The Martha Retsch Collection
Left: Martha Retsch, December 2007
Right: Martha and Bob Nolan, New York City, 1942
Telephone conversation with John Fullerton on June 25, 2008 (transcription)
Photos (personal snapshots and publicity stills)
Prairie Prattler (Martha's complete collection, scanned)
Tumbleweed Topics (9-12)
Sheet Music (two pieces)
Madison Square Garden Rodeo 1943 (eye witness account)
California, the Sons of the Pioneers and Republic Studios 1945 (eye witness account)
Philadelphia Rodeo Banquet 1946 (eye witness account)
Martha Retsch was initially one of hundreds of subscribers to the Sons of the Pioneers' fanzine, Sam Allen's "Tumbleweed Topics". Some of her poetry was featured in them. However, because of the war and the fact that the Pioneers were exceptionally busy at this time, "Tumbleweed Topics" gradually faded out. Martha decided it was time to get a Sons of the Pioneers' fan club going so she started one in 1943, complete with a newsletter called "Prairie Prattler".
Sam Allen put her in touch with Charles Reed Jones who was with Republic's New York office and Jones sent her photos for her covers, information on the Sons of the Pioneers work schedules, etc. By 1944, the little newspaper had become four pages, professionally-printed. The national fan club grew quickly. Both magazines, "Tumbleweed Topics" and the "Prairie Prattler", contain much information useful to Sons of the Pioneers historians.
Martha was careful to keep her paper informative and factual, avoiding the drollery of the "Tumbleweed Topics". She included her own eye witness accounts of the Pioneers' appearances at rodeos, banquets and even the Republic set when "The Man from Oklahoma" was being filmed.
Over sixty years later, John Fullerton, for his private Sons of the Pioneers museum, bought a huge scrapbook put together by Marie Spellman and Lillian Nagode, two members of Martha's fan club. On June 25, 2008, through the scrapbook, he traced Martha and interviewed her by telephone. Some of Martha's memories below were gleaned from that conversation.
My Dad started me on the Sons of the Pioneers. He made me sit down one day and listen. He said, "You like Western music. Sit down and listen to these guys." So I sat down for half an hour and listened. I said, "They're pretty good." I started listening every day. One of our local stations [KQV] had them on for a half hour from 12:00 to 12:30pm. My girlfriend, Virginia, was co-president with me and we took turns writing in, requesting songs. That's when we became the "Pioneers' Pals - Stetson Gals". The announcer, Herb Angell, got to know us. When I started work, that ended my listening to the program. For awhile there, I would get done at noon and Herb would let me in at the studio. One time he asked Virginia and I, "Can you two come down on Sunday?" We could, so he says, "I'm getting some new records on the Pioneers and I want you both to hear them first." We were there for about an hour listening to new records. When Herb died, I wrote a poem and dedicated it to him. Dave Scott, a new announcer, took over and we got in with him, too.
I started watching Charles Starrett pictures to see the Sons of the Pioneers and then they transferred over to Republic to be with Roy. Roy got the chance when Autry refused to cooperate with Republic. They were hunting for a new cowboy singer and Roy heard about it, put in an appearance and got the job. And got the Sons of the Pioneers in with him within a few years.
One of my first pictures of the Pioneers was one of those movie prints, the color ads they had with Charles Starrett. My Dad gave it to me and I said, "Where did you get this?" He said, "Your boyfriend send it!" He used to call Mr. Fineman (who owned the theater) my boyfriend. When I was little we went there and they had a picture on about a little girl and her dog trapped in a fire. I was crying like crazy and my Dad takes me out and says, "I guess we won't see the end." Mr. Fineman says, "No, leave her there. I'm gonna get a few cents and go across the street and get her some candy." So he went over and brought me a bag of candy to shut me up and, from then on, he and I were friends.
Bob and Tim were both my favorite Pioneers. First it was Bob and then, when I got to know Tim, he was right with it. I dealt with Tim more. He was their manager - the manager of the group when they were on the road. He made all the arrangements and everything so it got to the point to where we were calling him "Pappy" toward the last. He came down the steps one day and turned the wrong way. We were standing at the other end and the usher said, "There goes one of them now!" And I said, "Yep," and I just went, "Pappy!" and Tim turned and said, "You kids. You finally got here!"
