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(2014 Interview) Entertainer/vocalist, Don Dellair performed with his partner, dancer/choreographer Tommy Wonder in many major venues during the 1950's and 1960's. They went on a world tour with Josephine Baker and then starred in the French extravaganza "Avec Frenesies" at the famed Casino de Paris Music Hall in Paris for three years. They eventually switched from entertaining to directing/choreographing and then, at the suggestion of Hildegarde, herself, went into personal management, with" The Incomparable One" as their first client. Tommy passed away in 1993, and Don continued directing shows and managing artists from his office in New York City

{Craig}: Hello Don. Well I think we started messaging each other about 14 years ago. My wife’s grandfather was reviewer, Robert Wing Dana of the New York World Telegram & Sun and he reviewed all the big acts of his day many years ago when he was a big deal in New York City and Hildegard was the thickest folder that he had. Most of the folders had three or four reviews but his Hildegard folder had many, many more than the rest. He had all sorts of letters and correspondences with her.

{Don}: Those letters and correspondences were what I put together ...

{Craig}: OK, I guess I’ll start off the interview by asking you how you began I know you teamed up with a fellow named Tommy Wonder. I know I saw a flyer of you two appearing on a cruise ship on EBAY.

{Don}: My goodness ... I do remember that!

{Craig}: Did you both start in show business together?

{Don}: Tommy was already in. Tommy and I became the best of friends, of course he’s not with us now it’s been a long time but I will tell you now until the second, I miss him. I mean because whatever he said was funny. We had a lot of good times together.

{Craig}: He was established before you, but then you teamed up with him later?

{Don}: Yes, and he was the one who asked for it. He kept reading about us in the news and he was wondering how we could get together.

{Craig}: So you had a duo, how did you divide up the duties between you?

{Don}: The sing, the dance and the talking. We decided that people really wanted to know all about stuff in show business. We sang and we danced but we did a lot of talking. People would write us and say “please don’t stop talking we love when you talk! … We love to hear what happens 20,000 years ago.” They like our singing but they love more that we were talking to them. We were telling them the history of OUR history. And about where we went and how we did things and met the president of the United States.

{Craig}: What President was that?

{Don}: Eisenhower. We were sort of known as those guys that toured and met all the fellows in the service. Tommy knew everybody (in the business). When people would call us, they would always ask for Tommy.

{Craig}: So were you the straight man?

{Don}: Yes. He was the comedy man, a “genius” … very funny. I so adored this man because of the way he treated me on stage. He was not trying to get his own laughs without me. He would make sure that the laughs that came had to be for both of us and he would do that everywhere we performed.

{Craig}: Where were you born?

{Don}: Brooklyn, New York. 1929. My mother was in show business and my father was a dentist. He was a hilarious dentist. His brother, Sydney, who was my uncle, was also a dentist. My Mom was a performer in New York ... a singer. My sister was also a singer. She’s no longer with us. She died in 1992, but she left some adorable children who call me “Uncle Don.” It’s like they are my own. … and now those kids are having kids

{Craig}: That’s great. I’m sorry to hear about her. What was your sister’s stage name?

{Don}: Arlene

{Craig}: Arlene Dellair?

{Don}: No, she wasn’t Dellair ... because Dellair is a made-up name. Wanna know the real last name? Zeitz. Can you pronounce it?

{Craig}: (Zites)?

{Don}: You got it!

{Craig}: I have a “z” at the beginning and end of my last name as well!

{Don}: We’re brothers (laughs)!

{Craig}: Where did you get Dellair from?

{Don}: Somebody said it in a play or something. I heard it and said “I like that” ... so I became Don Dellair.

{Craig}: I’d like to ask who you admired the most starting out?

{Don}: The one movie star I wanted to meet the most since the age of eight ... can you guess?

{Craig}: Ginger Rogers? ... Sophie Tucker? ... I don’t know?

{Don}: (singing) “You’ll Never Know Just How Much I love You ....” When I got to know her , I fainted. When I was introduced to her, I passed out.... Alice Faye.

{Craig}: I know the name, but I don’t know that much about her? I’m going to Google her now.

