World-famous voice with roots in Duluth

April 19, 1998

Duluth native Lorenzo Music uses the studios at Minnesota Public Radio in downtown Duluth in April 1998 to tape commercials and other voice-over roles. “Cartoon (characters) are very hard to do remote,” he says. “Everyone has to be sitting in the same room. You really have to react to each other. That’s one thing I no longer have a shot at. But I’m willing to give it up to be here in Duluth. It’s worth it for what I have instead.” At the time, and for many years, Music preferred not to have pictures taken that showed his face. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

THE VOICE IS FAMILIAR, BUT WE CAN’T QUITE PLACE THE FACE

By Chuck Frederick, News-Tribune staff writer

In a downtown Duluth recording studio, Lorenzo Music snaps a headset over his ears, smooths out a script and leans into the microphone.

“Do you wanna know what I’m wearing,” he teases as producers and engineers in both Los Angeles and Duluth wiggle patch cords and adjust sound levels before taping a radio commercial.

A voice from California considers Music’s question. Her short, startled laugh spills out of the overhead speakers and fills the Minnesota Public Radio studio inside the Holiday Center.

“Uh, let’s see,” she says. “Hawaiian shirt?”

“Hey, this is Duluth!” Music declares, smiling broadly.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “Denim?”

Dead on.

Lorenzo Music has been wearing his comfortable jeans and loose-fitting denim shirts a lot lately. He has a Duluth Pack slung over one shoulder, a spectacular view of Lake Superior over the other, and in between, the contented, easygoing smile of a man at home.

One of Hollywood’s hottest sitcom writers of the 1970’s, Music left the grind of L.A. in December to visit his old hometown.

And now, like someone reluctant to trade in a favorite pair of sweatpants after a long weekend, he’s finding it hard to leave.

The man who helped create “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” who co-created “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Rhoda,” whose voice is that of Rhoda’s never-seen-but-beloved Carlton the doorman and later of Garfield the cartoon cat, is rediscovering his roots.

He also is writing his autobiography and a slim volume of poetry and he is working as a voice actor, taping commercials and voice-overs in Duluth via digital telephone lines.

“I came back to Duluth because I wanted to remember my memoirs,” said Music, whose visit in December was a birthday gift to his wife, a chance for her to visit her mother, Margaret Johnson, in West Duluth.

“I just felt so good here,” he said. “This place is where I was formed and it’s so far removed from the stress of L.A. I felt I could come here and be here. (A friend’s) house was available on the lake. All I had to do was write and listen to the waves — and be here. I had to do it.”

Duluth roots are deep

Music came to Duluth for the first time in 1942. He was 5 years old then and had moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., with his parents, Harry and Sophie Music. A master mechanic, his father worked in the Superior shipyards during the war and played a drum in the company band that marched each time a new ship was launched.

Performing and comedy filled the Musics’ home in Central Hillside. “I was even forced to entertain as a child — or they wouldn’t feed me,” Music deadpanned, slipping into that goofy, Carlton-like, singsong voice of his. “I was a stand-up baby.”

He graduated from Central High School in 1955 and went to the University of Minnesota-Duluth to study speech and English.

But he spent more of his time playing banjo and performing comedy in the UMD cafeteria. He also performed for the Owl’s Club, the Eagle’s Club, pretty much anywhere that would have him, even the faculty wives’ tea.

He took to acting, too. During rehearsals for “Guys and Dolls” at UMD he met Myrna Johnson, the West Duluth woman who would become his wife.

Jerry and Myrna Music pose for a publicity photo in 1961, they year the former UMD students appeared at the school’s Homecoming dance in October. They later changed their names to Lorenzo and Henrietta. (News Tribune file photo)

Chases his dream

“I remember wanting to be an actor when I was 7, or maybe a comedian,” said Music, 60, a short round man with a smooth head and a quick wit. “I always knew I was a performer.”

In 1959, he chased his dream to Los Angeles and then to San Francisco. One night, he watched the yet-undiscovered Smothers Brothers perform.

“I can do that,” he thought.

The next morning he auditioned, performing the same little folk music and comedy act that had underwhelmed the Owls back in college. It went over better this time. He landed the nightclub gig.

“It was a cute act in the UMD cafeteria, but I didn’t know if I could do it in front of the Smothers Brothers and the owners of the club,” Music said. “To me, this was the big time.”

