I was sitting in my office looking around trying to decide what I’d talk about in my blog this month when my eyes rested on a letter on the wall from Mr. Charles A. Whitehurst, Vice President and General Manager of WSFA, a local TV station in Montgomery, AL. It was dated September 21, 1983 and it made me smile.
At that time, I owned my own G-rated “bellygram” service in which I visited businesses, hospitals, restaurants, etc. to help people celebrate their birthdays, anniversaries, farewells, get-wells, etc. Instead of people sending flowers to someone they admired, they sent me. During my lively ten minute dance routine I presented the guest of honor with a personalized banner announcing the special occasion and I crowned them with my veil and tambourine. My job was really fun and I enjoyed it immensely.
When Channel Twelve called me they said they realized I was a belly dancer, but did I think I could do a Carmen Miranda routine instead of a belly dance? They explained that Willard Scott was coming to Montgomery for a charity event and there would be a huge welcoming for him at the airport when he arrived. High school bands would play, Mayor Folmar would present the Keys to the City, that sort of thing. Just days before, Willard had accepted a challenge to dress up as Carmen Miranda on his weather spot on NBC’s The Today Show to raise money for charity. His appearance caused a huge sensation all over the U.S. In fact, Al Roker later said, “If the Internet had existed the day Willard Scott dressed up as Carmen Miranda, he would have broken the Internet.”
Channel Twelve’s proposal sounded so intriguing, I accepted right away. The problem was, I needed a costume and music and I had a day and a half to pull that all together. Yikes! Furthermore, I didn’t have time to go to the library for research. I had to rely on my memory of Carmen Miranda, the famous Portuguese-Brazilian singer, dancer, actress and film star who was popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. I scrambled together some bright, colorful fabric from my costume supply and started making ruffles like crazy. Papier-mâché fruit I had crafted years before became incorporated into a headdress to top off the costume. Then I rummaged through my varied music selection, and stayed up all night getting it all ready for Willard.
I called my next door neighbor, Chi, who heartily agreed to come with me to the airport. I was supposed to be hidden until Mr. Scott arrived and when he made his appearance in the terminal where everyone was congregated, I needed her to punch the play button on my boombox to start my Carmen Miranda music. I’d take it from there.
Little did I know how cooperative Willard would be! When the Latin music began and I made my surprise appearance, he came right over and started dancing with me alternating hand to elbow, hand to elbow with the beat, and he even bumped my hip so hard, I thought I was going to sail into the crowd! My nervousness disappeared when I saw him having so much fun. His joy was infectious and the crowd went wild. When the news came on TV that night, Chi and I watched it and relived the whole experience, all over again.
The letter I received from Mr. Charles Whitehurst, which hangs on my office wall, was one of thanks for my participation in making what Willard declared, “a most warm and wild greeting,” with a request he be invited again. Every time I look at that letter I smile as I remember a gracious and fun-filled man.
After note: In December 2015, Willard Scott officially ended his 65 year career at NBC; 35 of those years were with The Today Show. I hope he is enjoying his retirement. He certainly deserves it.
Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.
Join her here each 11th of the month.