{Don}: I was in love with her ... and I mean REALLY in love with her since I was a child. She knew who my mother was, and somebody told her I admired her, so she rang me on the telephone and introduced herself. I said “Yea, right.” I didn’t believe it was her! I said “and I’m the President of the United States” ... and she said “Well Mr. President, this is Alice Faye” and she started singing “You’ll Never Know How Much ...” I called down to my mom who was downstairs and yelled “Alice Faye is on the phone!” and my mom yelled back “thank God, I called her this morning and asked her to call you” Later, she came to our house in Brooklyn to visit

A lot of people don’t know that Alice Faye introduced that song. She was the one who put IT (that song) to the test.

You know what? I made the trip to her funeral. And at that point, she knew who I was. She really knew who I was. I still think of her today and I’m still in contact with her children.

Don Dellair{Craig}: I’d like to get back to you and Tommy Wonder. What towns did you perform in?

{Don}: We performed all over. Chicago … we did a lot of television too.

{Craig}: What TV shows?

{Don}: We did a lot. I don’t remember.

{Craig}: Can you tell me some of the clubs you used to play? The Copacabana …. The Latin Quarter ….

{Don}: The Latin Quarter was a big-shot big-thing for me.

{Craig}: The Latin Quarter didn’t really feature one performer … they would have a gallery of performers, right?

{Don}: Yes. I was one of The Latin Quarter’s favorites, so I asked them if I could perform there (as a solo) after Tommy died … because I just wanted to get back to where Tommy and I were and they were very nice. They said I could perform there any time I’d like.

{Craig}: You once told me that the Latin Quarter was a gigantic venue compared to the other clubs like the Copa, where folks could get a table a table right near the performers. Did you think the Latin Quarter was more prestigious than the Copa?

{Don}: I do because my mom played there long before I did (laughs).

{Craig}: Can you tell me any stories about The Copacabana.

{Don}: Going to the Copa was like going to see family. Everybody knew one another. People would say “Look who’s here! We’re going to have such a good time together!” It was always people we knew.

{Craig}: Don, who ran the Copa when you played there?

{Don}: Jules Podell

{Craig}: I heard he was a real tough guy. Did you have any encounters with him? Was he a tough guy? Was he a nice guy?

{Don}: He was one of the sweetest, quietest persons I’ve ever known.

{Craig}: Really?! Quiet? Sweet?

{Don}: He’d say “O.K. Dellair, tell me what’s going on” and I’d say “what’s going on with you”? He’d say “I asked YOU to tell me what’s going on? Why do I have to answer what you just asked me?” Just like that he’d ask me (laughs).

{Craig}: A lot of people were scared of him, but it sounds like you got along.

{Don}: Yes, I’ve heard that, but he was never that way with me. He made me laugh.

{Craig}: So would you rather play the Latin Quarter or The Copacabana? Which was the better place to play?

{Don}: Well, we stayed LONGER at The Latin Quarter. That was Tommy and Don’s place.

{Craig}: But to be featured at The Copacana, with less acts might be more prestigious? …

{Don}: To me it was work (laughs). I didn’t ever say, there wasn’t a club I didn’t want to be at.

{Craig}: Well, when I played (new wave) clubs in the 80’s, I had a favorite. So I’m asking, if you could go back in time and play one club … what club would it be? Latin Quarter, Copa, Danny’s Hideaway, Cotillion Room, Embers, The Little Club, Rainbow Room, The Ritz Carlton, Toots Shore’s, Two Guitars, Waldorf Astoria (Don exclaimed recognition of each of these clubs as I mentioned them) …. So out of all those clubs, if you had to pick one you enjoyed (playing) the most … which would it be?

{Don}: I would enjoy EVERY ONE. I can’t say which one. Because the people who would see me at one club, would come to another of the clubs the next day. I would not throw anything down at them … and the places were lovely!

{Craig}: They’re all gone, Don. There’s nobody (club owners) to insult anymore. You can say anything you want.

{Don}:Tell me what clubs YOU played? (changing the subject) …

{Craig}: (so I did).

{Craig}: So let’s talk about Hildegarde…

{Don}: The Incomparable Hildegarde! Incomparable! Even though she is no longer with us, I talk to her every day. Of course, I get no answer (laughs).

{Craig}: Well, if anybody could talk to you (from beyond) it would be her. She was a nun.

{Don}:(laughs) She was a nun! Boy, you know a lot.

