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Archive for July, 2017

Sometimes you have to go a long way to get find out about important news taking place close to home.

Such was the case today with a routine, second-quarter earnings report from the McClatchy Co., based in Sacramento.

On the third page of the nine-page report, came a stunning announcement about the Kansas City Star’s most valuable piece of real estate, its press pavilion at 17th and McGee.

“On July 12, 2017, the company (McClatchy) entered into an agreement with R2 Capital, LLC to buy the Kansas City Star’s production facility, which will be structured as a sales leaseback transaction.”

Now, it’s been no secret that McClatchy had put not only the press pavilion but also The Star’s headquarters building at 1729 Grand up for sale several months ago. And back in March, publisher Tony Berg told editorial employees that the company had a buyer for the headquarters building.

But to the best of my knowledge The Star has not reported either sale. That seems very odd, doesn’t it?

One thing The Star has always been particularly good at is reporting real estate developments. And yet, it doesn’t report its own deals…I don’t know why Berg has not given the go-ahead to one or more stories about these sales, but, to me, it damages The Star’s credibility: You report on everybody else’s deals but not your own?

…The Star’s reportorial shortcomings aside, here are some things many people will probably want to know about these two deals:

:: The release said the transactions are expected to close later this year and bring McClatchy a total of about $42 million…The total asking price for both buildings had been $46 million, and the asking price for the press pavilion — which cost $200 million to build a decade ago — was believed to be about $30 million. The Star will lease back the press pavilion and continue to operate it and also transfer its editorial operation there.

:: The release gives no details about R2 Capital, but former KC Star business reporter Julius Karash, who has been tracking the sale of The Star’s buildings, found an R2 Capital company based in Chicago, which appears to be the likely buyer. R2 Capital, formerly known as South Street Capital, owns and operates more than 1.5 million square feet of commercial real estate in Chicago and Minneapolis. 

:: The release identified the buyer of the headquarters building as “1729 Grand Boulevard LLC” — a creation of a local company called 3D Development. In an online story today, Kansas City Business Journal reporter Rob Roberts says 3D specializes in historic redevelopment. It has been involved, Roberts said, in numerous projects, “including the office conversions of the historic Corrigan Building at 1828 Walnut St., the Creamery building at 2100 Central St. and the Candle Building at 2101 Broadway.” It is not clear what 3D is planning to do with the headquarters building, although Berg told the editorial employees back in March that it was headed for commercial and residential redevelopment. As part of the deal, 3D is also purchasing surface parking lots north and south of the headquarters building, and a 3D official told Roberts a hotel was a possibility on one of the lots and a multi-story parking lot — for Crossroads District customers — on the other.

**

I indicated earlier that I communicated with Julius Karash about these real estate transactions, and I asked him to weigh in on them.

Here’s what Julius had to say:

Julius Karash

“It may come as a shock to some that McClatchy expects to garner only $42 million from the sale of the two Kansas City Star buildings, when it spent $200 million on the printing plant alone. Is that a good deal on the face of it? No. But I doubt that anyone could get a better deal, considering the state of the industry. Newspapers all over the country have been selling off their properties in an effort to bring in desperately needed cash. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been trying to sell its headquarters building for more than two years.

“McClatchy took on $2 billion in debt when it bought The Star and the other former Knight Ridder papers in 2006. Today’s second quarter earnings release says debt at the end of the second quarter was down to $858.7 million and that the company finished the quarter with $8.4 million in cash, resulting in net debt of $850.3 million. The company also has a $65 million revolving line of credit.

“…McClatchy revenues continue to slide southward. Total revenues were down 7.1 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago, despite the fact that digital-only advertising revenues grew by 10 percent and digital-only audience revenues were up 6.7 percent.

“The Star is producing damn good journalism, and McClatchy is fighting like hell to survive. The news release says the company ‘remains committed to reducing operating expenses.’ We know the kind of pain that can cause.

“Only time will tell if these real estate sales and other measures will help The Star and McClatchy achieve a long-term future…I sure hope so.”

