A Sentimental Journey
‘Starlit Stairway Reunion’ revives a Spokane favorite
By Rebecca Nappi
Leslie Ann and Gordon Grove, brother and sister, were talented children. In the 1950s and 1960s, they sang and danced and played the trumpet at least once a year on “Starlit Stairway,” Spokane’s live talent show.
Their parents hoped to save forever the talents of their children. But home videotaping was a futurist’s dream, and local live television, in the old days, was not preserved on film or video. So the Grove parents did the best they could. They placed a microphone up to the television set and tape-recorded the sound of their children performing.
The hourlong entertainment documentary will air tonight on KXLY (Channel 4 in Spokane).
“Tapes of the show don’t exist at all,” Bayman said. “But we have some audio and some home movies.”
The lack of film or video didn’t stop Bayman associate producer Ricarda Miller from pursuing the making of a reunion show. Bayman’s not sure how the idea got started but she said, “I think we probably heard someone sing the jingle and we thought, ‘Why not?’ We realized people have wonderful memories of the show.”
“Starlit Stairway” debuted Feb. 28, 1953. It was an amateur talent show, sponsored by the Boyle Fuel Co. The jingle Bayman referred to went like this: “When you need coal or oil, call Boyle. Fairfax 8-1521. Fairfax 8-1521.”
If you moved to Spokane after 1973 – when the show ended – ask a person who grew up here to sing the jingle for you. It’s a jingle that was impossible to forget. As was the show.
And it’s that nostalgia that the producers hope to tap into tonight.
“It’s obvious this show was very precious to people,” Bayman said. “This has really been a lot of fun to work on.”
To find people who participated in “Starlit Stairway,” Bayman and Miller put an ad in the newspapers’ personals section. The ad sought former contestants and pleaded for “film, photos, memories and costumes.”
About 30 people responded. The producers received the Groves’ audio tapes, bits of home movies, lots of photographs, trophies, certificates and a costume handmade for a 5-year-old contestant. One man even saved the $5 he won on the program.
Tonight’s reunion show will feature memories from more than a dozen participants, including Bob Ward, the show’s original producer, and Bob Welch, the first master of ceremonies. The original Boyle Twins – Deanna and Deanda Sylte – will once again sing the Boyle Fuel jingle, something they did every week for five years of childhood.
To illustrate what a modern-day “Starlit Stairway” might look like, the producers videotaped five children singing, playing the piano and the saxophone, and doing gymnastics. Three of the performers are the children of former “Starlit Stairway” contestants.
These performances will be on videotape, however, thanks to modern technology. Lost forever, except in the memories of people who tuned in every Saturday for 20 years, are these images: A young boy playing an accordion almost as big as he is. A girl twirling a flaming baton that flings out of control, setting ablaze the stage curtains behind her. Children miming the words to “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” And tap dancers galore.
Tonight, these memories will get called forth from the mind for a nostalgic trip, back to a time when things were more simple and children of Spokane tap danced, sang and played the piano into local fame.
Wednesday, March 21, 1990