What a set of pipes -
in any kind of weather
Howard was born on November 12, 1922 in his home on Vega Avenue. His father was a fireman at Company 8 on Scranton Road.
Howard Hoffman baby photo
Howard had whooping cough and cried all the time and ultimately the landlord told them they had to move because of the noise. "I was born a bass baritone!"
Even then, people would proclaim "What a set of pipes."He went to West High and graduated in January, 1941. After graduation Howard tried to enlist in the Marine Corps but his flat feet kept him out, so he enlisted in the Naval Aviation Program where he anticipated a call to active duty in 1942. The call came in 1943 and Howard went into active duty. He went to Wooster College for his pre-flight testing where he passed out from Scarlet Fever which he didn't even know he had. He was sent to the Great Lakes for two weeks before getting his Special Order Discharge and sent home.He still wanted to serve his country and tried every branch, including the Merchant Marines, but he couldn't get in to any of them. Instead he went into defense work. He worked for Cleveland Diesel Engine on 106th and Madison. He started in personnel and then went into the 3rd shift machine shop where he made $1.06 per hour. At the same time Howard was seeing a vocal coach by the name of Francis Sadlier. He had always sung in Glee Clubs, choruses and madrigal singers. He was a bass soloist at Calvary Church at 79th and Euclid, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, all protestant denominations, Cathedrals and synagogues.
Young Howard Hoffman singing
He sang the Bach B Minor Mass, the Messiah and The Seven Last Words. He had a beautiful voice and loved to use it. Eventually Howard moved to New York to pursue a career in music, but soon he started thinking that maybe he had no business being in New York. Then he auditioned for Milton Berle and everything changed when he was hired for The Song of Norway. His first introduction to Milton Berle was Spring in Brazil which he thought would be another Ziegfield Follies, since Berle had been in the Follies. It wasn't a wonderful show, but had many big names in it - Rose Marie, Shirley Booth, people from the Met, and of course, Milton Berle. When he signed on with Berle, Howard was able to work with all of the big names. He went on the road doing shows in Boston, Hartford, DC, Concord onto Chicago. They opened at the Great Northern Theater in Chicago.
Howard Hoffmann acting on stage
"It wasn't glamorous though. We lived in broken down hotels and ate in diners. I was making $75.00 per week and that had to include living expenses."As part of his act with Milton Berle, Howard was a member of the Vikings. Whenever Berle had a nightclub or vaudeville show he included the Vikings. The group sang arrangements of operettas like Mademoiselle Modiste. Each one of the vocalists in the Vikings would sing their portion. Of course they were all dressed in a Viking costume. Milton Berle would come out in drag swinging a braided sash and with blackened teeth. The band would strike up The Road to Mandalay. As the Vikings sang "Onward, Onward, swords against the foe" all six of the Vikings would "stab" him with their swords and lift him up. He would always respond "Oooh that's sooo good."In addition to Howard, the Vikings included other to-become-famous people like Jack Cassidy (Partridge Family) and Jack Collins (The Sting), both of whom where tenors. After three weeks he auditioned for a musical comedy satire of HMS Pinafore called Hollywood Pinafore, with its focus being a Hollywood Soundstage instead of a ship. There were a lot of big names in the production. Howard auditioned for and got a part in the chorus. The show toured the East Coast and as far west as Pittsburgh. His parents came to see him in Pittsburgh. It opened in New York, off Broadway and closed on the 4th of July. Milton Berle had feelers out for the possibility of going into the Nicky Blair Carnival.
Milton Berle appearing at the Nicky Blair Carnival
Nicky Blair's was similar to The Tangiers of today, but much larger. They got the job there and played for quite awhile. One night, as they were playing the Carnival Room, Milton Berle got sick and Jackie Gleason went on for him. Another time Berle was sick Martha Rae stepped in for him. Howard remembers walking on 9th Street in downtown Cleveland and Jackie Gleason came out of the Roxy. "Of course Jackie wasn't quite as big a star then, but he remembered me and we stopped and talked."
Milton Berle and Joan Blondell
On a road trip to New Orleans nearly everyone in the company got sick and they decided to fold up and disband the group. Howard was headed back to New York, but made a stop in Cleveland first to see his parents. They insisted that he go to Cleveland Clinic for an exam and he was ultimately glad he did. He was told he was on the verge of a nervous and physical breakdown, and he wasn't even aware of it! The Doctors told him that if he didn't take some time off to re-establish both his mental and physical health he'd be in major trouble very soon.
Stan Kenton listens in on Howard Hoffman and the rest of the Pastels
A word to the wise was enough and Howard stayed home. He got a job with Schirmers in the lower level of the Old Arcade. He continued some of his studies at Cleveland Institute of Music and things were going along pretty well. Then one day, out of the blue, he got a call from The Vikings -they picked up a job in Chicago - could he make it? Next thing you know they came by, picked him up and they were on their way to the Oriental Theater, a Burlesque House. He played there for 3 weeks with Milton Berle. Joan Blondell was down on her luck and looking for work at the time, so she joined them for two weeks as well. The plan was to leave Chicago and go to New York with Berle. He was looking for a group for the new Texaco Star Theater. This was a chance to get into the ground floor of television with NBC. Berle did a pilot show and wanted the Vikings to do the commercial introduction.
Howard Hoffmann and the Vikings at Radio City Music Hall in New York
All six of the Vikings were on stage in Texaco uniforms as "The Texaco Men." Then during the show itself they became the Vikings again and then back to the Texaco Men for the closing. The budget for the entire show was $250,000, which, even at that time was very low. They could not afford all 6 of the Vikings. The Vikings were dropped. The show hired 4 people (not all original Vikings) to do the Texaco introduction and eventually move on to do the Buick commercials. Howard was not one of the four. Howard went to see Milton Berle when he appeared at the Tangiers Restaurant in Akron. Berle introduced Howard and asked him to sing the 4 lines of the Texaco song. Howard retorted "You sing it. You're getting paid." Berle and Howard remained good friends and would get together whenever they were in the same town.
