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Peggy Lee in Fargo, ND

Posted by sambr 
Peggy Lee in Fargo, ND
October 21, 2018 02:10AM
[b]Jamestown interlude[/b]
Norma Egstrom graduated from Wimbledon High School in Wimbledon, ND on 27 May, 1937. She moved shortly thereafter to Jamestown, ND where she worked at the coffee shop in the Gladstone Hotel and sang on KRMC radio which had studios in the hotel.

In her memoir [i]Miss Peggy Lee[/i] [Donald I Fine, 1989], Peggy Lee tells of members of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins baseball players who had come into the coffee shop in the Gladstone and teased her. Norma became friends with one of the players, Bill Sawyer, who 'was the first big brother in the outside world I ever had.' Bill was about 4 years older than Norma. According to the memoir Bill 'had been with the Cleveland Indians for a while, but now they'd farmed him out to the Fargo-Moor[e]head Twins.' Sawyer had not played with the Cleveland Indians in the major leagues; he does not appear in any Indians roster. A local Moorhead paper reported that he had played amateur baseball in Cleveland. The Fargo-Moorhead Twins were at that time affiliated with the Cleveland team. The Twins played in the Northern League, a minor league. Sawyer and another player from Cleveland, Hank Nowak, joined the Twins after the start of the 1937 season. They arrived in Jamestown (where the Twins were playing away games) to join the team on 15 June and played their first game the same day, against the Jamestown Jimmies. Sawyer was in centre field though he played in left field for the remainder of the season.
[[i]Moorhead Daily News: 15 Jun, 1937 'Hancock Defeats Twins, 4 to 2, In Exhibition Match'
The Minneapolis Tribune: 16 Jun, 1937 'Twins Rally to Win Over Jimmies, 9-8'[/i]]

The Twins had been formed in 1933 and originally played in the Ballpark in Moorhead, MN. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) had built a new ballpark in Fargo, ND and in 1936 the Twins transferred across the state line to play at the new Barnett Field. Bill Sawyer played all his home games in the Fargo ballpark. The 1937 season with the Twins was the extent of Bill's professional baseball career.
[i]The Minneapolis Star: 3 Mar, 1937 'Post Sportem' by Dick Hackenberg

The Northern League had eight teams and the ideal season was for each team to play every other team a total of 9 times at home and 9 times away, with each of 6 series being 3 games. Scheduling was not straightforward to achieve the ideal and bad weather always complicated things. In the 1937 season, the Twins and the Jimmies played 14 games in the 6 series. Several other games were rained out and not made up. Four of the series were at Barnett Field in Fargo and only two in Jamestown at City Park. The games in Jamestown were on 30-31 May and 15-16 June. Norma Egstrom did not move to Jamestown until about 7 June so the Twins players' visits to the Gladstone when they met her were over two or three days in June. According to Peggy Lee's memoir, Norma and Bill communicated by letter after their first meeting.
[[i]Moorhead Daily News: 6 May, 1937 – 7 Sep, 1937
The Minneapolis Tribune: 6 May, 1937 – 7 Sep, 1937[/i]]

Some time in the following two months, Bill arranged for Norma to have an audition at WDAY, a Fargo radio station. Peggy Lee recounted in her memoir how Bill drove her from Jamestown to Fargo for the audition, a distance of almost 100 miles. He was playing baseball nearly every day of this period and was often on the road for 2-3 weeks at a time for away games. The last extended stretch of home games was from 27 July to 15 August. Presumably one day during this period he drove from Fargo to Jamestown to pick up Norma, played a game at Barnett Field in the evening and repeated the round trip the following day to take her home.

WDAY had studios on the eighth floor of the Black Building, 118 Broadway. Norma was auditioned at the studios by Ken Kennedy, the Program Director for the station. The audition was apparently a success as Norma was put on the air later in the day. Ken Kennedy recalled in 1973 (on the [i]This Is Your Life[/i] episode that featured Peggy Lee) that he told Norma after the audition and initial broadcast that he could not offer her enough to justify moving from Jamestown. However, ...

[b]First Fargo period[/b]
… in early September, Norma moved to Fargo to live for the first time. She had obtained employment at the Golden Maid Café, at 68 Broadway, and she was to sing three times a week on WDAY.
[[i]Stutsman County Record: 9 Sep, 1937
Wimbledon News: 9 Sep, 1937[/i]]

There is no known documentary evidence that Norma ever started work at the Golden Maid but in her memoir, Peggy Lee briefly mentions 'a short stint at a Greek restaurant as a waitress … I always seem to “flunk” waitress...' The Golden Maid had been opened in 1925 by two brothers, James and Peter Santrizos, who had immigrated from Pakia in Greece in 1914-15. This may be the 'Greek' restaurant. Its menu featured several cuisines, including Chinese at one stage, but it is not known if Greek dishes were included.
[[i]Moorhead Daily News: 1 Feb, 1926 Golden Maid Shoppe advertisement[/i]]

Norma did work at WDAY, starting in the second week of September. The story of being renamed by Ken Kennedy is often told. The newly minted Peggy Lee joined the cast of the [i]Noonday Variety Show[/i] which originated from the Black Building studios and was broadcast 6 days a week (no Sunday broadcast), though Norma may only have participated three days a week, as reported in her hometown paper. The starting time of the program and its duration were flexible, fitting in with other programs that needed to be scheduled. The cast rehearsed in the morning and the broadcast usually started at 12:30 pm, lasting for an hour or 30 minutes, with interruptions of 5 or 10 minutes for news, financial markets and agricultural information. The program was as its name describes, a variety show, with entertainers who were employed by the station. Ken Kennedy was the master of ceremonies and Lem Hawkins and his orchestra supplied the music.
[[i]Fargo Forum: multiple issues WDAY advertisement[/i]]

