Tuesday, August 11, 2009

901st Post - More About Norm "Pearshape" Riley

By now, I hope you have read the Pat Connolly interview. If not, go ahead and read it and then come back here. I don't mind.

Part of the discussion we had was about a Halifax disk jockey from years and years ago known as Norm Riley, nicknamed Pearshape Riley because he wasn't a skinny bloke. He had a very, very popular radio show on CJCH here in Halifax for years in the late 1940's to the early 1950's before going on to "manage" (his word, not theirs) people like Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. I last night found a picture of Riley with Gene Vincent following the sudden death of Cochran. I ran it with Pat's interview last evening. Riley is the older guy on the left.

I had heard that he broadcast the show from the Green Lantern restaurant on Barrington Street. It is possible I had incorrect information. His show may have been called "Penthouse Party" according to the caricature. CJCH was broadcasting from the penthouse of the Lord Nelson Building on South Park Street back then. An unpublished interview I conducted with someone else a couple of weeks ago seemed to indicate that he didn't broadcast out in the public, that he did his show safely in the confines of a studio because he wasn't a good looking guy or anything like that and he and his bosses didn't want the illusion spoiled for his many female listeners.

I am not obsessed with Riley or anything. It is just that ever since I found a caricature of him at the reunion of the old Casino Theatre (now where Maritime Centre is on Barrington Street), I have wondered about him. Riley's show was very popular in its day. He supposedly left town suddenly. He had a record store on Spring Garden Road at the same time he was on the radio doing his show.

I wondered, in looking last night at the picture of that caricature I captured in 2000 on my digital camera, why so many movie theatres were mentioned so prominently.

I did a bit of research during my lunch hour just now (yes, Kevin: I am on lunch!) and googled "Norm Riley Halifax" and found a couple of interesting links. They are to a digitized-and-now-online periodical aimed at movie theatre owners and managers. It was designed to help them select what films to bring to their theatres back in the day. There is a news section each week indicating who's managing this theatre or that theatre. There are entries about Halifax.

Two that I found mention that Norm Riley was now the manager of the "Armview". I know the Armview as a long-established restaurant at the Armdale Rotary/Roundabout in Halifax. I drive past it every day to and from work. I recall that there was a movie theatre that burned to the ground about 20 years ago. I think it was called the Hyland, but I don't remember.

Anyway, Riley was named manager of the Armview, which I learned was a theatre on Quinpool Road, contemporaneous to his radio duties, and perhaps even his record store on Spring Garden Road.

Here's a link to a very brief entry about that theatre.

How did he become a theatre manager? Hmm. Not sure, exactly, but when the theatre opened in 1947, CJCH covered part of the opening live on the radio. Here's a link to the opening of that theatre. The reference to CJ is toward the bottom of the page. You can zoom in to read it.

It is not unlikely that Riley, through his radio work, met the owner of this theatre chain, Malcolm E. Walker, and ingratiated himself enough with him to get the job as manager. Walker owned several theatres around here, including the York, the Imperial, the Gaiety, the Vogue, the Roxy, the Kent, and the Star. Notice how many of those theatres are listed in the caricature: None. I figure this was the competitors showing their respect for Walker, maybe even Riley.

The drawing says "Best of Luck" at the bottom. That would typically mean that Riley was leaving his job, either at the theatre, CJCH, or maybe both. He was said to have slipped out of town suddenly, according to an e-mail from someone who shall remain nameless; but the existence of the drawing would seem to indicate otherwise. Why commission a caricature by Robert Chambers (I think!) for a disgraced fella who's already left town? Doesn't make sense to me.

Oh, one other thing: The Riley caricature I ran last night mentions that Riley had been in the job for a year at that time. He became manager of the Armview in the Spring of 1950. This would peg the drawing as having been produced in 1951.

Like I said, I am not obsessed with this man, Norm Riley. Obviously, I never met him, and he would be long dead. But it is interesting nonetheless to find out about him, this guy who had such a popular radio show, and who is nearly forgotten around these here parts, and whose reputation is not the best.

I know he went on to form Ditto Records, specializing in Rockabilly. I will research this aspect of this man and report my findings back here.

A special "Norm Riley" label seems to be order to help my readers research my findings.

Sherlock Keddy


RMcCormick said...

This blog is great! You seem to know an awful lot more aboutt my grandfather than I do. My grandmother, Rose, is still alive at 91. They left Canada because he got tired of radio and stared to manage acts in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry. Thanks so much for taking time to write this.

Bevboy said...

Hi. I wrote this blog post some 2 years ago and always meant to research more information about Norm Riley. Would love to know more about him.

Are there are any audio recordings of Norm Riley from his radio days? What we would call air checks today? Any publicity photos I could have digital copies of? Anything at all?



dennis riley said...

My name is Dennis Riley ,my father was Norm riley ,thank you for your piece on my father ,but some of your facts are wrong ,not your fault ,when I am in the mood ,i will correct them for you,again thanks Dennis riley

dennis riley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bevboy said...

Mr. Riley, thank you for writing me. I have been reporting what I have heard about your father. I mean no disrespect. I would be delighted to hear your thoughts about your father.

How did he end up in Halifax? What year? Around 1947, 48? At what point along the way did he start to become involved in managing people like Hank Snow and become involved as well with managing movie theaters?

How many of the stories about your dad, the negatives ones, are false?

I am very interested in learning more about your dad. He was a seminal broadcaster in Halifax 6 decades ago. He is remembered to this day. I want to know more about Norm "Pearshape" Riley!

My very best to you during this season, Mr. Riley!