Monday, December 20, 2010

R.I.P. Al Rucker (a.k.a. Clay Cole)


Albert Rucker Jr. was born on New Year's Day 1938 in Youngstown, Ohio. His work as a child actor on radio and stage earned him a job as host of a local television show when he was only 15 years old. His Saturday night show, Rucker's Rumpus Room, first aired on WKBN-TV in 1953, then moved to WFMJ-TV.  

In 1957, he went to New York City where he became a page for NBC television, and a production assistant on the infamous game show, Twenty-One, which was the subject of a 1994 movie directed by Robert Redford called Quiz Show. That show, created by Jack Barry and Dan Enright, and hosted by Jack Barry until Monty Hall took over in 1958, was the subject of a United States Senate investigation for being rigged by the producers -- which it was!

He still had Saturday night television in his blood, so he created another show called Al Rucker And The Seven Teens show which aired on WJAR-TV in Providence, Rhode Island in 1958. Then, in 1959, he was asked to come up with a new name. He became known as Clay Cole, which was the name of one of his distant cousins.  In 1960, he hosted a Christmas Show at the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn which ran for ten days and broke the box office record at that time.  He even appeared at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater, one of the few white people ever asked to perform there, headlining three week-long rock and roll revues with stars like Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, and Gladys Knight And The Pips. 

He broke into the movie business in 1961 playing himself in a movie called Twist Around The clock, which was a remake of the Sam Katzman and Robert E. Kent film, Rock Around the Clock. This is a cool 60's film that features performances by The Marcels, Dion DiMucci, Chubby Checker, Vicki Spencer, the Jay Birds, and...Clay Cole himself singing the title song! This movie was followed up by Don't Knock The Twist, and all three are fun to watch, if you can find them on DVD!

Later he became a very successful writer and producer for television with more than 3,500 TV shows to his credit. He won two Emmy Awards for television production in 1981 and 1982 for the Joel Siegel Academy Awards special. He produced The Discovery Of Marilyn Monroe, Play Bridge With Omar Sharif, and 365 different This Day In Hollywood segments. Along with David Susskind and Raysa Bonow, he created and produced the first primetime entertainment magazine, People, on CBS in 1979. 

In 1974, he was the star of the very first music special produced by HBO, the two-hour long Clay Cole's Twenty Years of Rock and Roll that was taped at Rockland Community College. He also became a co-host on AM New York, a weekday show that aired on WABC-TV. His career closed out with a final television special in 2002 called the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy, which featured Britney Spears, Destiny's Child, Alicia Keys, Shakira, and Kylie Minogue.

He wrote a book called Sh-Boom! The Explosion Of Rock N' Roll (1953-1968), published by Morgan James Books. He was also a member of the nominating committee of the Hit Parade Hall Of Fame.

Clay Cole passed away this past Saturday at the age of 72.

The handful of records he made in the early 1960's are prized by Teener collectors everywhere:

Here There Everywhere / Skip-Skip on Roulette 4280 (1960)
Happy Times / Queen Of The Movies on Imperial 5771 (1961)
Twist Around The Clock / Don't Twist (With Anyone Else But Me) on ABC-Paramount 5804 (1962)

You can hear and enjoy ALL of these songs on MusicMaster Oldies.  Thanks for the great music, Clay. Let's leave your fans with a little sample. Enjoy!




2 comments:

  1. Great story Joe. Thank you for sharing.
    I know we are all going to miss him.
    He was a good friend to so many.

    Charles Massi

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the beautiful tribute to Clay...He was my dear friend, as he was to so many...he will be seriously missed..

    Denise Ferri/the Delicates

    ReplyDelete