Diane Jordan: Almost Famous – Page 3


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“He then said that he wouldn’t call me a cab until I agreed to go to a movie with him some other time, so I agreed to do it, since I just wanted to get out of there. Our ‘date night’ came and we were driving to a movie theater, downtown on Church Street. Once again, Tom T.’s old Cadillac stalled about two blocks from the theater. He gave me some money and said to go on to the movie and that he’d meet me there. This was more than I could have hoped for. (laughs) I paid the admission and went inside, finding a seat way down in the front. I scrunched down in my seat, so that he couldn’t find me. It worked. After the movie was over, I left by the side door and walked the six blocks home to my sister’s apartment, which wasn’t really a dangerous thing to do back in 1965.

“After that incident, Tom T. Hall told some people (who later told me) that ‘Going out with Diane Jordan is as about exciting as going out with your sister.’ The next time I saw him, he told me that he didn’t want to date me anyway because I was ‘about as sexy as a box of graham crackers’. After that, he always called me ‘Graham Crackers’ whenever he saw me.

“One night, two or three months later, my friends and I were sitting in Linebaugh’s Café and had decided that we were going to go over to Possum Holler, a nightclub that was nearby.   Tom T. came into the café and when he sat down at our table, we got up and left. He saw us at Possum Holler later that night and came up to me, and with a sarcastic look on his face, said, ‘Oh, gee, Graham Crackers, you really broke my heart, just getting up and leaving me like that.’

“My retort couldn’t have been better if I’d had a week to think of it. I said, ‘Well, you know how graham crackers are…they always leave crumbs.’ (laughs) He was speechless.”

Diane flashes forward to September 1980. “At the time, I was performing on a five-day tour of Canada and the northern US for Canadian promoter, Harry Joyce. There were a total of 17 Nashville acts on the tour, including Tom T. Hall. He came up to me backstage at the Saturday matineé and seemed really glad to see me. I thought that perhaps all of his great success had changed him for the better. He asked me to have dinner with him between shows so that we could talk about the Linebaugh/Lower Broadway days. We had a nice dinner and he asked where I was staying, which was not a major hotel chain. He asked, ‘Why aren’t you staying at the Holiday Inn?’ and I explained that my room was provided for me, free of charge. He said, ‘I’ll move you to the Holiday Inn and pay for it and we can get a pizza after the show and talk some more.’ I was very wary, and I told him, in essence, that nothing had changed and that if he really wanted to just talk, that I would enjoy that, but that was all. He assured me that he was just enjoying talking and seeing me again after all those years.

“After the show, I rode with him and his band on their tour bus and they moved me to the Holiday Inn. Tom T. said to order a pizza and he would come over to my room to pay for it. Well, the same thing happened as before. I was eating the last bite of pizza when he jumped on me. I got really mad this time. I told him to get the hell off me and to get out of my room. He started to leave and then he stopped in the doorway and said, ‘Oh, by the way, how are you going to get to the next show?’

“Without hesitating, I said, ‘I can ride with Jimmy C. Newman,’ feeling sure that Jimmy would let me, which he did. I actually flew back from Detroit at the end of the tour, two days later. I later found out that Tom T.’s tour bus had major mechanical problems and they had to stay two extra days to get it fixed. Two of his band members had to get back to Nashville right away, though, so they rode back with Jimmy C. Newman.” (laughs)

Finally, Diane says, “Tom T. Hall was a real jerk to me, that’s for sure. I gave him a second chance and he hadn’t changed one bit.”

In February 1966, Diane performed for a week in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with a group called The Homesteaders. “This was the first subtropical place I had been to and I loved it. It’s a huge base and we did a show for a different crowd every night. I remember my dressing room had large mirrors all around the room.  I was told that Zsa Zsa Gabor had been there a few months earlier and demanded the mirrors on all the walls so that she could see herself from every angle. Nancy Sinatra’s song These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ was a big hit at the time and I was a big hit singing it to the sailors. At every show, a sailor would take off his boots and bring them up to me onstage. I would kick off my high heels and put the boots on, just in time to say (as Nancy said on her record), ‘Are ya ready, Boots?  Start walkin’!’ I’d walk off the stage to thundering applause and cheering. I felt like a rock star!”

