CCSO: City College's USO
By Philip Gittelman (’54)
The headline in The Ticker read “CCSO Program Packed Fort Dix Club to Capacity/Received Heartily by Over 1200 Servicemen.” It was pretty heady stuff for wannabe accountants, advertising mavens, retailers, etc., day and evening session students, performing in front of a standing-room-only, very appreciative audience.
Along with the student dramatic society, Theatron, City College Service Organization (CCSO) had become a magnet for some of the most talented men and women at the College. There were enough singers, dancers, comedians, and musicians to ensure that we had a two-hour performance; in fact, we sometimes had to cut the time of some of the acts because of our numbers.
CCSO was established in 1951 by two students in the City College’s School of Business and Civic Administration (reborn as Baruch a few years later), Al Baron and Bill Stacker, for the same purpose that the USO was during World War II: to “increase the morale of the servicemen and the hospitalized veterans stationed in military installations and hospitals through entertainment.”
In CCSOʼs case, the soldiers it served were veterans of the Korean War that started in June 1950 and ended with the armistice in July 1953. In the three years of its life, CCSO presented shows at Fort Dix, St. Albans Naval Hospital, and the Kingsbridge VA Hospitals, among others. At the Camp Kilmer General Hospital, as in a number of other hospitals, we did double duty by first holding a show in the hospital wards for the wounded and later, in the evening, in the service clubs for the rest of the GIs.
Searching memory and old clippings, Iʼve come up with some of performers and apologize to all the others who knew they were there but arenʼt here: The soldiers heard the beautiful voices of Felice Rochman, Charlotte Medick, Audrey Phillips; baratones Joe Pastor and Charles Harary; clarinet player Sy Kramer; comics Mike Merrick, Bert Califano, and Eddie Kaye; violinist Alfred Rosenthal; yodeler Howard Strauss; pianist Sydelle Sudran; and magician Joseph Schwartz. Occasionally, weʼd have ringers from the professional world, like the multi-talented comedienne-singer Faye DeWitt and a trio of Katherine Dunham dancers. We also had a five-piece band under the direction of Ernie Goldblatt.
And, as for myself, I often played a double role during many of our shows. As emcee I had a routine that connected with our audience of what it was like to go through the induction physical. I still remember two of the gags: “As I passed by one door, I heard a guy scream and then yell at the doctor, ‘COUGH? — I thought you said, “JUMP!”’ … “Then the doc says to me, ‘Do you see that bottle on the top shelf?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he says, ‘Fill it.’ And I said, ‘From here? Do you want a soldier or a fireman?!’” Well, it was the ’50s, and that passed for pretty racy stuff.
My more regular role was as a member of a guitar-playing trio of folk singers that included Sylvia Levine and Larry Levy. For our gigs in the city, in deference to CCNY, we called ourselves, The Lavender Trio, but when we hit the road for CCSO, we were Two Chords and a G String.
About the Author: Philip Gittelman (’54)
Gittelman, president of philip gittelman productions inc. (pgp inc.), began his career in the Public Affairs Department of CBS News, where he wrote, produced, and directed many award-winning programs, series, and investigative documentary specials. He pioneered the use of original still photography in his films.
Leaving the network, he founded Magnum Films, a joint venture with Magnum Photos, the distinguished international agency of photojournalists, which evolved into pgp inc., noted for its eclectic and innovative body of work.
Together with his wife, Deirdre, he has created and produced documentaries, television series, and specials for a who’s who of distinguished organizations in the arts, business, education, industry, science, and medicine. The Gittelmans’ productions have been honored with more than 150 awards from festivals throughout the world. Learn more at www.pgpfilms.com.
Gittelman is a member of the Directors Guild of America and a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America. He also co-authored The Book of Incomes (Holt, Rinehart and Winston).
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