On ‘Hairspray’s’ 25th anniversary, ‘Buddy Deane’ Committee looks back
If you were a teenager in Baltimore in the late 1950s and early 1960s, you watched “The Buddy Deane Show.” When the final bell rang you sprinted home from school, saddle shoes smacking the sidewalk, knee socks sliding down your shins, until you skidded to a stop in front of your black-and-white TV and turned to WJZ Channel 13 to watch Maryland’s answer to “American Bandstand.” Chances are you wanted to be on “The Buddy Deane Show,” whose stars were ordinary teens turned local celebrities. The Committee, as they were known, could do all the hot dances of the day: the Madison, the mashed potato, the pony. Faced with pressure to integrate the show, something the station (and some Committee members’ parents) refused to allow, WJZ canceled Buddy Deane in 1964. ¶ Most people probably would’ve forgotten about “The Buddy Deane Show” ages ago had it not been immortalized by John Waters in his 1988 movie, “Hairspray.” In honor of the 25th anniversary of “Hairspray,” the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is staging a concert production of the musical this week, narrated by Waters and featuring a full orchestra and vocalists. We rounded up Waters and almost 20 of the original Deaners and asked a handful to recount their days as the most famous kids in Charm City.
“The Buddy Deane Show” went on the air on Sept. 9, 1957 and became the most popular local show in the United States.
John Waters, writer and director of “Hairspray”: I was always obsessed by it. . . . I watched it for the fashion and for the drama, because Buddy Deane encouraged them to [date and] break up on film. I watched it like a soap opera. I watched and fantasized about it and made up stories about it in my brain.
Frani Hahn (then Nedeloff): I watched it every day with my family when I’d come home from school. We all watched that and the “Mickey Mouse Club.” [At my audition], I was not quite 14. I lied! You had to be 14 to 18 to get on.
Linda Snyder (then Warehime): Buddy was the star . . . but Arlene [Kozak, his production assistant], actually did all the work. . . . She was his right-hand man and she picked out all the kids for the show. And we became very close to Arlene. She was sort of like a mother to us. Until the day she passed away [in 2007], we were still friends.
Marie Shapiro (then Fischer): The first thing, they’d kind of look you over. I’m serious. I hate to say this, but they wanted attractive young people.
John Waters: Mary Lou [Barber] told me once that “a black girl could’ve gotten on the show easier than a fat girl.” . . . In [“Hairspray”], Ricki Lake’s character goes down to audition and they all make fun of her. I don’t think a fat girl ever came to audition.
Marie Shapiro: You’d dance with one of the Committee members. You had to be able to jitterbug and you had to be able to cha-cha, and do whatever dance was popular then, the mashed potato or the pony.
Linda Snyder: After you made the dance audition, you went to an interview with the Committee members.
Mary Lou Barber: Arlene would throw a spotlight on you, and they’d throw questions at you: What do you like about yourself, what do you like about the show? It was your personality and your thoughts. You had to be a good student.
Marie Shapiro: I think they even asked for a note from my minister. They wanted to know something about your religious affiliation. (Editor’s note: The show requested a character reference from a priest, minister or rabbi; references from teachers or principals were also accepted.) They had a contract we had to sign, because they were using our image for free. Plus they used us for commercials. When you think about it, it’s funny. Now, no one would ever do a commercial for a profit company without getting some compensation.
Once a teenager joined the Committee, he or she had to abide by Deane’s rules, which Deane described in a letter to the cast: “Your clothing will be befitting a lady or a gentleman, and your habits, no smoking or gum chewing, will set standards for the future.”
Linda Snyder: We were on the show Monday through Saturday, six days a week. I went to Eastern High, I got out at 2:30, and at 3, the show started. It was over at 5. On Saturdays, it was on in the afternoons until 5. And on the weekends we’d go to record hops.
Wayne Hahn: If you were late, you couldn’t get in the door. . . . And the guys had to wear a coat and tie, so we’d keep stuff in the car.
Marie Shapiro: I couldn’t wear knee-highs or desert boots. I had to wear stockings and cha-cha heels.
Mary Lou Barber: My hairstyle was the biggest. I had beehives. We used to wrap our hair in toilet paper at night. And when we sprayed it, we had to blot it so it didn’t leave residue.