…As disappointed and puzzled as I am about The Star’s failure to report its own big real-estate deals, I join Julius in hoping McClatchy gets that debt down and that both McClatchy and The Star become financially successful at some point.

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One thing that infuriates voters is a proposed tax that appears to be applied unfairly, with average-income people paying their share and wealthy people getting a break.

A story in today’s Kansas City Star raises that specter in regard to the owners of condominiums at the Walnuts, 5049 Wornall, one of the most prestigious addresses in the city.

It seems that if voters within the proposed, expanded streetcar district approve establishment of the district, condo owners at the Walnuts would be getting a pass, while nearby owners of much-lower-priced residences would see their property tax bills go up.

The vast majority of condos in the Walnuts, built in 1929, go for $1 million and up, while most houses in the area probably sell in the range of $150,000 to $300,000.

But somehow, as The Star’s Lynn Horsley reported today, when the property-tax district lines were drawn, the Walnuts was conveniently omitted.

Let me walk you through the geography here…

The expanded streetcar line would end at 51st and Brookside. The Walnuts sits just off 51st Street between Wyandotte, a lightly traveled street, and Wornall, obviously a major thoroughfare.

Going from east to west, the property-tax district would go up the 51st Street hill and across Main but then would screech to a halt at little old Wyandotte, a block shy of Wornall.

By any kind of logic, Wornall would seem to be the natural breaking point, not only because Wornall is such a major corridor but also because, west of Wornall on 51st, you run into Loose Park and Pembroke Hill School.

…So, what could have prompted the planners to exclude a rich lode like the Walnuts, where condo residents could easily afford whatever property-tax hike is involved. (And, by the way, if I hear of a Walnuts condo owner whining, “But I’m on a fixed income,” I’m going to personally root them out and egg their unit, if I can sneak past the damn doorman.)

But back to the question of “how did this happen?”

Horsley said some people had suggested that the Walnuts complex was left out of the assessment zone because influential people, such as former mayor Kay Barnes, live there.

Well, now, that’s interesting…It’s also worth noting that Barnes got remarried a couple of years ago to Tom Van Dyke, an attorney with the highly regarded Bryan Cave firm.

Kay’s a gracious lady and was a great mayor, and Tom seems to be a nice guy. I like them both and see them at Country Club Christian Church, where they are members and I’m a regular attendee. (I also make an annual monetary pledge, for the record.)

David Johnson, one of the two men who drew the lines for the property-tax district, told Horsley the boundaries had “absolutely nothing to do with where Kay Barnes lives.”

“I didn’t even know where she lived,” he said. “I thought she still lived in Briarcliff.”

Well, maybe it wasn’t just Barnes’ address that made a difference with Johnson and attorney Doug Stone, the other man involved in drawing the lines. The Walnuts has more than 100 units, with a lot of very rich and influential residents. I can see where a few well-placed calls from those people or on their behalf could have prompted Johnson and Stone to place the pencil on Wyandotte instead of Wornall.

The Walnuts

Johnson told Horsley his and Stone’s main objective was to include properties within walking distance of the streetcar line. Horsley apparently didn’t press Johnson on this, but is he suggesting the people living in the Walnuts aren’t within walking distance of 51st and Brookside?

Hell, from Brookside to Wyandotte it’s five blocks! To Wornall, it’s six!

…Unfortunately, Horsley’s story might have appeared too late to make a significant difference. Mail-in ballots that were sent to people living within the expanded streetcar district — which is larger than the special property-tax district — are due Aug. 1. The ballots went out a month ago, and many of the 5,700 people eligible to vote may well have sent them back by now.

Even if voters approve the expanded district, more elections would be required to actually impose the higher property taxes, as well as a higher sales tax within the district. Horsely told me today it’s possible the property-tax lines could be adjusted before everything is finalized, but I gathered that was unlikely.

Too bad. I’d hate to see Kay and Tom and all those other rich folks at the Walnuts get away without paying the higher property tax that would help support the expansion.

