Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part III

Original Publish Date May 20, 2021.

In the John Lennon film “Above Us Only Sky” (a segment from the larger film “Imagine”) there’s a scene from a 1971 encounter with a young man who shows up at Lennon’s house in England. Lennon talks with him and eventually invites him in to eat some food. In the clip, Lennon’s Mini Cooper car (parked outside the house) has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker in the back window. How in the world did a sticker from a local Indianapolis radio station end up on a car in John Lennon’s driveway in England? The mystery was uncovered by Irvingtonian Bill Price in part I of this article and solved by Irvingtonian Stephen Bruce Smith in part II. Part III reveals another Irvington connection.
When the Beatles played two shows at the Indiana State Fair in September of 1964, Radio station WIFE 1310 sponsored the show in the Coliseum, and WIBC sponsored the show in the grandstand. In 1963, WIFE-310 AM signed on the air with a rock-heavy playlist. And by the time The Beatles arrived, the station had rapidly surged to the top of the ratings race, bringing an end to radio station WIBC-1070 AM’s reign as the champion of Indianapolis’ airwaves. In 1964, programming on WIFE largely focused on top 40 hits and bubblegum rock including The Beatles.


The Beatles concerts have been detailed by this writer in past columns and the specifics of those shows are well-known to all Circle City Beatles fans. Stephen Bruce Smith added more details to that story and revealed that Lennon “got the bumper sticker in 1964 at the station when The Beatles awarded tickets to a lucky high school girl who won a contest. I knew her brother at Howe High School. John got that sticker at the station from either Jay Reynolds or Jack Sunday (Jerry Baker).”
Turns out Smith, who knows everybody, rediscovered that lucky ticket-winning girl too. Did I mention Stephen Bruce Smith knows EVERYBODY? Her name is Elaine Conly and she is a Howe graduate, class of 1966. She was Elaine May when she won that contest back in 1964. Elaine’s mother, Virginia Casey May, who passed in 2002, was active in the Irvington Women’s Club as past chairwoman and past president of the Irvington Music Study Group. She was also a pioneer member of the neighborhood CrimeWatch program and Human Rights Commission, retiring from the Indianapolis Mayor’s office in 1977. Virginia was also a former chairwoman for the Junior Civic Theatre and scriptwriter for the “Time for Timothy (Churchmouse)” program. So Elaine, who performed in some of those productions for her mother’s Civic Theatre, knew a thing or two about the entertainment business.

Elaine May Conly With Paul, Ringo, George & John at the Concert Press Conference.

15-year-old Elaine entered a 50-word or less summertime essay contest by the Indianapolis News titled “I want to meet the Beatles because…” Elaine entered (without telling her parents) and her 47-word essay was selected as the winner from more than 3000 entries. Her winning entry read: “I want to meet the Beatles because they have a special magic. When they perform, the oppressing world crisis and other problems can be temporarily forgotten. They sing happy, swinging songs. I’d love to meet the four young men who can make everything seem a little brighter.” Just like in the movie Bye-Bye Birdie, Elaine supplants Ann-Margret who likewise wins a contest to meet her Elvis-like hero, Conrad Birdie.
“I had to keep it a secret though, that was hard to do,” Elaine says. When her picture appeared on the front page of the newspaper announcing her victory, “The phone rang off the hook, it was pandemonium.” Elaine, the daughter of Harry A. May, grew up at 1134 N. Butler Ave., “Butler Avenue North of 10th, Two blocks from the Steer Inn,” she states.
“I was worried that they (The Beatles) would not want to meet a teen-aged kid and that they might poke fun at me. I expected to get a cold reception.” Elaine recalls, “But they were perfect gentlemen and very nice to me. I shook all of their hands and when I entered the room, John stood up an offered me his seat.” Which was a good thing because John Lennon was her chosen Beatle. “He had written a book of poetry and he was my favorite. They were all very nice and gentlemanly but John was the nicest of the four.” Elaine recalls. “I went out and bought a special black crepe dress because I heard that John liked black.”

Paul McCartney with Elaine in the background.

