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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  September, 2009

Did You Know?

Did you know that VFW Post 47 in Uniontown once played a small role in a Miss USA pageant?

A Miss Pennsylvania USA (not to be confused with the Miss Pennsylvania title) competition was held there in July of 1956.

Three dozen beauty pageant contestants from across the state were judged according to their “faces and figures” (there was no talent completion), with the winner moving on to the Miss USA and later to the Miss Universe pageant that was held in Long Beach, Ca. that month.

Metzler’s of Uniontown even got into the act. The store provided entry forms for those local young ladies who wanted to participate in the Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant. They were available in the store’s sportswear department.

Two local ladies, Beverly Dillon and Beverly Tamburri, were among the top six finalists.

18 year-old Serena Kifer of Monaca was crowned the winner. She failed to make it into the Miss Universe pageant, however, when she was eliminated in the Miss USA competition.

Did you know that while (as I’ve mentioned previously) Heavyweight Champions Joe Louis and “Jersey” Joe Walcott each paid visits to Fayette County, a Light-heavyweight and World Middleweight Champion also visited.

Harry Greb, who’d won the American Light-heavyweight Championship against Gene Tunney on May 23rd, 1922, and would successfully defend his title on July 10th, sandwiched those two fights with a trip to Brownsville on July 4th.

The following day, in the Uniontown Morning Herald, it was reported that Greb had refereed part of a “successful” fight card at the Legion Post in Brownsville.

The following year Greb would win the World Middleweight Championship in a career that spanned 13 years, an estimated 303 fights – and even against heavyweight boxers.

Did you know there have been times when budding Fayette County musicians had a chance to learn from masters of their craft who’d enjoyed worldwide fame?

In August of 1977, the Connellsville Courier ran ads for beginners who wanted to take guitar lessons from Ed Gray.

Gray had been a member of the Tommy James and the Shondells (Mony, Mony and Chrystal Blue Persuasion) before returning to Fayette County and starting his own band.

Many years earlier, another local musician, Lyman Gandee of Uniontown, was offering piano lessons with his ad in the Morning Herald.

“Would you like to play (popular music) in six weeks,” his ad asked.

The lessons cost a mere 50c per lesson, and they were a bargain considering Gandee’s future employment.

In the 1920’s Gandee spent his time teaching piano, playing the musical accompaniment at the Penn and State Theatres in Uniontown and taking part in a variety of musical based activities while at Uniontown High School.
Later Gandee became the featured pianist for the big band headed by Kay Keyser, whose Kay Keyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, became all the rage throughout much of the first half of the 20th century.

Keyser’s bands had 11 number one hits during his career. Many of those tunes contained the piano work of Uniontown’s Lyman Gandee.

In case you ever see the movie “The Glenn Miller Story” starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allison, it’s Gandee’s piano that was used in the soundtrack.

Yet, Gandee never forgot his Fayette County roots.

The April 10th, 1946 edition of the Morning Herald chronicled Gandee’s return visit, and how he wowed the students from St. John’s and Uniontown High Schools.

“HOMETOWN STAR GREETED BY LARGE CROWD,” the headline said.

Gandee had helped open the third floor of the Municipal Building which would serve as the gathering spot for local teenagers called the “Top Hat.”

“You youngsters are fortunate to have a place like this to enjoy your evenings,” he told those who’d gather to hear him play.

He then related his stage and screen experiences while working with Abbott and Costello, Dick Powell, Van Johnson and Frank Sinatra.

But despite working with some of the biggest American stars of all time, I still found further proof he was never very far from his hometown.

In November of 1929 Gandee had joined Kay Keyser and his orchestra when they played at the world premiere of the latest Eddie Cantor movie at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

The trumpet player and vocalist, who was also a member of Keyser’s band, was also a Uniontown native - Frank Fleming.

Fleming, according to the November 29th article in the Morning Herald, sang several of Cantor’s most popular songs at that event.

That article concluded with the understatement that, “The two Uniontown boys are more than making good on the west coast.”

Did you know that something that was called a “cruel hoax” was played on a mother who’d lost her son in the war in Korea made front page news in Uniontown in 1952?

I’ll tell you more next week.