Tuesday, April 06, 2010

James Melton Autorama, 1958

Not too long ago, I was sorting a box of slides and found two images that are part of today's post. The first image showed this interesting sign/tableau for a place called the James Melton Autorama (in beautiful Hypoluxo, Florida). Who is James Melton? Time to do some research!

Almost immediately I discovered a blog called "James Melton: Musical Career and Antique Cars", written by none other than his daughter Margo Melton Nutt. I contacted Margo and she was nice enough to let me share some of her great photos with you. But first, in Margo's own words, a little about her father:

“America’s Favorite Tenor.” That was what they called James Melton from the 1920s through the 1950s. He was perhaps the first multi-media performer—in a career that spanned concerts, recordings, movies, the Metropolitan Opera, radio and television. His fame as a singer was equaled by his renown as an antique car collector. In this hobby he was a pioneer in recognizing these vehicles not only as an important part of America’s history, but as works of art. His career and his hobby reflected the two great technologies that knit the country together in the 20th century—the airwaves and the automobile.

Here he is, behind the wheel of his 1910 Locomobile, with his wife Marjorie and Shirley Temple!

At first I thought that one of my slides featured the Locomobile, but now I realize that it is a different car. Still super neat though.

How about this great photo of James Melton aboard The MM&J Railroad? Rather than paraphrase Margo, here is a quote from her blog:

Among the playthings in our Weston, Connecticut backyard was a miniature steam locomotive attached to half a dozen open flatcars with seats for ten children (or five adults), which traveled on a quarter-mile of track meandering through the apple orchard. My father got the idea from Walt Disney, who had a similar setup at his Hollywood home. Both ours and his were large enough for the engineer to ride just behind the engine (on the tender) while taking passengers around the track.

Of course most readers of this blog know that Walt Disney had his own famous miniature Locomotive, the "Carolwood Pacific RR". Margo says "...my father and Walt Disney were friends. I remember visiting Disney Studios in 1954 (where I watched them film a segment of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and where "Uncle Walt" showed us Disneyland still on the drawing board.". Wow, I'm jealous!

There's Mr. Melton and Margo herself in another wonderful photo. He sure looks like he was a nice fellow.

Now that's an automobile! A "Green Goddess" Daimler, to be exact - a real art deco beauty. Margo (that's her next to her mom and dad in a circa 1950 photo) says:

In the winter of 1951, Henry Ford II admired the James Melton Green Goddess when it was parked on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, chatted with my father, and ended up taking a cruise on our yacht. He and my father made a handshake deal for a television variety show to be sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and hosted by James Melton. The show (Ford Festival) debuted in April 1951 and went off the air in July 1952. So that car was instrumental in launching my father's TV career.

She also says that a similar Daimler recently sold for about a quarter of a million dollars!

And lastly, Margo generously sent me this scan of a rare postcard, with this description:

In addition to the cars, and all sorts of automobiliana, the museum had a cycloramic mural of American history...what the brochure called "the nation's largest three dimensional cycloramic mural portraying the history of our great country." He had commissioned the mural from Montana artist Bernard Thomas. Recorded narration was provided by my father's good friend, radio commentator and explorer Lowell Thomas, and musical accompaniment was supplied, of course, by James Melton.

MANY THANKS to Marjorie Melton Nutt for allowing me to share some of her wonderful pictures and personal recollections of her father. I really enjoyed learning about James Melton, his career, and of course the Autorama!

PS... Just a note to let everyone know that the "Knott's Preserved" event on April 18th is now sold out!


The Viewliner Limited said...

Absolutely fantatic post Major. The Americana is coming out in you. Much appreciated.

TokyoMagic! said...

Fascinating post, Major! What became of the Autorama and the car collection?

The Knott's thing is frustrating. I still haven't gotten a confirmation from them. Is anyone else still waiting to hear from them?

Andrew said...

Major, thanks for your wonderfully detailed post!

Connie Moreno said...

That was amazing...and that Green Goddess???? I am in love! What a car!!!

Andrew said...

TokyoMagic, I found an article from the Ocala Star Banner from June 17, 1960, that states Mr. Melton sold his automobile collection to Winthrop Rockefeller, and the collection was moved to the Rockefeller Jean Mountain estate.

Here is the site from google news:


Anonymous said...

That was great to see. I own one of James Melton's cars a 1911 Cole Model Q. He didn't own anything that wasn't rare or interesting. it turns our my Cole Q may be the only one left in the world.
Thanks, James for a wonderful life.
Keith Korbut
Springfied, Ma

Nancy said...

such wonderful stories and images...an excellent post!!

you certainly know how to treat us right...thanks very much! :-)

Matt said...

What a great post. It is interesting to note that James Melton makes an appearance on the new Alice DVD in the supplemental material. He is the narrator of a feature called 'Operation Wonderland', which originally aired on the Ford Festival in 1951. Lots of great shots of Walt's train the Lilly Belle as Walt takes him on a tour of the studio during the production of Alice.

Margo Melton Nutt said...

The funny thing is, my father is never shown on camera, it’s his voiceover with someone else’s body! My guess is he couldn’t take time off from producing his weekly TV show in NYC to make a trip to California, but he wanted to support his friend Walt with publicity on “Ford Festival”—and this was the solution.

outsidetheberm said...

Thank you, Margo! Appreciate all of this.

And thank you, Major, for a really nice post!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this :)

Vaughn said...

A great post, really interesting!

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Unknown said...

My grandfather, Richard Francis, Sr. of Phila, PA, designed and built a 5/8 scale replica 1901 Oldsmobile for James Melton with the inscription "Emily and Mabel" on the front. I am trying to locate the car (if it still exists). I have several pictures. If anyone has information or would like to see the pictures, please contact me at purchasing@ciscohigh-lift.com. Thanks,
Jon Francis

Roberto Rodriguez said...

We have James Melton's 1913 Peugeot "Skiff" at the Seal Cove Auto Museum located on Mount Desert Island in Maine. Margo kindly came to the Museum last year (2010) and gave a wonderful talk about her father and his cars while seated in front of the Peugeot. You can read more about her visit on her blog. Melton considered this car to be the finest in his collection, only fitting that today it is at the Seal Cove, where visitors can see America's finest collection of Brass Era automobiles.

Doris D. said...

Are there any pictures of the Dawn yacht, MELODY?

Scott Santoro said...

I've just posted two old family photos taken there in 1956. http://scottsantoro.blogspot.com/2012/10/like-members-of-family-part-2.html