I remember Guy Lombardo from when I was a wee lad. Every New Year’s Eve up until roughly 1976, there was Guy and his Royal Canadian Orchestra hosting their New Year’s Eve special. Sometimes I was able to stay up and watch at least part of it.
I associated Guy and the RCO with Lawrence Welk and Liberace and, for want of a better word, the kind of music my maternal grandmother and grandfather liked. But at the time, there were only three real television channels, I never really got into Dick Clark, and “Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadian Orchestra” flowed trippingly off the tongue.
I hadn’t thought of Guy in years, until a few paragraphs in The Power Broker got me wondering about him. How did he end up hosting those specials? What else did he do, and where did he come from?
Wikipedia turned up one of those odd historical byways that I’m so fond of. In addition to being the leader of the Royal Canadians, Guy raced boats. Seriously raced boats. As in, he won the Gold Cup (which is the biggest prize in boat racing) in 1946.
From 1946 to 1949, he was the reigning US national champion. Before his retirement from the sport in the late 1950s, he had won every trophy in the field.
Before his retirement, he was planning to make a run at the world speed record on water. His retirement may have been prompted by the fact that the boat he was planning to use disintegrated during a test run.
(As a side note, that record isn’t for the timid. Wikipedia claims “an approximate fatality rate of 85% since 1940“, though it should also be noted that this statement is tagged “Citation needed.” No matter what the actual percentage is, looking over the history of attempts makes it very clear that this is an expensive way to kill yourself very fast if anything goes wrong.)
And what’s the relationship between Guy and Robert Moses that brought this up in the first place? Guy and his RCO were basically Robert Moses’ house band. Moses set them up at Jones Beach and gave them an incredibly sweet deal: Moses didn’t just pay Guy and RCO to play at the park, but also absorbed all the costs of running the venue, and allowed Guy and the RCO to keep most of the ticket money and advertising revenue. In return, not only did Guy and the RCO play at Jones Beach, but they also entertained at various other offical functions for Moses, and Moses used them to impress people he needed to impress. For example, if you had a small child and Moses needed your help with something…well, Guy entered the Jones Beach theater every night on one of his speedboats. Wouldn’t your kid love to ride along with Guy as he made his grand entrance in Tempo? Of course they would.
(There are a couple of good biographies that need to be written. I can’t find any evidence that there was ever one written of Guy and his brothers, and it sure seems there’s more to their story. I think you could also get a good book out of the story of Rosebud Yellow Robe.)