Ed McKenzie, the Detroit disc jockey known as Jack the Bellboy, was the topic of a recent blog post (click here to read that article). He was a big name deejay, the original Jack the Bellboy, and a rock ‘n’ roll radio pioneer. Since Ed had been on radio and TV in Detroit for many years, I was surprised and frustrated that I came up dry in a search for audio or video featuring this man.
I was convinced that if I searched long enough I would find something of interest. As it turns out, that was correct. I discovered that McKenzie had appeared in a motion picture called Disc Jockey — theatrical release back in 1951. A few libraries around the country had copies of the movie on original reels. Since I don’t have access to a projector, or a way to copy it, that format was not an option for me. Finally, I discovered a Canadian film collector who had previously converted the movie to DVD. I purchased a copy from him, so that takes us up to where I am now.
McKenzie’s role is brief (20 seconds), although we hear his voice and see what he looked like. Furthermore, this is probably as good as it gets — the only remaining audio or video of the original Jack the Bellboy. David Carson, who is a historian and author of two definitive works on Detroit radio, told me: “I too searched high and low for any clips of Ed to include in a Detroit radio montage that I put together for the launch of my first book, ‘Rockin’ Down the Dial,’ twenty years ago. But I came up empty handed — even Ed who had some wonderful photo scrapbooks hadn’t saved any audio!”
Here’s the plot of the film: Radio is under assault by that upstart known as television. Disc jockeys feel that their jobs are threatened. As a group, jocks from around the nation unite to turn a new record by an undiscovered female singer into a monster hit. That will impress advertisers in a big way! It is a camp and cheesy story, but if you watch the whole movie it includes appearances by twenty-eight real life ’50s era major market DJs. Included are performances by a very young Sarah Vaughn, Tommy Dorsey, the Weavers and other musical stars. Since the storyline involves disc jockeys, it makes sense to feature appearances by top-rated radio personalities. Obviously, the filmmaker also expected all of the jocks to talk up the movie when it played at local theaters.
McKenzie’s cameo role is 29 seconds into this short 2:30 video clip. Watch all of the clip and you’ll see what jocks looked and sounded like nearly 70 years ago. These guys were in the movie because they were giants on the AM dial. Some of the twenty-eight featured deejays don’t appear in this clip. The fellows here just happened to be in the scene with Jack the Bellboy (Ed McKenzie).