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The Gaylords: big-time entertainment
by Harry Spencer
Sep 25, 2009 | 2113 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo
Members of the local Good Old Days (G.O.D.) club got a rare insight into what big time entertainment was like in the 20th century when Burt Bonaldi of the Gaylords group spoke to them at their September meeting.

Bonaldi, who has been a northern Nevada resident for many years and who still performs with the new Gaylords, gave a running commentary as he showed a Power Point presentation of the famous acts with whom the Gaylords shared the stage over the decades.

While many of the photos were of the black and white variety, many of the superstars were still fresh in the memories of the G.O.D. club members. Juliette Proust was easy to identify, as were Bill Cosby, Rowan and Martin, Jerry Vail, Don Rickles, Vic Damone, Louis Prima and a host of others. In his commentary, Bonaldi identified the performers, the years that they appeared with them and — in many cases — the actual venues in which the performances occurred.

Of the Rowan and Martin show “Laugh In,” he noted, “Not only did we appear on the television version of the most popular show on TV at that time, we were also hired to go on tour with the live version of the show. That is when we got to be well acquainted with Don Rowan and Dick Martin and the other well-known members of the regular cast. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a live tour that will probably never be able to be duplicated again.”

The original Gaylords group was formed by Bonaldi and Ronnie Gaylord and their first big recording was “From the Vine Came the Grape.” It was followed in quick succession by “The Little Shoemaker,” Alitalia Airlines “Amore Mio” and many more that are still available at music outlets.

In addition to their live shows, TV appearances, recordings and guest shots, the duo also enjoyed a long and successful career producing advertising commercials for radio and TV. Old-time locals will recall the radio spots they produced for the Boomtown Casino.

For his appearance at the G.O.D. club, Bonaldi also brought along the lyrics of the theme song for “The Don Rickles Show” that his partner Ronnie penned one evening. As Bonaldi put it, “These are the lyrics that my brilliant partner of over 50 years, Ron Gaylord, wrote to the song he composed for Don Rickles. Don uses this song, ‘I’ll Trade you Laughter for Love,’ as his theme song. No better lyrics were ever written or more suited for an actor. Rickles cried when he first heard Ronnie sing it to him.”

The lyrics go:

“I’ll trade you laughter for love

I’ll give you one for the other

Laughter for love, what can you lose?

And just for a while, to feel the warmth of your smile, whether you like it or not, I’ll give you all that I got.

I’ll trade you sunshine for gold, one shines as bright as the other.

Love is pure gold and laughter the sunlight

This is my life and you part of this life I live

I swear that it’s true — I love to do what I do

To trade the laughter I give, for just a little love from you.”

Bonaldi praised the multi-faceted Ronnie Gaylord, for not only was he an accomplished musician and singer, he also excelled at song writing and playing the “straight man” to Bonaldi in their comedy routines. It was difficult to restructure the Gaylords following Ronnie’s passing, but Bonaldi has done a remarkable job keeping the sound of the new group indistinguishable from its original. For those lucky enough to be around when the Gaylords appear locally — usually at the Eldorado Hotel and Casino’s annual Italian Festival — they can close their eyes and be transported back to the second half of the last century when the original Gaylords appeared here regularly, most often at Harrah’s.

If memory serves me correctly, I first caught their act in the extra-small lounge at the Holiday Hotel, now the Sienna, many moons ago. Coincidentally, at that time, Burt was using the last name of “Holiday” on the marquee.

They were dynamic on stage and the jokes flew fast and furious in their original skits. Ronnie was poised and urbane, much in the manner of Dan Rowan, and Burt was the wide-eyed butt of most of the jokes, a la Dick Martin. One physical trait that Bonaldi possessed, and which earned him the nickname of “banjo eyes,” were enormously large peepers that he still possesses to this day, and which he makes good use of to stress a point.

In the early days, the Gaylords were a group of clean-shaven, neatly dressed performers. When Bonaldi was questioned as to why he and Ronnie had opted for full, dark goatees, he replied with a chuckle, “To hide our double chins!”

Following the Power Point portion of his talk, Burt then went to his large boom box, on which he played a half dozen of the more memorable skits that he and his partner had done on the “Laugh In” show.

For his closing, he again went to the boom box and cued up a full orchestra background for his belting out of “Amore Mio,” which gained him a standing ovation from the crowd.

As a regular member of the G.O.D club, which holds luncheon meetings on the third Friday of every month at the Reno Elks Club, Bonaldi always starts the programs off with a rousing version of “God Bless America.” G.O.D meetings are open to the public for the price of the luncheon.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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