An earth force for a generation of Baltimore teens

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Buddy Deane, a Pied Piper to a generation of Baltimore teen-agers with his rock 'n' roll television dance show that became an inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Hairspray, died yesterday of complications from a stroke at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, Ark. He was 78.

A small-town kid from Arkansas, Winston Joe Deane came to Baltimore in 1951 after stints at radio stations in Little Rock and Memphis, Tenn. Hired by WITH radio station owner Robert C. "Jake" Embry, he was the host of a morning show that featured songs by Eddie Fisher, Frankie Laine, Teresa Brewer and other favorites of the day.

To supplement his income, Mr. Deane spun records at teen dances around town, work that proved beneficial financially and professionally - he quickly learned what songs young people really wanted to hear.

Mr. Deane soon became Baltimore's top radio personality and was invited to be the host of a television dance show for teen-agers when the Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. bought WAAM-TV in 1957 and changed the call letters to WJZ-TV. Originally known as The Buddy Deane Bandstand, the show first went on the air at 3 p.m. Sept. 9, 1957, and aired for two hours; the show often preceded the Mickey Mouse Club. Mr. Deane's salary was $250 a week, plus a stipend from commercials.

It was the beginning of the making of a Baltimore legend, one that was enshrined on film and on the Broadway stage as Mr. Deane was transformed into Corny Collins in John Waters' 1988 movie Hairspray and in this year's Tony winner for best musical.

"I talked to Buddy two weeks ago, and he was in such a good mood. He was looking forward to coming to Baltimore for the premiere of Hairspray," Mr. Waters said yesterday. "He was a big influence on me and a cult in the best sense of the word."

In his day, Mr. Deane's show was immensely popular and ruled afternoon television in Baltimore. Later renamed The Buddy Deane Show, it featured personal appearances by many stars of the day, including Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Guy Mitchell and Fabian. He greeted Brenda Lee as she landed by helicopter on the Mondawmin Mall macadam.

Mr. Deane's show made mini-stars of many of the Baltimore teen-agers who danced the twist, the mashed potato and the madison in front of the TV cameras. They were asked for autographs and received fan mail from young people who followed the show every day.

Some of the "Buddy Deaners" married their dance partners, while others grew up to become successful entrepreneurs in the entertainment field.

One man who did both, Jonas W. "Joe" Cash, was a 17-year-old Southern High School student who met a 13-year-old dancer from Edmondson High School, Joan Tevis, on the Deane show in 1957.

"I fell in love with her right away," said Mr. Cash, who runs Active Industry Research in Columbia, a company that surveys more than 400 radio stations across the country each week in an effort to rate the most popular new albums.

Mr. Cash was one of a group of the program's regulars - known as "the Committee" - which auditioned hopeful youngsters, set the rules of conduct and policed the dress code on the show.

"The show was so popular, the Committee became stars," Mr. Cash recalled yesterday. He added with a laugh, "We were local stars, and has-beens by 18. However, 40 years later and people still remember us. We were on for 2 1/2 hours a day, six days a week, and that amounts to a lot of airtime."

The Buddy Deane Show also had practical value for some of its young stars.

"It really made you grow. ... You learned how to deal with people. That taught me a great deal. It really gave me my life, and it also gave me a wife," Mr. Cash said.

Franni Nedeloff Hahn, who attended Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School, had similar recollections of the years during which she tried out for the show and was accepted.

"I was very shy," said Mrs. Hahn, who met her future husband, Wayne Hahn, on the show. "I was very introverted. I can't believe I ever did that. ... I was afraid of everything and everybody. It really did a lot for me."

Mrs. Hahn, owner of Puttin' on the Ritz hair salon and boutique in Towson, praised Mr. Deane as a "father figure" who was an important influence in the lives of young people.

"He never got too close," she said yesterday. "He was very authoritative," but "he was always there to pat you on the back. He was very genuine."

The show had an almost hypnotic effect on the culture of the day.

"You learned how to be a teen-ager from the show," Mr. Waters said. "Every day after school, kids would run home, tune in and dance with the bedpost or refrigerator door as they watched."

