Tuesday, February 19, 2013

HANK: DICK KALLMAN aka murder victim RICHARD KALLMAN

Dick Kallman?

A few non-senile baby boomers recognize the name and might even have something of his in a shelf or stored in a box in the attic: a few singles (John Barry worked with the budding singer), maybe a souvenir Playbill from a mediocre musical, or perhaps a blurry VHS copy of an episode from his cute one-season sitcom called "Hank." There was even a tie-in album where he sang rock, pop and show tunes.

Coming up on the 33rd anniversary of his death (July 7, 1933 – February 22, 1980), the Illfolks blog finally has finished the research and uploaded some his songs. Here's the story of a guy who realized his limits, retired from show biz after giving it a shot…and got shot anyway. No, his death was not due to a celebrity stalker, but due to his success as a businessman.

A silver-spoon child, Kallman's father owned the St. John Hotel in Havana, Cuba. His mother Zara Whitman had been an actress. When Castro took over, that included the St. John Hotel, so the Kallmans fled back to the states and set up a resort hotel in New Hampshire. Richard came to Manhattan to attend the High School of Performing Arts. A few years later, and he was recording for Decca and Liberty.

The ambitious lad tried for the soft pop stylings of a Pat Boone or Bobby Vinton with "Little Grain of Sand," while "Speak Softly" is sort of a creepy-haunting little middle-of-the-road tune that a better known Jerry Vale or a more energetic Jimmy Roselli might have driven into the Top 40. There was also an Elvis attempt on "I Cry to the Moon." While Dick's singles stalled, his rubbery good looks and modest charm got him into the touring company of "Come Blow Your Horn." His big break was replacing Robert Morse in the Broadway cast of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

From there, he achieved what little fame in show business he had: "Hank."

At the time sitcoms often starred affable fellows bumbling around to a laugh track. What worked in Danny Kaye and Eddie Bracken movies was aped by Jerry Van Dyke ("My Mother the Car") Ronnie Schell ("Good Morning World") and Kallman in "Hank," to name three shows that didn't last too long. There was always the chance an actor playing a hapless dolt or a pleasant-looking lamebrain could lead a show to ratings glory: Dwayne "Dobie Gillis" Hickman or Bob "Gilligan" Denver.

"Hank," broadcast at 8:30 (after "Camp Runamuck") didn't have a chance opposite CBS's "Wild Wild West." It was about a guy who sold refreshments out of a truck on a college campus, and secretly dated the blustery school president's daughter. He couldn't afford to attend school, but as the themes song reminded us, he vowed to "get his degree, his Phi Beta Key, and get them both for free," by sitting on on classes. Funny, back then, people were concerned that "education should be free." Now it's "music should be free."

Kallman, who had the same wan smile and bland "nice guy" features as Steve Martin, wasn't much of a heart-throb for teen girls of the day. Still, the push was on, with Kallman marketed for both the NBC sitcom, and for the unusually optimistic RCA album released for this rather unknown newcomer at the same time. A single (written by David Gates) was released and promoted on NBC's "Hullabaloo," in an episode hosted by Peter "Herman" Noone.

Dick's "Lookin' Around" just wasn't too hip. With its kind of stunted, familiar "On Broadway" rhythm strut, and Dick's Darin-esque swing, it was a little too corny for a 1965 girl to care about. Clean-cut cuties were not too popular in that era of Beatles supremacy. The best that can be said for "Lookin' Around" is that it's not the unintentional parody of rock that "I Cry to the Moon" was, something that was more Conrad Birdie than Elvis Presley.

After "Hank" was canceled, Kallman made a few films, toured the straw hat circuit in "Half a Sixpence, and made a brief appearance in a pair of 1968 "Batman" shows as "Little Louie Groovy," (Eartha Kitt the guest villainess) for which he no doubt is revered among Bat-bilia buffs haunting eBay for an autographed photo to add to "the Bat-collection." Dick made his final TV appearance in an episode of "Medical Center" in 1974. Ultimately he started a company that made dresses. His mother, after all, had left acting behind to be an interior decorator. Kallman was a success with the Burton Constable company (offices in London and New York) and began to collect antiques, which turned from hobby, to a business, to a death sentence.

Selling antiques in Manhattan doesn't mean renting an expensive gallery. Many dealers prefer office space instead of a store, and some, like Kallman risk working out of their home. Kallman had a duplex at 17 East 77th (just off pricey Madison Avenue and its rows of boutiques and galleries) that that was both a private living space and showroom. He often decorated the place with items he was willing to sell at the right price.

