Interview with Barry ZeVan

June 11, 2019

Photo from Next Generation Radio

This week, I spoke to author, actor, and broadcast legend Barry ZeVan about his childhood and Ginger Rogers. What connection does he have to Ginger, you might ask? Well, not only has he met her, but he even grew up with a cousin of hers. That cousin is Vinton Hayworth Jr., related by blood to both Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth. I was thrilled that he took the time to answer my questions regarding his career and celebrity connections.


Background


"I was born August 5, 1937, at the West Penn (Western Pennsylvania) Hospital in Bloomfield, an enclave inside the city of Pittsburgh. I was born into show business, as my maternal grandfather was first violinist for The Pittsburgh Symphony in 1938 and one of Milton Berle’s and George Burns and Gracie Allen’s first agents. My mother sent me to drama school at The Pittsburgh Playhouse in 1948. Among my fellow drama students was Shirley Jones, who later became Miss Pittsburgh in 1951 (and Shirley Partridge on 'The Partridge Family,' following her film successes in 'Oklahoma!', 'Carousel' and 'Elmer Gantry'). I acted with her in her first play, entitled 'Wonderful Good', at The Pittsburgh Playhouse in 1951. We saw each other and kept in touch until last year, when her husband, Marty Ingels, passed away. Marty and I were friends in high school in New York (Forest Hills) before he ever knew Shirley.  


"In 1952, my mother and I moved to New York so I could pursue my acting career, as I also acted in summer stock in Western Pennsylvania during my Playhouse years. My art teacher at Peabody High School in Pittsburgh was also Gene Kelly’s high school art teacher there, many years prior to her teaching me. She was very proud of that. Her name was Jean Thoburn. My entire life history, including the preceding information, is chronicled in my autobiography, Barry ZeVan- My Life Among the Giants, A Memoir, with the subtitle THANK YOU, JERRY STILLER...for urging me to write this book. It’s true, with the book available on Amazon. The book was published in January, 2016.

"Before the Pittsburgh Playhouse, I started on radio February 20, 1943, as a boy singer at age 5-½ on a weekly Saturday morning radio show on KDKA, the world’s first radio station. The show was entitled 'Starlets on Parade.' I was also an occasional talent on Pittsburgh’s  WDTV in 1948, the first year the entire nation got television, but prior to that and prior to moving to New York to live, in August, 1946, on a vacation trip to New York, I was a contestant on a national CBS radio show entitled 'Give and Take' which starred John Reed King and whose announcer was Pittsburgh-born Bill Cullen. After that show, the producer asked my mother if she’d let me be on local New York television that night. We had never heard of television, but she said yes, and I appeared as a 'fun' kid, with New York City having only 600 television sets. It was experimental, but I was blessed to be a 'pioneer' talent, of sorts, with one viewer in The Bronx guessing my hat size. The studio was in the New York General Building, immediately on the north side of Grand Central Station and where, eventually, many CBS soap operas were acted and eventually taped. Much too long a story to tell, but I also acted as a student on 'Mister Peepers' with Wally Cox and Tony Randall in 1952 and 1953 shortly after we moved to New York. Tony was like a father to me and mentor from 1952 until he died. After serving in the U.S. Air Force and getting weather training at the end of the Korean War, I was a singer for two and a half years (1955-57) with The Ray Charles Singers on 'The Perry Como Show.' Perry’s announcer, Frank Gallup, suggested I become an announcer on radio. My first radio announcing job was in Helena, Montana in November, 1957. That morphed into being on television in Missoula, Montana in January, 1958, where I also began part of my career as a TV weatherman. It’s all in my book in much deeper detail. Including the stories former President Truman told me when I interviewed him for television in 1963 in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where I was on television doing the weather and hosting both a talk show and a children’s show for five years (1960-65)."

Ginger connections

After Barry so kindly provided his background, I asked him about Vinton Hayworth Jr. Vinnie is the only child of parents Vinton Hayworth Sr. and Jean Owens. Jean is the sister of Ginger's mother, Lela Rogers, and Vinton Sr. is the uncle of Rita Hayworth, younger brother of Volga Hayworth. Below is the only photo I have been able to find of the three of them together.

From the Daily News, 1947


Barry, who was close friends with Vinton Jr. in high school, shared with me his story. 

"During my New York high school years, Vinnie was a student at Professional Children’s School (PCS) and I was a student at Lodge Professional Children’s School, across the street from each other around Broadway and 63rd Street. The schools were rivals, but we all socialized together. Some of the students at that time and with whom I still maintain relationships with those still alive, include Leslie Uggams, Elliott Gould, Tuesday Weld, Sandra Dee, Patty Duke, Carol Lynley and Sal Mineo. The latter two were in my school, but we all socialized together for three years.

"I met Vinnie and was at his and his parents’ house in Forest Hills, Queens at least twice a week for a year because my mother and I lived in Rego Park, Queens, at that time and I had already started school at Lodge after Forest Hills High School which was very close to the Hayworth’s house. The house was nice but not lavish. Vinnie was very articulate and also loved mood music, as did I. When he and I were hanging out one day at his house, Vinnie (his nickname was 'Dink', which I never thought befit him, class act that he was) introduced me to a song I used as a theme song during my radio DJ years. It was entitled 'Beyond the Next Hill.' American Airlines also used that song for their nationwide all-night music program out of KNX, Los Angeles. It was performed by Tito Acquaviva’s orchestra. Truly beautiful. Mel Baldwin was the name of the host on the all night music program, entitled 'Music 'Til Dawn.' Those were the days of true class and quality. Vinnie had both those qualities and a great announcing voice, too, but sadly never used it for that.


"I was only with Mr. Hayworth three or four times during those years, but he was always courtly and distinguished. We briefly discussed show business and the impact the fledgling television industry would have for actors. Obviously, for him, the industry provided a secure and a strong income, especially with his running-part on 'I Dream of Jeannie.' He was the epitome of first-class and never, ever mentioned Rita Hayworth was his niece. Nor did Vinnie ever mention Rita’s name. Talk about humility and dignity, they both had it. I don’t recall ever meeting Vinnie’s mother more than one time. At that time, she greeted me at the door, also a first-class and very elegant-looking lady, and guided me to Vinnie’s room in the house."


Vinton Hayworth Sr.


Barry stated that his first memories of Ginger were during his earliest years in the 1930s, the decade that belonged to the Astaire-Rogers musicals. He then spoke of his personal meeting with Ginger.

"Meeting her in the hallway at KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities (in 1973), arm in arm with my then boss, Stanley E. Hubbard, owner of the station and Hubbard Broadcasting, was an unexpected thrill. I was walking down the hallway toward them and Mr. Hubbard stopped and said, 'ZeVan, meet Ginger Rogers!' I  stated my honor to meet her. I was surprised she was shorter than I was at that time. She must have been only about 5’5”, if that. It also reminded me that Fred Astaire was also short when watching their magnificent dancing on the silver screen and now on television, thanks mostly to TCM."

As a researcher, any primary source and insight I can gather is of the utmost importance to me. There is truly nothing like hearing a firsthand account from an individual who was there when when it happened, or knew or met the people involved. I was overjoyed to give Mr. ZeVan the stage here and honored that he shared his story with us. 

You can purchase his memoir here.

From The Evening Sun, 1949
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