Hours before his first performance, he blacked out with fear. His bride-to-be fed him chicken soup and helped him dress. She drove him to the club and literally pushed him onstage.

He was a hit. The two were married, and not long after, she joined him on stage.

Together, though, the act didn’t gel. It was hard to tell who was funny and who was playing it straight, Music said.

The club fired the Musics. They hit the road, intent on making another run at the limelight. They played coffeehouses and nightclubs across the country. They toured with the USO, doing shows in the Far East, Europe and the Mediterranean.

By 1967, they liked their act. It was good. It was ready.

But it was too late.

The Byrds were hot and the Beatles had all that hair. Rock ‘n’ roll was in. Their folk-music-and-comedy act was out.

Myrna and Jerry Music use a Japanese tea service they brought back from their USO tour of the Far East, during a visit to Duluth in fall 1963. (News-Tribune file photo)

Lands Smothers Brothers job

The Musics wound up in Las Vegas, opening for Julie London. On the other end of the strip, the Smothers Brothers were on the verge of mega stardom. They had been signed by CBS to do a weekly series and were looking for writers. They remembered Music. He had never written professionally, but accepted the job.

“I didn’t think you needed to be professional to be a good writer,” Tommy Smothers said from his car phone in Burbank, Calif. “I flavored the writing staff with new guys. We all learned our craft as we went along.”

Music was one of 15 writers for the Smothers’ show. Others included Steve Martin and Rob Reiner. In 1969, they won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy Writing.

“(Music) was one of the fun guys,” Smothers said. “I was a big fan of his. I always loved his delivery and his act. I figured he’d be a good television writer because he was funny. He and his wife had a great act.”

Two and a half years later, Music left “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” to become head writer of the new “Glen Campbell Good Time Hour.” He bounced to another variety show and also started moonlighting, writing in evenings and on weekends with longtime friend David Davis. Davis had been a director of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” and associate producer of the spy spoof “Get Smart.”

The moonlighting paid off. The new writing team sold scripts to “Love, American Style.”

Helps create ‘Mary’

And in 1970, when Davis was asked to produce a new show based in the Twin Cities about an independent-minded TV newswoman, he brought Music along as his writing partner. For 2 1/2 years, Music and Davis wrote or contributed to nearly every script of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

“Everyone working on the show was from somewhere not Minnesota,” Music said. “I was their Minnesota expert. Things like, ‘How long does snow stay on your shoulders after you come in out of a storm.”‘

“He didn’t even have a desk at first,” Davis said of Music. “He sat in my office and I pulled out one of those boards that come out of desks for your typewriter. That was his area.”

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was a huge success. The network was eager to cash in. “Why don’t you guys come up with another show,” a CBS executive asked Music and Davis. “If you guys could write a new show for any actor, who would it be?”

“Bob Newhart,” they said in unison. They had written for him before, including a sketch he performed on the Smothers Brothers’ show. They knew his stammer. And they loved his dry, straight humor.

“He was easy for us to write for,” Davis said of Newhart. “I had grown up with him on the radio.”

So they started writing, back at the same secluded Santa Barbara, Calif., beach hotel where they had written their first Mary Tyler Moore episode and where they would later write the pilot for “Rhoda.”

“The Bob Newhart Show” was another hit, thanks in large part to Music and Davis, the show’s star said.

“If their concept hadn’t worked, the show wouldn’t be on the air. It wouldn’t have done so well,” Newhart said from Los Angeles. “The best tribute is it’s still on (in reruns). It’s still being watched and it’s finding a new audience.

“Being a writer myself, I always felt the most important thing in the world is the written word,” Newhart said of Music’s and Davis’s scripts. “If you don’t have the words on the page, nothing is going to work. And this show worked.”

Lorenzo (Jerry) Music, right, the Duluth Central High School graduate voted “wittiest” of the Class of 1955, returned home in June 1976 to give the commencement address for his alma mater at the Arena. He was welcomed at the Duluth airport by a delegation which included, from left, Central Principal Richard Carlson, Joanne Maddox and Mary Forseth. (News-Tribune file photo)

‘Hi Bob’

The show also prompted one of the 1970s more unusual and talked-about drinking games — “Hi Bob.” To play, participants took a drink each time someone on the show said Bob’s name or “Hi Bob.”