{Craig}: She has the loveliest signature I’ve ever seen. It’s the best logo ever. How in blazes did she come up with that?

hildy

{Don}: Amazing. She really was a dear soul … and I really mean Dear Soul. Tommy and I were like her children, and we would see her so often, and be with her … and she loved us both. I enjoyed this woman from beginning to end.

{Craig}: So, at some point, you switched from performer, to become The Incomparable Hildegarde’s manager.

{Don}: That was towards the end, when Tommy died.
I will tell you that Hildy … which is what we called her, made it possible for me and Tommy to do the routines. She would say to us, “I want to see what you’re doing. Bring it over to my house so I can check on it.”

{Craig}: You and Tommy had great success, but Hildegarde was an icon at the time. She was on the cover of Life Magazine. She could have picked anybody to be her manager. How did she come to choose you for that?

hildy{Don}: I convinced her to use me. We (Tommy) always consulted with Hildy. What you saw with Hildy, is what you got. She was the real deal. Whenever Hildegarde would talk to us, she would say “My Dear.” Whenever she signed autographs in the theater, she would call them “My Dear” and I loved her for that … because she wasn’t throwing people away! She would never say that she didn’t have time for anyone. She was always like that.
There were times when she would say “Donny, I really need you” and I would tell her “that was the most beautiful thing I could hear.”

{Craig}: I’m looking over the years and seeing what the folks like today … the stuff they remember. They like rebellion. They like Sinatra, Dean Martin, maybe Ava Gardener. Hildegarde played it pretty straight. She wasn’t mischievous. She was such an enormous star in her day, but today it doesn’t translate. She might have been too …

{Don}: The reason being … I guess I could have worked it that way, but I didn’t get to do that . But Hildegarde’s main purpose for everyone was God. And so whatever she did, she was sincere about whatever God would have wanted. She was a God-given person. There was no doubt about that in anyone in her crowd. That’s what she believed in. So when she talked about God, you’d better just stop and listen.

The only thing that I’d like to ask you to just think about … more than anything else, is that when you are going to say anything about her …. please start with “The Incomparable.”

{Craig}: O.K. I’ll do that. I’m not sure how many people can spell “The Incomparable” … but I will. I build websites. You’d be surprised how easy it is for folks to misspell things.

{Don}: She’s always been known as “The (pronounced THEE) Incomparable Hildegarde” … the “The” has to be there. Sometimes I called her the “The” (laughs). She was persistent about the THE (pronounced THEE).

{Craig}: We talked about Alice Faye and Hildegarde. I wanna ask you about about one of the the biggest comets to ever explode onto the music industry. He was so enormous … and is nearly forgotten today … Johnnie Ray.

{Don}: Aaaahhh. My special person!

{Craig}: Along with Eddie Fisher, I don’t think there are many people today that know what his greatest hits were.

{Don}: My soul says to keep that his name alive, because I love that man completely… as a human being.

{Craig}: He would melt and cry and fall to pieces on the microphone when he performed. Teenage girls where screaming …. he was a phenom … after Frank and before Elvis.

{Don}: He was one of the most decent people you’ll ever meet. And he wanted everyone to be happy … and respond to his being happy. When Tommy (Wonder) died, he was on the phone with me. He was the one that got me through the loss of Tommy, and he did his best. He loved to help people. I can’t even tell you how many people he helped … if they needed help, or if they needed BUCKS! He would help.

{Craig}: So he gave away money

{Don}: Yes. John … I called him John, was one of the dearest souls I’ve ever known.

{Craig}: Don, can you tell me a bit about composer Bernie Bierman? Was he more of a lyricist or composer?

{Don}: It’s pronounced Bernie “Beerman.” He was predominantly a lyricist … but he knew how to do it all. He could play piano beautifully as well. He was one of the nicest people around. He was never angry, and was soft-spoken. People wanted to be with him all the time.

{Craig}: Michelle Pirret sang a great version of Bernie’s “Vanity” …

{Don}: Did you ever hear the story of her knocking on Bernie’s door?

{Craig}: No.

bernie michelle{Don}: He was looking for somebody to sing a couple of his new songs… so he sent out these things to people that he didn’t know, or had met, but he knew that they were singers and he wanted to see if they wanted to sing any of his songs. So he sent one to Michelle. This is how it all happened … Michelle then responded to HIM (on the phone) and said that she loved his songs and wanted to sing them. Bernie asked Michelle where she was so he could bring them to her. Michelle asked “are you going to send them” and Bernie replied that he was going to BRING them. And so she told him her address and he rings the bell, but he has no idea who would answer the door. Suddenly she opens the door and he says “I’m here to see Michele Pirret” and she said “I am Michelle”. He said “I didn’t expect anyone as beautiful as you.” He thought she was going to be some sort of elderly lady. She thought that was so sweet and they became the best of friends. That was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration.

