Vocalist Art Lund had a long and successful show business career that took him far beyond the concert stage. A star college football player, he worked as a high school coach before deciding to make singing his profession. First finding fame with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, he started off his solo career with a bang, scoring a number one hit. By the mid-1950s, however, his career was in a slump, and he turned to the Broadway stage, where he appeared in two of the most popular musical comedies of that decade. He later shifted his focus to become a dramatic actor in film and on television.
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Lund had an interest in both music and sports at an early age. His father, an amateur cellist, was president of the Amateur Athletic Union. From fall 1933 to sping 1935, Lund attended Westminster Junior College, located in his hometown, where he was a member of the football, boxing, and track teams. He then received an athletic scholarship from Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College in Richmond, Kentucky, which he attended from fall 1935 to spring 1937. Nicknamed “Big Red”, because of the color of his hair, Lund was the school’s star football player, earning a spot on the All-State team at halfback.
While at Eastern Kentucky, Lund began to sing, putting together his own five-piece combo and winning a state amateur talent contest. After graduating college, he spent a year teaching math and biology at Washington High School in Maysville, Kentucky, where he coached football, basketball, boxing, and softball. Lund quit teaching in spring 1938 to focus on singing as a career, joining Little Joe Hart’s band mid-year and becoming a featured performer. He left Hart in December 1939 for Jimmy Joy, where he began using the professional name Art London. He married Kathleen Bolanz of Washington, D.C., in July 1940. They had first met when her parents had taken her to hear Hart’s band in 1938.
In summer 1941, Goodman caught Joy’s band in Chicago and liked Lund’s singing. Goodman had only recently begun hiring male vocalists after six years of using only female singers, and he had become unhappy with his current male hire, Tommy Taylor. He spoke to Lund about joining his band, and in November 1941 he sent his wife to Kansas City, where Joy’s band was then playing, having her sign Lund and bring him back to replace Taylor. At the time, much was made in the press about Lund being an ex-football player. At 6’3" (190.5 cm) or 6’4" (193 cm), depending on the source, and weighing around 200 pounds (90.7 kg), he presented an imposing figure on the stage. While with Goodman, Lund often sang duets with Peggy Lee.
Lund was out of the Goodman’s band by May 1942, the leader announcing that he wanted to try something different in the vocal department. A some point after, Lund joined the navy. By March 1943, he was a naval reserve ensign stationed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he studied aerology and took part in a navy relief show. In August 1944, Down Beat reported that he was still an ensign at the Academy. According to Lund, he was sent overseas in December 1944 as an aerologist, in which he reportedly earned a master’s degree, helping to set up weather stations in the Philippines. While in the navy, Lund was billed under his real surname instead of London.
Lund received his discharge in January 1946 and returned to Goodman in February, keeping the use of his birth name. A much more polished performer than he had been four years earlier, he quickly became one of the most popular male band singers in the country. His vocals on Goodman’s “Blue Skies” helped earn him first place in Down Beat magazine’s 1946 poll. He remained with Goodman until October when, tempted by radio and screen offers while the orchestra was on the West Coast, he asked to be released from his contract. Goodman flatly refused, telling him to either remain with the band for the duration or quit the business entirely. Lund went on a sit-down strike and didn’t return with the band to the East Coast. Lund’s agent was Goodman’s brother, Freddy, who couldn’t understand Benny’s obstinance. Both Goodman brothers had a financial interest in Lund should he go solo.
Lund’s strike was just one more nail in the coffin of Goodman’s orchestra, which had been struggling due to the downturn in the band business, and soon after Lund stopped singing Goodman decided to call it quits. He gave his entire band notice the weekend after Thanksgiving, and they made their last performance on December 18. Free to begin his solo career now, Lund made his first recordings as a single with Harry James on Columbia. He then signed with the new MGM label and scored the company’s first big hit with “Mam’selle,” which reached number one in June and ended the year tied for the eleventh best-selling record. The success of the song earned him a walk-on spot at New York’s Roxy Theater and the interest of Hollywood. Lund had another top ten hit soon after with “Peg o’ My Heart,” which became tied for the 28th best-selling record of the year. Lund overall was the second best-selling male vocalist of 1947, behind Perry Como. He proved popular with bobby-soxers and often had adoring teen-age girls waiting to get his autograph.
After a strong start, Lund’s recording success slowly declined. He charted only one more hit, “On a Slow Boat to China,” in late 1948, which made the top thirty. The song also reached the top twenty most-played disk jockey tunes, as did another of his recordings, “Hair of Gold,” which Lund did with The Crew Chiefs and The Harmonica Gentlemen. They were Lund’s last popular songs. In 1949, he made an MGM movie short.
