— S T A N   K A N N —

December 9, 1924
September 29, 2008

 

It is with great sadness that I report that the organ world — and the vacuum cleaner world — has lost a giant.

Stan Kann died Monday, September 29, in a St. Louis hospital. He was 83 years old.

When I heard the news, I called Norm Delaney, Stan's housemate and dear friend for many decades, and also his manager. Norm told me that at 3 a.m. Monday morning, Stan awoke and was having trouble breathing. The paramedics were called and took him to the hospital and worked on him all night, but he died from complications during heart surgery.

Stan's virtuosity at the theatre organ was legendary. He was most known for his connection with the lavish St. Louis Fox Theatre, built in 1929 and equipped with one of the largest Wurlitzer pipe organs ever built. Stan was the house organist there for more than 20 years from around 1950 to 1970 when he moved to Los Angeles; then he returned to that post when he moved back to St. Louis in 1998 and continued there until the weekend before his death.


Stan at the Mighty Wurlitzer of Plummer Auditorium, Fullerton, California.

 

–—oOo—–

 

Stan was one of my dearest friends; I made his acquaintance back in 1991. Ironically, I met him not because of the pipe organ but because of vacuum cleaners! One day in 1990, a new friend came to my apartment for coffee. When he walked into my living room he noticed there were a few antique vacuum cleaners sitting around. He exclaimed, “I don't believe it!”

I asked, “Don't believe WHAT?”

He said, “Here's another nut with a house-full of old sweepers!”

I said, astonished, “What do you mean, another nut?!”

He replied, “I can’t believe you've never heard of Stan Kann, that zany guy who’s been on the Carson show a bunch of times with his gadgets and antique vacuum cleaners that never work! He's the organist at my church.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! Another person on this planet who not only is interested in vacuums but who is also a church organist, like me. I was very anxious to meet him. My friend didn’t know Stan's number but thought it was in the phone book.

The next day I looked up his telephone number. I phoned him and introduced myself by saying, “Mr. Kann, my name is Charlie Lester [the name I went by at the time]. You don’t know me, but I am calling because we have something in common.”

“What's that?” came the vaguely suspicious reply.

“I have here in my living room a 1937 Electrolux Model XXX, a 1925 Scott and Fetzer Sanitation System, and a 1936 Hoover Model 150 vacuum cleaner.”

In his inimitable way, he asked, “Well, what are you doing with all that stuff!?” He was quite surprised to hear from me, and we talked for a long time that first day.

Stan and I immediately became dear friends, and from that fateful day in 1991 that we first met until the day he moved back to St. Louis in 1998, I was a regular fixture in his home, and he in mine. We also had a rarely-missed, standing Wednesday evening dinner date at the Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard (now torn down, alas) where we’d talk about music and vacuum cleaners.


Stan and me at his apartment on Rossmore Avenue in Hollywood — Summer of 1991.


Stan at my apartment, using my Hoover Model 725 — Fall of 2003.

 

–—oOo—–

 

I had many wonderful opportunities to hear him play the organ here in Los Angeles — at Founders Church of Religious Science, The Orpheum Theater where he accompanied Ben Hur, playing the score written by Gaylord Carter (and boy, was it ever a lump-in-throat moment when Stan introduced Mr. Carter, who was in attendance), at the Pantages Theater (on a “roll-in” electronic organ), Plummer Auditorium, Pasadena City College, San Sylmar, and many other places.


Stan multi-tasking!

 

Of course, we also had some amazing vacuum cleaner adventures, like the time we saw an ad in the paper, “400 Vacuums, 400 Dollars” and then a phone number. Our interest piqued, I called the number with Stan listening in. The ad had been placed by the son of a man who had had a Hoover dealership in the Glendale area for many years, and had retired and closed his shop about 25 years previously. When he closed his shop, he moved all his inventory to his house, storing it ... in his back yard!

The man had just recently died, and the son inherited the house. He wanted to renovate the house and grounds, and he wanted to get rid of all the vacuum cleaners. We made arrangements for Stan and me to go take a look at what the man had.


Stan showing my Eureka Model 7.

 

You wouldn’t believe the sight that greeted us when Stan and I walked into the enormous back yard of this man’s home: Envision a yard about the size of half a football field. In the yard were about a dozen huge mounds of STUFF covered with giant, heavy-duty blue vinyl tarps. The mounds varied in size but most were around 10-12 feet in diameter and from 8 to 10 feet high!

Stan and I walked to the first pile and lifted the first tarp. Underneath was a sight that nearly defied description: A mountain of old vacuum cleaners. Most of them were Hoovers from the 1930s through mid-1960s with a smattering of other machines as well. We both gasped in shock and began digging through the pile. The cleaners’ cords and handles were hopelessly intertwined with one another so pulling them apart was practically an exercise in futility. Finally, we decided the only way to do it would be to cut some of the cords off and pull the machines apart that way.

We spent two long days, from morning till night, laboriously digging through those dozen vacuum cleaner mountains. But it was worth the trouble — we both came home with quite a few treasures!


Stan showing his Delco upright.

 


Stan’s suit made of vacuum cleaner bags!

 

–—oOo—–

 

It was because of Stan that I found my first theremin: Back in 1995 when I viewed a documentary about the theremin, I was all full of excitement and feeling a definite urgency to find a theremin. Well, I began looking. Back at that time, the theremin was even more unknown than it is today. When I started asking around, the few people who even knew what I was talking about declared, “Oh, those things haven't been made in decades — you’ll never find one!” Not one to take NO for an answer, I just kept looking.

Well, a couple of days later I was talking to Stan on the phone. I told him about the theremin and how the documentary I’d seen had affected me. He was interested in seeing the theremin documentary so I took him along, not at all minding seeing it a second time!

After the movie, as we were driving home Stan commented, “You know, I’ve got a theremin. I bought it to use on my TV show in St. Louis but I could never get the darn thing to do much except make sound effects, like a barking dog and a crying baby. I haven’t touched it in years.” You couldda knocked me over with a feather, as the cliche goes!

I mentioned that I sure would like to see it sometime. He said he would have to get it down out of his attic; that’s where he thought it was. Then came the bombshell:

“If you want it you can have it” he said.

Did I want it! I could not sleep until the theremin was in my possession! Well, he said he would look for it and call me when he found it. I dropped him off and drove home. All I could think about was that theremin! So what did I do but turn the car around and went right back over to his apartment.

Needless to say, he was surprised to see me back so soon!

“Well, what do -you- want?” he barked with his inimitable, good-natured irascibility.

“THAT THEREMIN!” I exclaimed.

So he climbed up into his attic with a bit of grumbling, and handed down a little wooden box with antennas sticking out of it, thus presenting me with my first theremin. It was a Moog Melodia theremin that he himself had assembled in the late 1950s from a kit. As another cliche goes, “And the rest is history.”


Performing on the Moog Melodia Theremin that Stan gave me — Spring of 1996.

It was also at Founders Church that I played the theremin publicly for the first time, with Stan accompanying me on the church's Mighty Wurlitzer. And I have performed with him several times since, including a concert at Plummer Auditorium (where we started off with a bit of silly shtick involving two vacuum cleaners!).

 

–—oOo—–

 

As I continue to try to process the news about Stan, so many memories are flooding into my mind about him. I am still in a state of shock; just can't wrap my mind around the fact that, for example, I’ll no longer be able to call him up with my “Mrs. MacNyrtle” routine.......

One time Stan told me about one of the ladies in his neighborhood when he was a little boy living in St. Louis — whenever she saw him outside, she’d lean her head out her window and call out, “Stanley, ohhhh Stanley, guess what I’M doing!” And he would reply, “You’re using your Model 700 Hoover, Mrs. MacNyrtle!”

And so it would go. It became a running joke between us; whenever I’d call him, I’d always start off with “Stanley, ohhhh Stanley, guess what I'M doing!!” and he would reply in kind.

It was a sad day indeed in the Spring of 1998 when I stood in his driveway on Highland Avenue and bid him a teary farewell as he left to return to St. Louis. Of course, we maintained our deep friendship via telephone and mail, and I did see him several times in the intervening years, even performing together at Plummer in 2003. But, obviously, that was not the same as having him nearly walking distance from my apartment.

 

–—oOo—–

 

I had just spoken to Stan the Saturday before he died, having called to tell him about an exciting opportunity that had come to me out of the blue: I will be flying to Sydney, Australia at the end of October to celebrate the 100th Birthday of the Hoover Company, where I will be a media representative to discuss the history of the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner and to help show a large Hoover exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum in Sydney. Stan was very enthused to hear about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and said, “Be sure to tell me all about it when you get back.”

If only I could.

