WWII STIC Icon Helps Solve a Mystery, by Martin Meadows

Preface. This brief explanatory note is for those who may be unfamiliar with two terms in the title. STIC is the acronym for Santo Tomas Internment Camp, a WWII (World War II) prison in Manila, Philippines, established by the Imperial Japanese Army. STIC housed several thousand Allied nationals (American, British, etc.) for 37 months during 1942-1945. And one other important point needs emphasis: much of the following account has been made possible by material unearthed by ace internet sleuth Cliff Mills.

To clarify at the outset, the internee icon of the title is STIC’s late great Master of Entertainment, David Harvey MacTurk, better known to one and all as Dave Harvey. Additionally, Harvey was not personally involved in solving the cited mystery. So, just what is his connection to this brief offshoot from a much broader and much longer work? As to the latter, I have been working on what I believe will be the definitive Harvey biography— if only because it will be the first and the only one in existence. In the process, I have completed a portion of the narrative that at best is only tangentially related to the biography as a whole, for it deals with a matter of mainly personal interest. (It is one of many such matters I never thought to ask my parents about, when that was still possible.) I decided to present the aforesaid portion separately from, and before completion of, the biography for several reasons: to thereby spread awareness of the biography; in so doing, perhaps to also induce interest in it; and, more practically, to shorten the finished product. And now on to the mystery and its (perceived) solution.

Literally all of my life I have wondered whether it would ever be possible to somehow track down information about one of my earliest memories. It is sharply-etched in my mind and, moreover, it is one I have always been able to date to a specific time period — 1933-1934. The reason is that the direct cause of the memory was a specific song — the all-time Cole Porter classic, “Night and Day.” Porter composed it in 1932, for Fred Astaire to sing in the Broadway musical “Gay Divorce.” (Incidentally, that was Astaire’s last Broadway show; he then moved to Hollywood, where he later starred in the play’s 1934 movie version, “The Gay Divorcee.”) Thus I have always assumed that the song probably did not reach the live-performance stage in Manila before 1933 (though of course it could be heard before then via radio, to which I have always been a compulsive listener).

What was that unforgettable memory, and how did the song produce it? It so happens that my parents once took me with them to see a stage show — not a movie — at the recently constructed (1931) Art Deco structure, the Metropolitan Theater, which had immediately become a Manila landmark. For the stage show we had two seats way up in the balcony — I did not have a paid seat, and the balcony was full. Seated on my mother’s lap, I paid little attention to the various multi-performer acts. Then suddenly a solo female vocalist, her blonde hair glistening in the spotlight, captured my attention when she began to sing — “Night and Day,” of course. Her haunting intonation made the song sound so melancholy to me that I began to cry loudly, obviously to the annoyance of others in the packed balcony. Unable to quiet me, my mother had to carry me out of the balcony and wait in a hallway until I stopped crying, before returning to her seat. That is all I recall of that never-forgotten incident. Ever since then I have wondered who the vocalist was (why? I thought, without any reason, that maybe she was a famous visiting songstress), and how I could discover her identity (which I vainly attempted to do several times via the internet).

In the course of writing the Harvey biography, however, I genuinely believe that I have, quite serendipitously, stumbled upon the solution to my nearly 90-year-old personal mystery. How did that come about? At the inception of the discovery process, my “Night and Day” recollection was absolutely not in my thoughts as I was preparing to incorporate into the Harvey biography two July 1934 Manila Tribune newspaper items. Both were about the Manila segment of an Asia tour by the A. B. Marcus 75-member vaudeville-type troupe (of which Dave Harvey had been a member since the autumn of 1933, as detailed in the forthcoming biography). Below are the two Tribune items, one an article about, and one an advertisement for, the two kinds of Marcus shows — the family-friendly “Broadway Merry-Go-Round,” usually a daytime show, and the racy “La Vie Paree,” normally shown at night (and usually at midnight).

Broadway Merry-Go-Round, 1934 Marcus show

La Vie Paree, 1934 Marcus show

As I studied the items, two facts leaped out at me — they dated from July 1934, and they stated that the various performances would be at the Metropolitan Theater. Bingo! Two for two: both time and place — that is, date (1934) and venue (the Metropolitan) — matched my ancient recollection. Suddenly the proverbial cartoon light bulb flashed above my head, and it dawned on me that I must have been at a Marcus show when I heard the blonde soloist sing “Night and Day.” Why did I think so? My judgment was based on a process of deductive reasoning. The starting point was an assumption based factually on the available evidence, and that in turn led logically to two conclusions.

The assumption was that my parents (like the others in the huge crowd) clearly had been attracted by, and thus had attended, what was then a fairly rare (and widely advertised) event for Manila: presentations by an American touring troupe — with all appearances scheduled at the Metropolitan. That belief was supported by the indisputable facts that we attended a show at the Metropolitan; that the theater, unusually, was filled (thanks to the nature of the attraction); and that it was so full that we had to sit in the balcony (something my parents normally would not have done). On a non-factual but logical basis, I then concluded that my parents would have taken me to the daytime “Broadway Merry-Go-Round” program rather than to the night-time “La Vie Paree” show; and that a popular song like “Night and Day” would have been appropriate for the “Broadway” but not for the “Paree” show.

