You've probably noticed that the 1940s are back. Why, they even have nightclubs
in California for jitterbugging, where the boys wear keychains down to the
knees of their pegged pants. Naturally, everyone bounces to the music of Glenn
Miller, the legendary band leader who one day simply faded away like the last
note of "Moonlight Serenade."
Maj. Miller led the A.E.F. Orchestra in England until Dec. 15, 1944. On that
day, he took off with others from an R.A.F. station near Bedford, England, to
precede his orchestra to Paris. The single-engine Norseman never reached
France. Officially, there has never been a satisfying explanation. So, let's
try this one on for size.
On that fateful morning, an officer said to Lynn Allison, lead singer of
Miller's Crew Chiefs, "Would you like to go with the major and see him off?"
Lynn said sure, and he watched him disappear into terrible soup. Lynn and the
rest of the band went on to Paris and did a Christmas show, not knowing what
had happened to their leader. Those in the know at the airport thought they
did. They believed that Allied bombers, unable to bomb assigned targets in
Germany, dumped their loads in the English Channel just as Miller and company
were trying to gain altitude. Talk about friendly fire!
The story comes from Lynn's wife, a Regionite who, having been working on the
West Coast had finally made it back to the East Coast. There she received a
call from the Pentagon saying the entire band did not go down with Miller.
Lucia Fanolla grew up in South Chicago and the East Side, and attended Bowen
High School, where her interest in matters academic fell short of zealotry. One
night at a place called Siegals on South Chicago Avenue at 87th, she found a
microphone in her hand that was being passed around by the club owner, so she
sang. She sounded so good that, thanks to word of mouth, she landed a job at
Knoll's Cafe on Hyde Park Boulevard. And then she was off. She was in the
spotlight so often thereafter she had a permanent suntan.
As Gloria Van, she sang with Johnny "Scat" Davis for two years, until he
disbanded the group in California. To get to the East Coast where her husband
was performing with Glenn Miller at Yale, she hooked on with Ted Fio Rito, but
once there she switched to Hal McIntyre. During her career, with McIntyre and
others, Gloria sang at most major theaters, most major clubs, and most other
major venues from the Coconut Grove to the Palladium.
While working the Glass Hat at Chicago's Congress Hotel as a rhumba singer, she
met her husband, Lynn Allison, brother of Fran Allison of Kukla, Fran and Ollie
fame. She had to choose from two men to sing with her, ala Harry Babbit and
Jenny Sims of the Kay Kyser band, and although she was not crazy about his high
register voice, she chose Lynn. On March 30, 1943, while the two of them were
singing with Gene Krupa (another Bowen alum) at the Stanley Theater in
Pittsburgh, they got married between shows. Shortly thereafter, Lynn was off to
war, soon joining Glenn Miller's all-star band.
After the war, Lynn did the "Perry Como Show" in New York and Gloria began a
four-year run with a big band. With her husband, she later went with CBS (in
the Wrigley Building) for two years in a group called Gloria Van and the
Vanguards. In another setting, her group was called Cinderella and the Fellas,
which was sponsored on the air by Canfield Ginger Ale.
Gloria's musical associations after the war was like a Who's Who of popular
music. She sang for Caesar Petrillo and with Patti Page, who called Gloria her
favorite singer. The warbling Regionite did the Oriental Theater (Chicago) with
the Three Stooges. She sang on the "Wayne King Show" in the '50s for two years.
She did blackouts at the Sherman Hotel, saluting people like Cole Porter,
George Gershwin, and the like, and worked the Chez Paree with Jimmie Durante.
As television became a force, she sang on the "Arthur Godfrey Show," winning on
his "Talent Scouts," did "Chance of a Lifetime" and sang on the "Jack Parr
Show," predecessor of the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows.
But then two events occurred. The Big Band Era dried up, and Gloria began to
produce babies. Indeed, because she was always pregnant at the wrong time; gigs
in far-off places like Hawaii, Australia and even Vietnam had to be canceled.
So, she continued an occasional radio show, such as "Don McNeil's Breakfast
Club" with her sister-in-law, Fran Allison. Mainly, though, she retired to
motherhood, and, with bills pouring in and job options pouring out, to being
head receptionist at Kemper's Taj Mahal headquarters in Long Grove. But there
was one notable exception. In 1960, Hoagy Carmichael picked Gloria out of 100
singers to sing Star Dust and other Hoagy standards with Hoagy at the Chicago
Music Festival (Soldier Field). In its way, Gloria's performance was the
pinnacle of her brilliant career.
Now in her mid-70s and still singing, Gloria's sound is a cross between Ella
Fitzgerald and Eydie Gorme, and she is seemingly in better voice than ever. She
just recorded a CD ("Funny Valentine," etc.) with bandleader Dick Kriss and
sings at various park district and other functions, as well as gigging with
enduring groups such as that of Franz Bentler.
* Archibald McKinlay is an expert on local
history. His column appears every Sunday in The