DEAR JERRY: A satellite station played “Open the Door, Richard,” first by Dusty Fletcher then by several other artists. Each one was a little different.
How many different versions are there? I am confident you can solve this mystery.
Diane in Milwaukee
DEAR DIANE: There is no mystery here, it's just a matter of research. Lots of research.
Originally scripted in the 1920s by Clinton “Dusty” Fletcher for an Amos & Andy style vaudeville routine, this novelty first made its way to phonograph records in January 1947.
Yes, every “Open the Door, Richard” differs from all the others. Most feature a jive-talk narrative about a fellow who, after too much time at the saloon, arrives home only to find he forgot his door key.
No problem, he thinks, he'll just stand outside and call out to his roommate, Richard, to open the door! This is where the shenanigans begin.
The first three versions came out in January:
1. “Open the Door, Richard! - Parts 1 & 2” By the Originator, “Dusty” Fletcher with Jimmy Jones and His Band (National 4012).
National must have anticipated cover versions, as they added “By the Originator” to the credit line.
Fletcher's is one of the few extended versions. His yarn runs for six minutes and is split into two parts.
2. Jack McVea and His All Stars (Black & White 792). This is the track heard in the 1997 “Lolita” film soundtrack.
In just two weeks, McVea and Fletcher both ranked on Billboard's Top 5 Most-Played Juke Box Race Records.
Seemingly overnight, “open the door, Richard” became a social and media catch phrase. The press even called it “Richardmania.”
Riding the “Richard” wave, Jack McVea immediately changed his band's name from All Stars to His Door Openers.
Even with “Richard” still high on the charts, Black & White announced McVea's two sequels: “The Key's in the Mailbox” and “Richard Gets Hitched,” both sides of B&W 828.
Routines referencing “Open the Door, Richard” appeared on more radio comedy skits than any song ever!
“Open the Door, Richard” is shattering all records for number of plugs on top commercial radio programs. Richard has opened the door to innumerable script conferences and has wound up as a gag bit in programs such as: Jack Benny; Fred Allen; Fibber McGee & Molly; Phil Harris; Henry Morgan; and Bing Crosby. As of January 29th, more than 500,000 copies had been shipped,” reported Billboard on February 1.
A month later, they updated the figures: “McVea's “Open the Door, Richard” [alone] is reportedly past the 500,000 mark and still going strong. “The Key's in the Mailbox” is expected to boost sales beyond 200,000, according to B&W.”
Comedian Steppin Fetchit countered with a sequel of his own, “Richard's Answer, Parts 1 and 2” (Apollo 1042), as did Gay Crosse: “The Door Is Wide Open” (Mercury 8034).
Two others came out in January:
3. Bill Samuels and the Cats 'n Jammer Three (Vocal By Sylvester Hickman) (Mercury 8029).
4. Dick Peterson and the Vocal Yokels (Enterprise 253).
During February, 11 more versions joined the horde:
5. Columbia: Charioteers (37240).
6. Columbia: Three Flames (Vocal by “Tiger” Haynes with guitar, bass and piano acc.) (37268).
7. RCA Victor: Count Basie and His Orchestra (Vocal Refrain by Harry Edison & Bill Johnson) (20-2127).
8. Decca: Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (23841).
9. Capitol: Pied Pipers (Capitol 369).
10. Majestic: Merry Macs (With Orchestra Directed by Sonny Burke) (Majestic 1112).
The Pied Pipers completely recast the narrative, replacing the jive references to whiskey and women with a more milquetoast storyline.
Also not wanting to offend lords and ladies, the Merry Macs took a different approach and eliminated nearly all of the narrative. Unlike all others, their track features a female (Marjory Garland) lead singer.
11. Continental: Bill Osborne and His Heptette (C-6042).
12. Empey: Tosh “One String Willie” and His Jivesters (103).
13. King: Hank Penny (2279).
14. Manor: Big Sid Catlett Orchestra (1058).
15. Walter Brown with Tiny Grimes Sextet (Signature 1006).
Just as Dusty Fletcher did with the original “Open the Door, Richard,” this lengthy treatise is being presented in two parts.
Next week we will hear Richard's side of the story, and analyze why one version was first banned by radio stations, and then publicaly recalled by the record company itself. See you on the flip side!
IZ ZAT SO? More than 30 years before the flood of Elvis impersonators arrived, a fellow using the stage name Jack McRae built an act around Jack McVea's “Open the Door, Richard.”
McRae foolishly billed himself as the song's “originator and author,” which led to litigation, an injunction, and eventually the door closing on his ruse.