Stan Kenton and Howard Hoffmann
He also kept in touch with one of the choral singers in Hollywood Pinafore, Larry Stuart. "Of course when I went to see him at the Front Row Theater, he was Enzo Stuarte."Howard started doing announcing work and commercial work for WERE FM which was located in the Bulkley Building in downtown Cleveland. He also did work in Warren Ohio on WRRN (later WHHH). He was living with his first wife and new born son on Stanwood in East Cleveland, just a block from Shaw High School and commuting to Warren everyday.
In 1949 Howard was working for Pinkie Hunter, program manager at WHK on top of the terminal tower, filling in for Allan Jenkins. He heard there was a new station WXEL being built in Pleasant Valley and he interviewed for an announcer's job there.
WXEL Cleveland Channel 9
He was hired in November 1949, six weeks before they went on the air. When they went on the air the "big shots" all came to town. Morey Amsterdam (Yucca Buck as Howard called him) was working with him then greeting people at the airport as they came in for the opening. He was the only voice they had at the station, so he did all of the news, announcements, station identifications and whatever else they needed. He was working 60 hours a week, although it was not all air time.
Herb Meyer and Howard Hoffmann
This went on until 1953-54 when Herb Mayer sold the station to Storer Broadcasting. WEWS was the first in Cleveland and WXEL was second. In 1955 Storer swung CBS away from Channel 5 to Channel 9 - which eventually became 8. At the same time they changed their call letters to WJW. The FCC made them change again from WJW to WJKW but once again allowed them to revert to WJW.
TV 8's City Camera Noon Team
- Martin Ross, Harry Jones & Howard Hoffmann
In 1955-56 the Union came into broadcasting. Storer broadcasting refused to negotiate with them. Howard Hoffmann and John Fitzgerald forced the company to talk to the Union and successfully brought the unions to Storer Broadcasting. While he was working at Channel 8, Ken Armstrong did the Saturday and Sunday night weather shows, sponsored by Blatz Beer.
Howard Hoffmann doing the Blatz Beer Weather Report
Eventually he wanted Saturday nights off and Howard stepped in for him. Then he added some Sundays too, so Ken could have "long weekends." At the same time, Howard was the night announcer and graphic programmer for Warren Guthrie's Sohio report.
Howard Hoffmann with Anna Marie Alberghetti
and Maggie Wulff on May 4, 1957 for
WJW's "Maggie Views the News"
Finally he was given a night spot as the Weatherman with Warren Guthrie, Doug Adair and John Fitzgerald. They were promoted as a team for the 11:00 news. Howard was doing weather 7 days a week. The station decided they needed someone with a more humorous approach and they auditioned and hired Bob Wells (Hoolihan the Weatherman). Howard still did the weekend weather. Eventually Bob Wells also left and they replaced him with Jan Jones. Things didn't work out with Jan and the weather so they got Howard back in there, before replacing him yet again.Andre Bernier came on just before Howard left. "They have so many weather people on each station now. The night person, the day person, the weekend person. When I did it, I did it all myself!"
When he retired the station gave him a clock because he always said "The clock is my boss. I have to watch the second hand all of the time."Howard had two children with his first wife; a son, now 55, who teaches at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and a daughter, 53, who lives in Sarasota, Florida. His daughter has two sons of her own as well.
He and his second wife adopted a daughter when she was 7 years old. She lives and works in Aurora. She also has two children, daughters and two grandchildren, Howard's great-grandchildren. He had no children from his third marriage.Among his other hobbies Howard is an avid garden, boasting 20 types of roses in his garden. He loves dogs and has raised German shepherd show dogs in the past, but does not have one at this time.
Howard Hoffmann plays a 'duet' with his dog
After 37 years at Channel 8 and 7 years in radio Howard retired in 1986 and moved to Arizona to be with a "love interest." He was hoping to do some freelance work in Arizona which may have led him to Los Angeles and then to Las Vegas. But he was constantly told he was over qualified and in the three years he was there he made less than $400.00.
"I remember auditioning for the Beef Council. I had one line 'Beef; it's what's for dinner'. They said go on back to Ohio, we'll send for you. But Robert Mitchum got that job."So he came home from Arizona. His father had died at age 64 in March, 1965. His mother was still living in their home in Parma. Two months after Howard came home (1989) his mother died.
The sixties were a tough emotional time for Howard. His first wife died of cancer in 1964. His father died of cancer and diabetes in 1965 and his younger brother died of cancer in 1967.Even as far away as Arizona people would see the HH1 Ohio license plate and wait for him outside a supermarket hoping it was the familiar face they had watched on television back home.
Howard Hoffmann sharing a laugh with Phil McClain
Howard doesn't drink, except for a rare social sip of Scotch. "It's too expensive and too easy to get into trouble these days. Somebody with an extra beer in them will challenge something on the tube and next thing you know there's a hassle. I just don't need that."
Howard has had a few health conditions of his own. He had a colon resection in 1984 and is now suffering from arthritis and a leak in his aortic valve. He has carpal tunnel in both hands and may need hip replacement. Yet to see him you would not know he is in any pain at all. He stands tall and proud and commands whatever room he is in. He has lived a life most of us only see in movies or theater.
Howard Hoffmann in 2005
Currently living in Parma, Ohio, Howard Hoffmann is a true legend. He is a talented, opinionated, larger-than life man who has a way of telling a story that makes you ask for more. Listening to Howard's stories is a real treat. What a set of pipes!
Sad Note: Howard passed away January 16,2006 after suffering a stroke
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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