One man's discovery of a treasure trove of Vietnam War-era memorabilia has spurred the creation of an online museum commemorating one of the longest-running variety shows in the history of the armed forces.
The man was Ace Lundon, and he has become the curator of The Vietnam Jean London Show, a 60-page Web site highlighting in photos and words the days of The Jean London Show, which entertained 750,000 Vietnam warriors from 1966-72.
The Camp Pendleton, California-based live production featured Lundon as master of ceremonies and showcased a parade of comedy skits, musical performances, and pinup girls, a cavalcade that included Yvonne De Carlo, Rhonda Fleming, and Lundon's then-wife, Jean London, at center stage.
It all started when Lundon got a call in January 2005 from the editor of the magazine VVA Veteran. He wanted photos and suggested the show's online immortalization. So Lundon began to create the Web site, first giving himself a crash course in the new technology.
"I knew nothing about the Internet and had moved like 82,000 times--once after my garage in West Hollywood was flooded," said Lundon, 69, who now lives in his native South Dakota. "I didn't think there were still any photos floating around."
Two weeks later while rummaging through a closet, he discovered about 400 negatives--many with mold around them--that had been at the bottom of a box for 30 years.
After futile trips to a host of photo labs that insisted the negatives were too old to print, Lundon left 60 of them with a tiny backwoods shop in South Dakota as a last resort. What he got back were black-and-white prints depicting such celebrities as Aldo Ray, Ann B. Davis (Alice from The Brady Bunch), and original Mousketeer Sherri Alberoni taking pictures, shaking hands, and posing with US troops.
"Holy mackerel! There really is something here," Lundon recalls thinking.
Initially, Lundon was daunted by the cost and technology involved, but he also was lucky enough to find a helping hand at every step along the way.
When he learned that each negative would cost $2.50 to print and realized that the expense of processing hundreds of frames would be overwhelming, he ran into Steve Babbitt, director of the photography department at Black Hills State University. Babbitt and his students printed the photos for free as part of a school project.
Then Lundon sought out longtime friend Joseph Marino, who worked at St. Francis Indian School in South Dakota, where Lundon had been involved in American Indian causes over the years.
Marino, originally from San Diego, offered his expertise with the Internet as a way to honor his own relatives that were in the war.
With $500 he raised and the help of Babbitt and Marino, Lundon created a window to the past on the Web.
"Anything worthwhile has always been done by more than one person," Lundon said. "If the road doesn't go uphill, I don't know if there's a road at all."
With its abundance of pictures and Lundon's commentary, the site has become a tribute to the military men and women who served in the Vietnam War and to the celebrities who entertained them.
"Those in the industry were called a lot of names during that war, but when it came to entertaining our troops, the sentiment was 'those are our boys' and that was that," Lundon said.
Now he is in the process of getting the site inducted into the Library of Congress archives. It already has been accepted by the Vietnam-era section of the South Dakota State Historical Society. Lundon said his goal is for all 750,000 veterans who saw the show to find themselves in the many crowd shots on the site.
"You don't know what those shows meant to us," wrote one 57-year-old veteran from Southern California after visiting the site. "It's what kept us sane. I always knew there would be a show when I left Pendleton and when I got back."
For Victoria Meyerink, a trouper on the 1960s CBS variety series The Danny Kaye Show, the site amounts to "an easily accessible digital time capsule" that has brought back many happy memories of bus rides and performances.
"We'd all load on the bus together somewhere in Hollywood with Ace as our ringleader," recalled Meyerink, who at the time was pegged the show's "little sister junior pinup." "Once leaving a show, I remember a Marine chasing after the bus to give me his jacket. He said, 'You remind me of my little sister at home, he said, and I want you to have it.'"