"George P. Oslin, 97, Father of Singing Telegram, is Dead
"by Eric Pace
"George P. Oslin, the Western Union executive who
created that durable art form, the singing telegram, in
the grim Depression year of 1933, died on Thursday at his
home in Delray Beach, Fla. He was 97.
"Mr. Oslin is credited with sending history's first
singing telegram == sung by a Western Union operator named
Lucille Lipps == to the star vocalist Rudy Vallee on July
28, 1933, which was Vallee's birthday.
"At that magical moment, Mr. Oslin was the public
relations director of Western Union, then based in New
York. He held the post for 35 years, retiring in 1964.
"In an interview after he died, his wife, Susanna
Meigs Oslin, noted that by the time Lucille Lipps sounded
her first note, telegrams had come to convey mixed
associations. During World War I, Mrs. Oslin noted, 'To a
lot of people, the telegram was a scary thing because it
meant you were being told you lost a loved one.'
"And Mr. Oslin recalled in 1993 that back in 1933 he
had thought that he had to convince people 'that messages
should be fun.' But he reported in his book *The Story of
Telecommunications* (1992, Mercer), that when he invented
the singing telegram 'I was angrily informed that I was
making a laughingstock of the company.'
"Mr. Oslin also liked to accentuate the positive in
singing-telegram history. He once said that the message
he sent to Vallee == which was chronicled by the newspaper
columnist Walter Winchell == 'started America on a zany
"Western Union 'made millions' in the years that
followed, Mr. Oslin later reported, with messages being
sung to numerous well-loved tunes. But it has been said
that declining demand and curtailment in the number of
telegraph offices led the company to discontinue its
singing-telegram services temporarily in 1974.
"In 1980, Western Union returned to the singing-
telegram business, but nowadays Western Union will only
sing a singing telegram, over the telephone, to one tune,
'Happy Birthday' == although the customer, of course, gets
to compose the lyrics. The cost begins at $16.95, plus
applicable taxes, for a singing telegram of 1 to 15 words
sing to a recipient in the United States.
"Stagedoor Johnnies may want to know that all Western
Union's telegram-singers do their work these days in
Paul Di Filippo (firstname.lastname@example.org)