–—oOo—–

“IT’S TODAY”
from the Broadway Musical
Mame
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
(Stan Kann's Signature Theme Song)

Light the candles, Get the ice out,
Roll the rug up, It’s today.
Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,
And though it’s far from the first of the year,

I know that this very minute
has history in it, we’re here!
And we’re living In the world game,
So this whole game’s What we make.

Call the cops out, Raise the rockets,
Pull out the stops, It’s today.
Light the candles, Fill the punch bowl,
Throw confetti, It’s today.

Life can also be lived on a weekday,
So don’t depend on a holiday date,
If you need New Year’s to bubble,
Then order a double and wait.

There’s a “thank you” you can give life,
If you live life all the way.
Pull the stops out, Hold the roof down,
Fellows watch out, It’s today.

It’s a time for making merry,
And so I’m for making hay.
Tune the grand up, Call the cops out,
Strike the band up, Pull the stops out,

Hallelujah!
It’s today!

 

 

–—oOo—–

I’ll close this tribute to Stan with a personal reflection about him. Not only did he never have an unkind word to say to anyone else, neither, I don’t think, could anyone else have an unkind thing to say about him. He just lived that kind of life. Nor did he ever gossip or tell tales. He was always the model of discretion, and I shall always admire him for that rare quality he possessed.

I’ll sure miss him.

 

 


 

 

A Visit
with
Stan Kann

 


In June 1995, I interviewed Stan as a special feature article for the Fall/Winter 1996 issue of the Vacuum Cleaner Collector’s Club News. Following is a reprint of that interview, complete with photos from Stan’s private collection.
 


 

Well, here we are, it’s June 7, 1995. I’m sitting here in Stan’s dining room, having a little dinner while I interview him for the next club newsletter. Stan, you can talk with your mouth full because no one will hear this tape but me! Let’s start out talking about where you were born, and when —

— And why! I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, always lived in St. Louis, lived there all my life.


Really? You never moved away from St. Louis?

Not until 1972.


You lived in the same house?

No, no.


Where was the first place you lived?

In an apartment on Whiteman Avenue, right next door to an Ohio vacuum cleaner. There was a nurse, and she lived there with her brother, across the hall from us. I don’t know how I got to see the Ohio for the first time, but I was under five years old. I remember she had it in the front closet, in the living room. Not a big, deep closet but a moderate closet. She always had it in there, and when you’d open that door by the closet, there was that Ohio. I was attracted by the funny-looking bag it had.


What was funny looking about it?

Well, it was real long and narrow, with a sewn, circular top — which I discovered later on was the same kind of top that the Royal Standard bag had.


Was it always full of dirt?

I don’t remember if it was, but her model had a chain that you had to pull to start the motor. I liked it so well, and I was a terrible eater. They’d bring it over and set it in the dining room. If I’d eat all my dinner, I’d get to turn it on. If I didn’t eat, they’d take it back. My mother had a terrible time getting me to eat. The Ohio was part of it.


So now what year was this?

Um, nineteen-thirty — somewhere between ’32, ’34, right around there.


What’s your very earliest recollection of a vacuum cleaner? Would that be it?

I think that was the first one I ever got close to. The next one I seem to remember was — one neighbor had a Hoover 700 and another neighbor had a Eureka Model 9. Then another neighbor had an older one than that; she had a Eureka, about a Model 7.


How did you start getting interested in vacuum cleaners, do you know?

I haven’t the slightest idea. I’d just run around the neighborhood listening to them run. I’d ask people to let me come in and watch them run their vacuum cleaner. It wasn’t long before I knew every — there were, let me see, 1, 2, 3, three apartments on one side of the building and 1, 2, 3, 4, four apartments on the other side. I mean, three apartment buildings on one side of the street and each apartment [building] had six families in it. There were three on this side and three on that side. Then across the street were four apartment buildings — no there were five. I remember in the middle building, the woman on the first floor had a Eureka with a red bag. Another friend of my mother’s lived at the other end, the last building. I ran around with her sons Billy and Lloyd Rupp. They had a Royal Standard.


So it must have been —

— We didn’t have a vacuum!


At all?

Uh-uh.

 


Stan, around five years old

 


 

What did your mother use for cleaning?

Carpet sweeper.


Bissell?

Um-hm. That kind of thing.


Did you ever borrow someone’s vacuum?

I wanted to borrow Mrs. Rupp’s Royal. But she said, “It makes some kind of spark!” There was a wire somewhere that made a spark on it. So we didn’t borrow it. And then I remember that my Aunt Della lived in the corner building — her landlord had a Bee-Vac. The neighbor across the street, er, across the hall from Aunt Della, had a Eureka.


Were these all straight suction cleaners?

Um-hm. Except the Hoover, of course.


Do you remember anyone who had non-electric cleaners?

Uh-uh. Mrs. Richter had an Airway —


— Upright?

No, no — Well, you know, the old Airway Chief. I used to watch her use it. She’d use it so fast; I don’t know how it ever cleaned anything. She was a very excitable lady and she’d move that thing fast. Of course, the fact that the machine was so light, and it cleaned the way it did, you automatically would move it quickly. It’s just the nature of the machine. With that little bitty nozzle. Another family, the only other family I knew on that block who had an Airway, were the Guckisells — they had the same Airway. Mr. Guckisell used to sit in the back yard, on the back porch at night, and smoke a pipe in the summertime. He’d tell me stories of how they’d come to buy the Airway. He always did think it was the best thing made.


What did he say about it?

Oh, that it was wonderful, wonderful. Cost seventy-five dollars, with all the attachments. The man came to the door without the bag on it and they wondered what it was. He came in and showed them, and they liked it so well they bought it.


Why did he have the bag off of it?

That was a gimmick, you looked at the thing and it didn’t look like a vacuum cleaner. You didn’t know what it was.


Stan showing an Airway “Chief”

 


 

I remember you telling me once about there was someone —

— There was such a variety of vacuums. Mary Beth Hughes, who later became a movie star, lived on the third floor of the building across the street. Her mother had a Hamilton Beach.


Revolving brush?

Yep.


Which model was that?

Well, it didn’t have a model number, but it was the most popular one. I used to see one in one of the fabric stores on Delmar Avenue; they always had it sitting in the window. Someone was always cleaning the window with it, moving the bolts and samples of fabric around. Eurekas were very popular. The Model 9 seems to be — we had a neighbor on the second floor, she had the old Model 7 Eureka; another lady, Mrs. Scott, I remember she had a Royal Standard. And Mrs. Kaufmann on the first floor, she had a Eureka Model 9 and later on she traded it in and bought a Eureka G2.


Did these people use attachments with their uprights?

I never saw anybody use the attachments.


Really? Hm. What did they use for cleaning their upholstery and that sort of thing?

They probably never did! The only one I ever saw use the attachments was my Aunt, on her Hoover 543.


Oh yeah? What would she do?

She’d clean the sofa. She was a fanatic on cleaning.


And she did all her own housekeeping?

Um-hm.


She didn’t have a maid?

Uh-uh. She kept that Hoover clean, I’ll tell you. The day it finally gave up the ghost it looked as good as it did the day it was new. She’d always wipe it off and that black motor was just as shiny —


— Did it still have the original bag?

No. She replaced the bag. But I remember the original bag, because I used to stand and look at that bag with the silver letters on it. I don’t think it really needed replacing but she didn’t like the looks of it. She bought one of those replacement bags with the red letters on it, a black bag. I don’t know what happened to the original bag then.


So most of these are uprights. Do you remember any tanks or canisters?

Only one. One family. I went around with a guy by the name of Tom McNerny — we went to grade school together —


— Did you go to public school?

Um-hm. Tom McNerny’s father was a big lawyer in St. Louis. They had a Model XII Electrolux. Then one day when I was over there visiting — Presto! — someone had come to the door and sold them a Model XXX Electrolux.


While you were there?

No, but I saw it — I looked at it and thought, “My gosh! They got a new vacuum!” One night when we were all over there, the father took us to the picture show. When we came back, I saw that the mother had borrowed her sister’s Hoover Model 450. It was 10:00 at night and she was vacuuming these big Oriental rugs. Of course, I asked her why she was doing that, and she said, “Well, I do this twice a year. I don’t think the Hoover’s good for the rugs every day. But I don’t think the Electrolux cleans very well, either. So twice a year I borrow my sister’s Hoover to really beat the dirt out.” I remember her maid, Elsie, used the Electrolux every week.


Were they the ones who kept it under the bed?

Um-hm. She kept the hose connected to it under the bed.


Now, you’ve often told me —

— I was thinking as I’m talking to you, about all the people who had Hoovers, the Perry Pie Company across the street, in their house they had a Hoover 700. Mrs. Ferguson had a Hoover 700 —


— Perry Pie Company?