Linda Snyder: In the beginning, they rotated the entire Committee. And then they decided to keep some on so they’d get more popular . . . so they had a points system. . . . If you [broke any rules], you got the points taken off. That’s how they rotated Committee members.
Vicki Defeo: Now, I think kids would say, “You can’t tell me what to do.” But we knew we could be replaced in two seconds. Someone else would want to come on the Committee and take your place.
The Committee members became Baltimore celebrities — they were recognized on the street and received fan mail — and they got to meet some of the biggest stars in music.
Linda Snyder: Every young star that had records out would come and promote their records. . . Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin, all of them. Chubby Checker.
Vicki Defeo: My favorite was James Brown. I just loved meeting him. He didn’t talk with us a whole lot. But we thought of him as being so flamboyant. He had this dark olive green suit and I was thinking, “That’s not what I expected,” and then he opened up the jacket and it had red lining!
Wayne Hahn: Dick Clark [and “American Bandstand”], that wasn’t a big thing here. In Baltimore, Buddy Deane was so strong in his time slot.
Frani Hahn: I can remember times when we would go downtown shopping and we’d stop in at Read’s Drug Store and have Cokes, and people came up for our autographs! We thought it was just so cool. At school, we were just one of the other kids, but we used to get fan mail. . . . We answered everything back then, except people like Mary Lou, who got bags of fan mail.
Mary Lou Barber: I used to receive 100 letters a week, all fan mail. I couldn’t go to a mall without somebody going “Oh my God, it’s Mary Lou!” . . . [But] people hated me, too. I’d get hate mail. Rumors would go about certain people. It’s like anything you see today. To be a local celebrity like that, you always had to look your best when you went outside because people would see you. God forbid, in school, if you didn’t smile, you were conceited. So you always had to kind of be “on.”
Frani Hahn: Honestly, I was on the show for, I’d say about six months before my father even found out, and he found out quite by accident. My father was very strict. And my mother would pack a little paper bag with my cha-cha heels and my pastel pink lipstick. My father’s boss came into work one day and said, “My daughter and my wife just love your daughter, and we can’t believe that she’s a TV star and you work for me!”
John Waters: The most amazing thing about “The Buddy Deane” stardom was they would show up not knowing if they would fight or sign autographs. The boys were picked on, because boys didn’t dance then.
Frani Hahn: I think it was easier for the girls. When I was on, the kids at school were cool with it. It was an integrated school, and the black girls would show us all the new dances. I think the guys had a harder time at it. They were more made fun of because they didn’t fit in [and] because people would want to fight them.
The one thing everyone seems to remember about “The Buddy Deane Show” is its ending: amid calls to integrate the almost all-white program (as in “Hairspray,” there was one day a month when African Americans could dance on the show), “Buddy Deane” was canceled. The final episode aired on Jan. 4, 1964. Recollections differ as to whether it was Deane, the station or the parents of the Committee members who refused to allow the show to be integrated. Bob Mathers, who worked with Deane on three radio stations, was a close friend of Deane’s and is an unofficial historian of “The Buddy Deane Show.”
Bob Mathers: We’re looking at the times of 1963, and in 1963, what overrode ratings and popularity were the feelings about race in Baltimore City.
Marie Shapiro: I remember sometimes there would be African Americans at the hops, and it was frowned upon to dance with an African American if you were a Committee member.
Mary Lou Barber: Think of it: In the ’60s, if they were to ask a black guy to lead a dance with me or some other white girl — Baltimore wasn’t ready for it yet. There were riots! You’re going to put it on TV? You have to ease into it.
Bob Mathers: There were a lot of protests in Baltimore, which was a very racially segregated town. In fall of ’63, Buddy called in the Committee members and said . . . “Now, we’re talking about integrating the show. How do you feel about that?” And the kids said, “Mr. Deane, I don’t mind at all. But my mother and father won’t let me come down if you do that.” In early December, Buddy Deane met with station officials and they said, “We’ve decided to cancel the program.” And Buddy said, “So it has to do with integration?” And the station said, “That’s correct. We just don’t know what to do with the show.”
John Waters: By that point, I don’t think “The Buddy Deane Show” was on everyone’s lips anymore. Its time had passed a little. . . . I think Buddy Deane was a target for people who were fighting segregation everywhere. It was a target maybe of people who didn’t even watch the show.
Marie Shapiro: I think we all kind of knew what was coming. Because there were starting to be some demonstrations outside of the studio.
