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Ya doesn’t has to call me.

Things I do while I am sitting at home during a week off from work:

Check the archives of major American publications for past coverage of Ray J. Johnson, to see how they covered the character’s brief moment in the pop culture spotlight.

(Just to be sure I do not miss anything, I am also searching for “Ray Jay Johnson” and for “Bill Saluga,” the comedian who gave us the Johnson persona.)

The results …

Chicago Tribune

No mentions of “Ray Jay Johnson” in the archive of the World’s Greatest Newspaper, and the only mention of “Ray J. Johnson” is a 1949 reference to a public speaker representing a now-defunct college in southern Illinois.

Saluga gets two passing mentions — one in 1970 and one in 1974, both well before Johnson’s late-’70s pop-cultural heyday.

The 1970 piece is particularly of its time: It’s a hey-look-at-these-wacky-kids profile of the Ace Trucking Company, the comedy troupe featuring Saluga (and Fred Willard, among others.) The writer notes that Saluga doesn’t say much between puffs on his cigar — a contrast with the voluble Johnson, who wouldn’t stop talking between puffs on his cigar.

New York Times

Saluga gets mentioned three or four times between 1978 and 1980, always in reference to comedy/variety shows on which he is appearing.

(TV writer Tom Buckley, in December 1980, describing “The Steve Allen Comedy Hour”: “There is also a group of regulars, among whom are Nancy Steen, a young comedienne of promise, and Foster Brooks and Bill Saluga, who have become overly familiar in recent years.” Ouch! You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay, but you doesn’t hasta call me “overly familiar.”)

Nothing for Ray J. or Ray Jay Johnson, so I try Raymond J. Johnson Jr., and don’t get any bites there either.

Billboard magazine

A search for Saluga turns up a review of a July 1970 Ace Trucking performance at New York’s Bitter End, with the Manhattan Transfer, of all people, opening … a 1979 A&M Records full-page ad in which Saluga is credited as one of the artists “who make black radio one of the most exciting and explosive forms of music today” (wha’?) … and a 1988 mention of Saluga’s appearance in somebody’s home video.

No luck searching for any of the Johnson variations … and also no bites for “Dancin’ Johnson,” Saluga’s novelty single, which must not have nosed its way onto any Billboard charts.

Youngstown Vindicator

OK, the Vindy is not among America’s largest or most celebrated papers. But since Saluga comes from Youngstown, I thought he might show up in the archives somewhere.

Not really. The only mention of Saluga is from a 2008 discussion forum thread of celebrities from Youngstown. After various wiseasses and trolls weigh in (“My wife is a porn star … Does that count?”), some exasperated soul cuts and pastes the entire content of the Wikipedia page on famous people from Youngstown, including Saluga.

Ah, for the days when people actually thought online reader-comment areas on news sites were going to be good for something.

Washington Post

Mostly TV listings; one or two mentions of Saluga in the Post’s TV column circa 1978.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Los Angeles Times; Baltimore Sun

Online archives are either inaccessibly b0rked, or do not extend back to the 1970s.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Profiled Bill Saluga in December 1979 but keeps its archives behind a paywall.

Nobel Prizewinners for literature

Well, yes, we do have one mention there.


2 responses »

  1. This right here is the Platonic idea of an engaging blog post: an interesting discussion of something a reader could not have imagined being interested in before he read it. Well done.


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