The filmmaker once recounted in Baltimore magazine that the show left him with a certain sense of incompleteness.

"If I have one regret in life, it's that I wasn't a Buddy Deaner," he wrote.

Mr. Waters recalled that he was a guest on the show and even won a twist contest with Mary Lou Raines, "one of the queens of The Buddy Deane Show," but he never became a member of the Committee.

Arlene Kozak, an assistant to Mr. Deane on the show and only a few years older than the teen-agers who appeared on it, described Mr. Deane as a quiet man who never became "one of the kids."

She, too, recalled him as a "father figure," emphasizing that he was "very, very nice."

"I would like to think that we did a lot of good for the teen-agers at that time," Mrs. Kozak said. "They dressed very well."

Jeans were out. Ties and jackets for the boys were de rigueur, as were modest dresses and conservative hairdos for the girls. Gum chewing was forbidden.

The Buddy Deane Show ended in early 1964, a victim of "insolvable" integration problems, Mr. Deane said in an article in The Sun at that time.

WJZ-TV had been bombarded with complaints from segregationists after the station's first tentative efforts to have black teens and white teens appear together on the dance show. Pressure also came from activists who wanted to see the show integrated.

"These dance shows introduced black music, musicians and singers to a white teen audience who were living in an increasingly desegregated world," said Taunya Banks, professor of equality jurisprudence at the University of Maryland School of Law. "When you think about Baltimore from 1962 to 1964, everything was changing. Buddy Deane was a part of this."

The station dropped the show but denied at the time that integration was the reason. Executives said the change was merely one of several to "broaden the appeal of the Channel 13 program schedule," adding that "the tastes and viewing habits of the WJZ-TV audience appear to have changed considerably."

Mr. Deane, in Tony Warner's recent book titled Buddy's Top 20: The Story of Baltimore's Hottest TV Dance Show and The Guy Who Brought It To Life, blamed the network for the perceived problems.

"Many black people in Baltimore have blamed me for the show being segregated, but I did what they told me to do. The management made the decisions. I'm not begging off, saying I wasn't part of that," Mr. Deane is quoted as saying. "Maybe I should have taken a stronger stand, I don't know, but it would have been hell."

The final show was broadcast Jan. 4, 1964, with "The Party's Over" as its last song. After saying goodbye to the Committee members, many of them in tears, Mr. Dean exited quietly from an empty stage.

"He left like a gentleman," one newspaper observed.

In one sense, the show never ended for many of the teen-agers who remember it as a rite of passage in their lives.

"Buddy was such a personable guy," said Erin M. Witherspoon, who met her future husband, Bill Little, at a February 1959 record hop hosted by Mr. Deane in Govans. "He could draw all the room into the entertainment. And, of course, his dances had the biggest draw in the city."

Now marching through middle age with teen-agers or grown children of their own, the "Deaners" have occasional reunions.

Mr. Deane left Baltimore in 1964 (he spent 10 months at WITH radio before leaving the city) and returned to Arkansas, where he owned a series of radio stations. He frequently returned to the area for guest appearances, including two recently at a Bel Air armory and the Sparrows Point Country Club.

"The Buddy Deaners always know when he slips into town," Mr. Waters said.

Mr. Deane stopped his daily broadcasts about two years ago.

"He was on the air for a morning show until August 2001 when he stopped daily work when his wife had a stroke," said his son-in-law, Craig Eastham of St. Charles, Ark. "We sold the stations May 1 of this year, but his voice was still on the air for commercial voiceovers."

Over the years, Mr. Deane remembered Baltimore fondly, as he said in a 1988 Sun interview.

"Baltimore was very dear to me," he said. "Baltimore was very good to me."

Survivors include his wife, Helen; three daughters, Dawn Deane of St. Charles, Joellen Beard of Little Rock and Debbie Lowry of Pine Bluff; and six grandchildren.

Services are tentatively scheduled for Saturday in St. Charles, the Associated Press reported.

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