As Jackie Chiles, the hilarious attorney on “Seinfeld” would say: “It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous.”

You said, it Jackie…

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One thing that easily discourages newspaper readers, and understandably so, is stories that leave them saying, “Huh?”

Such a story — an update on the Tour de France — appeared in the print edition of Monday’s KC Star sports section.

The complete, online version contained all the key information readers needed to know, but the print version was a meat-cleaver job.

I haven’t been following the tour closely, but I did know that defending champion Chris Froome of Britain had been leading. So, when I saw the headline on Monday’s Associated Press story — “Tour bike problem nearly derails Froome” — I was interested.

Here’s how the story began:

If Chris Froome rides into Paris next Sunday with the Tour de France’s famed yellow jersey still on his shoulders, it will be impossible to argue that he didn’t earn the win.

In another day of drama Sunday in a 104th Tour full of twists, Froome broke a back-wheel spoke at the worst possible time on Stage 15 — just as his top rivals were picking up speed in front of him going into yet another punishing climb.

With that set-up, the average reader would have at least two questions:

— Did Froome retain the yellow jersey, as overall tour leader, after the wheel mishap?

— If so, what is his overall lead? If not, how far behind is he?

The story went on for seven more paragraphs, but, in its poorly edited version, it failed to answer either of those questions. Instead, the reader was whiplashed one way and another, leaving the overall race status unaddressed.

For example, there was a Froome quote with a weird introduction…

“Panic stations,” he said. “I really thought that that could be the yellow jersey changing shoulders again.”

“Panic stations?” What the…? Why quote that? It doesn’t track.

That was immediately followed by a curious use of imagery…

“Like a hound chasing prey, Froome hared off after Romain Bardet…”

I suppose the writer was using the verb “hare” in the sense of the tortoise and the hare. But, then, why bring in the hound?

There was one more brain twister…

“Earlier at the Tour, Froome’s rivals had waited for the race leader to catch them back up when he suffered another mechanical problem, that one with his gears.”

“…catch them back up”?  

One factor in the odd phraseology is that the writers — John Leicester and Samuel Petrequin — are Englishmen. (I had to look that up to verify it.) I have never seen an American writer use the word “hare” as a verb. And maybe that “catch-them-back-up” thing is peculiarly British.

Nevertheless, whoever was editing that story down at 18th and Grand in KCMO, USA, should have edited the story so it made sense.

For the record, Froome fought back from the mishap and managed to hold onto the yellow jersey. Going into the final days of racing, Froome had an 18-second lead over Fabio Aru of Italy.

…Just like the Royals send players down to AAA Omaha sometimes, KC Star management should send the editor of the offensive Monday morning story to the minor leagues of journalism for more training. He or she needs to “catch them back up.”

**

On the Kansas City Star Bylines Facebook page, former KC Star employee Krys Reese referenced a very questionable classified ad that appeared in Monday’s paper.

It was listed as a “business oppty.” Beneath a photo of a man in a cowboy hat, the ad began like this: “American Big Money, Earn big Money Part-Time From Home Mailing our Full-Color Sales Postcards.”

It went on to say that for an investment of a mere $193 — for post cards and stamps — people could be up and running in business. Didn’t say exactly what the business was or how the investors were going to make money…In other words, it’s a scam. And somebody ought to call the cops — on The Star, for starters.

As Krys Reese said on Facebook, “McClatchy must be desperate for every cent.”

**

Many of you will remember the Missouri Transportation Department’s “Arrive Alive” campaign, which encouraged the use of defensive driving techniques to reduce wrecks.

Well, it’s time for Kansas City area residents to go beyond defensive driving and just get off area interstates as much as possible, until this current spate of highway construction projects is finished.

I’m sure many of you know by now that we had another giant, fiery, rear-end-precipitated crash yesterday — this one occurring on eastbound I-435 at U.S. 69 (Metcalf) in Overland Park. And, yes, this five-vehicle smash-up involved a tractor-trailer, as did the one that killed five people last week on I-70 near Tonganoxie.