Music insists he and Davis didn’t invent the game, though they may have helped it along. They did write all those “Hi Bobs” and “Bobs.”

But for good reason, Music said. Actress Suzanne Pleshette had a habit of calling Newhart, her on-screen hubby, “honey.”

“The ‘honeys’ bothered us and we thought they’d annoy the audience,” Music said. “She put them in when we didn’t write them and they made her character sound whiny, so we started writing fewer and fewer ‘honeys’ and more and more ‘Bobs.’ “

Rhoda and Carlton

Newhart was a ratings machine, and CBS was hungry for more. The executives wanted a Mary Tyler Moore spinoff based on best friend Rhoda Morgenstern. They tapped Music and Davis to develop and produce “Rhoda,” a show that forever changed Music’s life.

It was based in New York and needed a New York feel, Music said. The characters lived in an apartment building. And down in the lobby, there was a doorman — Carlton the doorman.

In the debut episode, Carlton’s now-famous slow, somewhat-drunk-or-stoned voice stumbled from an intercom box in the apartment of Rhoda’s sister, Brenda. “There’s a woman here who says she’s your sister,” Carlton said. “She doesn’t look anything like you.”

“The lines weren’t necessarily funny,” Music said. “It was the way they were done. The guy was gooney. He was out there. I do good gooney, I guess.”

Music and Davis had tried to hire a different actor to deliver Carlton’s lines. But no one did it quite right. They either played him too big. Or too drunk.

Music delivered the lines during rehearsals. “You should have seen him,” Davis said. “He was practically falling over, he was trying to do the lines so sleepily. The first time he did it, everyone just busted out laughing.”

With auditions going poorly, it was Mary Tyler Moore who finally suggested Music stay with the part. She was a guest star on that first episode.

Music did. And got huge laughs from the live studio audience during taping.

Carlton’s appeal can be traced to the days before television, when families huddled around the radio. Imaginations painted pictures of the characters. Carlton allowed Americans to do that again.

“It was a fun thing that people tuned in for. I thought it was hilarious from the very beginning,” actress Valerie Harper, who portrayed Rhoda, said from her New York home. “Lorenzo was great. He’d do the voice live on the side with a microphone so the audience could hear. And it was always incredible. I can’t remember a line from Carlton that didn’t work. I don’t remember Lorenzo ever bombing out.”

One hot doorman

Carlton the doorman was one of Hollywood’s hottest stories that television season of 1974-75. An air of mystique surrounded him. Who was he? What did he look like? A fan club started. Several hundred fans joined.

In the final episode of the season, “Rhoda” viewers thought they’d finally get to see the mysterious character.

A knock on Rhoda’s door. It was him. Rhoda cracked open the door but didn’t unhook it. Upset with Carlton, she delivered a severe tongue-lashing. When she finished, Carlton, played by Music, stuck in his arm, extended his hand and asked, “Will there still be a tip?”

The two characters worked well together, Harper said. The contrast of the out-of-it, laid-back Carlton against the high-strung, speak-her-mind Rhoda made for many comic moments.

“It was another character to play off, another super, funny character,” Harper said. “He just had a terrific voice for Carlton. He didn’t do a trick voice. He did a character. He used his own voice and that’s what helped make it work. It was honest.”

In 1976, Music was on top of the world. He had four hit shows on his resume and two Emmys, the second for an animated CBS special he created and produced called “Carlton Your Doorman.” He returned to Duluth that summer a hero, the guest speaker at graduation for his old high school.

But just three months later, the bottom fell out. “The Lorenzo and Henrietta Music Show,” a syndicated daytime talk, comedy and musical variety show starring Music and his wife, fell flat.

It was a “suicide run,” Music said. “It was a total disaster. An absolute bomb. I was always good on my feet, but I wasn’t that good.”

The show was canceled after six weeks, its ratings abysmal.

Lorenzo and Henrietta Music in a publicity photo for their short-lived “The Lorenzo and Henrietta Music Show” in 1976. (News-Tribune file photo)

Now a top voice actor

About that time, Music’s phone rang. It was an agent who provides voice actors for radio commercials, cartoons and other voice-overs. He said he had been getting requests for the Carlton the doorman voice. Was Music interested?

Two decades later, Music is one of the top voice actors in the business. Of the thousands of actors available to do voices in the Los Angeles area, Music is one of only a few who works consistently, said casting director Carroll Day Kimble.