In 1950, Lund took Freddy Goodman to court in order to break his management contract. The court invalidated the contract because Freddy was not licensed in California as a personal manager, and they ordered Freddy to pay Lund $9,548, which represented the commissions Freddy had received over a two-year period. Lund then signed Bill Burton as his personal manager. Burton had been the mastermind behind the rise of Dick Haymes in the mid-1940s. Lund stayed with Burton only shortly, however, moving to Paul Kapp and then finally Charlie Wick in January 1951. Wick was based in New York, and Lund pulled up stakes to move to the East Coast so he could be available for television work, much of which was done in New York at that time. Lund made regular appearances on television variety shows in the early 1950s and was a featured singer on Ken Murray’s Saturday night CBS program.
At the same time that Lund was fighting Freddy Goodman in court, Benny filed suit against Lund. When Benny had released Lund from his exclusive contract in 1946, Lund had agreed to pay $10,000. He made an initial payment of $1,750, with the balance to be paid off in three years at a rate of 3½ percent of his gross earnings. In February 1947, Benny had sold his interest in Lund to the William Morris Agency, who should have arranged to pay off the balance. The complaint charged that as of the end of the three-year period, February 1950, Lund had made no further payments, though after Goodman had filed the complaint William Morris had paid an additional $300. Lund failed to show up for court in March 1952, and Goodman won a default judgment for $8,928. Lund didn’t pay Goodman until 1956, after Goodman attempted to attach his salary.
By the early 1950s, Lund’s career had stagnated. He switched from MGM to Coral in 1952 but found no further success. In the mid-1950s, seeing the rise of rock and roll on the charts, he shifted his focus towards Broadway and began to audition for musicals. He initially failed to get anywhere because he lacked experience in stage singing. After improving his technique, he finally won his first role as Joe in Frank Loesser’s popular musical comedy The Most Happy Fella, making his Broadway debut in May 1956. He was an immediate hit, as was the show. His success prompted MGM to release what was Lund’s first LP, a compilation of his singles while on that label.
In late 1957, Lund recorded for Coral subsidiary Brunswick, where he focused on attracting younger audiences. Billboard described his first releases on the label, “Rough Tough Cream Puff” and “Laguna Moon,” as, respectively, a “rockaballad” and a “Hawaiian rocker.” The songs also contained gimmicks, with the former featuring a “chick with a sexy voice.” Lund continued to record for Coral as well, also modernizing his music, but to a lesser degree, cutting a new version of “Mam’selle” with a “mild” rock and roll rhythm. The song was also featured on a Warner Bros. album of big-selling songs with updated backing. In 1959, Lund recorded “The Happy Bachelor” for Coral, a song with “teen-slanted lyrics.”
Lund remained with The Most Happy Fella until it closed in December 1957. He then went on national tour with the show until late 1958, after which he starred as Lennie in a successful musical version of Of Mice and Men at the off-Broadway Provincetown Playhouse. In February 1959, he reappeared in a second, short run of The Most Happy Fella on Broadway, and that spring he toured with James Whitmore in the stage comedy drama “Summer of the 17th Doll.”
In August 1959, Lund was back on Broadway, replacing Scott Brady in Destry Rides Again, starring alongside Andy Griffith and Dolores Gray. He remained with the show until March 1960 and then headed to London where he appeared in the English run of The Most Happy Fella. Lund was presented with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame that same year. In 1961, he starred in the short-lived Donnybrook!, a musical version of the John Ford film The Quiet Man, which ran from May to July. He then appeared that August in A Man Around the House, a new play being tried out at the Bucks County Playhouse in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Television and Later Years
Lund branched out into dramatic television in late 1961, starring in the Lone Sierra, a modern adventure series from Warner Bros. The show went into filming but it’s unknown if it actually aired. Lund made further television acting appearances in 1962 on Wagon Train and Gunsmoke and continued to be featured in sporadic guest roles throughout the rest of the decade alongside his stage appearances. In spring 1962 and early 1963, he toured with Dolores Gray in Annie Get Your Gun, and in April 1963 he starred in another short-lived Broadway musical, Sophie, based on the life of Sophie Tucker, which ran for six nights in April 1963. That summer he toured in the musical comedy Calamity Jane, starring as Wild Bill Hickok, with Carol Burnett in the title role. The cast also performed the show for a ninety-minute television special that aired in November.
