Whatever Happened To ... ?


June 21, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

It has been 60 years since Jack Wells, a Baltimore native and radio personality, broadcast live from the Copa, a nightclub in the 100 block of W. Baltimore St.

He would sit at a table in the nightclub and whisper into a microphone: "Hey, I'm at the Copa. Where are you? Please call me."

"It was an early talk show and we did it six nights a week from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. I got the idea from the Copacabana nightclub in New York, who broadcast a similar show," Wells said the other day in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles home. "Some nights, it seemed like 400 people would call."

The denizens of the night who responded to his plea ranged from cabdrivers, Block strippers and politicians to lonely hearts, cops, drunks and others who knew how to dial a phone.

Because the technology didn't exist at the time to have a two-way conversation on the air, Wells repeated the caller's words to the radio audience.

"If it turned off-color or blue, I'd say, 'I'm so glad your uncle is recovering from his operation. Please give him my best and call again,'" he said.

Wells, born and raised in the 2700 block of W. Fairmount Ave., graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1942.

During World War II, he served as an Army radio operator in Europe, with Chuck Thompson, who went on to become a legendary Baltimore broadcaster.

"I was Chuck's corporal and in awe of him. He'd been working on a small Pennsylvania radio station as an announcer and that's all I wanted to be," he said. "We remained lifelong friends until his death."

In 1946, Wells went to work for WITH as an announcer and then jumped to WCBM, where in addition to spinning records, he hosted Dialing for Dollars.

"I was 'Mr. Fortune' on the show and we paid callers $5. I had the idea in 1952 to put the show on TV and that's what we did," he said. "We went on WMAR and it aired at 9:15 a.m. We paid callers $50 and our sponsor was Food Fair."

After Wells left the show in 1957 to start The Jack Wells Show, Baltimore's first morning TV show, Stu Kerr replaced him as Mr. Fortune.

In 1963, Wells left Baltimore and headed to the West Coast, where he continued to work in radio and television.

"Some shows worked and some flopped. I later regularly worked in Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless and General Hospital until retiring about 20 years ago," he said.

Wells, 84, is married to his third wife.

"Shirley is a very successful Beverly Hills real estate broker, and we've been married 36 years," he said. "We live in Coldwater Canyon. Mo and John Dean live behind me and Jackie Cooper is a neighbor. So was Charlton Heston until he died."

Wells still has family in Baltimore.

"I'll be there Saturday night. I have a brother and sister there, and my son lives in Timonium. I also have four wonderful grandchildren there," he said.

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