{Craig}: I’ve listened to their CD many times. It’s been great speaking with you, Don.

{Don}: You as well. I always wanted to help people … and people call me and ask for advice about such & such an issue (in show business). And I’d ask “how did you find my number?” and they’d say a friend had given it to them. I’m fine with that. I’m living a good life. I’m extremely happy. I love my family and my “kid” sister’s kids. They call me Uncle Don and I’m enjoying them very much.

I loved living through those wonderful days.

THE REVIEWS
Andrews Sisters - Latin Quarter 1957
Desi Arnaz - w/Diosa Costello 1948
Count Basie - Lincoln 1943
Tony Bennett - Copacabana 1958
Milton Berle - Latin Quarter 1948
Joey Bishop - w/Andy Williams 1959
Ray Bolger - Wizard of Oz Scarecrow, Empire Room 1956
Cab Calloway - Greenwich Inn 1949
Diahann Carroll - Persian Room 1961
Betty Clooney - Waldorf Astoria 1954
Nat King Cole - Copacabana 1958
Perry Como - Versailles 1944
Copacabana - famous night club restaurant is reviewed 1953
Crosby Brothers - Latin Quarter 1961
Xavier Cugat - Waldorf Astoria 1951
Vic Damone - Riviera 1953
Billy Daniels - Copacabana 1952
Sammy Davis Jr. - Copacabana 1959
Phyllis Diller - w/Bobby Short 1958
Nancy Donovan - Copacabana 1952
Jimmy Durante - Copacabana 1951
Billy Eckstine - Copacabana 1951
Duke Ellington - Basin St. East 1961
Eddie Fisher - Empire Room 1959
Judy Garland -Town & Country 1958
Jackie Gleason - La Vie en Rose 1953
Benny Goodman - Empire Room 1956
Dolores Gray - Waldorf Astoria 1954
Buddy Hackett - Copacabana 1956
Connie Haines - Terrace Room 1951
Dick Haymes - Versailles 1956
Horace Heidt - 30th Anniversary 1954
Florence Henderson w/Bill Hayes 1958
Hildegarde - Pierre 1953
Celeste Holm - Plaza 1958
Eddy Howard - Roosevelt 1955
Burl Ives w/Wally Cox - Persian Room
Lisa Kirk - Persion Room 1958
Frankie Laine - Latin Quarter 1955
Julius La Rosa - Romanian 1958
Peggy Lee - Copacabana 1958
Jerry Lewis - Town & Country 1957
Joe E. Lewis - Copacabana 1945
Ted Lewis - Latin Quarter 1953
Liberace - Persian Room 1947
Guy Lombardo - Roosevelt 1957
Vincent Lopez - Grill Room 1954
Tony Martin - Riviera 1953
Martin and Lewis - Copacabana 1950
Ray McKinley - Glenn Miller Band 1957
Mills Brothers - Latin Quarter 1956
Vaughn Monroe - Astor 1955
Constance Moore - St. Regis 1958
Johnnie Ray - Copacabana 1953
Della Reese - Copacabana 1961
Sugar Ray Robinson - French Casino
Dorothy Shay - St. Regis 1961
Frank Sinatra - Wedgewood 1943
Danny Thomas - Copacabana 1949
Sophie Tucker - Latin Quarter 1950
Mae West - Latin Quarter 1956
Julie Wilson - Persian Room 1954
EDITORIALS
Dean Martin - thoughts on Mr. Sauve
Peter Lawford - retrospective
Rise & Fall of the big bands
INTERVIEWS
K Baggelaar- Copacabana author
Don Dellair - cabaret performer
Denny Farrell - big band disc jockey
Hal Turner - Performer/Conductor
B Zickafoose - played in WWII Europe
ASSORTED
Bernie Bierman bio
Sammy Kaye - Roosevelt 1957
Dinah Shore - press release and autograph from the 50's
A Letter about a WWII song
Harbers & Dale - Dance Team
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