Perry Pie. Yes. They manufactured pies and sold them to the stores. And then Mrs. Coile, next door, had the first [Hoover] 450 I ever saw. And my mother’s good friend, the Dr. Kaufmans up the street, had the Hoover 425, the first one I ever saw with a flat belt. In fact, they bought two of them, one for the first floor and one for the second floor. Then eventually, I don’t know why, I guess they thought they probably didn’t need it, they took the other one back and just kept the one. Then another friend of mine, Thelma Green, who went to grade school with me, they had a [Hoover] 425. I remember she had a paralyzed brother who was confined to a wheelchair and they had a maid who also doubled as a nurse for her brother. She’d always had this 425 standing in the dining room.


So she’d be giving him an enema with one hand and vacuuming with the other.

Yes, and you couldn’t tell which was which. They also had the Hoover Duster. The little hand Hoover —


— Oh, really? Well, Billy - “Ya-Mad?” - Lipman will be glad to hear about that.

Yes, they had the Hoover Dustette. Not the one on the runners, now, the little Dustie thing, um, Dust-ETTE.


Oh, Dust-ETTE.

Yes. The Dust-ETTE. Dust-ETTE. not Dust-ER. That was the first one I ever saw of those. And then, wait a minute, I remember where my aunt lived, in the building she lived in, her seamstress lived on the top floor, Mrs. Singer, er, Mrs. Shipper, and she had a Eureka. And the Singer Sewing Machine Company was on the first floor of the building. There were two facing stores. You had to walk between the two stores to get to the main entrance to the building.


You lived across the street from there?

No, I used to go out and visit my aunt with my mother. I wanted to stand in the window because they always had the Singers, the [Model] R-1 on display in the window. With the little hand cleaner.


Did you like them?

Oh, I liked them. But they hardly had them at all, when the next thing I knew the [Model] R-2 was in the window. And I remember this woman told my aunt she had traded her Eureka in on an R-1 — you could hear it running all over the building when the maid would use it — and she told my aunt when we were there one day — We got on the subject of vacuum cleaners, I don’t know how. But she said, “Can you imagine? I just bought this new Singer vacuum cleaner, and it really cleans well. But I hardly got it in the house before they came out with a new model.” So if she had waited another two weeks she’dve gotten the new [Model] R-2. But that R-1 was a wonderful cleaner.


Tell me about the time you broke into someone’s garage.

That was the Singer Company. They kept all their trade-ins in the garage.


Behind the store?

Behind the store. It was a regular garage like where you’d park your car. I used to ride my bicycle around there. The door facing the yard had glass windows. I looked in there one day — I was real crazy about the twin-motor Airway — and one day I saw they had traded a twin-motor Airway in on a Singer. The Airway was standing in the garage, plus a bunch of other cleaners. But for some reason or another, I was dying to have a Singer red bag. We didn’t have a Singer vacuum but I really wanted the red bag, I was crazy about the red bag. So I got on my bicycle and I rode around the yard. When I thought no one was looking, I ran the bicycle right up against the door at the padlock. The screws came out and the door flung open. Of course, I just took the bag, I didn’t bother the vacuums; I was —


— Did you ever admit it to anyone?

Heck, no!


So what ever happened to the bag?

I probably still have it in my collection of bags. I have a lot of Singer bags. My Aunt lived on the second floor, and Mrs. Shipper lived on third floor of this building. Across the hall from my Aunt was a woman — I can’t think of her name — who owned a straight-suction Westinghouse. Also, a Franz Premier. Now I can’t remember why the the Franz Premier was in the locker downstairs of the basement, and the Westinghouse was in her apartment.


So she had two vacuums?

Well, she must have bought the Westinghouse and then put the old Franz Premier downstairs because she didn’t use it anymore. One day a woman gave me a vacuum cleaner called the Hydro. H-y-d-r-o. An upright, looked somewhat like an Ohio. I don’t know what ever happened to that. I remember carrying it all the way home on the street, little me, I could hardly pick it up.


How old were you then?

Well, I was maybe eight. I brought the thing home and —


You told me one time there was someone who had a vacuum cleaner in a locker that you talked them into letting you have it —

— Oh, that was an Apex A-3. That was the first Apex. It didn’t work right so I persuaded her to let me try to fix it.


And did you?

No, because it had a burned-out commutator.


So what ever happened to that?

I’m not sure if I still have that one. I have several A-3s, one of those belonged to — I’m sure, yes, Mrs. Gippen gave me that. I put that, I never did get it to work. It’s still in a box, marked “Apex A-3 — Bad Motor.”


And to this day you still have it?

Yes. And I also have a Bee-Vac Ball Bearing Deluxe that has a bad motor. It’s in a boxed marked “Bad Motor.”


Now just before I started this interview you were talking about this Torrington vacuum. Tell me about how you came to get that one.

Well, I went to school with a friend, Charles Myerson. We were good friends. I’d always go over to his house for dinner and we’d go to the shows. Going to the show was a big thing when I was a little kid. In the dining room there was a closet and whenever Mrs. Myerson opened the door, there was that Torrington. One time I actually saw her using it.


What was she doing with it?

Vacuuming! What do you think she was doing with it? Anyway, she had all the attachments with it and everything. I never saw her use the attachments but she had them in a box. Even as young as I was, I always thought that that thing was not a very efficient vacuum, because the brush turned with the wheels. Compared to the Ohio, the first Ohio I saw belonged to, outside of the one Mrs. Nangle had, which was an older model, I used to go with a girl named Betty Labotsky and she lived down the street on Washington —


— She was your girlfriend?

Yeah, but —


What kind of vacuum did she have?

She had an Ohio! She had the Ohio Tuec, which was made a little later. One Friday night I went to pick her up, we were going to go to the show, and her mother said, “Come in. She’s not ready, she’s in the back getting dressed.”


Were you driving?

No, I was too young to drive. We had to take a bus. So I was sitting in the living room and as I looked into the dining room, the door was ajar to the dining room closet. I saw something kinda shiny. I got up and went in and looked, and here was an Ohio. That was the second Ohio that I ever saw. It was a mess. The top of the motor had burnt oil all over it. It was standing in there, with dirt in the bag, and I remember it said “Ohio Tuec” —


— That’s the one with the red band around the motor?

Yes. When Betty came out of the room I said, “Do you think your mother would let me run her vacuum a minute?” And she said, “We’ll be late for the show.” I said, “No, no. I have to run the vacuum.” So we asked her mother, and she got it out and plugged it in. The thing had a circle of sparks going around the armature. The armature was bad, you could see it on the top, the Ohio is open. I said to myself, “This thing is not long for this life.” I knew that much about vacuum cleaners. Betty thought I was never going to quit playing with it and go to the show! I was having fun running around the dining room with it.


Do you remember what movie it was you were going to see?

No. We were going to the Tivoli but I don’t remember what movie.


It’s funny, you remember the model, and the vacuum, but nothing about the movie.

Oh, sure. Always. I ran everybody’s vacuum in the neighborhood! There was one lady who had a cleaner called the “Bee.” I think it was made by the same company that made the Bee-vac but I’m not sure about that. I remember standing outside; she wouldn’t let me come in and let her run it.


Was she mean?

Well, she was a kinda bossy old thing. It made a very roaring sound, like it had bad bearing. I am sure when it was new it never made that sound. Most of these people who had these vacuums, people kept their vacuum cleaners forever. They never got rid of them. And most of these people had their vacuum cleaners — oh, from the time they were new which had to be somewhere in the teens. And we’re talking now about the middle thirties.


I know that one of your favorite machines is the 700 Hoover.

Oh, God, yes!


Why was that, and what was the first one you remember seeing?

Mrs. Ferguson’s, across the street.


Across the street. In the other building?

Yes.


Do you remember the day she got it? Or do you just remember her having it?

Oh, no. I don’t remember when she got it but I remember it was always either standing in the kitchen or else — in the second-floor hall of the house she would always have it in the — when you went up the stairs there was a little area off to the side where there was nothing —


—Like an alcove or something?

Yeah, and the thing was always standing there, it always had a full bag! Standing there, the bag was always puffed up. Then I remember across the street further up from her some people had a 105 Hoover with the wrong bag on it. They must have lost the sateen bag years before because those wore out, and they had a bag on it that really belonged on a [model] 700.


So was that the only 700 you remember?

Oh, no. The people living right next door to us, Perry, had a 700.


So what was it about it that you liked so much?

The sound! The sound! The sound! And it cleaned beautifully.


So if you heard one running, you knew what it was.

Oh, nothing sounds like a 700! Except a 725. That sounds like a 700, only it gets up to speed faster.


So you could hear the difference between a 700 and a 725?

