G R A N N Y ' S H I S T O R Y
It's Spring 1964. The country is still recovering from JFK's assassination and the Beatle Invasion is in full force. Song writing medical student Don Altfeld has been studying for hours at Los Angeles County General Hospital. It's almost midnight. He takes a break and jumps in his Corvette and heads toward Pasadena. At midnight on the dot, as he's cruising down Colorado Boulevard, he see's—or thinks he sees—a Granny in a hot '32 Ford coupe wailing down the
The next day he's sitting in Bacteriology class. He scribbles down "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" as a song idea and starts writing lyrics in the margins of his notes.
That night he asks fellow med student and roommate Jan Berry, producer of the singing duo Jan & Dean, what he thinks of the idea. Jan thinks it could be a great song. Don calls friend and lyricist Roger Christian at radio station KFWB. Roger jets over to the boys' apartment in his Cobra and they collaborate on the "Little Old Lady" idea. In about three days they have a complete version of the song.
The timing is good, but almost too good. Jan is scheduled to go into the recording studio in just one more night . . . but he's already got four songs to record, including "Down at Malibu Beach," "My Mighty GTO," "Hey Little Freshman," and "'A' Deuce Goer" (later scrapped). Nevertheless, Jan writes up a quick arrangement—just in case.
March 21, 1964. Western Recorders. Studio Three. More hits have been cut in this room than anywhere. Hal "Mr. Top Ten" Blaine and Earl Palmer are on the drums; Leon Russell is on keyboards; Bill Pitman, Billy Strange, and Tommy Tedesco play guitar; and Ray Pohlman and Jimmy Bond are on bass.
In the sixties the musical tracking sessions would last three hours, and not a second more. Reason being that the "union man" would knock on the door precisely as the second hand would hit the "twelve," marking the end of the third hour. If the session didn't end at that second, it was "overtime pay" for the musicians—which was about triple the ordinary rates.
Jan tracks the first four songs. There are six minutes left until the three-hour deadline is up. Jan rushes out into the room and passes out the sheet music to "Little Old Lady." Take One . . . No good. Take Two is finished as the "union man" starts knocking on the door. It's a wrap for the tracking session.
May 1964. Finishing touches are put on the song, and "The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)" is released as a single three weeks later. It spends the Summer of '64 climbing all the way to Number Three on the Billboard pop charts.
Around the same time that Altfeld and Christian are penning "Little Old Lady," ad man Joe Denker gets an idea for a commercial for the Southern California Dodge Dealers. He goes to the Kohner Agency in Hollywood and casts for a Granny-type. (The Kohner family created the original "Gidget" stories).
The first lady through the door is feisty Kathryn Minner. She's wearing a red shawl, black gloves, and a pair of Keds. Denker thinks she's perfect. He calls Alan Sandler and they start dreaming up wild ideas for a series of ten second commercials.
The first one shows Granny peeling out in a red Superstock Dodge with the number "3" on the side. As she comes to a screeching halt she utters her now memorable line, "Put a Dodge in Your Garage, H-O-N-E-Y." Instant classic.
Jan & Dean feature Granny Kathryn on the cover of their "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" album. She becomes a Southern California celebrity. She's on "Gunsmoke" (Dodge City), The Bob Hope Show, and appears on the highest rated "Dating Game" show ever.
She starts making personal appearances for Chrysler Corporation's high performance engines. She is a favorite of teens, parents, and bikers. Everybody loves The Little Old Lady from Pasadena!
August 1964. The Beach Boys are recording a live concert in Sacramento. They include "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" as one of their songs. The album, Beach Boys Concert, goes gold.
The commercials for the Southern California Dodge Dealers continue. They win a Clio award in their category. Everyone in Southern California is talking about them. Denker tries to get Dodge national to go on the campaign but—no dice.
The commercials end in 1969 as Granny passes peacefully to the beyond.
Med student Don Altfeld has now become Donald J. Altfeld, M.D. and is running, of all things, a music production company.
Jan Berry is going through a slow and painful recovery from a high speed automobile accident that will leave him partially paralyzed for life.
ln the early Seventies Altfeld moves to Maui, Hawaii. Upset over the loss of Granny, his best friend Jan, and his father he decides to go to Hawaii to find himself and to practice medicine.
Altfeld forgets about The Little Old Lady from Pasadena. He doesn't even mention the song to a soul. Just one of those things from the past.
1978. The Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena, California, decides to use "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" as the theme for the Tournament of Roses Parade.
1979. Altfeld is loving Maui but missing music. He meets Texas businessman Ken Kramer, who suggests that if Altfeld can "dream up an idea" for a new business, he will get it financed. Altfeld heads to Carmel, California where, after days of golf, he and radio expert and publisher Bob Hamilton come up with the idea for a national music contest. The contest will be held with radio stations across the country and ask newcomers to send in their tapes so that they can have a chance to crack the big time.