The Star reports that in the latest crash two people were taken to hospitals, one with critical burns. The Star said it was not clear which vehicle began the chain-reaction crash.

I said the other day I’ve adjusted my driving habits to stay off area interstates as much as possible, and I urge all local residents to do the same, at least for now. There’s no place in our area you can’t get to by taking city streets and secondary highways. For now, we area residents should wave the white flag, turn the highways over to the truckers and cross-country travelers and “arrive alive” at our destinations. Believe me, we all have the time…

 

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My fellow Americans, I have suggestion for you this summer of 2017: Avoid Interstate 70 westbound between downtown and the toll station a few miles past Kansas 7.

As you know, an almost unimaginable crash on I-70 at 174th Street (see map) took the lives of five people Tuesday. It was entirely preventable: An 18-wheeler being driven by a Texas man who was going too fast and not paying attention slammed into two vehicles, killing their occupants. His rig bulldozed on, pushing a third vehicle under another 18-wheeler, killing the occupant of the submerged vehicle.

The three vehicles that were on the receiving end of 56-year-old Kenny Ford’s “special delivery” were all at rest, stopped in traffic for construction just east of the toll station. (On the map, the toll station is where the eastbound and westbound lanes separate, just past 182nd Street.)

Ford has not yet been charged with any violations. It may be difficult to determine his speed because, from the way it sounds, there wasn’t much braking. A Kansas Highway Patrol lieutenant told The Star Ford “wasn’t paying attention ahead of him.” That makes me think he was doing one of three things — texting, playing dial-a-tune or dozing. Exactly what he was doing will probably come out at some point.

Being a curious sort, I felt compelled to drive out there Friday and see the crash site and surrounding area for myself.

What I found, both westbound and eastbound, scared the crap out of me.

…Driving westbound from Kansas City, before reaching K-7, I began noticing a slowdown in the eastbound lanes. Traffic was backing up, single file, amid dust and periodic bursts of orange cones. As I proceeded west, I saw that the eastbound tie-up extended at least two or three miles, and I decided that after I had finished my westbound reconnaissance, I would get off at the first possible exit and catch eastbound State Avenue to avoid the tie-up.

I was traveling about 65 in a 70 mph zone, and as I proceeded, several cars whizzed past me going 80 or more.

The numbered streets (174th, 182nd, for example) are not marked along the interstate, so I didn’t know exactly where 174th crossed. I was on the lookout, however, for “a slight rise,” a term that The Star had used in describing the location of the wreck.

In the general area where I thought the wreck took place, I came upon a gradual upswing and then, suddenly, I was there, traversing the spot where the crash had taken place. It was an ugly black patch, long and wide, and the wheels of my Ford Fusion rumbled as I crossed it. It was like driving over the world’s biggest scab.

About half a mile or so farther west, I came upon the construction zone — minimal on Friday, anyway — that had brought traffic to a dead halt three days earlier. That was just shy of the toll station. Wanting to make sure I had correctly identified the site of the wreck, I asked the toll clerk where it had occurred. “You missed it,” she said, pointing back to where I had just been.

By then, traffic was flowing normally in the eastbound lanes, across the highway. I took the Tonganoxie-Eudora exit and got back on I-70, now heading back toward town.

After clearing the toll booth again, I went along smoothly for maybe a half mile and then saw, not far ahead, indications of a significant wreck. Three vehicles were involved, and it could not have occurred more than four or five minutes before. Both eastbound lanes of I-70 were blocked because of debris in the roadway. Two cars, one badly damaged, were off in the ditch, and another was parked in the emergency lane. Two or three people were sitting on the hillside, above the ditch, and they were being comforted by several people who were standing. Fortunately, it didn’t look like anyone was seriously injured, and no sirens were sounding.

Once I cleared that wreck, I drove maybe half a mile before catching up to the eastbound slowdown I had seen on the trip out. Then it dawned on me: The wreck I had just passed had undoubtedly been triggered by one vehicle failing to stop in time for slowed or stopped traffic. Shades of Kenny Ford and his 18-wheeler three days earlier. 

