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Dead medium: the Singing Telegram; the death of George P. Oslin
From: (Paul Di Filippo)
Source(s): New York Times Obituaries, Tuesday October 29, 1996

"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

musical binge.'


"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

Bridgeton, Missouri."

Paul Di Filippo (