“He’s a love. And he’s very well respected in the business,” said Kimble, who runs Carroll Voiceover Casting Co. in Los Angeles. “He’s extremely creative behind the microphone. He can change a couple little things and really make a spot sparkle. He’s a genius in the booth.

“And in the advertising world, people love to know they just booked Carlton the doorman,” she said. “They like to say, ‘Hey, I booked Garfield the cat.”‘

After Carlton, Garfield is probably Music’s best-known voice role. In 1983, he won another Emmy Award for co-writing a Garfield TV special. And from 1988 to 1995, he provided Garfield’s voice for the Saturday morning cartoon series.

Music’s other voice characters have included a crash test dummy in those you-can-learn-a-lot-from-a-dummy public service announcements that encourage motorists to buckle up, and, more recently, a store announcer on “The Drew Carey Show.”

“I believe voice actors should be heard and not seen,” Music said. “If you don’t know what I look like, I can be the crash test dummy. I can be Garfield the cat. I can be anything. But if some kid knows what I look like, then Garfield becomes me, and I don’t want to be Garfield. Garfield should be Garfield.

“As a voice actor I can be an ugly frog or I can be a handsome prince,” Music said. “If I worked on-camera, I could only be the handsome prince. You know?”

All of which helps explain why Music doesn’t like his photograph published. And why he was reluctant to be interviewed for this story.

He craves anonymity. It’s good for his career, he said, to maintain that mystique about his identity that started with Carlton the doorman.

Music wants you to know the voice, not the face. It’s the voice, after all, that puts lunch in his box, gas in his car and his kids in college.

“All I need is a studio, and this is the studio here,” Music said between takes at Minnesota Public Radio. “We have everything we need here. And this is all I need to bring. A pencil and my reading glasses. And if I didn’t bring a pencil, it wouldn’t matter.”

He doesn’t even read the script before arriving.

The radio commercials he is taping this day are for a casino near San Diego that’s giving away a pair of Volkswagen Beetle cars. Music portrays an excited caller who asks an exterminator if they’d heard about the bug infestation.

His head bobbing, his hands waving, his eyes popping to emphasize certain words, Music performs the lines. Between takes, he sips from a glass of milk left over from lunch. After one run-through, he pauses.

“At the ‘heck no,”‘ he says into his microphone, talking to the producer in California, “I feel like I could do that line a different way. Should I just do what I feel is best?”

“Always,” says the producer.

And the next time, Music does it differently. He drops some words, adds others, changes the emphasis. He does the lines better. No question.

“This is feeling really good,” the producer says. “The character sounds fine. The acting sounds fine.”

One more time.

“Wonderful. That was awfully good,” the producer says. “I can’t imagine anything else I’d want. Except for you to come back to L.A.”

Music smiles again.

“Oh, please don’t make me come back to L.A. just yet,” he says.

And this time, there’s not even a hint of teasing in his voice.

— end —

Lorenzo Music died from cancer on Aug. 4, 2001, at age 64. He was survived by his wife and four children.

Here are a couple of YouTube clips featuring Lorenzo Music’s voice acting. The first is from the pilot episode of “Rhoda” – you can see his name in the opening credits, and then hear him as “Carlton the Doorman” at about the 1:10 mark:

And here’s a short “Garfield” clip from the 1980s:

Share your memories and stories by posting a comment.

Bill Clinton visits Duluth, 1994

There’s news today that former President Bill Clinton is planning a visit to Duluth on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, to campaign on behalf of Democratic candidates in the upcoming election.

That will be almost 18 years to the day after he stopped in Duluth while president. Here are a couple of past Attic posts about that Nov. 4, 1994, visit:

Photos of Clinton’s 1994 visit

Video of Clinton’s 1994 visit 

Long-lost logos from Duluth… and a mystery

I had occasion to delve into old files of advertising clip art (these files were not in the Attic… we’ll call it the News Tribune Annex). In any case, among the thousands of images were some old Duluth-specific logos, including these….

I particularly like the “Skyworld” logo, which I presume must refer to the then-new (or new-ish) skywalk system downtown. I should note that aside from the Denfeld logo, I don’t have dates for any of these.