Frani Hahn: I remember being called into a meeting and [being asked] if our parents would allow us, if they integrated the show, to dance with a black person. And there was a big problem with that. [The meeting was with] the Committee members and Arlene and Buddy and the producer of the show. I remember that meeting very vividly. . . . I think the kids never had much of a problem with it; I think a lot of the parents may have. . . . It reminds me of the way people think now of gay marriage, how so many people are shocked about it and they don’t agree with it. . . . I think my father would definitely have not been agreeable to [integration] at that time.
Mary Lou Barber: Because I was on the Committee and I was president, [I went to] these summit meetings. Heavy-duty meetings. And they told us we were going to go off the air because of it. And we were so sad. We really didn’t want to go off the air. . . . You heard that they wanted to integrate. I don’t know if we were ready or not; who’s to say?
Wayne Hahn: Us kids, we all went to school with black people and had black friends. It was really no big deal to us. But the parents, I guess, back in the early ’60s and late ’50s, things were a lot different.
Vicki Defeo: I’ve tried to think this through, because it sounds ridiculous, but [integration] was a non-issue to us. We didn’t sit around and say, “We don’t want to be around black kids.” [But] . . . at that time, our parents would not have gone along with integrated dancing. And it sounds dreadful. I have two mixed-race grandchildren whom I adore. And if I ever had to explain this to them, it was just, I couldn’t.
In the early 1980s at a “Buddy Deane Show” reunion, Waters approached former Committee members about a movie he wanted to make inspired by the program. His 1988 film “Hairspray” went on to inspire a Broadway musical of the same name. The stage production opened in 2002, won eight Tony Awards and spawned another “Hairspray” movie, which was released in 2007.
John Waters: I never purposely thought I was making a movie that was any more commercial than any of the other ones. I was just accidentally obsessed with something that was appealing to more people.
Frani Hahn: John always said he felt like we were a cult. And coming from John Waters, I thought, that is a really nice compliment!
John Waters: [The Deaners] were the most important people I wanted to like the movie. . . . I was nervous because I was celebrating a great moment in their youth, but I was bringing up something they’ve swept under the rug, because they were kids. I’ve never said they were racist. But the parents, the society. I’m not sure an integrated “Buddy Deane Show” would work t oday.
Mary Lou Barber: I’ve only been able to watch [“Hairspray”] a couple of times because so much of it hits home. People laugh and I go, “I remember that, I remember that.”
John Waters: I put the spotlight on [the integration controversy] . . . and my version of it is very different from theirs. For many of them, it was the highlight of their life, and I get why. They were the Mouseketeers! And many of them are not comfortable talking about it, and “Hairspray” made them, in a way.
Vicki Defeo: I thought they did a great job with portraying the kids dancing. He really was trying to make it authentic. . . . I hated to see so much emphasis put on the integration plot, but I do understand that that was a part of what happened. It was really blown up big.
John Waters: Certainly all the stuff in “Hairspray” didn’t happen for real, but it was my fantasy of how I wished it would be, not what really happened. Because they didn’t integrate in reality. It didn’t have a happy ending.
Buddy Deane died in 2003 at the age of 78 due to complications from a stroke. In the years following “The Buddy Deane Show,” quite a few Deaners have gotten hitched, including Linda Warehime and Gene Snyder, Concetta Comi and John Sankonis, Anne Boyer and Richard Tempera, Shirley Temes and Jim Joyce, Frani Nedeloff and Wayne Hahn, Joe Loverde and Joyce Tucker. They still get together — and they still do a pretty sharp Madison.
Linda Snyder: We still love to go dancing. And a couple of us have yearly dances, and we all get together.
Vicki Defeo: Some of the people who were popular way back that I’m friends with now, back then I would’ve been like, wow! It’s interesting that our paths have crossed at reunions and we’ve all chosen to stay friends. We have that common bond.
Frani Hahn: The fascinating thing about it is that we all still get together, and it’s not like we live in the past. . . . But boy do we love the times, the memories that we have from the past.
John Waters: They’re my idols in a way. And I see Mary Lou, and I see Gene and Linda do the cha-cha, and I think: no one can do it like them. I think I’m honoring their great stardom.
Hairspray in Concert
Thursday at the Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda; Jan. 25-27 at the Meyerhoff, 1212 Cathedral St. Baltimore. www.bsomusic.org. 410-783-8000.