The following letter was sent to Neil Corning by a Mrs Peggy Denker of Herbster, Wisconson, in which she recalls her meeting with the Great Irish Tenor. It is reproduced here in its entirety with the kind permission of Mrs Denker.
Herbster, Wi 54844
October 27, 1995
Mr. Neil Corning
John McCormack Society
17 Diane Road
Peabody, MA 01960
Dear Mr. Corning:
My husband is a collector of old 78 RPM records, and receives numerous publications, and advertisements related to that hobby. In the Victrola and 78 Journal, Issue 6, Late Summer 1995, he saw your notice, and made a copy for me. I promptly took my turn at the copier, and am sending you the enclosed, which may be of Interest to you.
My father, God rest his soul, was an Irishman, a fiddler, and a great admirer of John McCormack. I doubt, In fact, that there was an Irishman In Chicago who wasn't an admirer of John McCormack!
In the autumn of 1932, John McCormack was on the radio each Sunday night. I have no recollection as to how long this program was on the air, but I believe it was sponsored by Vince Toothpowder. (Why would anyone remember that?) I turned five that fall, and the program was the 'highlight of our radio week. If it was on later than my bedtime, I was allowed to stay up to hear it - a rare treat!
I had a favorite McCormack song, myself. It was "Little Boy Blue, music by Ethelbert Nevin, words by Eugene Field. Since McCormack's name was as familiar to me as any family member's, I felt perfectly free to write him a letter and ask him to sing that song for me. My parents told me how to spell the words, and I carefully printed out my request in large letters on a sheet of lined paper. I do not remember the wording, but I did tell him I really liked his singing.
Imagine our surprise, when one Sunday evening, he not only sang the song, but (probably sensing a nice "human interest" publicity bit) -read the entire letter, and gave my name and mentioned Chicago as my home. This caused a flurry of excitement in our house, as you can imagine - BUT, since every Irishman in the United States was listening, In the homes of cousins as far away as Buffalo. In fact - the Buffalo cousins were so astounded, they CALLED UP LONG DISTANCE to make sure It was really the same Margaret McNeill! (In 1932 when, believe me, everyone was pretty poor!)
We treasured the memory, but it's only part one of the entire story. I started kindergarten In January, 1933, and walked the few blocks home from Armstrong School each day. On a cold and very snowy day, I was late getting home, and when the telephone rang, and my mother was asked, Are you the mother of Margaret McNeIll?", she immediately sank onto a chair, thinking that I had been in an accident. She was relieved to hear that wasn't the case, but was lucky to be sitting down when she heard It was John McCormack's secretary on the telephone, asking her to bring me down to the Congress Hotel some weeks later to have a picture taken and to meet Mr. McCormack.
So I had a new dress and new shoes, and a day off from school, and we traveled on the El all the way downtown, where we found Mr. McCormack to be a most handsome and charming person. We also met Edward "Teddy" Schneider, his accompanist for many years. But what impressed me most at the time was the little white piano in his hotel suite. A WHITE piano!! As good as in the movies!
We were also given tickets for his concert in April, at which he sang Little Boy Blue" - leaving, I am sure, not a dry eye in the house. We sat on the stage, and after my song, he turned and bowed to us.
I grew up to be a singer, and to become an opera fan. I was not familiar at all with McCormack's operatic work until many years later - and the first time I heard his Il Mio Tesoro on a scratchy 78 RPM record - It shook me to my toes. That's when I really fell in love with him! Every time I hear it, still, it reduces me to quivering jelly! It was years later, too, that I appreciated Mr. Schneider's skill as an accompanist.
This has become much longer than I had expected. (All my Irish relatives talk either all the time, or not at all. I know which kind I am!) I have the original newspaper clippings, of course, but they are really becoming very fragile. Still, they are legible, and holding together. They don't make newsprint like they used to, do they?
I hope you will find this of interest.
Margaret McNeill Denker
|McCormack in top Form at Concert Here|
Request Program as Season's Farewell