Press-Republican

April 14, 2013

Not as many whistlers these days

By GORDIE LITTLE
Press-Republican

---- — The late Chester O. “Chet” Bosworth was a dear and wonderful man. He was the reason thousands of people in this area turned their radios on each morning.

He called himself “Your Happy Whistler,” and he would prove it by whistling regularly each time his theme song played. Remember the title, “When You’re Smiling”? And when Chet smiled, the whole world smiled with him, just like in the song.

His alter ego was Miss Lonely Hearts, who allowed her wet dog to shake all over the control room. Her musical saw rendition of the “Anniversary Song” was “excruciatingly good,” to use Chet’s words. That’s why it was so adorable. To this day, many people insist that she was a real person with a real dog and a real saw. Chet made the sound of the saw with his lips, whistling with wonderful saw-like vibrato.

He’s been gone for many years but will never be forgotten. I still dream of radio at least five nights every week, and the Happy Whistler makes frequent appearances. Like the chicken and the egg, I don’t know if Chet began calling himself “The Happy Whistler” prior to 1956, when a guy named Don Robertson recorded a top 10 song entitled “The Happy Whistler.” It doesn’t really matter, but to my Little mind, one thing leads to another.

Whatever happened to whistling? Hardly anyone whistles either publicly or privately these days. I’ve read the most hateful blog entries from people who say things like, “Whenever I hear someone whistling, I have feelings of homicide.” To me, that’s a sad commentary.

I love to whistle, but with old lips and some teeth that aren’t original, my pucker just ain’t what it used to be. Kaye and I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to sit on our back deck and do our best whistling rendition of bird calls. Are they really answering us, or is it only wishful whistling?

How many whistling songs come to your mind right now? “Whistle While You Work” is a Disney classic. Whistling Jack Smith and “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” is a biggie. “The Andy Griffith Show” theme is another. Roger Whitaker and “The Mexican Whistler” is a favorite. “Colonel Bogey,” the marching theme from “The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” is one that I attempt to whistle frequently. How about “Winchester Cathedral”? Bing Crosby loved to whistle on his records. I’ll leave it to you to come up with more.

About 50 years ago, a woman from the Fox Hill area of Plattsburgh came to me with an old home-recorded 78 rpm record. As I recall, it had been done by her sister, whose name, I think, was Loretta Dixon. Her whistling was wonderful. When I left the radio business 16 years ago, I left the record behind. Too bad.

My father, the late Rev. Russell E. Little, was a fabulous whistler and often performed in public, using his curved index finger in his mouth. I remember the old gospel song “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as being one of his favorites.

They still hold International Whistling Championships, and I have listened to them on the Internet, so I know the art is not completely dead. Remember when whistlers were commonplace on “The Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour?” Heck, I’m almost old enough to have known Whistler’s Mother personally.

I have another question for you. Did you know that Leon Redbone is a great whistler? What, you’ve never heard of him? Shame. Although he’s much younger, his passion for old-time music is right in sync with mine. I love everything he ever recorded. His 2004 CD entitled “Whistling in the Wind” was advertised as “resembling a 1940s radio broadcast minus the static.” A penny for the first person to come up with his real name. Dickran Gobalin. No wonder he changed it.

This morning as Kaye and I headed to the grocery store, we were whistling along with a great collection of John Phillip Sousa marches, complete with Sousa’s own voice. I think I sounded more like a pickle than a piccolo on the Washington Post march.

Have a great day, pucker up and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at gordandk@aol.com.