After a week in Cuba, The Homesteaders and Diane traveled to Wheeling, West Virginia to perform on the long-running radio show The Wheeling Jamboree. “I enjoyed working with The Homesteaders and really felt I was making some headway in the business,” she says.

Diane moved in with her sister Carol and brother-in-law Bert in the spring of 1966, when the couple bought a small house 12 miles outside of Nashville. “Their house was several blocks away from the nearest bus stop, so it was always a long walk for me to get a bus to take me into town. Bert was making $200 a month and Carol quit working when she became pregnant with their daughter Carrie. As I was too far away to hang out in Nashville and meet music people, I got very little work during this period. I would walk to the bus and go to the Opry on weekends and always got a ride home from someone on the show. At the time, I was dating Dottie West’s bass player, whom I had met when he played bass with The Homesteaders, but we didn’t date for very long.

In March of 1967, Diane worked a week in Toronto at the Edison, with male singer Larry Kirby, and a girl duo named Dude and Bobby. “We actually did several gigs together,” says Diane, “including a few at some military bases in Fargo, North Dakota and Valdosta, Georgia.”

That May, Diane dated a man whose Elvis Presley-like countenance had made him a heartthrob of the teen set since the late 50s…handsome Hollywood actor John Ashley. Unbeknownst to Diane, however, Ashley had actually seen her for the first time several months prior to their meeting in Nashville. “To tell the story of how I met John Ashley, I have to go back to November of 1966. An agent in town named Grace Hall called to ask me if I’d like to work a week at a club called King Arthur’s, in Kansas City. If it went well, I could stay for four weeks. The gig paid $200 a week, and I could stay at a hotel, next door for $25.00 a week. Needless to say, I was elated. I took a train to Kansas City and when I saw the crummy hotel I would be staying in I was a bit put off by it, but I checked in anyway and paid the $25.00 in advance (as required). I walked into the club for an afternoon rehearsal and the horn player asked, “Where are your charts?” I was so green at the time I didn’t know what he meant by ‘charts’. I didn’t know that charts were arrangements. I had worked very little, and only with country bands and the Christmas military tour with Ronny and the Daytonas. So, my gig at King Arthur’s was a fiasco, to say the least. I remember singing Your Cheatin’ Heart, Jambalaya, Tom Dooley, and Bye Bye Love. My only consolation was that there were only about five people in the audience that night. (It’s important that you keep this in mind.) That was the first time I had ever been inside of a strip club. The stripper told me, “Believe me, honey, I am the tamest stripper you’ll ever meet.” Well, she was right…she was not sleazy at all. In fact, she had a sewing machine in the dressing room and when she wasn’t out front stripping, she was backstage making a red corduroy jumper for her little niece. What she didn’t know was that while she was onstage, her husband was trying to kiss me and feel me up! I felt so bad for her that he would be after me, and she didn’t even know it. The comedian, Joey Gerard, felt sorry for me and spent the next afternoon with me at the club teaching me the Dean Martin song, You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You. He even gave me his silver St. Christopher medal, for good luck. I needed it. Joey and I worked a bit too long and I still had to go back to my hotel room and change clothes. I was five minutes late in arriving at the club. The manager told me that I had broken my contract and he fired me. I told him that I didn’t have any money for food and that I had worked one night. He reached into his pocket and gave me five dollars! The hotel manager wouldn’t refund any of the $25.00 that I had paid in advance for my room, even though I had stayed there only two nights. So there I was, stranded in Kansas City, with no money to buy a train ticket back to Nashville. I had to call my parents back in Nebraska, which, believe me, was a very hard call to make.

“My dad came to get me the next afternoon. Sutton, my hometown, was only two and a half hours away. Well, I ended up staying with my parents through Christmas. All that mattered to my mother, of course, was that her baby was home for the holidays. My brother Jim saw the St. Christopher medal and wanted it. I said that Joey Gerard had given it to me for good luck and that I wanted to keep it. He took it anyway, saying, ‘Aw, you’ll never see him again.’ It was probably a year or so after that, when I worked The Stork Club in Bossier City, Louisiana. Lo and behold, the comedian on the bill was Joey Gerard. He asked me why I wasn’t wearing the St. Christopher medal he had given me and I lied and said that it was in my suitcase. Small world, isn’t it?

