Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Braun was friend to colleagues

Star enjoyed helping others build careers

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The late Bob Braun worked with hundreds of colleagues in his more than 50-year broadcast career, but none thought of him that way.

        “He was a friend first, then a colleague,” said jazz singer Mary Ellen Tanner, who worked seven years on Mr. Braun's TV show.

        “I could already sing when they hired me. What I didn't know was how to communicate. Bob taught me. And we had fun. He made sure of that.

        “It breaks my heart that we have to have this conversation,” she said. Mr. Braun died Monday in his Evendale home of cancer and Parkinson's disease.

        Dick Murgatroyd, Mr. Braun's producer and director for 14 years and now Kenton County Judge-executive, echoes Ms. Tanner: “I think everyone who worked with him felt that way and that was the secret of the show's success. That attitude flowed down from Bob and touched everyone on his staff. He was certainly the glue that held us together.

        “We were much closer than producer and talent. It was always a friendship first.”

        Event producer Manda Hurdlebrink is another one who thinks of him as friend rather than colleague: “Exactly. For me, and I think for him, it was all about friendship, even though we had a professional relationship as well.”

        Paul Dixon Show sidekick Colleen Sharp Murray remembers him for the fun: She joined his show in 1975, after Dixon went off the air.

        “Bob was the one who kept me in television. After (Paul Dixon's) death, I was at loose ends. Bob came along, made me feel needed and brought me on his show. I stayed five years and was a very happy second banana. We had fun every day because he made it fun.

        “There was never any doubt who's show it was, but he was so sincere in wanting us all to do well that he was happier than we were when a song went over really well.”

        But he also knew when to say no.

        “He wouldn't let me sing because I have a terrible voice,” says Rosemary Kelly Conrad, who did his show from '66 to '70. “But that's the only thing he ever refused me. He was wonderful to work with because he was so very giving, so ready to help.

        “I don't think I ever heard him say a bad word about anyone and I doubt that anyone could ever say a bad word about him. He was that gracious and that interested in seeing people succeed. He was a tremendous influence on my career.”

        His interest in others' careers is something old friends cite often: “I remember one day in 1981,” Ms. Tanner says, “when Bob Hope called him and asked about a singer to open his show at the Ohio State Fair. Bob immediately recommended me and I got to open for him in front of 50,000 people.

        “I also got to do a show with Liberace because of him, and hooked up with Rosie Clooney through him, too. He honestly wanted me to get ahead.”

        Singer Nancy James worked with him from 1974 to '83 and gives him full credit: “I would not have a career without Bob. I was a baby, fresh out of (the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) and singing in clubs. He pulled me out, gave me a shot, then taught me everything I know about the business.

        “He was in every way the proud papa and we were the kids that he wanted to succeed.”

        “A wonderful gentleman in all aspects, a great family man, a great entertainer and a dear friend,” says Bonnie Lou Okum, another former WLW singer and a regular on Ruth Lyons' and Paul Dixon's shows..

        “And what a trouper. About four years ago I saw him doing a show at a dinner theater. He was undergoing radiation and chemo and his one hand was so swollen it was almost useless. But he showed up, did the show and he was good.”

        Ms. Sharp Murray agrees. “He used to say we worked the back of every manure wagon from here to the end of the state. And we did — farm bureaus, schools, fairs, all of them.

        “And you know, he was such a pro he treated every show the same — as if it were the biggest thing in the world. And to his audience, it was.”

        Mr. Murgatroyd saw that same side: “As sick as he was these past years, he never missed a beat. He'd go out and work like nothing was going on. But for us, his friends, it was so hard to see him go through that.

        “His passing is definitely the end of a broadcast era. Knowing he's not there anymore, that'll be the tough part for all of us.”


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