomination for the "personality kid" of the group is Charlotte Peters, who in addition to holding her own in the sometimes wacky charades and doing a good job as mistress of ceremonies, teams up with Russ Severin in the vocalizing department. When she sings a soft ballad, one can best compare her style to that of Helen Morgan - very smooth, very easy to listen to. Charlotte, until a few months ago, was entertaining purely for the fun of it...then she walked off with top honors on an amateur contest, and the offers began to pour in.
Charlie Sherwood spent seven years of his eventful life in Hollywood as a free-lance radio actor. From there he went to the Trading Post Playhouse, a place that featured old-time melodrama and paid off its actors in coffee and gingerbread. However, the gingerbread diet soon became a bit revolting, so Charlie left this for radio jobs in St. Louis and Dallas, Texas. Before joining Severin's group, Charlie, who is quite versatile in the dialect department (he can handle about ten of them easily) worked with Mel Allen and Dizzy Dean as public address announcer at Yankee Stadium. In his "spare time" Sherwood writes a daily radio show for KSD's Dottye Bennett.
Frankie Helms, who, in addition to taking an active part in the show handles most of the production details, received her training by doing modeling for such magazines as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Madamoiselle.
Frankie, by the way, is responsible for contacting each day's studio audience and reminding them that they are to be at the studio at the specified time. Too, she is the girl who has charge of all the following entertainers who, from time to time, make appearances on the show: Paul Stanis, Ed Heckert, Katie Sutter, Baby Susan Heinkel, Janet Dunphy, Sue Wagoner and Garland Young.
After sitting through several shows and rehearsals we have had the opportunity of getting a close-up of how smoothly this comparatively small grop operates day after day, and it is with thoughts of continued success that we, in closing, offer a roast "To The Ladies."
(Originally published in TV Review 9/15/1951).