The 725 was a faster — but it even had the same little funny noise when it started — aerroert! You know, sort of a, you could hear it kick in. Then Mrs. — wait a minute, all the way up at the corner near the Second Baptist Church was another 700 and it belonged to — the Kelleys! Jim Kelly, and his sister Patsy Kelley. They had the same kind of house that the Fergusons had down at the end where I was. They always had their machine standing on the first floor in the hall, or standing up in that same little alcove on the second floor, too!


The same place. Do you —

— No one ever put them in the closet!


Do you remember seeing them being used?

Oh, yeah. Mrs. Ferguson used hers.


So do you think these people kept their Hoovers out because it was kind of a status symbol, or —

No, they kept it out because they had no where else to put it.


I remember most people would keep their vacuums in the front closet, or in the —

— They had nowhere to put it. There was another friend of mine, Sonny Mudd, they had the first [Hoover] 825 I ever saw.


Who was it who kept their vacuum in the dining room behind the door?

That was my aunt.


Oh, your aunt. That was the —

— That was the [Hoover] 543. I always wondered later on, when I knew more about vacuums, why my uncle didn’t buy her a [Hoover] 700 instead of the 543. He was a cheap son-of-a-gun, and the 543 was cheaper. But she did buy all the attachments. Then I remember that the — let me see, the Mudds had — OH! And the Steinbaums, I will never forget the day the Hoover Man delivered their new Model 300. She wanted — the maid wanted her to get an Electrolux. They had an old Hamilton Beach. She went down to the May Company and they didn’t sell Electrolux. She watched the demonstration of the Hoover and she bought the Hoover. She came home and told the girl she bought a Hoover and the girl was very upset. I asked Melvin, that was the boy that I went around with, and I asked him when the man is going to deliver the Hoover. So he told me and I — after school, I was there. I remember it was about four o’clock in the afternoon when he delivered it. He gave her a demonstration, showed her how it worked, how to put the attachments on it — he went through the whole thing. That really was a good little cleaner. She had very heavy Oriental rugs and that little machine really —

— So did the maid end up liking it?

Yes, she did. She used it, she liked it, —


— So there was a happy ending!

When she saw what that bag — oh, my God! The dirt! Because there were five kids in that house. Then I remember Mrs. Kaufman, the family I told you had the first 425 Hoover I ever saw, when I first started running around with Danny and Peggy they had an Apex, an A3 Apex. I remember one time seeing it standing in the living room, all hooked up. The maid must have been using it and just let it stand there. She hadn’t disconnected it yet. But I imagine there was no comparison between that 425 and that straight-suction Apex.


What about the Rexair? Because I know you’ve got one that —

— I never saw anybody with a Rexair.


Where did that Rexair come from that you have from St. Louis?

Well, it came from St. Louis! But I didn’t get it until I came out here to California.


You didn’t see it as a child?

I don’t know how it got out here.


Oh, that’s right, you found it in —

— Yes, I found it in a used furniture store with all the attachments and the original box and all the sales papers —


— And you knew the people who owned it?

Why, yes! The Apteds owned it. They owned a chain of restaurants in St. Louis.


Wasn’t there a restaurant in St. Louis where you told me they used a Model Sixty [LX] Electrolux?

Yes. That was at Jerry’s where I played the organ.


So that was much later, then.

Yes. And then after a while I talked them into letting me put in a central system.


What kind?

It was a — the motor was made by American, what was the name of that thing? American Industrial, and it wasn’t one of the original Spencers. My house had an original Spencer in it.


Did you ever use it?

Well, all the time! It was what we used.


Was it the kind that the motor was always running, and you just opened the valve to stick the hose in?

No, it wasn’t always running. You had to start it, turn it on. You wouldn’t leave it running all week, you’re not using it! We used it particularly on Saturdays for dusting all the bare floors and —


— What other vacuums did you have in that house?

Well, about a hundred and some.


So — but you said as a kid you didn’t have any vacuums. What was the first one that you —

— Oh, yes! I remember, too, another [Hoover] 425. Next door to us we had a woman named “Mrs. MacNyrtle.” My mother’s, we were all good friends, and Mrs. MacNyrtle had a Model 700 Hoover. When I’d be down in front playing in the front yard, she’d yell out of the window, “Staaanley! Oh Staaaaaan-ley! Do you know what I’m doing?!” And I’d yell, “Yes! You’re using your Model 700 Hoover!!” Then across the hall from her were two old maid sisters whom I called my “Aunt.”


Were they —

—No! And they had a Cadillac. Vacuum cleaner.


Revolving brush?

No, no, straight suction. In fact, I haven’t seen a Cadillac like that —


— So their car was a Hoover, right?!

What?! They had a Cadillac I’ve never seen before, and to this day I don’t know — the motor sat upright like a Hoover, whereas the Cadillacs that I know, and have in my collection, the motors go behind, horizontally.


[Interview taping pauses while Charlie loads a new tape. Some conversation was missed because Stan wouldn’t stop talking!]

Okay, now what did you just say? People began calling you to —

— to fix their vacuums.


How did they know that you could fix them?

Because I told them I could!


Did you ever wreck anybody’s vacuum?

Not, not terribly desperately. I did break — yes, I did, one time. As I said, we didn’t have a vacuum and I asked Mrs. Kaufman, my friend Danny’s mother, if I — I told her my mother wanted to borrow her Hoover to clean with. Well, James, James was our janitor and he went up and got it and brought it down for us.


So that was legitimate?

Yes, but you know what I did? I didn’t know how to work the handle release and I broke it. It was kinda like ’pot’ metal, and I put it under the radiator, thinking that if it got hot enough I could glue it back together!


So whatever happened?

Well, when James took it back up to Mrs. Kaufman she had the Hoover Company put a new handle release on it.


Did they make you pay for it?

No.


Did you get a spanking?

No, in fact, I never did tell my mother. My mother didn’t know anything about vacuum cleaners. Then, finally, my father brought home a Eureka Model 8.


Where did he find that?

He had a friend — my father was in the insurance business. One of his insured clients was a man who owned a big furniture company called Franklin Furniture. Mother finally said, “We ought to have a vacuum cleaner.” All I can remember is seeing him with this Model 8 — well, I didn’t know it was a Model 8 at the time. It was the one that had a wheel on either side of the nozzle.


It was new? He brought it home new?

It was new - yeah - no, I don’t think it was new, because the [model] 9s were already out when he brought that 8 home.


So that would have been what year? About?

Oh, God. I don’t even know. I was still in grade school. I used to pretend I was sick so I could stay home on the day she vacuumed. So I could watch her use it.


She had a particular day?

Yes. She usually did.


And where did she keep her vacuum?

In the living room closet.


Did she have attachments?

Nope. No attachments.


So ... did you ever know any of the vacuum cleaner salesmen, make friends with them, or —

— Yep. I knew Mr. Ryan with the Singer Company, and —

— He sold them door to door?

No, you had to buy them at the Singer store. You had to go into the Singer Company and make an appointment for a demonstration to see it. They didn’t go door to door with a Singer. It was sort of a prestigious vacuum cleaner, you know, very elite. Then I went to work for Airway when — I must have been 15 or 16. They were out with their second model of the upright Sanitizer. You know, the canister type.


What color? The blue one? Or the purple one?

I forgot, but I remember it was very difficult to carry around.


Did you sell many of them?

I had to carry a big spotlight with it, and a big box of attachments. Oh, God, what a mess. I remember one particular day —


[Interview is interrupted by a knock at the door. No, it was not a vacuum cleaner salesman.]

 
[Stan wanders onto a new topic...] There was more of a variety of vacuum cleaners in St. Louis than any place I’ve ever seen. Nowadays all you see is the Hoover, or the Eureka at the store, or a Royal, what do they call those things? The Dust Beater?


Let’s go back. You started to tell a story about how — you said, “I remember one day” — when you were selling the Airway —

— Oh, the Airway. I got into a woman’s house who had a 700 Hoover. Her son had taken it apart. He had it all over the place. Anyway, I was going to give her a demonstration of the Airway. But I liked the 700 so much, I said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll fix the 700 up for you!” I ended up, instead of selling her an Airway, fixing her 700 Hoover so it would work right.


I hope they never found out! So did you sell any of those Airways?

Never sold one.


Really? My dad tried to sell Kirbys, during the late ’40s. He said he couldn’t sell a single one. People complained they were too heavy. Or too loud. Or too expensive!

Oh. The Kirby Company in St. Louis was very nice to me. They used to trade in a lot of vacuums and some of the machines I got from them.


So do you remember any Kirbys from when you were —

— Only one. The only one I ever saw was in — and it wasn’t called the Kirby, it was the Scott &Fetzer Sanitation System.