“Now, to my meeting John Ashley in May 1967: Thanks to my brother Jim’s interference, my sister and her husband had kicked me out of their house by then and I was living with three other girls in a rented house in East Nashville. I was backstage one Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry. John was in town for the premiere of Hell On Wheels, a drive-in movie that he did with Marty Robbins. I don’t recall if John did a walk-on at the Opry that night on Marty’s portion of the show, or if he was just visiting backstage. Anyway, he walked over to me and asked, ‘Excuse me, but didn’t you sing at a club in Kansas City about six months ago?’ I was stunned…and embarrassed. It turns out, he had been in Kansas City for a business meeting and they had gone to King Arthur’s that night for dinner. I explained what had happened and he said, ‘We felt so sorry for you. We knew that a strip band was the wrong kind of band for you.’ John said that he had wanted to come over and talk to me but didn’t know if he should. He asked me to go out with him after the Opry. I told him that I already had a date and he said, ‘Well, can’t you break it?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t do that.’ I could see he was visibly surprised, of course, at being turned down. John was very, very handsome, and I had seen him in Beach Blanket Bingo. What girl wouldn’t jump at the chance to go out with him? So, when I turned him down, he said, ‘Oh, well. I’ll be in town until Monday morning. Would you like to go out to dinner and maybe a movie, tomorrow night?’ I very happily agreed to that. (laughs) So, the following night we went out to dinner and a movie with Eddie Crandall and his wife, JoAnne Steele, who was also a singer. I can’t remember which movie we saw, but I know that John nixed the idea when Eddie said, ‘We could go see Hud. John’s in that one.’ When I finally did see Hud, I discovered that John had only one line in the entire film! No wonder he didn’t want us to see it! Anyway, we had a great time and after the movie, Eddie and JoAnne dropped us off at John’s hotel. I stayed the night, but kissing and heavy petting was really all that went on. Eddie was coming over the next morning to take John back to the airport. John wanted me to ride to the airport with them, and to have breakfast there. I was very embarrassed that Eddie would know that I’d spent the night.  John told him that I’d just come over to ride to the airport with them. Of course I was wearing the same clothes, as the night before, so I’m sure Eddie knew better.

“After our meeting in Nashville, John and I talked on the telephone nearly every day. That July, he wanted me to visit him in Tulsa. He prepaid a plane ticket for me and I even flew First Class. I actually flew from Nebraska, where I had been visiting. The night before, I had gone to a county fair with my cousin, and a local boy won a teddy bear for me. When I got off the plane, I was carrying the teddy bear and a copy of the Jacqueline Susann book, Valley Of The Dolls. John thought that was really funny. (laughs) I had just had a birthday and John had told me on the phone that he had a big surprise for me. I thought it would be a beautiful gift, but the big surprise was about five or six 8-track tapes of country music that he had bought to play in the car. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. John took me to meet his parents in Tulsa, where he was living at the time. He and his ex-wife Deborah Walley’s child, Tony, who was then about four years old, was visiting him for the summer. His nanny, Mabel, was there, too. (Mabel had also been Deborah’s nanny when she was a child.)

In the 60’s, John and his business partner had a company called Snyder-Ashley Enterprises. They owned several movie theaters in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, including some new twin theaters in both cities. John and I went downtown on my first night in Tulsa to pick up the ticket money. The theater concession counter sold big dill pickles, in plastic packages, which I found to be strange. The manager of the theater told John that when a sexy movie played (such as an Elvis movie), he would find several pickles in the stalls of the women’s restroom. John laughed and said that this could be a whole new way of rating movies. ‘Yeah, I would give that movie about 12 pickles!’ (laughs) The trip was really fun and John didn’t pressure me to have sex, which was a relief. And yet I was a little puzzled when he said, ‘Diane, I won’t rest until I make you fall in love with me.’ Okay

“The next time I flew to see him was probably in August or September. By this time, my ticket was Coach. We stayed in Oklahoma City and didn’t go to Tulsa at all. He got a motel room for us and I was really upset and even in tears. I said, ‘ I’ve never stayed in a motel with a boy before.’ He laughed because I had said, boy instead of man. This time, there was some pressure from him for sex, but I knew I still wasn’t ready for it. Still, he assured me that he loved me. That’s when he told me, ‘You can make your little record and then we can settle down and have a family.’ Wow…I didn’t like that at all. I wanted a career, not just one ‘little record.’ Music was my top priority, and no one  who got in my way was going to stay in my life.