Crawling along, I got off a few minutes later at K-7 and went north to State Avenue. No problem there. The speed limit was 50, and traffic flowed freely in each direction. It was enjoyable, too. The sights I took in included Kansas Speedway, Children’s Mercy Park, CommunityAmerica Park and Cerner west. Seeing the massive racetrack facility reminded me how the KCK chamber of commerce’s “Our Hearts Are Racing” video had convinced Nascar officials, more than 15 years ago, to build in KCK — and how that led to the ensuing, incredible development at the northwest quadrant of I-435 and I-70 quadrant.

At I-435, I took a chance on being past the eastbound I-70 tie-up and got back on the turnpike. I had guessed right; the slowdown was now behind me.

At that point, I started watching the posted speed limit signs. At I-435 it was 70. At 78th Street, 70; at I-635, same. Not ’til I got to 18th Street Expressway, just six miles from downtown Kansas City, did it drop to 65.

…My fellow Americans, people drive too fuckin’ fast. And they don’t — sometimes can’t — slow down fast enough. The speed limits are way too high around our major metropolitan areas. In my opinion, it should be 60 within 25 miles of every big city’s downtown. That would be a good first step that would save a lot of lives.

Can’t we slow down… just a little…to save lives?

A lower speed limit west of K-7 might have saved the lives of the five souls Kenny Ford obliterated last Tuesday:

  • Teresa J. Butler, 61, of Urbana, Illinois
  • Karen L. Kennedy, 63, of New Palestine, Indiana
  • Ricardo Mireles, 38, of Topeka, Kansas
  • Sheldon Cohen, 83, of Topeka, Kansas
  • Virginia Cohen, 79, of Topeka, Kansas

Kenny, of course, wasn’t seriously hurt; he was ridin’ high and wide when hurtling toward that construction zone.

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Jim Nutter, a great Kansas Citian and an even better human being, had his “HomeGoing” today at Country Club Christian Church, 61st Terrace and Ward Parkway.

I walked over to the funeral with a good friend, Kaler Bole, who, like me, was an admirer or Nutter’s big heart, which expressed itself partly in his unconditional and uninhibited generosity.

Nearly everyone who knew Nutter has his or her own story about a cause he gave to or a person he helped.

(Mine is about a contribution he made early this year to the public-private drive to renovate Meyer Circle Fountain. When I first called, asking for a contribution, Nutter noted that he had already pledged $300,000 toward renovation of the fountain at the eastern end of Meyer Boulevard. “I’ve done more than my fair share,” he said, but added that, nevertheless, he would give $1,000 for Meyer Circle. When I called him back a few weeks later to arrange pick-up, he said, “Make it $5,000.”)

Today, two family members and two close friends got to tell their Jim Nutter stories to several hundred people gathered in the Country Club Christian Church sanctuary, where Jim and his wife Annabel were longtime members.

The speakers were: grandson Russ Moore; longtime friend Dr. Harry Jonas; U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver; and Jim Nutter Jr., who has been president for several years of the mortgage banking firm his father founded, James B. Nutter & Co.

Here are some eulogy highlights:

Russ Moore

Russ is only 24 or 25 but talks and carries himself like he’s much older. He is the son of Jim and Annabel’s only daughter, Nancy Moore, who died of breast cancer in 2004, when Russ was 11 years old. After the death of his mother, who was divorced, Russ went to live with his grandparents, and Nutter profoundly influenced Russ.

Russ spoke of seeing Nutter’s compassion first-hand and of his grandfather’s belief that the “reverberation of compassion” was not only good for business but “good for the heart.”

“He was a giant and a champion of the common people,” Russ said. “He was my personal champion…My grandfather was the father I never had.”

Harry Jonas

Back in the early 1970s, when I was a young reporter covering the Jackson County Courthouse, Jonas was one of the initial members of the Jackson County Legislature, after the county went to home-rule government, instead of being politically beholden to the state.