Here’s one more logo from the files that someone left instructions to never use again… but I’m going to break the rules:

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And here’s one mystery from the local clip art files…. this drawing of a man named Henry who also has an old KBJR-TV logo (TV 6) on his helmet. Is this a fictional character, or a caricature of a real person? Does anyone recognize him, and know what ad campaign he was part of? If so, post a comment….

Share your memories by posting a comment.

A look inside UMD’s Old Main, 1980

April 3, 1980

Old Main on the University of Minnesota Duluth’s lower campus, April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Weathered Old Main silent, almost empty

By Doug Smith, News-Tribune

The long, dark halls of UMD’s Old Main are mostly silent these days.

Footsteps echo down the high-ceilinged hallways only occasionally. Most of the classrooms are empty.

The four-story brick and stone building, built in 1901, sits solemnly in disrepair, a victim of old age. The building, the oldest at UMD, is one of four on the lower campus on Fifth Street.

Outside, its once-handsome brick face and stonework are crumbling. Wooden snow fences keep students back a safe distance in case something falls off the building.

Inside, plaster from crumbling ceilings lies on classroom floors.

“It’s going to pieces,” said Ernie Anderson, UMD maintenance and operations supervisor.

Few Old Main classrooms are in use. This is one that has fallen victim to the ravages of time. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

——-

Anderson, 60, has coddled the building for 33 years – since it became part of the university system.

“It’s where I started,” he said Wednesday, peering down an empty hall.

Old Main and the other buildings of UMD’s lower campus once housed Duluth State College, Duluth State Teachers College and the Duluth Normal School. Ernie remembers the exact day the campus became UMD: July 1, 1947.

Now Old Main contains some federal and county offices as well as overflow university offices. Some slightly remodeled classrooms also are used, Ernie said.

Although in disrepair, Old Main retains some of its pride. Oak wainscoting, as shiny and solid as when students traipsed by decades ago, still graces hallway walls. There is an aura of dignity about it all.

Halls in UMD’s Old Main no longer see the traffic they did during most of the building’s history. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

———

But there is major work to be done if Old Main is to live again.

“The windows are all in bad shape,” Ernie said, unlocking a door to one room. “The wind blow right through. The roof is leaking and the brick needs repair.”

Washrooms and radiators might need replacing. Said Ernie, “The money involved to fix it up would be fierce.”

Because of a pollution problem with the existing heating plant, the university must first decide if it will continue to use the lower campus. The other three lower campus buildings, the Research Laboratory building, Torrance Hall and Washburn Hall, are used more extensively than Old Main.

“What are you going to do with (Old Main)?” Ernie asked, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s a big decision.”

Ernie said he isn’t sentimentally attached to Old Main, although hundreds of former students may be. “I’ve got a lot of other buildings to worry about,” he said.

But strolling around the building Wednesday, Ernie couldn’t help but admire it.

“It’s a pretty building,” he said.

Sunlight reflects off an upper window at UMD’s Old Main in April 1980. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

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UMD maintenance and operations supervisor Ernie Anderson in front of the coal-fired furnaces at Old Main in April 1980. (Photos by Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

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UMD closed and boarded up Old Main in September 1985, and officials announced their intent to tear it down. Within a few months, however, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the next few years various deals and discussions about the building made the news, interspersed with timelines for its demolition.

Old Main in January 1989. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

In 1989 there were talks about swapping Old Main with the Duluth school district for the Chester Park Elementary School building adjacent to the upper campus; the school district intended to raze Old Main and build a new elementary school on the site.

Other ideas called for keeping the building, and converting it into senior housing or a community college.

In November 1992, Duluth’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved a plan to develop Old Main into a 49-unit apartment building, with a 100-car, two-level parking ramp built into the hillside behind Old Main. Developer George Hoene had an option to purchase Old Main and adjacent Torrance Hall from UMD for $1.

Then, three months later, on Feb. 23, 1993, Old Main went up in flames….

Developer George Hoene looks in a rear window of the gutted shell of Old Main on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1993. He had planned to convert the building into apartments. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Redevelopment plan goes up in smoke

By Anne Bretts, News-Tribune

A friend with a police scanner called developer George Hoene minutes after the first fire alarm came in at 12:32 a.m. Tuesday.

Hoene could see the flames as he dashed the few blocks from his home to the scene. He stayed most of the night, one of more than 100 onlookers who watched helplessly as fire raged through Old Main, the landmark that formed the heart of the former University of Minnesota Duluth campus.

