Musical Tribute To Vic Meyers: Public Servant And Funny Guy
At 92, Vic Meyers' trademark mustache is gone, his thinning hair has turned white and his shrunken body has been confined to a wheelchair for several years.
Yet the band leader who was this state's Clown Prince of Politics for three decades commanded center stage for a brief time yesterday at Mount St. Vincent Nursing Center in West Seattle. And he appeared to love every minute of it.
There were none of the patented quips this time. But Meyers, always the courtly gentleman, bowed slightly to the ladies and shook hands with everyone who came up to share a bit of nostalgia.
``Vic, I used to dance to your music at the old Trianon.''
``Vic, I remember the time you rode a beer wagon and led a band through downtown Seattle to celebrate the return of 3.2 beer.''
``Thanks for coming.''
Now and then, the curtain that blocks his memory much of the time would part momentarily, and Meyers would toss off the name of someone who sang with his band almost 70 years ago. Then, the curtain would fall again.
The musician-turned-politician clutched his old dance-band baton in veined hands as bouncy, danceable music from his Brunswick and Columbia recording bands filled the Mount St. Vincent cafeteria.
White-haired men and women in wheelchairs smiled happily. Some tapped their feet. The younger people in the audience got up to dance. But Meyers steadfastly refused to wave the baton. He'd always been a perfectionist, and he wasn't about to let anyone see him get out of sync.
``Vic used to say, `I won't tell any lies about my opponent, if he won't tell the truth about me,' '' Jim Stubbs said of the man who served five terms, 1932-1952, as lieutenant governor and two terms, 1956-64, as secretary of state. The room erupted
Stubbs and Rick Jorgensen, whose American Gramophone & Wireless Co. in Orting, Pierce County, captures old cylinder and 78-rpm recordings on tape, recently came across a collection of Meyers' recordings, all 78 rpm, and found the quality to be surprisingly good.
Then, the staff at Mount St. Vincent got the idea of putting on a party for Meyers, complete with posters announcing that the old band leader would hold court one more time while his music was being played.
Perhaps the happiest people in the room during this tribute to Vic Meyers were his four grandchildren - Dr. Judith Meyers, Jim Meyers, Vic Meyers III and Patty Eckloff - and great-grandchildren Aimee and Ryan Meyers. All were hearing ``grandpa's music'' for the first time.
Ted Harris, who booked most of the nation's big-name bands into Seattle's Trianon Ballroom in the '30s and '40s, said, ``I booked all the big ones - Paul Whiteman, Guy Lombardo and Ben Bernie, and I can tell you nobody played better dance music than Vic.''
On the night Meyers was elected lieutenant governor in 1932 - swept into office by Franklin D. Roosevelt's landslide victory over Herbert Hoover - he was playing an engagement at the Trianon, Harris said.
``Vic kept sneaking off the bandstand to listen to radio reports, to find out how he was doing,'' said Harris. ``When it became clear that he had won, I announced to the dancers that Vic was their new lieutenant governor. He left to go down to Democratic headquarters a short time later, leaving someone else to direct the band.''
Much of Meyers' career was captured in a photograph album on display at the party.
There was Vic Meyers, clad in a tuxedo and his pencil-thin mustache a tribute to the barber's art, waving a baton in front of bands all over the country. Meyers presiding over the state Senate, with consummate skill. Meyers with Will Rogers, America's foremost humorist of the '30s. Meyers acting buddy-buddy with President Harry S. Truman and Gov. Mon C. Wallgren. Meyers chatting with two giants of the movie industry, Sylvia Sidney and Louis B. Mayer, on a Los Angeles dance floor.
And there was Meyers and Bing Crosby, who, as a young man, auditioned to sing with Meyers at Seattle's old Butler Hotel. Bing was turned down, legend has it, ``because he did too much boo-boo-booing.''
Merle Smith came to the party with an autographed copy of her book, ``Seattle Had a Tin Pan Alley Too!'' in which she traces Meyers' career from the old Butler Hotel to the Club Victor (Meyers' own downtown club) to the world of politics.
It contains photographs of Meyers' sheet music: ``Ada,'' which he composed with Harold Weeks and Danny Cann; ``Isle of Dreams,'' which he composed with Weeks and Oliver Wallace; ``I'm Happy Now That You're Gone,'' which he composed with Al Thompson and Harry Von Tilzer.
Half-a-dozen couples danced to ``Nobody's Sweetheart Now,'' a song Meyers recorded in the early 1930s. Many who didn't dance hummed along.
The biggest smiles greeted Meyers' arrangement of ``Bow Down to Washington'' - the first-ever dance-band recording of the Husky fight song.
And then it was time to go. Meyers motioned to me to come over to his wheelchair one more time.
``Vic,'' I said, trying to cut through the years one more time.
``Remember, I was with you in a room in the Olympic Hotel the night you lost your last election in 1964?
``You were putting numbers on the back of an envelope, and you said you were waiting for the pinochle players' vote to come in, and we laughed and talked about how you went around saying, `The last time I talked to you nice people, I asked you to help old Vic out, and you did, and now I'm asking you to help old Vic back in.'
``When it became obvious you were going to lose, I asked you to say something for posterity, and you said, `They finally caught up with me.' I'll never forget that.''
Meyers listened as the words came tumbling out. He took my hand in both of his.
``So long, pal,'' he said, ``and thanks for coming down.''
Did the curtain part for a moment? I'd like to pretend that it did.
Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.