The whole encounter, which took place in the communications building at the State Fairgrounds across from the Coliseum, took less than five minutes. Elaine reveals, “I wore the class rings of four of my classmates to the meeting. They belonged to my friends. They all wanted their ring to touch a Beatle.” When I asked if she got any souvenirs or autographs, she responds, “No, I was told (by the Indy News) that I couldn’t ask for autographs or take photographs of my own. I wish I would have because I probably could have paid for my college tuition with that money now.”
Elaine states that the newspapers followed up on Elaine’s story every few years. As for the Fab Four, “They were very funny but very polite.” she recalled. Part of Elaine’s duties that day, aside from the obvious photo op for the news, was to deliver an original editorial cartoon from the News to the Lads from Liverpool. “Then I just stood to the side for the rest of the Press Conference”, Elaine says. When she left the building, she was bombarded with questions from local reporters.

Elaine May Conly with the Beatles.
Elaine May Conly

Part of her prize package included tickets to the show. When asked what memories she had of the concert, Elaine says, “Security was very tight. It was very dark and very hard to hear them. But it was great to look at them, they were so handsome.” Her tickets? “Oh, they were very close, first 10 rows or so.” Did anyone recognize her as the contest winner? “Yes, a few people picked me out right away, but then the Beatles came out and that was that.” Elaine is still saddened by the death of her favorite Beatle. “I was watching Monday Night Football (December 8, 1980) when they broke in to announce that John Lennon had been shot. I cried. I cried a lot.”

And what about that little black dress, the only physical souvenir she has left from that encounter? “That dress was good luck.” she says, “I was wearing that dress a year later when I walked a friend to the bus station. A friend of a friend, University of Cincinnati architecture student Michael Conly, was on the bus and kept asking, “Who’s that girl in the black dress?” Long story short, Elaine and Michael Conly have been married for 51 years. And her engagement ring? Michael purchased it for her in Beatles Country: England, where he was studying in Europe.
Several years ago, Michael had a special print of his wife’s brush with the Beatles enlarged and the poster-sized photo hangs on the couple’s wall inside their Fishers home. “That’s my claim to fame I guess. Over the years it (the photo) was a big hit with our babysitters who would gasp and ask me about the encounter. I was always amazed because most of them were not even born when that meeting took place. The Beatles still have that power though, after all these years.”

Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part II

Original Publish Date May 13, 2021.

In part I of this series, I told you about an obscure episode involving The Beatles John Lennon and the Indianapolis radio station WIFE. In the film “Above Us Only Sky” there is a car parked outside Lennon’s house that has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker on the back window. How did a sticker from a Circle City radio station end up on a car 3,947 miles away in John Lennon’s driveway?
Anyone over the age of 50 should remember WIFE AM 1310 in Indianapolis. How can you forget those Coppertone commercials in the summertime: “Time to turn so you won’t burn.” Or the WIFE Lucky 13? Or the billboard near Indianapolis’ Weir Cook Airport (later Indianapolis International Airport) which amused passing motorists with the message, “While you’ve been gone we’ve been spending night and day with you WIFE!” Or even the “window on the world” of the WIFE studios at 1440 N. Meridian Street where pedestrians and downtown shoppers could walk past the window and see one of the “WIFE Good Guy” DJs in action?
WIFE was the top 40 giant of Indy for years and the only real AM radio rockers in town during the mid to late sixties (sometimes garnering as much as a 40% share of the Indy radio audience). WIFE is remembered for their endless contests (“The 100 Thousand Dollar Dream Home” or “The 100 Thousand Dollar Cash and Car Give-A-Way”), ear-worm jingles pounding the call letters and station numbers ad nauseam, and, maybe worst of all, the station sped up the records to cram more music in between the ads, witty banter, and promos. This last practice confounded pre-teens who wondered why the songs sounded so much different on WIFE than on the 45s. Most of all, radio fans remember the “WIFE Good Guys”: Big Jack Armstrong, Roger W. Morgan, Reb Porter, Jay Reynolds, Joe Light, Jay Hawkins, Buddy Scott, Jim Fox, T.J. Byers, Scott Wheeler, Mike O’Brien, Dan Summers, and Steve Miller.