Marie Spellman became a very good friend of mine. She had a very tragic death. She was a loner and didn't have too many friends. Her mother and dad were dead and I think she had a brother or sister. They didn't bother with her and she was by herself. She was a bit moody but she was a very good friend. It was through her girlfriend, Dolores, that I got to know her better. She was a very nice person. I was shocked when I heard about her death. She lived in Kinsington which is about 25 miles from here. She and Dolores used to come down over weekends. The came down to see Gene Autry once and they finally did get to meet the Pioneers. They never met Roy. But Bob had quit by then and Dolores was mad because he was her favorite.
Ken Carson was with them for about a year and then he left and Ken Curtis came in. We got to know Ken Carson very well. In fact, I was at his place in New York and he and his wife had me over for dinner one night. They took me out some place and Ken had to leave - he was going on a singing tour - and his wife and I went out the next day together. I got to know him really well that way.
I asked Tim about starting the club and he gave me their box number in Hollywood and said to write to Sam Allen and explain to him. "I'll talk to him," he said. So I wrote Sam Allen and we became friends that way though we never met. Sam used to send me different things about the boys every now and then. Also Charles Reed Jones in New York for Republic Studios. He sent me a lot of the covers for my paper that we put out.
I put out the paper for three years and I had to quit because I was too involved at work. I was working overtime and I just couldn't give the time to it that I should have. So I turned it over to another girl who was very anxious to get it. I think she had it for six months and the thing folded. I don't know what she did with the money, the papers or anything else.
I saved all the papers that I ever printed. The first year I did all mimeographed work and the second year I had enough in it and I found a printer and got the paper printed from then on. So it was much nicer looking. As far as the front went, Republic was supplying me with the cover pictures.
When Lloyd was taken into the service I was still printing it. A lady in Reading, PA joined the club and I told her what I wanted and she drew the front page for me. She put Lloyd's picture on the front and I had a Cowboy or a Soldier at the top and a Cowboy at the bottom. The Soldier had the lasso over the Cowboy because he got roped into Uncle Sam's Army!
When Pat Brady was overseas with Patton, he and I struck up a letter writing career and I heard from him quite a bit. I couldn't get anything out of Lloyd. He was sort of backward or shy. Pat, oh, he was in the midst of everything. He drove a tank for Patton and I says, "I can just imagine him driving a tank the way he used to handle Nellybelle." The tank was probably going every which way.
Lloyd and Bob did most of the solo work and then Tim came in occasionally, so it was really a trio - Lloyd, Bob and Tim. My favorite Bob Nolan song is Tumbling Tumbleweeds and my favorite of Tim's is Room Full of Roses. It was a popular song, number one on the Hit Parade. The night it was on the hit parade, we were in Philadelphia and we went out with them to celebrate. In fact, we were sitting in our own seats. We never counted on the Pioneers to get us seats and they liked that about us. When we went to a rodeo, we had our seats already. If they wanted to move us, OK, otherwise, we sat where we bought the seats. And Tim says, "You know, you don't ask us for anything." I said, "Tim we can do it all on our own! We can do that much, at least. We know you get hounded for this, that and the other so we don't bother you about seats." So he came over that night , stooped down to sit on the step and says, "Kids, my song is Number One on the Hit Parade. We're going out after the show and if you want to go with us, get up and come now." So we got up and went!
I met Tommy Doss when the Pioneers came here to Pittsburgh for a show. I happened to go into the one hotel and into the coffee shop and here is Hugh sitting there with Tommy. Well, I didn't know Tommy then and the new record, Diesel Smoke, had just come out. Tommy was singing lead on it. I played it and said, "That's not Bob!" My Dad says, "What do you mean, that's not Bob?" I'd lost track of them after I gave up the club although we saw them quite a bit in New York and Philadelphia at the rodeos. Bob Nolan's wife and I, after he passed away, kept up a correspondence until his daughter by his first wife wrote and told me that P-Nuts had passed away.
Anyway, Hugh called me over to the table where and and Tommy were sitting and says, "Martha, I want to introduce you to our new singer." I says, "He took Bob's place, didn't he?" The two of them just looked at each other and then at me. Hugh shook his head. I said, "What happened to Bob. Did he retire?" Hugh answered, "Yeah" and I said, "They never said anything! P-Nuts never wrote to me about that!" Hugh says, "Well, he did." I says, "Well, I knew it wasn't Bob singing Diesel Smoke." Tommy asks, "How'd you know?" and I answered, "The way you pronounce certain words. And another thing - Bob would have never sung a song like that!" Tommy just looked at Hugh and says, "Well, she knew Bob, alright." I said, "I can tell all your voices. I knew the minute anybody quit or dropped out or something. I could tell on every record whether they gave you the name, like Sons of the Pioneers with Bob Nolan or Tim Spencer, or with Lloyd Perryman." But this one didn't have it on there. Hugh says, "I told you you wouldn't be able to fool her!"