As the others saw the past go up in smoke, the 31-year-old developer saw the future disappear in the flames.

“God, we were so close,” he said later Tuesday, returning to the site to see what was left of the massive brick building at 23rd Avenue East and Fifth Street.

As he walked around the charred brick skeleton, Hoene explained how he was about a week away from a formal ceremony launching a $3 million effort to turn the abandoned college classrooms into 45 apartments.

Concentrating on the massive walls that were still standing and ignoring the twisted wreckage inside them, he talked about the detail in the stonework, now blackened by smoke and dripping with ice. …

Tuesday’s fire left the interior of Old Main gutted, and the exterior walls charred. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

———-

Hoene said he first talked with university officials about renovating Old Main in 1988, but the idea was put on hold while UMD unsuccessfully tried to sell the building for a public elementary school and later a community college.

By the time the university was ready to move ahead, the financing had been stalled by the recession, Hoene said. Three months ago Tuesday, Hoene toured Old Main once again and decided the timing was right.

“Interest rates were down,” he said. “This was the year to do it.”

On Tuesday, Hoene called the prospects for continuing the renovation very unlikely. …

Hoene agrees with fire department officials in suspecting arson as the cause of the fire, which they believe started in the west end of the building at least an hour before it was reported.

“It was seriously burning when we got here,” assistant Fire Chief Donald Kivisto said Tuesday.

“It was frightening,” said Paul Osterlund, a neighbor who watched as the inferno spewed ashes and burning debris over rooftops and cars for several blocks. Osterlund credited the snow cover with keeping the airborne debris from touching off any more fires.

The 31 firefighters, five pumper trucks, two ladder trucks and two rescue units did save three other university buildings on the 7.5-acre campus, including one just 30 feet from the west end of Old Main. Two of the buildings are used for research facilities, while Torrance Hall, a former dormitory, is closed. …

———————

Trying to decide the fate of fire-ravaged Old Main on Feb. 26, 1993, are Duluth Mayor Gary Doty (far right) and UMD Vice Chairman for Finance and Operations Greg Fox (facing camera). They were part of a group that toured the exterior of the building to decide if anything was salvageable or worth saving. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

After a few days’ delay, during which city officials tried to find a developer who would make use of Old Main’s still-standing walls, the structure was razed with the exception of several arches, which were preserved and reinforced – and which still stand on the site, which was turned over to the city to become a park.

Three men were arrested and pleaded guilty to setting the fire.

Demolition crews started at the rear of Old Main on March 1, 1993. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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A bulldozer operator removes debris from the front of three main arches that remain standing at the site of Old Main on March 3, 1993.

For more about Old Main, the University of Minnesota Duluth has information about the building here. Also, there was a discussion about Old Main’s later years – and some unauthorized expeditions inside the then-abandoned building – a few months back on Perfect Duluth Day.

Share your memories of Old Main by posting a comment.

Duluth Arena photos, Part 3

Here’s the third and final installment of Duluth / DECC Arena photos from the News Tribune archives. This one covers the years from about 1975 to the present. Click on the photos for a larger view and for caption information:

Today’s News Tribune print edition includes a 16-page special section all about the new Amsoil Arena, which debuts tonight with a UMD men’s hockey game.

The section also includes a timeline of DECC Arena history, but we couldn’t fit the entire timeline in the allotted space. So, here is the extended version…

Duluth Arena timeline

1961

Efforts begin in earnest to build an arena-auditorium complex in Duluth. The city was lacking in venues for large concerts and sports events, especially after the collapse of the Amphitheater in 1939; among the few facilities were the Armory, the Duluth Curling Club and the Denfeld auditorium.

Among the early proponents was businessman Jeno Paulucci, who at the time headed the Northeast Minnesota Organization for Economic Education. In September 1961, that group launched a campaign to build a convention, cultural, entertainment and sports center in Duluth.

In December 1961, Duluth Mayor E. Clifford Mork kicked off a drive to build the complex and appointed an arena-auditorium advisory committee.

January 1963

The $6.1 million project receives a $3 million federal grant. In February 1963, Duluth voters approved a $3.1 million bond issue to build and a tax levy to operate the complex.

The harborfront location was selected by the committee over other candidates, including Leif Erikson Park; the area between the Depot and the Civic Center; and land west of the College of St. Scholastica. To prepare the site, previously home to a scrapyard, sand was dredged from the harbor and used to fill and level the land.

