They're gonna put me in the movies Make a big star out of me.
-- Buck Owens, "Act Naturally" I didn't do anything wrong All you left me was frustration But I'll thank you just the same Thank you Howard.
Melvin Dummar may long be remembered as the Utah gas station owner who claimed he once found Howard Hughes wandering in the Nevada desert, drove him to Las Vegas and, for his kindness, was later named beneficiary in the so-called Mormon will.
Dummar probably will not be long remembered as an entertainer following his debut in Sahara Reno's casino lounge.
In the Ethel Merman show-biz-is-my-life movies, "break a leg" was a wish for luck on stage. Two weeks ago, Melvin broke a leg. Literally. Tripped and snapped a bone in his ankle.
But Dummar, who is now shooting at a singing career, did not have a great deal of success Tuesday night. In his opening, he figuratively shot himself in the foot.
He sang off-key and off-time between lines about Howard Hughes, wills and money. Two whole songs were about the Hughes will.
Ah, the will. Dummar drew national attention in 1976 when he was named a beneficiary in the Mormon will, supposedly handwritten by Hughes. In a series of court battles, Dummar maintained that he picked up a bedraggled Hughes and befriended him. In return, it was claimed, Hughes cut Dummar in for a $150-million share of his estate.
The Mormon will was thrown out of court, but meanwhile Dummar became something of a celebrity. A movie, "Melvin and Howard," was made, with Dummar having a bit part.
Last week, Dummar sent his own Last Will and Testament to news people. "I, Melvin E. Dummar, a former milkman, TV game-show contestant, gas-station owner and frozen-fish salesman residing in Willard, Utah, declare that this is my Will . . . I invite you to the premiere stage performance . . . immediately following there will be a press party. The spirit of Howard Hughes will be there." So many reporters responded that a bigger room was booked for the party. Hughes didn't show, but everyone else did, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and practically every Times in between.
Dummar, 38, is a personable chap who said he'd "eventually like to be known as Melvin Dummar. Not Melvin Dummar of the Hughes will, but just plain me." But without his unceasing on-stage identification with Hughes, Melvin Dummar is just a nice guy without an act.
His four-piece band, led by drummer-manager John Elizondo, is sharp and tight. Elizondo, a former disco deejay from Utah, is as stage-wise as Dummar is stage-naive. Dummar's girl singers, the Revivals, frizzy-haired blond twins formerly in a Vegas magic act, frizzed vocally on two opening songs; then Elizondo did a long and involved introduction of Dummar, sliding into a black preacher accent to shout, "I believe in Melvin Dummar! Say hallelujah!"
Then he sang, "I Believe In Melvin." Then a chorus of "If I Were a Rich Man." Then Melvin hisself, in the anointed ecumenical flesh, hit the stage wearing a pearl-gray tux and a country-boy grin.
Before launching into Buck Owens' "Act Naturally," Dummar said, "You know, I picked up old Buck drivin' across the desert one night." Not a bad line, but he hammered the same line to Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and a couple of others.
According to Dummar, much of the show's production came from Elizondo, who also put up some of the $15,000 to get the act started. Dummar has his own money in the show, as does long-time Nevada agent George Soares, whom Elizondo hustled to book the show. Dummar, Soares, Elizondo, the band and female singers are making a total in the mid-four figures weekly for this two-week booking. That's small money, considering the number of people involved, but Soares is enthusiastic about signing up fair dates for what he said would be "much better dough." "Ever since I've been a small boy my dream has been to be an entertainer," Dummar said on stage. Then he launched into his closing song, "The Great All-American Dreamer." Corny as it may sound, it moved the audience, with a rocking arrangement and Dummar's sincerity. At the end he smiled at the small but polite crowd, said "Thank you -- I appreciate it."
Will Dummar ever be a star? Well, he did a perfectly awful Elvis impression -- almost bad enough to be a great parody of Elvis impersonators, coming only somewhat close to the melody of "Blue Suede Shoes." But he danced strongly on his broken leg, after yanking off the cast just a week ago. So, in addition to personality, Dummar has guts. That's two of the three requisites for stardom. But the third, alas, is talent.