I had over 100 records of theirs. Later I had a man doing work for me, fixing my roof, and I was playing the Pioneer records because he liked them. I was playing them just a little bit extra loud for him to hear and he says, "Oh, I just love those boys." And I says, "Well, I have all these records and I don't know what to do with them. Would you like to have them? There's at least a hundred here." He says, "Oh, yes, I would. I'll take them with me tonight." And I says, "No, you won't because I'm going to record them all first." So I taped them all on a reel-to-reel tape and when I had them all finished, I called him and he came over and got them. He wanted to pay me for them and I said, "No, I know they're going to a good place." He did call me once or twice after he retired to tell me, "I get more enjoyment out of listening to those records and how nice they were, and how good you were to give them to me."
I still have the tapes. I have small tapes now and I have a couple that were home made. Somebody taped them singing Pistol Packin' Mama over the air one time. I used to get all kinds of things but I don't have a lot now because of all the moving I did. After my parents died, they put up a project near the house and I decided to move. I threw a lot of stuff out but I never threw my pictures out. Every time I saw the Pioneers, I had another picture and they're thinking, "How many autographs do you want?!" I says, "Oh, I'm selling the pictures. I'm getting one hundred dollars for them". They says, "Where you selling them?". They started to laugh. My girlfriend told them, "Don't try to take them, that's all I say!"
Tim had four of us go out to California for ten days. He had us at his place for Easter dinner. After dinner, his secretary and her boyfriend came and they took us down to the Venice Pier and we spent the afternoon, Easter Sunday afternoon, riding roller coasters and everything. It was so different from East at home.
Another time, Bob brought us home from a radio broadcast and he took us right over to his home so we got to see his place. They both had ordinary homes. Bob had a picnic table for a regular table. And he liked sailing, I know. I had a picture of the boat and it had Maní on it. "Now wait a minute," I says. "Boats are named after women." He says, "Well, it is." I kept looking at him and I said, "Maní. Maní? Oh, I got it. It's Spanish for P-Nuts." He says, "You're right. How'd you get that?" I said, "The Peanut Vendor Song [El Mansiero]."
I wouldn't give up one minute that I spent with the Pioneers. They treated you like a person. We really got along with them. When Virginia, my co-president passed away, Emma took her place. She was about four foot eleven. When she had her picture taken with the Pioneers, they'd rest their elbow on her head and she'd say, "Now, if you don't quit that I'm gonna kick you in the shins!" They called her "Little Bits" all the time.
It was nothing to get a call from them. We happened to be at the same hotel once and got a call in the morning. "What are you doing?" I says, "Sleeping." Tim answered, "Get dressed and get down here. You're having breakfast with us." I says, "Oh? Am I?" Tim laughed. "I knew you'd be pleased." We used to have more fun with them. That was a good gang. And what was nice about them was that there was never anything dirty. It was all good, clean fun. Somebody said to my Dad after my Mother passed away, "You let her go to New York to see six guys?" He said, "So, she's old enough. She knows what she's doing. What's the matter with that?" He agreed on it.
And then they wanted me to come out to be their secretary. I said I would if my Father would come with me but he wouldn't go because his mother was still living. I told them, "My Dad won't budge so I won't. He's still living. I have no brothers or sisters to check on him. I'm staying with him. His mother is still living. She buried seven out of eight children. He's the oldest and still living." She lived long enough to bury him, too. She missed her one hundredth birthday by 4 days. So the Pioneers commented on that, "That's really fine."
When they were in Pittsburgh for the Police Circus, that's the last time I saw them in Pittsburgh. I was working with the press agent at the time, just for a week. I took a week's vacation from my regular job and went to work for the press to publicize the Circus and them. I said to Tim, "My Dad and Emma's Dad are sitting up there in our box seats. Is there any way we can get them down to meet you?" He says, "Yeah. Come with me." So we went over, walked up the steps and he talks to the usher, "Those two men over there. Tell them to come over here." The usher went over. They didn't know what was going on but my Dad saw me and he says, "Oh, that's Martha. She probably wants us to meet the Pioneers." So we took them down to the dugout and he met all the boys.
Hugh tried everything under to sun to get him to to out to California. He says, "Oh, please come out. You like to hunt?" My Dad said, "No, I like to fish." Hugh replies, "Oh, good. I got a lot of fishing tackle. Have you ever fished in the ocean?" "No." "Well, you come down. I got a boat. We'll go out in the ocean and fish." They tried everything and my Dad wouldn't budge. He wanted to stay here so I passed up the job I really wanted.