Did it have a Sani-Emptor?

It had a Sani-Emptor. But it had that funny front end. I don’t think it was the Kirby revolving brush.


Who had that?

There was a woman who ran a restaurant out of her apartment. She’d feed the school kids, and I used to go over to there for lunch on rainy days. I remember that [vacuum cleaner] was in the front hall closet. I don’t know what I was even looking in there for. And there was this funny-looking thing. And the reason I remember is because it was standing with the Sani-Emptor facing me. It made the bottom of the thing look so bulky, you know. It seems to me it had that funny, uh — it had that flat — I remember definitely that it did not say“Kirby”. It said “Scott & Fetzer Sanitation System.”


So you don’t remember any ’Kirby-Kirbys.’

No.


So where did that old Kirby come from that you have?

Oh, that was from Mina Ellman. She had the Kirby with all the attachments. I was going to fix it for her because something was wrong with it. But when I went to take it back she didn’t want it! She said she was going to get a new vacuum. She gave it to me.


So that was your first job? Working for Airway?

First with vacuums, yes.


What did you do after that?

Then the Hoover guy, Mr. — ? What was that guy’s name who was so good to me? He used to get me Hoovers, too. Down at the — I can still remember the address, 5145 Delmar. Hoover. It was the factory Hoover.


You told me once you used to call vacuum cleaner men up and tell them that your family wanted to see a demonstration of their vacuum?

Yes. Well, particularly the Singer. I always wanted to have Mr. Ryan come over and show the Singer. And that the day he agreed to come bring a Singer, R-2 or R-3, whatever it was, maybe an R-4, it was a shiny one with a red bag. For some reason, my mother had sent all the rugs to the cleaners! She didn’t have a rug in the place, except one of those runner rugs. So he put it on the runner rug and showed it. I remember at that time they wanted seventy-five dollars for it. That was a lot of money. We didn’t buy it. We had no intention of buying it. I just wanted to — I remember one time we bought a Model 9 Eureka from Canter Electric, out by the Tivoli Theater. He used to have these vacuums for sale. Some he’d trade in and he wouldn’t even bother to fix them. He’d turn right around and put them out on the floor for sale!


So you had two Eurekas?

Yeah. It was a completely rebuilt Eureka. But one day I saw an old Hoover in there. What was that, a 541? I think it was a 541 — it wasn’t a 543, it was a revolving brush model. And I persuaded Mother it would be better so we took the Eureka back and we bought that Hoover.


So ... then you went to work for Hoover.

Oh, that was many years later. This was, I was still —


— Oh. Okay, after you sold Airway what did you do?

Well, we were supposed to go from door to door with them.


Well, what I mean is, what was your next job? Your next employment after —

— Oh, I was working with, what’s his name — in a men’s clothing store.


When did you decide to become a musician?

Well, I studied music, way back since I was eight or nine years old.


You took piano lessons, and — When did you get interested in the organ?

When I saw a — Oh! When I started going to the Temple in St. Louis and heard Mrs. Kriegzauer play the big Kilgen —


— Heard who?

Mrs. Kriegzauer — she was an organist who played at the Temple Israel in St. Louis.


How do you play that? Um, spell that?

Oh, my God. It’s a big German word. I don’t know.


K-r-i-e-g-zauer?

Something like that. She was also the pianist for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.


How old were you when you started playing the organ?

I was about 16, I guess.


Was it in a church?

I started taking lessons from Arthur Lieber — he started teaching me at Second Baptist on a Moller, a big Moller that was rebuilt from an Odell. I remember the Moller company kept all the good Odell pipes in it and then added a Moller console and some pipes. I remember that church had a Model 91 Hoover.


Where did you —

— One thing I remember is that at the Temple, they had a Thurman vacuum cleaner on a truck! That’s the only one I ever saw. They used to pull that thing up and down the aisle of the temple; it had a long, long hose on it. It didn’t make much noise; it always sounded like an air compressor at the filling station — “chegga-chegga-chegga!” Like that. Finally I talked to David Woolfert, he was the head maintenance man. I said, “This old thing is not any good. You know, I can get you a good deal on a Kirby.”


What year was that?

Ohhhh... What Kirby was that? It was the Kirby with — I remember it had a grey bag. Grey with a red top on it. But it had that switch that went up and down.


Oh. So it was still a toggle switch?

Toggle switch. Yes. I remember that.


So that would have been ’47, ’48 maybe? Actually, it could have been as late as 1952.

I don’t remember what model it was but I remember Mr. — what was the name of that company — I used to bother them to death — I’d go over to look at all their old vacuum cleaners. I guess the reason they put up with it was because I was so young. Easton Avenue. They were there for years. They had vacuum cleaners going way back. Isn’t that funny . . . Diller. Diller Vacuum Cleaner Company. D-i-l-l-e-r. Old Man Diller. He represented the Kirby company.


Any relation to Phyllis?

No. One day when I was over there he had an R-1 Singer in there. I said, “Oh, I’d love to have that.” I was so crazy about the Singer. I don’t know how we got on the subject of the Temple, but he said, “If you can get them to buy a Kirby, I’ll give you that Singer.” And he did!


Well, back to where we started: Who did you study the theatre organ with?

George Wright.


Wow! George Wright. I didn’t know that. In St. Louis?

No, New York. When I graduated from college, from Washington University, I got a trip to New York. That’s where I saw my first theatre organ, in Radio City Music Hall. I said, “This sure beats those church organs!” So the next day I went to the Paramount [Theatre] and there was George Wright playing. That even beat the Radio City Music Hall organ! I took lessons with him while I was in New York, then afterward I stayed in touch, and he told me what to do with the St. Louis Fox organ when I went to play there.


How did you get to play the organ at the Fox?

Well, the organ was just sitting there under the orchestra pit. I guess most people had forgotten about it. It had been there since the 1930s.


So what year was this?

It was about, let’s see, 1951. I asked the management of the Fox if a couple of my friends could try to get that thing to play. We worked on it, and after we got it to play, I learned one song on it! I asked the Fox people to come listen to it. They liked it and said, “Okay, maybe we’ll spend a little money on it, because a whole generation has never heard one of these things, and another generation hasn’t heard one in 30 years! So we’ll try it for five weeks and see the public’s reaction.” Well, I had to learn to play at least 30 minutes’ worth of music. It wasn’t good, now that I look back on it it was limited, very limited, but it was better than silence.


So was it well received?

Oh my God, they went nuts! Five weeks lasted for 22 years.


Wow! How often did you play?

Four times a day, seven days a week.


Oh, my goodness! Wow!

That’s what I said after 10 years of it! The hell with it! Then I got an assistant. It was fun the first ten years, but after that —


 

How did you get on television the first time?

I was playing in Stan Muscial’s restaurant in St. Louis —


Stan who?

Stan Muscial, the baseball player.


How do you spell that?

Of course, you’re not a baseball fan, so you don’t know — he was one of THE Hall of Fame baseball players —


M-u—

—M-u-s-c-i-a-l. Muscial. He was Mister Baseball. He and Yogi Berra from New York. Anyway, the head of the NBC station in St. Louis used to come in and have dinner all the time, and I’d sit down and talk with him. One day he just told me they were starting a new show, in 1952, a talk show, and would I like to be the organist, music director and co-host? With a regular host. I said, “Well, I don’t know anything about it.” He said, “You don’t have to. It’s very simple. You’ll catch on to it.” So we had meetings down there, and rehearsals —


— What kind of organ was there?

Hammond.


Hammond. Who was the other host?

Well, first was Charlie Sherwood, then we got Charlotte Peters. Later on, it became the Charlotte Peters show. She was very good. There were three of us on the show.


I know you met Phyllis Diller in St. Louis — she used to live there. Did you meet her because of your TV show?

Yes.


Was she already doing her comedic character, I mean, with the fright wigs and “Fang” and all that?

Yes, she was already a big name.


So y’all became friends?

Yes. I took her out to see my vacuum cleaners. And she said, “Oh, my God! You’ve got to get on the Carson show with those crazy things!”


So SHE got you on the Carson show!

She got me on the Carson Show.


And what year was that?

1968.


How many times have you been on the Tonight Show?

Seventy-seven.


HOW many times?

Seventy-seven times.


You’ve been on seventy-seven times?

Yeah, every five weeks, almost.


Oh my goodness! That’s amazing. That must be a record.

It was. And eighty-eight times on the [Mike] Douglas show. Eighty-nine.


Do you have videotapes of all those appearances?

Not all of them, but I have a lot.


Because I’ve only seen one or two.

No, I’ve got a lot of them, but unfortunately they’re all on 3/4-inch tape, so it’s hard to see them.


I’ve seen that first appearance on the Tonight Show, what did he say after it was over with? What did he have to say about it?

Who?


Johnny Carson.

Oh, he loved the show! He was very tickled. And then I got on the Merv Griffin show for quite a few years. I was on Merv, Mike, Johnny, and Dinah!


Dinah Shore?

Yeah. They called me to be on her show. I guess they saw me on the other shows and liked me. I was on the Gypsy Lose Ree Show, ah, Gipsy Rose Lee Show, with my vacuums.

 


Stan on the “Gypsy Rose Lee Show”

 

A brief digression: When I borrowed and scanned the photos from Stan to write this interview, I put my Photoshop skills to use and created a “special“ version of the photo above. I printed it out and framed it, and gave it to Stan as a gift. He was delighted to have a framed copy of the photo and said he’d display it with his other photos. Well, I asked him to take a closer look at it. He did, and when he realized what I had done, he just about fell on the floor laughing! He loved the prank so much that he indeed did display the photo in a place of honor in his apartment! Here’s the “revised edition:”

 


 

So who dubbed you, “Stan Kann the Gadget Man?”

God, I don’t know. Stan Kann is my name.


Oh, is that what it is?

What?!


Who??!

Where??!!


Hm...We’ve gotten a little off the track! I guess we should get back to vacuum cleaners! When did you start actually collecting vacuums? Were you still living with your parents at that time?

Oh, yes!


How many did you have?

I was still in grade school. Every time a neighbor’s cleaner would break down or wear out —


— You’d get it —

— I’d get it.

So did you have a lot when you were little?


I had eight or ten.

Where did you keep them?

In closets in the house. We had a big locker in the basement and I kept some of them down there.


Did your mother ever get irritated or —

— Yes, all the time!


Did anyone ever think you were strange or tease you —

— The one we used, I can’t remember where we kept the one we actually used.


Did your Mom ever use any of your vacuums?

No. She didn’t like to vacuum at all.


Did people ever tease you about vacuum cleaners?

Everybody did.


And how would you respond to that?

I have everybody’s vacuum — I have this — this one aunt of mine, I have her in a box somewhere —


— You have her in a box??!

Yes, I have her in a box! And I have her box in a basket. I remember when Uncle Will, her husband, died, he left me that Atwater-Kent Radio I have in the other room, and then when she died I got her 102 Hoover. I remember seeing that for the very first time: My mother used to take me to her house when I was a little kid and we used to go there about every other week for afternoon rolls and coffee. She had a sun room, with a space which would have held a great big “inner-door” bed. But she didn’t need the bed so she took it out and used it for a closet.


She used the bed for a closet?

No, no. She used the space for the bed for a closet. What do I mean? She used the, oh, never mind. Now what was I talking about?


Heck if I know. Let’s try another question! You told me one time you used to go to people’s houses and smell their vacuum cleaners.

The bags. I liked to smell the bags. The Eureka didn’t smell like the Hoover at all!


Really? What was different about it?

I don’t know. There was a certain something about the way the bag smelled. Especially if there was dirt in it.


Did anyone ever catch you doing that and ask you what you were doing?

No. I’d just take a few sniffs.


Hm. Getting high on vacuum bags. Were there any vacuum cleaners that you were —

— The only one you couldn’t smell was the Airway. There was no odor, because there was a paper bag inside.


Oh yeah — now, somewhere along the line you started talking about the varieties of vacuums in St. Louis.

Ah! Today there’s nothing. Nothing! All those wonderful old machines that came from the Salvation Army, the Goodwill, even that crazy 1909 Oriole I have came from St. Louis.


How did you get hooked up with the Hoover company?

You mean out here, or back there?


Well, both.

Well, I was very well known in St. Louis for my vacuums. I had articles — there were features in the paper — did you ever see my story about the house with vacuum cleaners —


— I saw the one that was in the Hoover company magazine.

Well, that was one. There was another one in the newspaper, the Post Dispatch. They showed Mary, the maid, using a 1914 Hoover Senior. And it showed the Delco sitting in the hall closet.


Where did you find those giant Hoovers?

In a suburb of St. Louis, there was Tivoli Theatre where we used to go on Friday nights. During the day, it was right across the street from my aunt’s house. Well, it was there at night, too. One time when I went by in the afternoon with my mother, there was the guy using that big Hoover in the lobby. I always thought it looked so much like a Hoover 700, only much bigger. And then there was one across the street at Lee Rubenstein’s dress company. They had a 972 in their big ladies’ dress store. I mean, a big store where women went to buy clothes. And a few men, I suppose. Anyway, the only one I couldn’t find in my collection in St. Louis was that 972. So, one day, I asked Mr. Buck, was his name Jack? Jack. Jack Buck. Over at the Hoover company, if he had seen recently seen uh, uh, uh, uh, Hoover 972. He said he hadn’t seen uh, uh, uh, uh 972 in 15 years!


He hadn’t seen uh, uh, uh, uh 972?

No, he hadn’t even seen a, a, a, a 972! The last one he saw had belonged to the Masonic Lodge over on Delmar Avenue. They had sent it in for service. He said he was sure it had been a good 15 years since that cleaner had been in his shop. So one day on the air I said, “You know, I’ve just never been able to find a 972 or a 961 Hoover! Either one of those.” About a day or so later I was up at the Goodwill, looking through their — they had what they called their “as is” department. They had a huge section where anything you saw was either fifty cents or a dollar. There was stuff all over the place.

A woman came up to me and said, “Oh, I saw you on television, and you were talking about an unusually sized Hoover you were looking for.” And I said, “Yes?” She said, “I have that Hoover.” And I thought, “Oh. Now come on.” I said, “How could you have that particular Hoover? That big Hoover? Where did you ever get it?” She said, “From the Masonic Lodge on Delmar.” I said, “What?!” She said, “My husband was a Mason and they were re-doing the whole place. That Hoover was in a closet and they were going to throw it away. So my husband brought it home.” She said, “I love it, because it’s so big! It cleans so much of the rug at once.” I said, “Oh, I have been looking for that.” She said, “Well, you can’t have it. But if you want to come over and see it, you can come over and see it.” Well, I was heartbroken, because I really wanted to have it. But I did make arrangements to go over and see it.


What was she doing at the Goodwill?

Collecting dolls. Her name was Carrie Mae Wilson. She lived in a great, big three-story house. I made an appointment to see her and went over. I walked in, and saw that she had dolls everywhere. Sitting on the sofas, and on the chairs, and on the stairs going up to the second and third floors. She went to the hall closet and got this big thing out and, sure enough! There was the 972. I said. “Can I hear it run?” She plugged it in and, as big as it is, it was just as quiet as a mouse. She said, “In a couple of years, we’re moving. I won’t need this machine. Then you can have it.” Well, I didn’t want to wait a couple of years for that! Not after seeing it! So I said to her, “Could I trade you a more maneuverable cleaner for it?” She said no, no, she wanted to keep it. She could barely get it out of the closet!

I left there very heartbroken! Well, one I day I was talking to some friends of mine at the restaurant where I played the organ. In fact, they were the ones who owned the Fox Theatre. I told about the 972 and the woman who collected all the dolls. One of the women there said to me, “Well, I happen to collect dolls!” She said, “You ask that woman if she will give you that Hoover right now. I will give you a very rare doll to give her. It was made in Germany. I have two or three that are alike. It is very rare, and I am very lucky to have several of them.” So I went to the phone and called the woman. Carrie Mae Wilson was her name. I said “I have this doll” — uh, I don’t remember what kind of doll it was. All I remember is that it was an ugly little doll. It didn’t have any clothes on it. It was wood and had moveable arms. One of the first dolls that had arms you could twist — Anyway, I said, “Mrs. Arthur said if you don’t have this doll, she’ll give it to you if you’ll part with that Hoover now.” She said, “Well, I’d have to see the doll. I don’t have that particular doll, but bring it over and let me see what it’s like.” So we made another date.

I went to Mrs. Arthur’s house and got that ugly doll. Then I went over to Mrs. Wilson’s house. I remember it was in the morning because I had to be in the TV station at 10. This was about 9:15 in the morning. I walked in with this funny little doll. I said, “Do you have one of these?” She looked it all over. She didn’t say, “I have one of these. I don’t have one. I like it. I don’t like it.” She just walked right to the closet door and dragged out that Hoover and said, “Here!”


Isn’t that something. My goodness!

I could hardly — I was so excited! But when I got out to my car with it, I couldn’t get the damn thing in the car! I had a Volkswagen, and the handle was too long on that 971. I had to go back to her house and get a pair of pliers to unscrew the side nut on the handle bale, so I could get the handle off and get the bottom in the car, and then the handle separately.


You must have been thrilled.

Aaahhhhhhh!


Did you talk about it on your radio show?