[i]WDAY schedule (detail) in the Fargo Forum of 23 February, 1938[/i]

The entertainers on staff at WDAY at this period were the Texas Ranger (Lars Birklid, singer, violinist, guitarist), four female singers – Louise Murray Headland, Mary Lou (Dunkirk), Jeanne Alm and Peggy Lee – Charlie and Cedric (banjo-guitar duo), Ole Anderson (Ken Kennedy in farmer's drag), Rudy Sten and His Sleepy Valley Cowboys (Rudy, Zeke, Tiny, Arkie, Eb and Jack, string band – guitars, banjo, ukelele, bass – and accordian) with vocalist Star Jarvis, and Lem Hawkins (Earl King), who had his own hillbilly dance band. Louise Murray Headland and Mary Lou teamed up as the [i]Gals in Gingham[/i], accompanying themselves on guitar and ukelele. Jeanne Alm had been [i]Freckle Face Gertie[/i], a role that was inherited at some stage by Peggy Lee.
[[i]Texas Ranger's WDAY Radio Album,1938[/i]]

[i]Ken Kennedy's and Peggy Lee's entries in the 'Texas Ranger's WDAY Radio Album,' 1938[/i]

In addition to her various duties at WDAY, Peggy Lee worked the 4 pm to 4 am night shift at the Regan's Fargo-Moorhead Bakery at 501 N 13th Street. In her memoir she relates that she sliced and wrapped the bread, presumably running the machines that did the work. The building where Norma toiled to make 35¢ an hour still exists, though the street name has been changed to University Drive. It is still a bakery, owned by Pan-O-Gold Baking Company, based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, making Holsum, Country Hearth and other brands.

[i]Regan's Fargo-Moorhead Bakery c1931
[size=small]Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo (2007.340-06)[/size][/i]

[i]Pan-O-Gold Bakery 2011[/i]

About one month after she began singing at WDAY on the [i]Noonday Variety Show[/i], Peggy Lee got a 'promotion,' a show of her own. On Saturday morning, 16 October, from 10:45 to 10:55 am, Peggy broadcast as a headliner, and her new name appeared in the WDAY program logs. The following day, she had another solo program, an uninterrupted complete time-slot from 12:30 to 12:45 pm. This is how it continued for most of the time at WDAY through the end of her first period in Fargo – the [i]Noonday Variety Show[/i] and her own Saturday and Sunday programs. In February, 1938, she was paired with a male quartet for the weekend shows and presented as 'Peggy Lee and the Four Jacks,' though she still did an occasional solo show.
[[i]Fargo Forum: multiple issues WDAY advertisement[/i]]

[i]WDAY Studio “A” on the 8th floor of the Black Building c1937[/i]

[i]Looking north along Broadway, 1930s. The Golden Maid Café is on the left in the centre of the photo. The Black Building is in the background.[/i]

[i]The Black Building, 2011. WDAY is no longer in residence.[/i]

During her first period in Fargo, Norma Egstrom was living at 606 N 4th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues. In her memoir, Peggy Lee remembered the house as a girls' rooming house. It was owned by Mrs Bertha Amundson and Jess W and Carol Flury. It was not 'girls only,' however. There were (at least) three married couples living there, as well as (at least) eleven single women. Three of the women were waiters at the Powers Coffee Shop. Norma Egstrom's occupation is listed in the city directory as 'wrapper Regan Bros Co.'
[[i]Polk's Fargo and Moorhead City Directory, 1938[/i]]

The house on N 4th Street no longer exists. The block was demolished and replaced by a 3-storey apartment complex.

[b]Leaving for Hollywood[/b]
After 6 months in Fargo, Peggy Lee sold her graduation watch to raise funds and in mid-March, 1938 set off for California on the train. In her memoir Lee tells of preparing for the move to California by getting a railroad pass from her father and selling the watch: 'Having sold my graduation watch to my landladies in Fargo for thirty dollars, by the time I arrived in California, I had only eighteen dollars left.' Peggy Lee dates her first move to California just prior to Easter, 1937, though this is a year earlier than it actually occurred.

[b]The graduation watch[/b]
In late 1992, Merv Griffin launched a search for the graduation watch Peggy Lee had sold to finance her move from Fargo to California more than 50 years before. Griffin wanted to present the watch to Lee at a New Year's Eve gala in her honor at his Beverly Hilton Hotel.

In a phone interview she gave on 21 December, 1992 to John MacDonald of Associated Press, Lee recalled selling the watch (described as a 1940 lady's Elgin) to her landlady in Fargo. “It really wasn't much of a watch, but it got me to Chicago [perhaps she meant California].” She remembered the address of the rooming house but could not remember the landlady's name. She thought the landlady probably was no longer living as she was elderly 'back then.' A public relations firm in Los Angeles was hired to help with the search for the watch and they advertised in the Fargo Forum. A follow-up article announced that the watch had not been found in time for the gala, but several leads had been generated by the Forum advertisement.
[[i]Bismarck Tribune: 22 Dec, 1992 'Singer looking for graduation watch' by John MacDonald
Bismarck Tribune: 1 Jan, 1993 'Singer fails to find old watch'[/i]]

There are several discrepancies in the information provided in the memoir and the 1992 articles. Norma Egstrom / Peggy Lee moved to and left Fargo three different times in the 3 years after she graduated from high school. Unsurprisingly, over 50 years later she did not remember the events with complete accuracy and possibly conflated details from the three different periods.

I wonder if the watch was ever found.

Next: Second Fargo Period
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