“John and I continued to talk on the phone and he told me that I could always call him ‘collect’ at his parents’ house. It didn’t have to be person-to-person (that cost more), because no one answered the phone in his bedroom. I flew to see him a third time, and again, it was a Coach ticket. I still wasn’t ready for sex, and I’m sure that was really wearing thin with a 33-year old divorced man. After that last visit, we talked a few more times on the phone and then I didn’t hear from him for a week. I tried to call him and his phone just rang and rang. I knew the name of the motel where he always stayed in Oklahoma City, so I called his room. A woman answered the phone. I asked for John and she said that he wasn’t there. I said, ‘Who are you?’ Can you believe that she said she was the maid? Of course, I knew that a hotel maid wouldn’t answer the phone, so the next night I called his Tulsa number (collect) and John answered. The operator asked, ‘Will you accept a call from Diane Jordan’ and John simply said, ‘No!’ and hung up on me. I remember I sat there just staring at the receiver in my hand.

“I think what made me the angriest was the fact that I had already been out once with my future husband Larry (whom I would marry in December of 1971), and had really, really liked him. I didn’t even care about John, but it was just very insulting to have him break up with me that way—you know, over the phone. I certainly didn’t want a future with a man who said, ‘You can make your little record and then we can settle down and have a family.’

“As it turns out, John Ashley married someone within a year of our breakup and had more children. It worked out the way it was supposed to, though. I married Larry Fullam in 1971 and we’re still together…38 years later.”

Diane had first met Larry in the summer of 1965, when he came to Nashville after his discharge from the Army. “My friends met him before I did and one of them said to me, ‘If he asks you out, don’t go because I saw him first.’ I had a good reputation, so he didn’t ask me out until the fall of 1967. I went to a movie with him just before John Ashley dumped me. I liked Larry right away, so I really didn’t care about breaking up with John. He wounded my pride, but he certainly didn’t break my heart.”

When asked what first attracted her to Larry, Diane answers, “I was initially attracted to him because he was good looking and talented. I love great voices, and when I heard a demo that he did, of a song called Tender Persuasions, I knew that I had to kiss him on the mouth! (laughs) When I met Larry, I immediately liked his clean-cut appearance and the fact that he was not a typical musician. In other words, he didn’t drink, smoke or take drugs. He also didn’t hunt or fish. I dated guys who did some of those things but there was no way that I would ever marry a man who did any of them! (laughs)

Diane and musician Larry Fullam on their wedding day“As I got to know Larry, I could see that he was easy-going, which was totally unlike the men in my family. He didn’t use profanity as part of his regular vocabulary, he had respect for his mother and sisters, and he was kind to animals. We dated for three years, and then became engaged. We chose a house together and Larry moved into it about nine months before we were married in Madison, Tennessee on December 19, 1971. Larry was definitely one of the good guys that I met back then, and he hasn’t changed one bit, I am happy to say.”

Diane and Larry were already dating when she got a two-week singing gig at a Huntsville, Alabama nightclub in the fall of 1967. “A former Nashville musician had moved there and was managing the club. He’s the one who booked me. I had told the musicians about my being able to work a Ouija Board, and they decided to buy one and try it out. They all came to my room one night after we got off work. I had always noticed a peculiar smell when they were around but I had never been around marijuana before, so I had no clue that’s what I was smelling. Imagine my surprise when the guys came into my room and started smoking. I remember I fell asleep; apparently the pot smoke had that effect on me. One of them shook me awake as they were leaving and said, ‘Hey, Diane, thanks for the pot party.’ I can’t help but think of how innocently I could have gotten into trouble for something I slept through.”