And who can forget Jack Sunday: aka ABA / NBA Indiana Pacers radio voice Jerry Baker. Jerry handled the noon to 3:00 shift for a couple of years at WIFE chanting “Hey, this is Jack Sunday” every break and intro and while hosting the “Pool Party” segments. It was Jerry Baker who introduced the Beatles during their two concert stops at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. For years, WIFE would replay Jerry’s Beatles intro from the fairgrounds every time they played one of the Fab Four’s songs: “On behalf of the Indiana State Fair Board and WIFE Good Guys…The Beatles!” No doubt about it, WIFE 1310 is an Indiana institution. And somehow, a bumper sticker from the station ended up on John Lennon’s car in England.
I found the answer, where else? On Facebook, which led me right back here to Irvington. I started by joining the WIFE RADIO ALUMS & FANS Facebook page. It was there that I found Irvingtonian Stephen Bruce Smith. That name should be familiar to many Irvintonians. Smith is a former Irvington Council President (1997-99), 1975 Howe high school alumni, and 1980 Butler grad. Smith, who grew up on the corner of Brookville and Grand (421 So. Grand), is a Beatles superfan, authority and collector. And he knows EVERYONE in Irvington. I called Smith on a Saturday afternoon. When he answered the phone I could hear that he was spinning Beatles vinyl on the turntable in the background. EXACTLY what you might expect from an Irvington Beatles guy.
Smith unraveled the mystery of the bumper sticker quite succinctly. “The Beatles came to Indy in September 1964 to do two concerts at The State Fair on the 3rd. WIFE sponsored the concert and had various contests surrounding the concert. The Beatles visited the WIFE studio earlier that day and were given various gifts to remember their visit to Indianapolis. They were greeted by Miss Indiana State Fair as well as meeting a girl who won the Meet The Beatles Contest. She happened to be a Howe High School girl. The WIFE Good Guy sticker on John’s Mini Cooper in the 1971 film came from that studio appearance that morning at WIFE 1330 North Meridian. John loved stickers and t-shirts so I’m sure he just stuck it on there many years later.”


However, the story doesn’t end there. Stephen went to the first Beatles concert at the Fairgrounds. There were two, one inside the Coliseum and the other on the stage/grandstands outside. “I went with my father, Stephen Smith Sr., in exchange for punishment to see Andy Williams and the Osmond Brothers,” Stephen jokingly says. “My dad was shipping supervisor at Atkomatic Valve Co. at 141 S. Sherman Drive at Brookville and Sherman. They produced valves used in the NASA space program. He passed away in November of 1967. He got the tickets for free from a coworker.”
Smith remembers actually being excused from school to go to the concert. “It was a weekday, a Thursday I think. I was 8 years old and I was worried my teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, wouldn’t agree. I went to Orchard Park School and I think I got on her bad side because I had dressed up as Vic Morrow from the Combat TV show for Halloween. She gave me a frown as she lifted my mask. Everyone else was dressed as princesses, ghosts, and cartoon characters and my costume was a little rough looking, but she let me go.” Smith found out later that several other kids in school went to the concert too.
I asked what he remembered about the concert, and he stated, “It was about 35 minutes long and they played maybe 6 songs. You couldn’t hear anything.” Smith adds that, years later, he became good friends with WIFE Good Guy DJ Jay Reynolds and they often talked about that concert. “I remember Jay gave me the greatest quote about the noise. He said, “it got so loud that it got quiet.” And he was right.” Smith recalls that the Coliseum was “remodeled and brand new after the explosion.” (On October 31, 1963, during a Holiday on Ice show, a propane leak at a concession stand caused an explosion that killed 74 people and injured around 400 others. A subject I’ve written about in past columns.)


Smith continues, “Even at that young age, I could see that the security seemed unprepared for what was happening. Girls were screaming, fainting, and crying and there was even a rumor that one girl died from an asthma attack during the concert. Girls were all peeing themselves and getting hurt jumping from seat to seat. There were 16 Marion County deputies around the stage and they were all scared to death. You could not hear a word.” Stephen continues, “My dad was a pilot in World War II and he said he hadn’t seen that kind of crazy since wartime.”
One image that sticks with Smith is that of a smashed golf cart he and his father walked past after the show. “I remember staring at that thing for a long time. It was totally destroyed. After the concert, they used it as a diversion to get the girls away from the band. These screaming girls chased it down and literally tore it apart. I can still see that trashed golf cart in my mind.”