Jonas, whose friendship with Nutter goes back to those days, noted that Nutter was a strong Democrat and contributed primarily to Democratic candidates. He added, however, “He never hesitated to support good Republicans, like our three-term mayor, Dick Berkley.”

(Berkley, now in his mid-80s and very weak, was at the funeral.)

Jonas said that Nutter, despite battling a variety of health problems the last decade or so, “never lost his enthusiasm and his commitment to a life of doing good.”

“Jim,” Jonas said in closing, “we love you, and you will always be Mr. Kansas City.”

Emanuel Cleaver

Cleaver started his eulogy with an anecdote about inadvertently having left his backyard gate open recently and then watching the family’s 125-pound dog running out of the yard — “with what I interpreted as a smile on his face.”

“What has that got to do with Jim Nutter?” Cleaver said. “Let me explain.”

He went on to say that Nutter had gamboled through life without strictures or restraints, liberally helping others and following his own weathervane. “Thank God somebody left the gate open for Jim Nutter,” Cleaver said.

Jim Nutter Jr. 

Jim Sr. was legendary for his long conversations, either on the telephone or in person, and it was hard to cut him off partly because he was so animated and enthusiastic in his story telling. After mounting the steps to the church pulpit and pulling papers from his inside coat pocket, Jim Jr. deftly alluded to that, saying, “Have you got time for one more story?”

He went on to talk about his father’s “uncanny sense of business, numbers and people.” And he recalled how his father urged him to “try to understand people by taking a walk in their shoes.”

In a beautiful touch, Jim Jr. recounted the highlights of his father’s last day on earth, last Friday.

For lunch he had a sandwich that had been brought to his home from the Capital Grille on the Plaza. After that, he watched some TV and read that day’s Kansas City Star. Then, he laid down for a nap.

And that was that.

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As you “up-to-date” Kansas Citians are well aware, we lost two business and civic titans in recent days — mortgage banker, philanthropist and political kingmaker Jim Nutter Sr. and Cerner co-founder Neal Patterson.

Maybe you saw their obituaries in The Star. Nutter’s ran yesterday and Patterson’s yesterday and today. (It won’t run again tomorrow.)

One interesting element of the obituaries is that, because of the closeness of the first letters of their last names, their obits ran side by side, straddling two pages. Had both obits been on the same page, they would have taken up nearly the entire page.

What many of you might not know is how significant a source of revenue the obits are for the print editions of The Star and other major daily papers. The Star began charging for obituaries many years ago, before significant reader migration to the Internet and the over-the-cliff plunge in classified advertising. What The Star — and probably many other papers — expected to be bonus income from obituaries in the end turned out to be a lifesaver.

The Nutter and Patterson obituaries made The Star a pretty penny, indeed. More about that in a minute, but first here are The Star’s obit rates:

:: First eight lines, free

:: Nine to 11 lines, $114

:: 12 to 15 lines, $170

:: Every additional five lines, $39

:: Half-column photo, $100; full-column photo, $125

By my calculations, each full page of obituaries generates about $6,000 in revenue. Wednesday and Sunday are the biggest days for obituaries, and today’s obits took up about two and a half pages — meaning The Star made about $15,000 on today’s obits.

Now, to Nutter and Patterson…

The Nutter obituary ran 479 lines, at a cost to the family of $3,800. The one-column photo pushed the cost to $3,900.

Patterson’s obituary, at 300 lines, cost the family $2,500 Day One, about $1,450 Day Two (with a second-day discount) and about $200 in photo fees.

One of my early editors told me to never make the reader do the math, so the grand total for both obits, with pictures, was about $8,000.

Those guys are certainly worth the ink, and I’m sure their families aren’t complaining about the price. Both guys made fortunes.

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On days like this — housebound by heat, just hangin’ around — I often entertain myself by going to YouTube and listening to oldies. And being a hopeless romantic (and kid at heart), I tend to home in on some of those great droopy-drawers songs from the early ’60s.