On that basis, the next step was to determine the identity of the blonde singer. That did not turn out to be an overly difficult task — her name, I eventually decided, was Lillian McCoy. Before explaining how I drew that inference, I should note that it put an end to my long-time speculation (for no reason at all, as noted) that the mystery vocalist might have been a famous visitor to the Philippines, which to my knowledge McCoy was not. On the other hand, it could be argued that in one sense she was at least well-known, insofar as the Marcus shows were concerned; after all, she had been a Marcus troupe regular since at least the mid-1920s, as programs of that period reveal. As evidence, below is a 1927 Marcus program (from The Roanoke (VA) World-News, 8 August 1927, p. 13).

1927 Marcus Show program

A minor point in relation to the above is that that McCoy may have taken some time off from the tour; that is the implication of a 1933 newspaper article stating that “New faces and figures [in the show] include Lillian McCoy. . . .” [“Mammoth A. B. Marcus Show. . . ,” The Post-Star (Glens Falls, NY), 29 April 1933, p. 11] But whether new or not at that time (no doubt she was a “returnee”), McCoy was with the 1934 Marcus tour of Asia. And as such she, like many of the other troupe members (including Dave Harvey), had many roles, performing as dancer, musician and actress as well as vocalist. Thus she often attracted attention from journalists; as an example, below is an amusing article from a NYC newspaper [Daily News, 7 May 1934, p. 256] about another article in a Japanese newspaper, regarding a Japanese journalist’s interview of McCoy during the tour’s stay in Japan.

Lillian McCoy article in the Daily News, 1934

Now to add what is known of McCoy’s personal history. According to her birth certificate, Lillian Evelyn McCoy was born in Tama, Iowa, on 22 March 1901. Online mentions of her are based almost entirely on widespread national and international news and ad coverage of the Marcus show. That material indicates that, as already pointed out, she remained with the tour for many years. For some of that time (marriage date unknown) she was married to Charles L. Ferron, and may have traveled with him on some Marcus tours; for instance, an Empress of Japan ship manifest reveals that the two sailed from Manila to Victoria, B. C., in 1939. Considering that she had renewed her passport in June 1937, it is probable that she stayed with the tour until it finally disbanded for good in 1939 due to WWII, and also that she and her husband were returning from the last of the Marcus tours.

McCoy’s next major activity, as far as is known, came in 1948, when she and her husband announced in a newspaper ad the opening of the “McCoy-Ferron Studio — for music and dancing.” [See ad below] The studio was located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the couple (and their two adopted children) lived. That ad provides some interesting additional information about McCoy. It states that she was “a graduate of the Bush Conservatory in Chicago” and of “the Pavlev Oukrainsky School of Ballet and Madame Serova School of Dancing in New York,” and that she had traveled “around the world four times as a Prima Donna, Dancer, and Accordionist of the leading theatrical companies of the world.” As for her husband, he had attended the Damrosch School of Music in NYC, and had spent 25 years “as a teacher, conductor and leader of Symphonies and Orchestras in many capitals of the world.” McCoy died in 1978, and her husband died in 1986.

McCoy-Ferron studio opening, 1948st_Sep_12_1948

Finally, a major question still remains to be answered — how and why was I able to identify McCoy as the mystery singer? This time it was the result of inductive reasoning. First, she was a singer (and listed as such on all Marcus programs). Second, she was a solo vocalist (though she also sang duets with males). Third, she was the only female solo singer listed on any of the programs. Fourth, she usually sang popular-type tunes (as is “Night and Day,” although that particular number is not mentioned on available programs, to my regret) rather than odd and/or novelty numbers. (Examples of her “pop” repertoire include “Smile,” recorded by hundreds of artists, and “Lonely Little Melody,” from the 1924 Ziegfeld Follies.) Last, and the clincher for me, McCoy was a blonde; one source called her “blonde prima donna Lillian McCoy” [David Koenig, The Danny Kaye Show (6 July 2016), n.p.], and on tour programs she was also listed as one of the “Platinum Three,” which was a trio of blonde dancers. The Tribune article above refers to her as “Miss Lillian McCoy, alike charming for her loveliness and voice. . . .”

To conclude this effort to clear up a primeval personal puzzle, all in all I am convinced — perhaps I should say I have convinced myself — that against all odds the mystery surrounding one of my earliest childhood memories has been solved. Absolutely never in my wildest dreams, as the saying goes, did I think I would ever be able to make such a statement. On top of that, fittingly for a former STIC internee, the solution has resulted from working on the biography of STIC’s master entertainer — whom, furthermore, I may actually have seen perform nearly 90 years ago (although, I hasten to add, I have no recollection of having done so). Thus I can now return to the Harvey biography with a sense of closure from (presumably) having solved an ancient personal mystery — thanks in part to Dave Harvey.

Other articles by Prof. Meadows: