Radio Singer Frank Parker's Secret of Success: 'Be Ready'

Photo of Frank Parker, a singer on the Jack Benny radio show in the 1930s
Singer Frank Parker, an early Jack Benny regular

Frank Parker already is an outstanding tenor, and under the tutelage of that master jester Jack Benny, he is garnering laurels as a comedian. Now they would make of him an oracle -- and Parker doesn't want any part of that. Even if he's the current matinee idol of the air, Parker is so level-headed that he has no idea that his achievements have equipped him to advise those whom fortune has spurned.

What's more, he doesn't think people should ask advice. His formula for getting ahead is so simple that he feels it should be axiomatic. His sole suggestion to aspirants in any field is merely this: Be ready.

The theory that you can lurk in corners awaiting opportunity and then catch it by putting on its tail the salt of somebody else's experience is first-degree delusion so far as Parker is concerned.

And in spite of his empathic feeling in the matter, the anxious have made a beaten path to his door. Every delivery brings Parker volumes of mail seeking his secret of success, and even his safely guarded telephone offers little protection against his harassers.

"I'm too busy making good myself to be able to advise the other fellow," Parker declares. "Right now anybody with a little talent has an even chance with me, so who am I to don the prophet's toga and spread advice about something I'm not any too sure of myself?"

Parker of course is quoted literally on the foregoing. He is too modest really -- too much of a gentleman bred -- to tell the straight of the point he was discussing. And the truth is that Parker probably spends more of his free time helping others to get started than any of the stars.

A question he really would like to have answered is, whatever gave anybody the idea that he had set himself up as a seer? Not that he wouldn't willingly give another person a hand up, but he feels that he just doesn't qualify.

"That simple injunction, be ready," he says, "should cover every bid made by opportunity. But it's surprising how many persons chase ambition and hope, only to find themselves unprepared when they catch up with them. Ability is like water in that it seeks its own level, and you could squelch talent no more than you could the current of a stream -- if its possessor is on their toes when the moment of opportunity comes."

Doubtless the many who have sought out Parker for his advice have been attracted to him because of his cordial friendliness and his own swift ascent to the top. But he still cannot reason out how the idea seems to have become so prevalent so suddenly.

What Parker fails to take into account is the natural weakness of the thwarted in believing that there is some predetermined formula for success, some mystic cabalistic sign that serves as a passport to the gates of achievement. Probably he rejects that theory because success was not his without the vigilance which he prescribes.

Most persons' greatest fault is their impatience. "I don't like to say it to you," wrote one pest, "but I'm a better singer than you are right now, and if you weren't afraid of the truth you would give me a chance at least."

To the mild-mannered Parker, this had all of the characteristics of a challenge, so he contacted the writer and told him that he was to replace Parker on one of his programs, and that he should be sure to be at a certain NBC studio at a given time.

At the prescribed time Parker awaited the opportunist, but the rehearsal had progressed nearly 20 minutes before there was a timid knock at the door. Opened, it revealed a slender young man whose knees beat a tattoo.

"I'm -- looking for Fr-Frank Parker," he stammered.

Parker came forward and genially greeted the frightened lad.

"Come in," he said, "we're waiting for you."

The boy's bravado deserted him entirely at that unexpected warm welcome and he admitted to Parker that he had talked out of turn. He was afraid, he said, that he would be a complete bust if he attempted to fill Parker's shoes -- and from that spineless admission Parker knew it was all too true.

"He just wasn't ready," pointed out the tenor triumphantly -- not triumphant because an aspirant had failed, but because the experience bore out his contention that those who are caught unprepared for opportunity may just as well go back home and whip themselves into shape to grasp it on its next round.

Lest readers think that Parker gives that sort of advice without benefit of personal experience with its fullest value, he cites his own case. This resonant-voiced singer began his professional career not as a vocalist, but as a dancer. And he was eager for success in his field. Singing, so far as it concerned him, was purely a matter of pleasing himself. He had no notion that anyone even had heard him as he went caroling to himself.

But the director of a show in which Parker was working sensed a splendid quality in the boy's voice and urged him to accept a role which included singing. Here was Parker's opportunity to test his simple platitude -- his brief formula for success. He was ready.

He accepted the part as blithely as though he had been Dennis King -- "and then," he says, "I made it my business to learn how to sing. Up to that time I had never had a lesson. And just like the lad to whom I later offered the big chance, someone asked me to fill in one night on the radio. But I didn't say I would come back and try later. I just got up there in my supreme faith and complete ignorance of technique ... and when I came to after it as all over, somebody was poking a contract into my hand to sign."

Parker adds that he didn't get by very long on what vocal talent he possessed at the time, but he had at least stuck his foot in the door, and by dint of endless study and practice, he eventually was able to get his whole self through the portals.

"Perhaps," he says, "when I have reached a point where I think the scorers can mark 'Success' behind my name, I will be more eager to give advice, but at present I think I am fair from qualified to advice anyone else -- and besides, who wants to be a Beatrice Fairfax?"

Harry Steele in Radio Guide, May 11, 1935

Add a Comment

All comments are moderated before publication. These HTML tags are permitted: <p>, <b>, <i>, <a>, and <blockquote>.