Sometimes I start with one song in mind and then meander to others, finally settling on one.

Such was the way I landed on a great oldie by The Lettermen, “The Way You Look Tonight.”

Come along, trace my footsteps…

Several days ago, something triggered in my head the old song “I’ve Got Your Number.” I couldn’t quite remember who did it — or, more correctly, whose version was going through my head. A YouTube search revealed it to be Peggy Lee, who recorded it in 1964.

Fantastic song…Listen…I love the opening three lines…

I’ve got your number
I know you inside out
You ain’t no Eagle Scout

I listened to it several times, then a YouTube list of songs from the same era diverted my attention to Frank Sinatra’s version of “The Way You Look Tonight.”

If you’re a Baby Boomer, like me, that song could well have special appeal for you: It has a rich history of making many a Boomer swoon for a boy or girl…or ache for lack of one.

…I’ve said before that high school was the loneliest period of my life: I was a good Catholic boy, going to an all-boys prep school in Louisville, feeling the rush of desire for contact with girls but not having much idea where to find them or what to do on the rare occasion I did.

So, it mostly came down to longing and imagining. Lots of it. Sinatra’s version, upbeat, hints at it. But it’s The Lettermen’s version — syrupy, yes, but irresistible, at least for me — that grabs the heart and squeezes ’til it almost cries.

The song is imbued with a special magic partly because it was written by the great Jerome Kern (1885-1945), with lyrics by Dorothy Fields (1905-1974). Kern wrote it for the 1936 movie “Swing Time,” starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, working in Kern’s Beverly-Wilshire suite

In the movie, Astaire’s character, “Lucky” Garnett, sings the song to Rogers’ character, Penny Carroll, through a closed door, while Penny is washing her hair in the bathroom. You might wonder how that setting could be romantic, but check it out…

As good as Astaire’s original was, it was The Lettermen’s version that struck at the hearts of us Baby Boomers and our feelings of longing, inadequacy and uncertainty — or, perhaps, connection, or missed opportunity.

The Lettermen

The Lettermen recorded it in 1961. It was their first big hit. I was either a freshman or sophomore in high school. The record climbed to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles in the U.S. and to No. 36 in the United Kingdom. How it didn’t get to No. 1 in the U.S., I don’t know, probably because The Lettermen were unknown before then.

…I’m not alone in the powerful emotions the song triggers. The proof is in the scores of comments written on the YouTube pages that feature The Lettermen’s version.

Here’s a sample…

Topaz Dupree (one year ago): My husband and I were married September 30, 1961. We stopped at a diner that evening for a snack, and he played this song over and over on the jukebox. It’s a very special memory.

Tandy Warwick (four years ago): I have great memories of this song (from) 12-31-70. I was dancing with my first love that night and to this song, and even though we’re not together any more, this one song plays in my head each New Year’s Eve.

Reg Dunlop (two years ago): Dancing cheek to cheek.

J. Puglisi (two years ago): Finally a slow song. I’m gonna ask her to dance.

Michael Hickey (one year ago, writing in response to Puglisi): I did, she was my first love and I think of her often to this day.

Frank Oakes (one year ago): This recording, I am sure, brought along my 3rd child. Dancing with my wife…Oh, my.

Chuck Ranker (two years ago): Married in 1965 and lost her July 2012. Will never recover but it’s OK.

Terilynn Wells (one year ago): Washing your hair, setting it on horrible brush curlers; sitting under a dryer with a hood, painting your nails with Revlon’s “Hot Pink”; then teasing the crap out of it, spraying it, putting on a Bobbie Brooks outfit…It all went to pieces — JFK’s trip to Dallas in in Nov. ’63, then Vietnam.”

Tim Drumm (five months ago): Brother, did these guys ever — truly — capture the phenomenal story line, the motion of love, in this classic.

Ah, yes, the motion of love. Listen. Feel it… 

Keep that breathless charm.
Won’t you please arrange it
Cause I love you…just the way you look tonight.

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