As an adult, Stephen Bruce Smith also encountered Jerry Baker, aka WIFE Good Guy “Jack Sunday”. Smith relates, “Jerry told me that the Beatles were each given goody packs that included Bibles in each bag. And the only thing they requested was a black and white TV, coca-colas, hamburgers, French fries, and Marlboro cigarettes. Also in those goody bags were t-shirts and stickers from WIFE. John loved trinkets and collected all that stuff, t-shirts, patches, and stickers of any kind; anything American. John had stickers on everything in his house.”
It makes sense that Lennon, fresh on the heels of The Beatles’ 1970 break-up (which many attribute to Yoko Ono), chose the WIFE sticker, with its slogan “WIFE Good Guy”, as a wry contrary comment on his relationship with Yoko. The Indianapolis connection was purely coincidental.
Many years later, Smith won a contest to meet Paul McCartney backstage in Chicago in 2005. “I was ushered in to meet him with a group of reporters. It was only 6 minutes, but it seemed like 6 hours. The reporters were stunned and really weren’t talking to him. I asked him if he remembered the concerts in Indianapolis. He said, “Oh yes, I remember Ringo went drinking with the cops.” Smith adds the little-known detail that Ringo traveled up to Noblesville where one of the police security officers (State Trooper Jack Marks) owned a horse farm. “When word got out about that visit, those poor people were invaded by teenage girls wanting details.”
Smith continues, “knowing Paul owned a sheepdog, I told him I had a sheepdog myself. He asked, “Oh really, what is the dog’s name?” I answered, “Jack the Moose” and Paul said hmmm, “Jack the Moose, Jack the Moose” over and over a few times. I was hoping he was gonna use it in a song, but that never happened.” Smith, who lives next to Pleasant Run Golf Course, ran into Paul’s assistant at another McCartney concert later. “He recognized me and said as we parted, “Cool, Paul will see you after the show.” Smith says, “It never happened. But the concert was great.”


Next week, Part III


The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part I

Original publish date:  May 6, 2021

Last Winter, I was contacted by Irvingtonian Bill Price with a story idea. Bill is journalist Nelson Price’s cousin. Nelson is a good friend and host of the Hoosier History Live radio show that airs live from noon to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. I have been on Nelson’s show many times over the years as have several Irvingtonians active in the literary and history communities. So I was happy to learn of our shared connection and even happier to find an Irvington connection to this story.
Bil Price lives on Graham Avenue right in the heart of Irvington, just back of the Methodist church and behind Jockomo’s. Price relates, “I was born at 16th and Ritter, but really grew up on the westside. Nelson and my grandparents lived on 9th Street over by Ellenberger Park. I moved over here after college in the late 80s. Lived by Howe for 14 years and then bought this house on Graham around 18 or 19 years ago.”

Price reveals, “In the John Lennon film “Imagine” from quite a few years back, and the documentary about him recording the Imagine album, there’s a scene where a young hippie / vagabond type of man who is apparently a shell-shocked Vietnam vet shows up at Lennon’s house. Lennon is patient and talks with him and even invites him in to eat some food. Recently, another film “Above Us Only Sky” has been released about Lennon and has the same footage. While watching this clip, I noticed something peculiar. There is a car parked outside Lennon’s house that has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker on the back window! I am wondering how in the world did a sticker from a local Indianapolis radio station end up on a car in John Lennon’s driveway in England? I’ve asked a couple local musician buddies of mine who seem to know a lot about local music / radio and The Beatles, etc., but they have no idea of any Indianapolis connection to John Lennon at that time.”
Well, Bill, you are absolutely correct, that sticker is most certainly from Indianapolis. The sticker, which features a bearded B&W beatnik smiley faced character holding up a bright yellow sign reading “WIFE Good Guy”, appears on the left side of the rear window of Lennon’s Circa-1971 Mini Cooper. Indeed, the clip from the documentary features a scene in which a young man named Curt Claudio shows up at Lennon’s house “just to see him.” The house, actually an estate mansion known as Tittenhurst Park, is located in Berkshire, near the town Ascot in England.