In December of that year, Nashville agent Jack D. Johnson got Diane another overseas gig, this time in Asia. “Jack booked me on a three-week Christmas tour of military bases in Japan, Marcus Island and Iwo Jima,” she recalls. “The show was called Guy Mitchell’s All Star Revue, with The Heralds, Donna Dee Anderson, Diana Duke and me. The Heralds were a folk trio that usually toured with the popular orchestra Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, and Donna Dee Anderson was married to one of the guys in the band. As you can tell from the name of the show, 1950s pop singer Guy Mitchell was supposed to be the star of the tour, but it never happened.

“The day we were to leave, we were all at the airport early, eager to begin this exciting adventure. It was getting closer and closer to flight time, but Guy Mitchell still hadn’t arrived. Jack was there to see us off, and he was not happy. Finally, we boarded the flight without Guy. Jack said that he wasn’t going to let Guy take a later flight. ‘Just do the show without him,’ he said. ‘You don’t need him anyway.’  Jack died in 2008, and I attended his wake. I met his wife and told her that Jack had booked me on tours to Germany and to Japan.  She immediately remembered that Guy had missed the Japan tour. She said that Jack was really disgusted with him and that his missing the flight was the last straw. She and Jack had even invited Guy to stay in their home once, but she said, ‘Guy Mitchell was a real drunk. He didn’t appreciate anything that Jack tried to do for him.’

“We were a bit apprehensive about doing the tour without Guy, but no one really seemed to care. In fact, only one person—a ten-year old boy, of all people—asked why he wasn’t there. He had recently seen Guy’s old movie, Red Garters, and he wanted to meet him.”

Diane and the Guy Mitchell Revue traveled all over Japan and then did some shows on Marcus Island and in Iwo Jima. “Marcus Island is a tiny triangular-shaped island in the northwest Pacific. At only 700 acres in size, much of it is taken up by the airstrip. (The island was given back to Japan in 1968.) The guys that were stationed there hadn’t seen any women for a while, and they were really happy to see us. I remember wearing a red sparkly mini dress (which I made) and thigh high silver boots. I thought that it was such a cool outfit, but the guys didn’t like it at all; they wanted to see legs! For our safety,  the other girls and I had to spend the night in the infirmary, with a guard at the door. (laughs) Donna Dee Anderson and her husband Dennis were newlyweds, so they were not happy about this arrangement.

“The soldiers on Marcus Island prepared for our visit for several weeks. They built a beautiful little fish pond in our honor, and made gifts for us (which I still have). The fishermen attached glass balls of different sizes to their fishing lines, to keep their nets afloat. In these glass balls they had stamped different Japanese characters (probably to identify the owners of them). The sailors later collected the balls that washed up on the island and wove jute rope around the large ones to create a netting effect. That was one of the gifts they gave me. It was really very cool, and to this day, I have it displayed on the mantle in our den. Another guy gave me a beautiful piece of ‘brain coral,’ which is actually shaped like a human brain. It, too, is displayed on my mantle. During our  stay, we were shown a movie about what happened at Iwo Jima, and then we were taken to Mt. Suribachi to see the flag, which was very impressive.

“Here’s kind of a funny story. One of the popular ‘catch phrases’ of the day was, ‘Later, Baby.’ One day we asked our Japanese bus driver to teach us to say it in Japanese. He thought for a few seconds and then said, ‘Sayonara, hockachung!’  After driving us around for three weeks, we became very fond of him, and he became fond of us. The day he drove us to the airport, he wouldn’t say goodbye to us. He just looked at us very sadly, and said, ‘Rater, Baby.’ (laughs)

“My earlier trip to Germany was a great experience, of course, but traveling to Japan was just totally fascinating to me. It was like entering another world. The monetary gain was a pittance, but the experiences were priceless. Those memories will last a lifetime.”

Once back in the States, Diane might have done well to ask her ex-boyfriend John Ashley for some advice on making B-movies when her next job came along: a part in a low-grade horror film titled The Monster And The Stripper. As Diane will admit, it was easily her oddest gig ever.

“I received a phone call one day in early 1968 from a booking agent named Jeane Matthews. She told me that a movie was being produced in town and that they were looking for some young chorines for it. I told her I wasn’t a dancer and she said that only a couple of simple routines were involved. ‘They just want sexy girls,’ she said.  ‘Go over to Trafco Studios and show them your legs.’ So, I did. There were also some real-life strippers in the film but I want to be sure people know that I was one of the chorus girls…not a stripper.

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