Classics in the Carolinas: Kay Kyser

 This fall, Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

“The Kollege of Musical Knowledge” wasn’t the only colligate education 1940s bandleader Kay Kyser received. He was also a 1928 graduate of the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill.

Kay Kyser and his band in 1944

Born in Rocky Mount, N.C. in 1905, Kyser’s mother, Emily Royster Kyser, was the first registered female pharmacist in North Carolina.

Kyser entered UNC in 1923 set on receiving a Bachelor’s degree in law, according to the website “A Tribute to Kay Kyser.” However, Kyser switched his major to economics because “the legal profession meant lots of work,” he said.

An established student at UNC, Kyser excelled not just in academics but in extracurricular activities:

-He was the senior class president in 1928

-The school’s head cheerleader for the cheering section “The Carolina Cheerios”

-He wrote the school’s fight song “Tar Heels on Hand” in 1937

-Acted in PlayMakers Theater

-Was in Sigma Nu fraternity

-Was a member of honors societies-Alpha Kappa Psi, Order of the Grail, Golden Fleece

But it in 1926 during his junior year of college, that Kyser was invited to lead the school orchestra. Up until this point, Kyser had no musical background, except clarinet lessons which his wife Georgia Carroll said “failed miserably.”

Kyser was selected to lead the band because of his popularity on campus was hoped to bring out large audiences.

After graduating from UNC, went on the road with the band but didn’t really take off until the mid-1930s when Kyser hired girl singer Ginny Simms and trumpeter Ishkabbible (real name Merwyn Bogue).

Kyser’s zany style of music is what made him popular.

Kyser’s style was different than other bandleaders of the 1930s and 1940s. He didn’t just play music, the whole band performed in a comedic, fun style. Kyser was known for wearing a graduation cap and gown and showing his southern roots with his signature phrases, “Evenin’ children. How y’all?” and “Y’all’s dance.”

Kyser starred in several Hollywood movies as himself such as “Playmates” (1941) with John Barrymore and “That’s Right-You’re Wrong” (1939) with Lucille Ball. He also traveled abroad during World War II, performing for service men.

But after World War II ended, Kyser retired to Chapel Hill, N.C. with his wife, who was also the band’s singer, Georgia Carroll in 1951.

My mother and grandparents lived in Chapel Hill and would sometimes see Kay Kyser in the grocery store, and also went to the same Lutheran church as his wife. My grandmother said “Gorgeous” Georgia Carroll was just as beautiful in person as she was on screen.

Kyser passed away in 1985, and Carroll remained in Chapel Hill until her death in 2011 at the age of 91. Carroll donated 334 photos and other Kay Kyser artifacts to the Chapel Hill University.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Visiting Randolph Scott

    During the month of September, Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live and work).

Handsome Randolph Scott

From playing a Confederate soldier alongside Errol Flynn in “Virginia City” (1940) to Shirley Temple’s kindly neighbor in “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms” (1938), Randolph Scott acted with the top actors in Hollywood.

But before he romanced Irene Dunne in “Roberta” or was roommates with Cary Grant in their “Bachelor Hall,” Scott grew up in the south.

Though born in Orange County, V.A., in 1898, Scott lived most of his life in Charlotte, N.C. where his father, George Scott, worked as a public accountant and owned the firm Scott, Charnley and Co. The Scott family was prestigious prior to Randolph’s Hollywood fame. His father, a graduate of Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., was the Chairman of the Finance Committee in Charlotte and over saw the city’s first published financial statement in the early 1900s.

George Scott also helped modernize Charlotte’s accounting systems for the city’s administration and water department. He also was recognized by the state for drafting of North Carolina’s first certified public accountant law, and he was appointed by the governor to the state board of accountancy.

Randolph Scott left Charlotte in 1917 when he went to fight in World War I. After returning home, he went to Georgia Tech, with dreams of being an All-American football player until he suffered from a back injury. He then became a Tar Heel when he transferred to the University of North Carolina and studied textile engineering and manufacturing.

Scott’s grave in Charlotte, N.C. His wife Patricia is buried here with him.

It was in 1927 that Scott left his home of Charlotte, N.C. and traveled to Hollywood with a letter of introduction from his father to Howard Hughes. He was able to meet Hughes and score a screen test with Cecil B. DeMille.

Randolph Scott acted in musicals with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and starred in comedies, but he found his niche in westerns.

“They have been the mainstay of the industry ever since its beginning. And they have been good to me. Westerns are a type of picture which everybody can see and enjoy,” Scott said. “Westerns always make money. And they always increase a star’s fan following.”

Though he acted with the top Hollywood stars of the 1930s and 1940s, he is underrated and not as well known today as his best friends Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.

His last role was an aging gun slinger in Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country” (1962), after which he didn’t return to films, living the remainder of his life in Beverly Hills.

“All the old movies are turning up on television, and frankly, making pictures doesn’t interest me too much any more,” he said in 1962.

Scott passed away in 1987 and was buried in childhood home of Charlotte, N.C. His grave is four blocks from his childhood home.

Since I live close to Charlotte, I visited his grave on Sept. 1, 2012, in Elmwood Cemetery. His wife Patricia of 44 years was buried with him.

Paying my respects to Mr. Scott and his wife.

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