The world’s oldest teenagers gathered Sunday in Baltimore County to illustrate once again that even the most uncomfortable moments in American history can be turned into something musical, good-natured, and profitable beyond imagination.
Hairspray came to CCBC Essex's Cockpit in Court theater, and so did the real original cast—those Committee members from the old Buddy Deane Show, whose moment in history became the premise for the hit Broadway musical about rock 'n' roll and racial tension in Baltimore half a century ago.
About a dozen of the old Buddy Deane gang showed up to watch a delightful, energetic production of the John Waters inspiration. They stuck around after the performance to reminisce and answer audience questions.
Most of them are pushing 70 now. They first made their mark as teenagers dancing on the afternoon TV show, wearing their outfits from Lee’s of Broadway and Etta Gowns and dancing the cha-cha and the jitterbug and the Madison. Many were there when the show went off the air in 1964, ending a seven-year run.
“I can still remember them calling us in one by one,” former Committee member Carl Parks said. “They wanted to know about bringing black kids on the show. There wasn’t a person against it. What the heck, we were all going to school with black kids for a decade by then.
“But we all had the same reaction: My parents aren’t gonna go for it. It was a different time, and a different generation, that’s all.”
“We had no problem with it,” added Gene Snyder, who sat with his wife, whose maiden name was Linda Warehime. They were both Committee members back then. “We never discussed it, we had nothing to do with it. This was the adults, who didn’t know what to do, so they shut the whole thing down.”
It seems crazy now—the idea of prohibiting black kids and white kids from dancing on the same television program—but not then.
The genius of John Waters was to take that uncomfortable moment in history and turn it into something joyous. The show ran on Broadway for a couple of seasons, and since then productions have played all over America—and they're still going.
“I’m told there are 4,000 contracts for productions this year,” said James Hunnicutt, artistic director for Cockpit in Court. “It’s made more money playing all over the country than it did on Broadway, where it was a huge hit."
The old Buddy Deane gang is still a hit, too, still getting recognized on the street, and still remembered with affection by a generation that spanned the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.
“I was dancing out at Giovanni’s Restaurant, in Harford County, just the other night,” Parks said, “and a woman says to me, ‘Aren’t you Carl Parks? Didn’t you dance on the Buddy Deane Show?’ This is 50 years later.”
The show was the highest-rated local program in the country. Five days a week on Channel 13 (first known as WAAM, then as WJZ), it played for two hours a day, and on Saturdays, two and a half.
The kids became celebrities. Mary Lou Raines received 100 letters a week. Evanne Robinson was voted the prettiest girl by an entire army base. They were getting stopped on the street for autographs.
“We were from all over the city,” Ann Boyer recalled. “I had to take two buses to get there. But it was OK. We knew every kid in town wanted to be on the show. We all considered it a privilege, even though they never paid our bus fare.”
Buddy Deane used to boast that every major rock 'n' roll star of the era appeared on the show, except Elvis Presley and Rick Nelson.
When the show ended, Deane moved back to Arkansas, bought half a dozen radio stations, and lived out his life there, except for brief runs back to Baltimore, where he’d host reunions with hundreds in attendance.