Friday, September 10, 2021

Mel Tormé - Sky Marshall or (How the "velvet fog" saved an American Airlines flight)

Mel Tormé - Sky Marshall

By Jay K. Johnson

As a modern day foot-note: If you do not know who Mel Tormé is - Google him.  He was an incredible talent, nice guy, ultimate 50's hipster and known by all the crooners of the day as a "Singer's Singer".  

In 1984 Mel Tormé was in the golden days of his career. The music industry had changed and male crooners were seen as "of an era". He was still well known in Japan because of their almost cultural love of American Jazz.  Then Rinehold Wiggie wrote "Night Court" and things changed.  

Since my best friend was cast in the roll of Harry Stone on Night Court, I was in on some of the unpublished moments of that series.  In the pilot Wiggie wrote a line for Judge Stone that spoke to his off beat character.  A court clerk comes into Stone's office and the Judge is listening to  a walk-man with head phones.  He notices the clerk, takes the earphones off and says, "I have every album that Mel Tormé ever recorded." It was meant as a laugh line... the off beat judge was a fan of an obscure crooner.  After the pilot aired Mel called Rinehold Wiggie and Harry to thank them for the shout out.  Harry was, in reality, a big fan of Mel Tormé and the two became fast friends.  For the next decade Mel Tormé became the mascot of Night Court making several guest appearances to an entirely new generation. 

But this it a story about a passenger disruption on an American Airlines flight.  

I was on my way from LA to Chicago to do a show sitting in the fourth row of first class.  We made it to Chicago on time but the airport was socked in. Rain and snow flurries kept us from landing so we circled.  The captain was giving us the updates and said that we had enough fuel to circle for a while until we could land. The circling continued for the next two and a half hours. 

Emotions were running high with frustration as the captain came back on the intercom and said, "Well, we have exhausted all of our excess fuel and we are still not able to land in Chicago. We need to refuel so... we are headed to the St. Louis Airport to gas up.  After that we will head back to Chicago and hopefully the weather will give us a break."

It took us 40 minutes to fly to St. Louis and we landed. However, air traffic held us at the edge of the airport because there were no gates available. Captain said we would have to get to a gate when it became available to refuel.  We waited.  

That wait continued for another 2 hours and frustration gave way to grumbling.  St. Louis was no ones destination on this flight and we could not even get off the plane.  There is suddenly a commotion coming from the back of the plane. I hear a flight attendant yelling, "Sir... sir, sit down... keep your seat. We are on an active taxi way... Sir.... Sir."  An Asian man flew past me running toward the cockpit, yelling he had to get off the plane. NOW. He seemed to be in a classic claustrophobia panic attack, and determined to get into the cock pit.  

He was stopped at the galley by two other attendants who struggled with the man ordering him to sit down. He had adrenline fueled strength and was really a hand full for the crew.  I was craning my neck to watch and it seemed to be at the point of no control. Just then a man sitting in the first row bulkhead seat stood up. With out touching the man, and with a calm beautiful voice said, "Hey, Babe, why don't you go back and sit down, they are doing the best they can," 

The man turned on his heels like he was going to punch the guy when he recognized who was speaking.  It was Mel Tormé.  The man stopped immediately and melted like a fan boy with eyes wide open in amazement. He blurted out, "It's Mel Tormé...Mel Tormé... that is Mel Tormé." Mel sat back down. The man turned into a puppy. As if he had seen divinity he calmly walked to the back of the plane repeating... "That was Mel Tormé... Mel Tormé" and took his seat.

In less than half an hour we were at the gate getting fueled up.  We all got to get up and stretch our legs. I had met Mel on several occasions with Harry so I made my way up to the front and said to Mel, "Thanks for saving the flight from being taken over."  After what was then 8 hours locked on this plane Mel says,

"Jay, Babe are you on this flight?"  

Today when every new cycle has a story about violence on various airplanes, it is a shame we don't have more legendary iconic crooners to defuse the situation.  Hope you and Harry are having a good time, up there together,  Mel. I'll see ya both some day.

As you were,