December 19, 1963

On a frigid day, ground is broken for the Duluth Arena-Auditorium. Work continues for 2 ½ years.

August 1966

The Arena-Auditorium opens with a celebration more than a week long in conjunction with Portorama festivities. The theme of the opening is “Hello World.”

On Friday night, Aug. 5, there is a ribbon-cutting ceremony and gala celebration in the Arena, with guests including comedian Buddy Hackett, Lorne Greene, star of TV’s “Bonanza,” and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. “All of know too well that the news has not always been good in Duluth and the Head of the Lakes region,” Humphrey told the crowd. “But there is a new day — of good news and hope and confidence. And it is well worth some celebration.”

The opening celebration also includes a performance by Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert Merrill to open the Auditorium; a packed Arena concert by the Beach Boys and fireworks displays.

“Not for many decades, perhaps never in Duluth’s history, has there been such genuine widespread enthusiasm over a civic achievement shared by so many people,” the News Tribune said in an editorial. “There are hardly enough superlatives to describe the mood one can sense all over town. … The Arena-Auditorium not only extends a ‘Hello World’ greeting, but it signifies even more poignantly that this region has done something daring and magnificent to make itself a part of the broader world that pulsates around us.”

Late August 1966

The Ice Capades hold their first show at the Arena, starting a years-long tradition of rehearsing in Duluth for several weeks and opening their tours at the Arena.

Nov. 19, 1966

First UMD men’s hockey game at the Arena, an 8-1 win over Minnesota in front of a capacity crowd. Keith “Huffer” Christiansen has six assists in the game, still a UMD record.

December 1966

The Harlem Globetrotters play at the Arena for the first time. The removable Arena basketball court hosts many games over the years until being sold to St. James School in West Duluth for use in their gym.

Sept. 15, 1967

Jack Benny headlines the Arena’s first anniversary party, joined by singers Bobby Vinton and Mary Lou Collins, former “Tonight Show” bandleader Skitch Henderson and the Rudenko Brothers, a juggling act.

Benny, then very much an A-list Hollywood star, said organizers told him performing in Duluth could open doors. “(They) said I probably could get two days in Hibbing, and a full week in Twig,” he quipped, joining a long line of comedians to poke fun at that Northland locale. “All my life, there have been three cities in the world I wanted to see — London, Paris and Twig.”

Late 1960s

The Arena hosts the NCAA men’s hockey finals, an appearance by Bob Hope and the Republican state convention in 1968, and its first appearance by Lawrence Welk in 1969; Welk would return several more times over the next decade, always drawing a good crowd.

Early 1970s

Notable concerts at the Arena include Johnny Cash, Three Dog Night, Sonny & Cher and Deep Purple.

Oct. 16, 1976

Thousands flock to the Arena to see Elvis Presley perform in Duluth for the first time.

The News Tribune’s Jim Heffernan provided this account: “Women screamed, flashbulbs — thousands of them — popped, fans tried to climb on stage and were repelled by police, and Elvis sang. The more he sang, the more they loved him. They loved him most when he began passing perspiration-soaked silk scarves from around his neck to the few adoring fans who made it to the edge of the stage. He performed for exactly one hour, then he was gone. … As the audience filed from its seats, a voice on the public address system said ‘Elvis has left the Arena.’”

Elvis returned for a second, packed concert at the Arena on April 29, 1977. Less than four months later, he was dead.

Late 1970s

Other big concerts at the Arena include Kiss, the Doobie Brothers, Styx with Eddie Money and Cheap Trick.

Early 1980s

The Arena hosts the NCAA men’s hockey finals in 1981. Other notable events include the Loverboy concert (crowd of more than 8,000) and the Airstream convention, which brought thousands of the silver travel trailers to the DECC.

Feb. 17, 1984

The UMD men’s hockey team wins its first WCHA championship with a 4-2 win over Wisconsin at the Arena.

The next day’s News Tribune included this account from reporter Kevin Pates: “There was great tension as the final minutes ticked down, but that tension was then released. As the clock showed 0:00, UMD’s 20 players spilled onto the ice and mobbed goalie Rick Kosti near the goal and then toppled on to one another. An air raid-type siren blared and the song “Celebration” cascaded over the Arena sound system. … (Bulldog coach Mike) Sertich joined his team carrying a maroon-and-gold sign bearing the inscription No. 1. He was quickly hoisted on the shoulders of his players and given a victory skate around the rink.”