Little Patsy Linton was my friend's daughter. Where she is, I have no idea. Whether she's still in Reading, PA, I don't know. I can't picture Lillian. I knew one Lillian belonged to the club but she was from Washington, PA. I never met her. Marie had a big scrapbook. [John Fullerton's scrapbook had belonged to Marie Spellman and Lillian Nagode.]
excerpts from the telephone conversation -
John: On the very first page [of his scrapbook] is a poem that Marie wrote entitled "Hats off to the Pioneers". It's one page, about twelve paragraphs. And then Lillian wrote one. The next pages are all head shots of the guys and then some newspaper clips and another poem by Marie. About ten pages in is your poem "To Herb". [Herb Angell] There's another one in here that you and Virginia wrote together and it's called "Christmas at the Ranch."
Martha: I was going out to Virginia's place one night and the snow started coming down real light and I started singing it to myself...the snow was lightly falling, with flakes of white...and the next thing I know, I'd written three verses to it. I sent it in to Sam Allen for his paper and he changed a couple of little words, but it was mostly mine.
John: I've got seven copies of the Tumbleweed Topics right here in front of me and I've got the one from Christmas 1941. Bob is on the cover and on page 5 is a poem that you and Virginia wrote. "'Twas a balmy Christmas evening and a goodly crowd was there. That well nigh filled the bunkhouse at the ranch of Circle Square."
Martha: Every now and then I could write a poem about them but Ginny and I did go together on that one. She'd give me the idea and I'd try to rhyme it. I typed these myself. I hated to give it up but I just couldn't do it any more and, after all, my job did come first.
There are more to come so keep watching!
The Sons of the Pioneers with fan club president, Martha Retsch.
Sunday, October 10, 1943 at the Astor Hotel, New York City
Caption on the back reads: Martha Retsch, president of the Sons of the Pioneers Club, Virginia Sullivan (Massachusetts Ranch Boss), Roy Rogers, and Virginia Shaw (Pennsylvania Ranch Boss.) at a Fan Club party in honor of Roy on Sunday October 10, 1943
Hugh & Karl Farr
Tim Spencer and Pat Brady
Hugh Farr, 1940
Shug Fisher, Hugh Farr, Bob Nolan, Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer, Karl Farr and Ken Carson
Martha Retsch, Helen Gould, Tim Spencer, unidentified, Virginia Gallick
Front: Loretta & Harold [Hal] Spencer
1945 03 05
Left: Martha Retsch, Tim Spencer and Virginia Gallick
Right: Tim & Velma Spencer
1945 03 05
Left: Hugh Farr at Republic Studios
Right: Tim Spencer
1945 03 27
Hugh Farr and Tim Spencer at Republic Studios
1945 03 27
Left: Hugh Farr and Emma Hackett
Right: Tim Spencer and Emma Hackett
Reading, PA 1945 10 20
Bob Nolan at Kennywood Park, Pittsburgh, PA
Shug Fisher and Emma Hackett, Reading, PA
1945 10 20
Martha Retsch, Karl Farr, Terry Sevigny, Lloyd Perryman, Pat Brady and Emma Hackett
Philadelphia, PA, 1946 09 15
The Nelson Eddy Show June 2, 1946
Bob Nolan, Hugh Farr, Nelson Eddy, Karl Farr, Lloyd Perryman (with Tim standing behind) and Pat Brady.
Hugh Farr c. 1946
Tim Spencer, c. 1946
Phila. Penn. - Rodeo Luncheon (Roy Rogers on the dais)
Left: Ken Curtis c. 1950
Right: Tommy Doss and Martha Retsch c. 1950
Clockwise from Ken Curtis (top): Karl Farr, Lloyd Perryman, Shug Fisher, Hugh Farr and Tim Spencer
Left: Dale Evans and Martha Retsch
Right: Martha Retsch and Roy Rogers
Martha Retsch and Lloyd Perryman
The Sons of the Pioneers, September 1954
Standing: Hugh Farr, Dale Warren and Lloyd Perryman
Front: Karl Farr, Deuce Spriggins and Tommy Doss
Left: Hugh Farr and Martha Retsch
Right: Martha Retsch and Shug Fisher
Lloyd Perryman and Martha Retsch
Tommy Doss, Martha Retsch and Dale Warren
Martha Retsch passed away on December 26, 2010.