Virgil Whyte & His All-Girl Band! It was from Ben Hecht's childhood home in Wisconsin that a World War II all-women swing band with a hot musical style toured some 400 military installations, coast to coast for USO. Read on about Virgil Whyte and his All-Girl Band of Lake Avenue in Racine and how Ben Hecht knew about them and included them in movie references.
Above, publicity photo for Virgil Whyte's All-Girl Band. Trombones: Trudy Gosieski Whyte and Alice "Smoo" Jacoby; Trumpets: Dorothy Reigart, Virginia Schumacher and Jeannette Cramer. Alice Whyte is seen on drums. The itineraries of The Virgil Whyte All-Girl Band, now a U. S. Department of Defense World War II Commemorative Community, are available. Scroll to bottom of page for ordering information. The papers of the band are at the Smithsonian Museum of American History Archive Center.
More about Virgil Whyte's All-Girl Band
Pioneer video artist Carol Goss Bley shot concert and reunion footage, including oral history interviews with Alice Whyte, Doris Kahl Nilo, sax, May Peterson Ricchio, bass, Alice Smaus, trombone, Donna Eeilbeck, trombone, Lillian Stanic, sax and Trudy Whyte, piano, trombone and home office manager. Flori Whyte Kovan shot the video interviews with Betty Hansen, bass, and with Norb and Mickey Gray, sax and trumpet of the laat Musigals tour.
Noreen Grey, already a veteran of the Greenwich Village jazz scene, daughter of Musigal veterans Norb and Mickey Grey, wrote the reuion band arrangements, including a medley ending in "Going Home," a 1940s popularization of Dvorak's New World Symphony.
Be forewarned that this is very low fidelity with characteristic 78 rpm groove noise. The tape is for research only and should not be played at high decibels, on sensitive equipment or with earphones.
of American History, The Library of Congress Motion Picture Reading Room, Naval Historical Center, the Racine County Heritage Museum and the Pentagon Library.
Virgil Whyte, a symphony and pop music percussionist aspiring to take the Phil Spitalny "all girl" band concept into the swing and bee-bop era, initially recruited home town musicians from Racine. He expanded his card-carrying union band, recruiting in Chicago and nation-wide through classified ads in Downbeat Magazine. After a successful summer of 1944 at the Riviera at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the band auditioned in Chicago with booker Ralph Williams. He immediately engaged them for a combination camp tour and theater tour, primarily one-nighters and well neigh impossible skips arranged by Joe Glaser of New York and Ted Kemp's Southern Attractions of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Williams booked the band for its rigorous USO tour 1945-46. Organizers in New York added specialty acts like "Schlepperman" and the Wilfred May (Mae) Trio of hoop throwing acrobats to create a lively variety show rooted in the vaudeville tradition but well sparked with the latest pop and jive music sounds. The young band members were so exposed to the comedy routines of Sam Hearn, aka Shlepperman of the Jack Benny radio show, they committed his routine to memory. One of the band members, Alice Smaus Jacoby of Kenosha, Wisconisn corresponded with Hearn and did her take on his dialect-rich routines.
Sam Hearn was for a time a character actor in Hollywood, appearing in Hecht's 1940 film Angels Over Broadway. Hecht later heard details about the "tall crazy blonde women" from Hearn and incorporated a remark about escaping the blondes and losing luggage in Kenosha into an early scene Spectre of the Rose.
Back to the band: When an astonished Virgil Whyte was drafted off the tour-- USO service was supposed to be exempt--his sister, drummer Alice Whyte ne Wojtecki, with whom Virgil concluded many shows with vigorous sibling drum battles, took over the musical direction of the band. General management was handled by the USO- assigned tour manager Alan Bode, while Virgil's wife Trudy Whyte managed the bookwork in Racine, where she was looking after the author of this web site, then a kintergardener. Virgil Whyte served in the 75th Qm. Trg. Co, 14th Battalion at Fort Lee Virginia and the 443 ASF Band at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. Upon discharge in 1946, Whyte returned to his band and continued to maintain the pace and the geographical sweep of his band, touring as Virgil Whyte's Musigals. After that tour Alice Whyte in 1949 joined four other women to form the Vadel Quintette, playing light jazz from their own arrangements in Chicago in a Chicago supper club, the Dominique Lounge, into the 1950s. In 1956 she started her Racine store Whyte Apparel.
The memorable 1959 film Some Like It Hot in which Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon infiltrate an all girl band was a Billy Wilder film not associated with Ben Hecht. But But Hecht knew about the Virgil Whyte all-girl band in real time during the World War II era. As comic relief, he incuded references to it in his otherwise heavy-handed 1946 ballet and madness drama Spectre of the Rose.
A thorough and passionate review of Hecht's Spectre of the Rose by Donald Phelps appears in SENSES OF CINEMA, Issue 19 (March-April 2002)www.sensesofcinema.com
Ben Hecht, New York screenwriter and Hollywood screenwriter began writing film scanrios while a Chicago journalist in the mid 1910s.
See more about his early career and his Chicago Daily News stories about the early film industry, in print at the Snickersnee Press.