In mid-1964, Lund appeared at Fort Worth’s famous Casa Mañana theater in the Irving Berlin musical Mr. President, playing the title role, with Peggy King as his co-star. In 1965, he signed with United Artists Records and toured with the musical comedy 110 in the Shade. In January 1966, Lund made his last Broadway appearance, which was also his first non-musical role, in The Wayward Stork, which ran for four nights. In March, he sang at a political rally for Samuel Nakasian, the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives for Lund’s then place of residence, Bronxville, New York, a small, affluent village just north of Manhattan. During the summer, he was back in his home territory, starring in three two-week productions at the Valley Music Hall in North Salt Lake, Utah.
In December 1966, Lund played the role of Doc Golightly in a Broadway-bound musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The show, however, closed in previews and never made it to the Broadway stage. From 1967 into the 1970s, Lund worked the local theater circuit, appearing in various productions around the country. In 1968, he signed to make his first motion picture, The Molly Maguires, also starring Richard Harris and Sean Connery. He moved back to the West Coast soon after.
On October 15, 1969, Lund’s wife died in an automobile accident when the car in which she was a passenger crashed into a ditch in Sacramento. The vehicle was driven by Rosemarie Bowe, the wife of actor Robert Stack. A year later, Lund sued Bowe, alleging that she was driving too fast. He also sued rental car company Hertz, who owned the car, and auto maker Ford, claiming that the vehicle was defective because its power steering had failed. All together he asked for $750,000. Bowe and a second passenger in the car also sued Ford, asking for $250,000. Bowe settled with Lund for $40,000. Their combined suit against Ford went to court, where a jury ruled in favor of the auto company in February 1973.
In 1970, Lund appeared in the Motown stage musical Cherry, another Broadway show that didn’t make it out of previews. During the early 1970s, he refocused his career towards dramatic television, appearing in more than twenty series and TV movies up though the mid-1980s, including guest roles on such popular programs as The Rockford Files, Little House on the Prairie, Kojak, Baretta, and Knight Rider. He made several more films, at least eight in total, his last, It’s Alive III, in 1987.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lund occasionally appeared in big band nostalgia shows. He continued singing up until his death from cancer in 1990 at age 75.
Westminster Junior College is now known as Westminster College, a four-year institution. ↩︎
There were also two other players from Salt Lake City on the Eastern Kentucky football team. The school is now known as Eastern Kentucky University. ↩︎
Lund’s hair was a “reddish-tinted blond,” and he was variously called a redhead and a blond during his career. ↩︎
Some sources state that Lund was named to the Little All-American college football team, which honors players from small colleges, but that is incorrect. ↩︎
A 1956 newspaper article stated that Lund also played baseball, tennis, basketball, and swimming in college and that he was a tourist guide in the mountains of Utah as a youth. How much of this is true is unknown. Lund had just scored big on Broadway at the time, and his “official” history was ripe for rewriting. Later in life, Lund began to claim that, as a boy, he had sung with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, though none of the many early sources about his activities state this. The first mention comes in 1963 and is probably not true. Another claim that later cropped up, in 1968, is that he won the Kentucky Golden Gloves heavyweight championship. This is undoubtedly false. Such a feat would have been mentioned in earlier sources. There were many other things that Lund said later in his career that were purely fictional. ↩︎
According to Lund, in one source, he turned down an offer to play professional football because of a knee injury. In another later source, Lund says he chose singing over football because it paid better at the time. ↩︎
In March 1946, Billboard stated that the William Morris Agency had convinced Goodman to drop Lund in favor of Dick Haymes. It’s unknown if this is true. According to Down Beat, in May 1942, Goodman announced that he had hired vocalist and saxophonist Johnny McAfee as Lund’s replacement. McAfee, however, ended up only being used as an instrumentalist. Buzz Alston recorded with Goodman in between the time Lund left and Haymes joined in May. The Billboard article may simply have been a later PR-friendly rewriting of Lund’s departure from Goodman. ↩︎
According to Lund’s Associated Press obituary, he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in the navy, serving four years in the Pacific. Obituaries are notoriously inaccurate, and Lund’s contains a number of glaring falsehoods. He clearly didn’t spend four years in the Pacific, so whether he actually made lieutenant commander is unknown. ↩︎
Upon Lund’s return to Goodman, his official backstory changed, leaving out his time with Hart and Joy. According to this new bio, Lund was a schoolteacher in Maysville when Goodman auditioned him and signed him to a contract. Lund also changed his age, knocking three years off it to make himself younger. ↩︎
Lund had replaced Morely Meredith during previews in April. Lund’s singing voice can be heard on I Love Lucy in an episode where the characters attend the show. ↩︎
The Molly Maguires wasn’t released until January 1970. The film bombed at the box office. ↩︎