Sunday, August 22, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: JOHN CHARLES THOMAS of The Metropolitan Opera

By Steve Crum

For nearly 30 years, JOHN CHARLES THOMAS [Sept. 6, 1891-Dec. 13, 1960] was widely regarded as one of the most gifted operatic baritones of his day. Thomas sang in operas and operettas, as well as in concert recitals, and on records, radio and film. (Well, he appeared in one obscure movie, a silent movie, no less. No singing even in the subtitles.) His repertoire included works by Gilbert and Sullivan, Victor Herbert, and Sigmund Romberg. Sort of a pre-Nelson Eddy, Thomas performed on Broadway in Maytime and Naughty Marietta. His venues included the Washington National Opera, Carnegie Hall, and finally, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (1934-43). Two years after touring Australia and New Zealand, from 1947-48, he retired.

Thomas was also a rigorous sportsman whose interests were golf, yachting, speedboat racing, and deep sea fishing.
The autographed photo of JOHN CHARLES THOMAS is one of my prized possessions, and it is partially because of Bing Crosby and Al Jolson. I admit I am neither an opera nor operetta fan, but I am a huge fan of Crosby and Jolson. About 40 years ago, I first heard John Charles via a taped Philco Radio Time show broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, Germany, where I was stationed. The show had originally aired April 2, 1947. Crosby's guests were Thomas and the great Jolson.

The show's format was unusual, since the entire half hour was performed as an old time minstrel show. This gave Jolson a chance to sing a rousing "My Mammy"; Crosby soloed on Bert Williams' immortal "Nobody"; and Thomas performed the semi-spiritual, "Gwine to Heaven." All three told corny jokes, kidded each other in the process, and teamed for a grand finale of "Alabamy Bound." Heard today, as 40 years ago and originally, the program is absolutely sensational. Three of the most charismatic performers of all time teamed for arguably the best Crosby radio show ever. THIS is why I purchased the John Charles Thomas signed photo many moons ago, and this is why I still treasure it. Sure the Thomas voice is great, but he also has an infectious laugh and sense of humor. It was all showcased that April evening, 63 years ago, a month before I was born. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
After he officially retired, John Charles Thomas joked and sang on You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx...1957:

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