Yes, I did.


That was a pretty nice favor, that she did for her. What was her name, the owner of the Fox Theatre?

The Arthurs. Yeah. Boy. I was —


— That was really something.

And the 961, which is even rarer — even the Hoover Company doesn’t have one of those!


How did you find that one?

I was going to play a concert in, was it Joliet, Illinois? Bloomington? I was going to play a concert in Illinois, someplace. Articles appeared in the paper about my vacuum collection and so forth. Well, my hotel phone rang one day. It was the Hoover dealer there. He had a store, out on one of the main streets. He said, “Mr. Kann? I’d love for you to come over and see my place. I’ve got a couple of cleaners that you might like to see.” I said, “What have you got?” He said, “Well, in the window I have a 961 that you —” I said, “I’ve never even seen a 961!” He said, “Come on over.”

Well, I went over there. Not only did he have a 961 in the window, but he had a 1912 Hoover, the predecessor to the 102. Actually, it’s the smaller version of what they used to call the “Hoover Senior.” It was the cleaner they made in 1913. That giant 961 is from 1922. They made that particular Hoover longer than any other — they made it from 1922 to 1928. It sold like hotcakes. Hotels, commercial places. It weighs a ton.


That’s the one that looks like a big 541, right?

Yeah, yes. The motor starts kinda slow, then catches and goes fast. Anyway, we’re standing in the store and he shows me the 961 and so forth. And just as I was getting ready to leave, he said, “Would you like to have that 961?” I just looked at him. He said, “I couldn’t think of anybody I’d rather have it more than you. I just use it to show people what the old Hoovers looked like. So you can have it. And, if you want, you can also have that 1913 Model N.”


Isn’t that great! have you ever seen the Model O Hoover, the original one?

Yes, Hoover sent one to us that we showed on TV in St. Louis.


What was your first contact with the main Hoover company, in Canton?

The only thing I remember is that I wrote them about a machine, which was a big lie! I wanted an original Silver Jubilee bag for the model 425 Hoover I had. I had just a regular bag; it didn’t say “Silver Jubilee.” So I wrote them a long letter — in fact I still have a copy of their reply — I said, “We have had two Hoovers for years, and one of them is a model 425. But our Silver Jubilee bag wore out and it’s never been the same since!” I also explained that I collect vacuum cleaners. Well, I didn’t hear anything for a while. Then all of a sudden I got a letter back. Their head of service wrote me back and said, “We’ve never heard of anybody with such a hobby. This [425] bag is yours, free of charge. All I ask is that you send us the old bag that you are using on the cleaner, whatever it is.”


When was the first time you went to Canton?

I did a commercial for them.


A nationwide TV commercial?

Yes. We made it in Sacramento. I had some of the old Hoovers on display, three or four of them, and I had a brand new Hoover which I was running. I said, “This new Hoover spoils my act! You know why? Because it always works, that’s why! And it will always work for you!” or something along that line.


What model was the new one?

I don’t remember.


Dial A Matic, maybe?

No, it was later than that. It was one with a handle —


Funny, I thought you had been in contact with them all along, you know, for a long time.

Nope. I did work for them for a while, selling the Elite.


Your big house in St. Louis — the entire third floor was your collection, right?

Yes. I had the perfect place to keep all my bags: A big cedar closet.


And you had a workshop down in the basement?

Yes. A really good workshop, too, with vacuum cleaners, grinding wheels, etc. Oh — I do recall the Hoover company got me a supply of the original paint that went on the 541, the 102, 105, etc. That grey-finish paint. It was a certain kind of paint. A couple of my machines got scratched, and they sent me some cans of spray paint so I could make them look new again with the right stuff.

 


Some of Stan’s Mechanical Sweepers
(Photo cir. 1970)

 


 

When did you move to Los Angeles?

1974.


How did that come about?

Well, Phyllis Diller suggested it, because I was doing so much TV out here that I would be better off out here than flying so much. Oh, that was a job! I’ll never do that again, especially — the furniture was enough trouble, but then I had to get a special truck just to bring out all the vacuums. The move cost me almost $4400, back then.


Have you ever thought about moving back to St. Louis?

Yep. Quite a bit. If I thought I could get back into one of my old houses, I’d move back in a minute. But they’re too expensive.


Do you have any living relatives?

We can’t tell if they’re living or not.


Then you probably don’t want to know!

Yes, I do. I’ve got some down here in Encenitas, California; some in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.


None in St. Louis?

No, no.


You were an only child?

Yes.


When did your parents pass away?

My mother in 1957; my father in 1964.


Well, you seem to have done pretty well for yourself. You’ve got a nice house here in Los Angeles and a lot of people who call your their friend.

They’re probably lying.


I don’t think so. You’re really a special guy!

I’d like to have a house — I’d love to be able to keep my vacuum cleaners a little better. That’s gotten to be a real problem. I want to get rid of quite a few of them because there is no sense in having vacuum cleaners stored in boxes for years and years and years. I may know they’re there, but so what? No one can see them.


How many do you have now?

Well, I’ve got 44 of them right here, on the second floor of the house.


And all counted?

There’s at least a hundred and twenty-five in boxes over in the storage.


How many Model 700 Hoovers do you have?

I have examples of all the variations — on tilt mechanism; on the motor, where the cord came out of the motor. Some went up one side, and some on the other. Then I have some rebuilt 700s, two variations, called Hoover Specials.


When did you start going to Goodwill stores looking for cleaners?

Oh, way back in the ’50s.


And you found a lot of good finds?

Everything! You never saw so many vacuums in your life. A few came from the Electrolux company. When they’d get trade-ins they’d give them to me. One of the best Hoover 425s I’ve got came from Electrolux. It looks like brand new. Someone traded it in on an Electrolux.


What was the cleaner you found in a warehouse, or a shipping and storage place, or something?

That was out here, in California. It was a 1913 Franz Premier. I was over there looking for dining room chairs — they had a sale on some things that had been around for a long time that no one had claimed — I happened to look across the room and I saw a rather tall handle standing up. The early Franz Premiers had an unusually tall handle. Many cleaners did. For some reason they thought the handles should be tall. Even Eureka did. I recognized that handle right away as a vacuum cleaner. As I got closer to it, I saw the turn switch on the top. I thought, “I can’t believe it, but I think it’s a Franz Premier!” I looked closer, and there it was! It had been standing there all these years; someone had put it in storage with some other things and never did claim it!


How much did you pay for it?

Ten bucks! He wanted twenty-five. It still had the original cord. You couldn’t plug it in because it had that screw-type connection that you’d put in a lamp socket. So I said, “Twenty-five dollars?! I don’t even know if it runs! There’s nowhere in this place to connect such a thing. I’ll give you ten dollars for it. If it doesn’t run, I’ve lost ten bucks.” He said, “That’s fair enough.” He gave it to me and I brought it home. I couldn’t wait to get a converter-thing! I had to plug it into a lamp. It ran just like new! Still had the original bag on it. I have another machine, called the Graybar, that looks just like the Franz Premier — before they made the Graybar that looks like the Premier. It had a ball-bearing motor while the Franz-Premier had a bush-bearing motor.


Tell me about Phyllis Diller’s gold Kirby.

They made that special for her.


Why did they do that?

I don’t know. I think they just wanted her to use a Kirby.


What ever happened to it?

She gave it to me.


It’s gold-plated?

Yes. I think it’s ugly as hell.


She — Phyllis — gave it to you as a present, right?

She gave it to me for Christmas. She called me and said she had a gift for me. She wouldn’t let on what it was. She always gives me something for Christmas. She said the chauffeur is going to come by with it, and he’ll ring the bell. That’s when I was living at the Penthouse on Rossmore.

So after a while, along comes the guy. I went downstairs and, my God, here are these two boxes! I asked, “What’s in this?” He didn’t know, either. One box was rather tall, and it was all decorated like a chimney Santa Claus on the top, coming down it. Then it had this funny little peak sticking up, where the handle wouldn’t fit in the whole box. Then there was another box that had all the attachments, decorated in some other kind of way. I still didn’t know what it was. So I got it upstairs and the first thing I did was open the top where this funny peak was. I looked down and there was the handle for that gold Kirby. I had only seen it once at her house. I opened the box, and there was this gold vacuum cleaner!


Do you remember what model it was?

No.

What color was the bag and trim?


It was a very busy bag, I remember that.


Busy?

Yes. Lots of little squares, it seems to me, all over it. The name was in one place, up near the corner. It was brown at the top.


Light brown or dark brown?

It was a Sani— Sani— —


Sanitronic?

Something like that, yeah. I remember one thing about it: When you wanted to release the belt, it had a big, square thing that you had to turn.


Oh, square? Not triangular-shaped?