Those wanting to visit his "Possessions of Prominence," could do so "by appointment" only. Some 15 years after the "Hank" series and album, the man's show biz career was a mere footnote oddity to his recent triumphs in fashion and art. That's how he was portrayed in New York magazine, in an issue that hit the stands on February 4th, 1980. A few weeks later, a bullet hit him in the head, entering from his right eye.

Thursday night, February 21st, Kallman hosted five men for a dinner party. In the wee hours of Friday morning, with his guests now gone, his killer arrived. The glass in the vestibule door downstairs was shattered, and part of a screen broken. There was no similar damage to Kallman's apartment door. Apparently Kallman opened it figuring it was one of his dinner guests returning to retrieve something. Besides, he wasn't alone. Steven Szladek was there. Steven, 20 years younger than Kallman, was discretely reported to simply be his "assistant." Today he'd be referred to as his "partner."

One newspaper account had Kallman "wearing nothing but a robe," while another quoted police as saying he was naked from the waist down. His assistant was found "lying nude in the fetal position in a pool of blood." What confused detectives was the motive for the double-murder. Obvious treasures, including a 2.3 million dollar Titian painting, remained undisturbed. Was this an intentional killing, with a few items stolen just to make it seem like a robbery? Was it a robbery but the work of a violent, ignorant thief who grabbed what could easily be thrown into a sack and didn't know quality at all? Or was it possible there was a gang at work…a trigger man and a few others to haul away select items that might be hidden in drawers and closets?

Eventually an inventory revealed that items were indeed missing, and the detective work began. There wasn't much pressure from the press to find out who killed Kallman. Despite the gruesome nature of the crime, the story wasn't front page news because the victim Kallman was not a movie star, just an affluent businessman known in the antiques world, and with enough connections to get a puff-piece in New York magazine.

Gossip columnist Earl Wilson was one of the few to remember Kallman, and even so, the result was just a few lines amid the usual goggle about which star was at which premiere. Wilson recalled that the flamboyant actor was a friend of another footnote in the entertainment world, 1940's cabaret singer Dolores Gray. Gray holds the dubious record for winning a Tony despite few people actually seeing her show. "Carnival in Flanders" closed after just six performances, but she won the award anyway. Ten years older than Kallman, the 56 year-old woman enjoyed the company of her antiques-dealing ex-show biz friend. Wilson wrote: "They were seen at parties, and attended the recent opening of "Harold and Maude"wearing His and Hers full-length mink coats."

Ultimately in July of 1981, 27 year-old Charles Lonnie Grosso of Queens, was convicted of second-degree murder. A brief report in the New York Times noted that "paintings, jewelry and antiques stolen from the apartment have not been recovered." The Times did not mention any accomplices. Grosso was sentenced to 25 years to life, and may be reading this via an Internet connection in an upstate New York prison. If so, a word of warning, Mr. Grosso. Downloading copyrighted music IS sometimes prosecuted, so if you grab the four songs from Dick Kalllman below, you just might be asking for trouble.

DICK KALLMAN If you've got a Hankering for FOUR SONGS

6 comments:

Malc said...

Gates only produced the "Lookin' Around" 45, he didn't write that one - tho' he did contribute as a writer to the "Hank" LP

Ill Folks said...

"Send in the proofreaders..."

Yep, a double-check of the 45rpm, and the song is credited to the interesting combo of Les Baxter and Portia Nelson.

The flip, "You're the One" is credited to Petula Clark and Tony Hatch.

Anonymous said...

Grosso is serving 40 years to life and is eligible for parole in 2012, when he will be 67 years old according to the inmate lookup on the NYS DOC website..

The NY Times article was wrong.

Anonymous said...

2021 not 2012.

Pelaphus said...

Dick Kallman did not replace Robert Morse on Broadway in HOW TO SUCCEED. Morse's replacement for the rest of the run was Darryl Hickman.

Kallman did replace Warren Berlinger in the national tour of HOW TO SUCCEED.

If, as you report, a Broadway gig was his big break, that would have been when he replaced Tommy Steele in HALF A SIXPENCE.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks for the clarification on "How to Succeed..."

Right, his big break was replacing Tommy Steele.

Nice to know people still remember Dick Kallman, a talented guy who met a very tragic fate