Altfeld thinks that this is his golden opportunity. He'll just sell this idea and live off the royalties. No such luck. He and Hamilton fly off to Texas, where they meet Kramer's backer, Harold H. "Spook" Stream, III (Louisiana oil tycoon and husband of country singer Lynn Anderson).
Stream says "Dr. Altfeld, this is a great idea and I'll back it under one condition . . . You stay here and run it!"
Sensing a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity, Dr. Altfeld calls his wife back on Maui and says " Honey, I'm not coming home." Two weeks later he and Hamilton are driving through Mississippi in a motor home trying to talk radio stations into participating in the contest.
Altfeld finds that station managers couldn't care less that he is a doctor. But they adore the fact that he's the guy who wrote "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena."
Alfeld later uses this credential to sign up stations all across the country to run the contest. It becomes the MILLER HIGH LIFE ROCK TO RICHES Contest, and it's working. Altfeld becomes known as "The Doc of Rock" (or "Dr. Don" to business associates). And he is pleasantly surprised and shocked to find that—just about everywhere he goes across the USA—people know and love "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena."
1983. Altfeld is back in Maui. He and his wife, Christina, decide to begin developing the "Little Old Lady" character for major market licensing potential. A group of friends and associates joins in.
May 1984. A casting call is held at the Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena. The ad in the L.A. Times reads: "Are YOU the Little Old Lady from Pasadena?" The parking lot of the Sheraton is dressed with California's greatest hot rods, as hundreds of Little Old Ladies show up! All of the major networks cover the event.
A decision is needed by midnight so that the photo of the winner can be rushed to Newsweek Magazine, which has agreed to publish the shot. After much deliberation Ethel Sway, a peppery actress, is picked as Little Old Lady from Pasadena II. Lenore Woodward, a columnist for the Pasadena Star News is picked as the first runner-up.
Granny Ethel is filled with show business stories, like the time she was on the set with Ronald Reagan and then-girlfriend Nancy. Or the time that Elvis picked her up in front of a Las Vegas hotel and gave her a ride home. "I've been around the block a few times," Ethel affirms.
Ethel is inaugurated officially at the lagoon of the Kahala Hilton Hotel. Hawaiian Grandmother, "Tutu Nana Veery," gives a blessing in English and Hawaiian.
Granny Ethel then embarks on a whirlwind public appearance schedule for Petersen Publications' Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines.
During the middle of the road tour, Granny Ethel steps aside and Lenore Woodward becomes Little Old Lady from Pasadena III.
Granny Lenore is a "speed walker." She has carried the torch in the Olympics, worked for Whamo Corporation, and writes for the Pasadena newspaper. Interestingly, she is the first Little Old Lady from Pasadena . . . who is actually from Pasadena!
Lenore is a hit at the World Finals of Drag Racing, as she shows up in her hot pink high-top tennies.
She is adorable on a Portland, Oregon television talk show as a five-year-old tells her that his favorite song is the one about; "Go Gwanny, Go Gwanny, Go Gwanny Go."
As 1987 draws to a close, Granny Lenore—feisty as ever—decides to hang up her tennies.
At the first Miller High Life "Rock to Riches" contest, Bon Jovi makes it all the way to the finals, and is tapped on the shoulder to sign their big contract before the finals begin. The next year Edgar Bronfman Jr., a great songwriter himself, picks up the contest (before owning the biggest record company in the world) and makes it "the Seagram's Wine Cooler Talent Search."
Finally, in 1991, Don and his publisher, EMI Music, get Chrysler Corporation to use the song for the introduction to the Dodge VIPER. Good choice.
The late legend Brandon Tartikoff at NBC picked up the story from Dr. Don for an NBC Movie of the Week, but it got lost in development.
In the Nineties, MTV and the Hard Rock Cafe sponsored a Hot Rod Cavalcade down 57th Street where Jan & Dean and Granny arrived in a procession of hot rods. Now that stopped traffic in the Big Apple! Jan's surfboard and Granny's sneakers were permanently installed at the Hard Rock Cafe, New York City. Pasadena also got a pair of Granny's sneakers in a time capsule to be opened in the year 2084.
In 1995, the song joined the coveted "Millionaires Club" at BMI for having achieved over one million performances on the radio. Granny is now on the way to her second million.
In 1996, the Walt Disney Company honored Granny by including the song in Mickey Travel Songs for the kids' CD. The song is currently on more than a dozen commercially available CDs.
In 1999, the song was included on Stephen Spielberg's "Animaniacs."
In the year 2001, the "Granny of the Year Contest" kicked off in Southern California to find the new Little Old Lady from Pasadena. And contests kicked off in cities across the USA, as the Grannies competed to see who will be crowned "Granny of the Year."
In 2002, Granny and the
Girls are planning to go to Dodge for a major campaign in 2003!