UMD advanced to the national title game that season, falling to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtimes. The Bulldogs also reached the NCAA tournament in 1983 and 1985.

April 1984

The Arena hosts curlers and curling fans from around the world for the Silver Broom world curling championships. It’s the second time the event is held in Duluth; the first time was in 1976.

April 22, 1984

Heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne plays an Arena show on Easter Sunday, to the consternation of some in the community. There are few protesters on the day of the concert. “Osbourne made his appearance to a crescendo of Wagnerian orchestral music,” the News Tribune’s Bob Ashenmacher reported. “Pyrotechnics ignited, a dark scrim dropped, and there he was in a cape. He was flanked by two statues of bats with lit eyes and five-foot wingspans, over which poured fog vapor.”

July 22, 1984

Huey Lewis and the News draw 8,176 concert-goers, one of the largest — if not the largest — concert crowds ever at the Arena. “The sound mix was excellent throughout the hall. The lights were splashy and punctual,” the News Tribune reported the next day. “(Lewis) is athletic on stage, grabbing his floor-stand microphone at full run and leaping, with splits, off platforms.”

Mid-1980s to mid-1990s

Big concerts at the Arena include shows by Bryan Adams, Loverboy, David Lee Roth, Poison, Motley Crue, Metallica and Def Leppard. The Minnesota North Stars, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks play exhibition games at the Arena.

March 15, 1998

After trailing Minnesota 4-0 in the third period of a WCHA playoff game, the UMD men score four times to force overtime, then score in the extra session to win 5-4 and advance to the WCHA Final Five — one of the most memorable comebacks and games in Bulldog hockey history.

Oct. 22, 1998

Bob Dylan performs in Duluth, his birthplace, for the first time to a sellout crowd of nearly 8,000 in the Arena. “Backed by a four-man band, Dylan appeared restrained and even a little nervous at first, but he soon relaxed with inspired guitar gesturing and reflexive boot-scooting,” the News Tribune reported the next day. “It was an unusually animated Dylan. He bobbed, shook and smiled with the audience. In the end he took a deep bow to the crowd. … While Dylan said little to the crowd and nothing at all about returning to the Northland, nobody seemed to care.”

Early 2000s

The UMD women’s hockey team achieves success from the start, winning the first NCAA Division I title in 2001, repeating in 2002 and making it a three-peat at the Arena in 2003, with a double-overtime win over Harvard.

The News Tribune’s Christa Lawler reported on the epic 2003 final: “Perhaps the greatest game in the history of women’s college hockey came on the Bulldogs’ home ice at the DECC in front of 5,167 fans — the largest attendance in three years of the NCAA-sanctioned event. The game hung tied at 3-3 through one 20-minute overtime period. The ice was resurfaced and (Nora) Tallus fired the game-winner at 4:19 of the second overtime to bring an end to the longest game in the history of the women’s Frozen Four.”

In 2004, the UMD men make a run back to the Frozen Four.

July 13, 2004

President George W. Bush speaks at the Arena to a crowd of about 8,000 while campaigning for re-election. “Bush spoke on national and international issues and offered little local color, except during a slip-up when he referred to being welcome in Duluth, northern Wisconsin and the ‘Iron Ridge,’ instead of the Iron Range,” the News Tribune reported.

Bush also spoke to a capacity crown at the Arena on Nov. 1, 2000, just days before the election in which the then-governor of Texas defeated Vice President Al Gore.

Mid- to late 2000s

Some highlights of more recent years include concerts by Nickelback and Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper (who also played the Arena back in 1975); the UMD women’s hockey team’s continued success, including a national title won in Duluth in 2008; several strong seasons by the UMD men’s hockey team; and the 2010 DFL state convention.

December 2010

The UMD men’s and women’s hockey teams close out their time in the DECC Arena; banners are lowered and all-DECC teams are recognized, among other special events.

Other events held at the Arena over the years include high school graduations, circus performances, wrestling matches, rodeos and countless other spectacles. And with the DECC Arena set to continue as a performance venue, the opening of Amsoil Arena is not so much the end of the line, but the turning of a new chapter in the venerable venue’s story.

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