In the scene, which can be easily found on Netflix, John is leaning against the pillars of the mansion that date back to 1830, Yoko stands nearby her husband. The disheveled young man, his long hair flowing over the Shearling fur collar of a ragged sheepskin coat, carries on a lengthy, disjointed conversation with his hero from just a few feet away. Given that the scene was filmed mere months after the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and several others under supposed orders from The Beatles White Album and knowing the way Lennon’s life ended less than a decade later, the scene is eerie to behold.
The young man had written several letters, one of which apparently stated, “I’m coming and I just need to look into your eyes and I’ll know.” Apparently Claudio had been secretly living in the rough on Lennon’s 72 acre estate for days. London police wanted to arrest the troubled fan but Lennon wouldn’t allow it, instead opting to gently talk to him face-to-face. Claudio apparently believed that some songs were speaking directly to him. Lennon does his best to dissuade that notion by asking how that could be possible since the two were strangers and stressing, “I’m just a guy who writes songs. Don’t confuse the songs with your own life. I mean, they might have relevance to your own life, but a lot of things do. So we met, you know, I’m just a guy. I write songs.”

Curt Claudio


As Claudio starts to quote the star’s lyrics, determined that the words were about him, John gently counters: “I was just having fun with words. It was literally a nonsense song. I mean Dylan does that… you just take words and you stick them together and you see if they have any meaning. Some of them do, some of them don’t.” Claudio replies: “You weren’t thinking of anyone in particular when you were singing that song?” To which Lennon replies, “How could I be? How could I be thinking of you, man? I’m thinking of me, and at best Yoko if it’s a love song. I’m singing about me and my life, and if it’s relevant about other people’s lives, then yeah, that’s alright.” Claudio looks devastated and his eyes drop to the ground. John then says: “Are you hungry?” gesturing to his friends he adds: “Let’s give him something to eat.” At which point Claudio is invited into the house and is seated at the dining room table with John and Yoko and they all eat a meal together.
For years, there was some confusion as to exactly who Curt Claudio was. Most accounts pegged him as a Vietnam War Vet. Others a hippy strung out on heroin. Still others claimed he was a deranged patient from a San Francisco mental hospital. According to the website “thedailybeatles”, Curt Claudio was born Cesare Curtis Claudio in Alameda, California on August 28, 1948. He graduated with the class of 1966 at Kennedy High School in Richmond, CA. He died in a plane crash in Fremont, CA. on December 22, 1981, a year and two weeks after Lennon’s murder. Part of Claudio’s legend states that he was so devastated by Lennon’s death that he deliberately crashed his own plane to end the pain.

Curt Claudio and Yoko Ono


Curt’s older brother Ernie cleared up the mystery, “Curt was never in the military. He was a straight “A” student in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of California in Davis, CA. Then he started using drugs and dropped out of school. He spent most of his life working on farms. We worked at Ford Motors in Milpitas, California until they closed the factory. Ford gave their employees $12,000 so they could re-train for another job. I asked Curt,” What are you going to do with your $12,000?” Curt said, “I’m either going to buy a Harley or an ultra-light airplane.” He bought the ultra-light, and that’s what killed him. He was flying too low and too slow and the plane stalled. The plane came down, bounced off a carport roof, and landed in a tree, six feet off the ground. The high impact caused his aorta to separate from the heart. Death was instantaneous.”
In 1973, John Lennon sold Tittenhurst Park to his former bandmate Ringo Starr, since Lennon had decided to live long-term in the United States and move to the Dakota (where he died). In 1988, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – President of the United Arab Emirates and former ruler of Abu Dhabi – purchased Tittenhurst Park from Ringo Starr for 5 million pounds. Renovations took place in 1989-1990, during which many elements pertaining to Lennon’s, Ono’s and Starr’s time still on the property were removed. Astonishingly, during those renovations, wall paintings by Lennon were destroyed.


But what about that sticker? The one from the WIFE Good Guys in Indianapolis? Where on earth did that thing come from? Well, I found the just the guy to solve the mystery. And he lives right here in Irvington.