Was it triangular or square? It was big, and was brown, too. The rest of the thing was all gold-plated. The bag had a brown thing, sort of a plastic cover across the top. The attachments were in a box by themself.


Oh! Tell us about your system of rotating your vacuum cleaners.

Well, out here I don’t have a weekly cleaner, but every two weeks. Because for some reason or other, things don’t get as dirty in Los Angeles. When I lived in St. Louis it was every week that I changed the cleaners.


Do you have any particular pattern of —

— Well, one week it’s a straight suction, then it’s revolving brush or beater, then back to straight suction. When I use a straight-suction machine, I use it more because it doesn’t get as much dirt as fast. But it’s amazing how much dirt gets in the bag of a straight-suction cleaner. Some of those straight-suction cleaners I’ve got — really, between the cat hair and the dirt, they collect quite a bit of dirt. I’ve convinced the most powerful straight-suction [upright] vacuum cleaner I’ve ever seen on the market is the Ohio. They all make claims about how much suction they have, but if you ever turned on an Ohio you wouldn’t believe how it grabs the rug and holds on. It’s incredible. It’s incredible.


What do you vacuum with most often? Do you have a favorite? Do you use the Hoover 700 a lot?

I like the 700 series; I like the 800 series.


So the vacuum cleaner that you are using, do you have it on display somewhere, or —

— I keep it in the kitchen. Or if it’s not in the kitchen, it’s standing in the reception hall of the house. The Airway, since it doesn’t stand up, it has to rest on all four wheels. I keep it in the stairwell. That seems to be a convenient place to put it.

 


Some of Stan’s Electric Sweepers
(Photo cir. 1970)

 


 

Is there any vacuum cleaner you don’t have that you wish you have?

No, I can’t think of a single thing I want. I have some I wish I didn’t have! One thing I’ve never used is that Gain-A-Day. One of these days, I’m going to bring that thing home. It has a triangular bag. I want to try it. I think it’s a product from G.E. It has all the earmarks of a G.E. motor. General Electric and Premier always had the same style.


Are there any vacuum cleaners that you bought new?

New?


Um-hm.

No, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a new one. I don’t think so.


Is there any vacuum cleaner made today that, if you were to buy a new vacuum cleaner, you — I mean, not to recommend a particular vacuum cleaner brand — I’m just curious if there is anything on the market today that appeals to you.

Not really. I like the looks of the Royal — not the dirt Devil, but the chrome models. That’s a very well-made machine.


I see you have a Filter Queen sitting here. Do you like it?

Someone gave me that! I like the Filter Queen. There are certain models of Electrolux I like. I like the Model XXX, and I love the XII. The XII does a good job of cleaning, for dusting. Most people do not realize that it does not take much suction to do dusting. If you have a rug that isn’t walked on a lot, a straight-suction machine will do a pretty good job on it.


I understand you have one cleaner that Sonny, your cat, is very fond of.

He’s fond of all the tank types. The minute he sees the Electrolux, or a canister hose, he’s right there waiting to be groomed.


That’s amazing. Most animals are afraid of vacuum cleaners.

He loves to be vacuumed. And if he’s lying on a rug that I’m vacuuming, he won’t budge. I have to vacuum around him!


How old is he?

Sixteen. He’s in bad health.


Did you get him when he was a kitten?

He was eight weeks old.


How did you find him?

He was under a car, crying his head off.


At your house?

In front of our house, yes. Either he got out of a litter, or someone put him there. He’s just been the best buddy! He’s not like a cat at all; I think he thinks he’s human.

[Ed. note: Sonny went to that big catnip patch in the sky in the Winter of 1996.]

Oh, where did you find that little Hoover Duster, the little thing on runners?

I found that in St. Louis. I had two of them. I don’t know what happened to the other one. I think I found one of them in a thrift store.


I can’t imagine walking into a thrift store and seeing a Hoover Duster sitting there.

The other one may have been traded in somewhere. I did have two of them.


What do you think is the rarest machine that you have?

Probably the Airway Dirt Master.


It’s all original, huh?

All my Airways are all original. Every vacuum I have is all original, with the exception of some of the cords. Some have the original cords and some don’t. But they all have the original bags.


That’s important. To make the cleaner look right.

To me, it is. I can’t stand a cleaner with a replacement bag on it.


You’re lucky in that respect. A lot of people in this club don’t have cleaners with original bags.

I do think the Airway Dirt Master, and a couple of my very early Hoovers —

— How did you get those early Hoovers? How did you find so many of them?

They were always in the Salvation Army or Goodwill. One of the cleaners I’ve got, if you go back to the so-called “non-efficient” days, the Oriole [sp?? Auriol???] — made by the Richmond Company, was from 1909. I saw on at the Hoover Company in their museum but I’ve never seen one anywhere else.


Where did you find that?

A man in St. Louis called me. He had two of them. One belonged to he and his wife, and the other to his sister-in-law. They had them in the garage. They had bought new vacuums but just kept those. No wheels on them at all. You just sort of scrape it along the rug. He gave them to me. Then there’s the Magic, another rare cleaner I’ve got. It was made in Chicago. It’s an ugly, awful-looking thing. Very primitive. And I consider the Franz-Premier very rare.


What’s that big thing you’ve got —

— I beg your pardon?!


That big drum-thing with the fly-wheel, that big cylinder-cleaner that you had over at Jesse’s place for a while?

Oh, that’s called an Invincible.


Where’d you find that?

That was in St. Louis. I don’t know how I ever got it out here. It weighs a ton. I still have a pumper vacuum in St. Louis. Some friends are keeping it for it. It’s a beautiful cleaner. I remember it takes two people to use it. It has a big, round glass thing on it so you can see the dirt going into the canister. There’s no name on it. It’s all silver-painted. And the Delco I have is a rare machine. I’ve only seen one other Delco.


What other non-electric cleaners do you have?

Well, I’ve got a Wireless Vacuette. And something that I’m sure was made by Scott & Fetzer, made for Montgomery Ward.


You have a Royal hand-pumper don’t you?

Not a tank. It’s an upright thing. Made in 1905. I have all the early straight-suction [electric] Royals. The Royal Standard, the Super Royal, one called the — what’s that thing called? They made a tremendous amount of models. Premier did, too. They were a service department’s nightmare.


Some people claim that Hoover manufactured the first electric sweeper. Do you agree with that?

Well, no, the English actually claim that. Hoover didn’t even invent the thing. A man named Mr. Spangler invented it, and sold the patents to Hoover. Hoover was the first to have a real motor-driven brush. They started with one. Oh, I have one Hoover that they don’t seem to have knowledge of, it says “Hoover Baby,” but it’s not a motor-driven machine. It has a revolving brush that’s turned by the wheels.


Who do you think had the most ridiculous gimmick?

Well, when you look at the old ads, of course they all said they made the best machine. Rexair I never cared for. Airway, of course, was well ahead of its time. I think the style of the original Airway, with its hollow handle, was a very versatile machine. It could do so many different things. And once you learned how to use it — it was so unusual to use that many people used them completely wrong. They’d try to use them with all four wheels on the floor, and you can’t clean a thing that way. You have to tilt it up so that those springs let the nozzle go down to the rug. The fibre agitators separate the nap. That’s why the Airway cleans pretty well. You wouldn’t think it would, but actually those diamond-shaped fibre agitators really do separate the nap. And they were the first with a disposable bag. Years, years before anyone else.


Wasn’t it Airway that Hoover sued?

Yes. Airway was actually using a smooth, polished beater bar, mounted on rubber instead of on the agitator itself. But the Court said it was the same thing, and they had to stop making it. They made those models — the Twin Motor had that, and the Dirt Master had that. But these didn’t last more than a couple of years. I think that’s why you don’t see them often.


What’s the most money you’ve ever paid for a vacuum cleaner?

Hmm.... Well, I paid fifty bucks once, just to have one buffed once. An Apex A-3. It had such a perfect motor, still does. In fact, every cleaner I have in the hose has a good motor in it. But I have some in the garage that the motors need bearing work.


Well, I guess we'll wrap this up. Do you have any parting words of wisdom, or advice, for people who are collecting vacuum cleaners?

Yes: Get rid of them while you can! I wish they would become — I'll tell you, collecting is one thing, but I think they should be collected so they can be used. I don't like them all in my house at once. Now, I have a room upstairs, but that room is just for storage. I don't have all my machines in the main house area. It was always that way, even in the other houses. The cleaner of the week was always the only one out in the main part of the house.


Well, this has been a lot of fun. I'm not really much of an interviewer; I've just pretty much let you talk. I hope our readers have enjoyed it.

-I- hope they're still awake!

 


My favorite photo of Stan, taken by me in 2003.

 




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