December 9, 1924
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 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 cant believe you've never heard of Stan Kann, that zany guy whos 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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 dont 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 Bobs Big Boy Restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard (now torn down, alas) where wed talk about music and vacuum cleaners.
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.
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.
You wouldnt believe the sight that greeted us when Stan and I walked into the enormous back yard of this mans 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!
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 youll 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 Id 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, Ive 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 havent 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; thats 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.
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!).
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, Ill 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, shed lean her head out her window and call out, Stanley, ohhhh Stanley, guess what IM doing! And he would reply, Youre using your Model 700 Hoover, Mrs. MacNyrtle!
And so it would go. It became a running joke between us; whenever Id call him, Id 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.
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.
Ill sure miss him.
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 —
Really? You never moved away from St. Louis?
You lived in the same house?
Where was the first place you lived?
What was funny looking about it?
Was it always full of dirt?
So now what year was this?
What’s your very earliest recollection of a vacuum cleaner? Would that be it?
How did you start getting interested in vacuum cleaners, do you know?
So it must have been —
What did your mother use for cleaning?
Did you ever borrow someone’s vacuum?
Were these all straight suction cleaners?
Do you remember anyone who had non-electric cleaners?
What did he say about it?
Why did he have the bag off of it?
Stan showing an Airway “Chief”
I remember you telling me once about there was someone —
Which model was that?
Did these people use attachments with their uprights?
Really? Hm. What did they use for cleaning their upholstery and that sort of thing?
Oh yeah? What would she do?
And she did all her own housekeeping?
She didn’t have a maid?
— Did it still have the original bag?
So most of these are uprights. Do you remember any tanks or canisters?
— Did you go to public school?
While you were there?
Were they the ones who kept it under the bed?
Now, you’ve often told me —
— Perry Pie Company?
So she’d be giving him an enema with one hand and vacuuming with the other.
— Oh, really? Well, Billy - “Ya-Mad?” - Lipman will be glad to hear about that.
You lived across the street from there?
Did you like them?
Tell me about the time you broke into someone’s garage.
Behind the store?
— Did you ever admit it to anyone?
So what ever happened to the bag?
So she had two vacuums?
How old were you then?
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 —
And did you?
So what ever happened to that?
And to this day you still have it?
Now just before I started this interview you were talking about this Torrington vacuum. Tell me about how you came to get that one.
What was she doing with it?
— She was your girlfriend?
What kind of vacuum did she have?
Were you driving?
— That’s the one with the red band around the motor?
Do you remember what movie it was you were going to see?
It’s funny, you remember the model, and the vacuum, but nothing about the movie.
Was she mean?
I know that one of your favorite machines is the 700 Hoover.
Why was that, and what was the first one you remember seeing?
Across the street. In the other building?
Do you remember the day she got it? Or do you just remember her having it?
—Like an alcove or something?
So was that the only 700 you remember?
So what was it about it that you liked so much?
So if you heard one running, you knew what it was.
So you could hear the difference between a 700 and a 725?
The same place. Do you —
Do you remember seeing them being used?
So do you think these people kept their Hoovers out because it was kind of a status symbol, or —
I remember most people would keep their vacuums in the front closet, or in the —
Who was it who kept their vacuum in the dining room behind the door?
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?
— So there was a happy ending!
What about the Rexair? Because I know you’ve got one that —
Where did that Rexair come from that you have from St. Louis?
You didn’t see it as a child?
Oh, that’s right, you found it in —
— And you knew the people who owned it?
Wasn’t there a restaurant in St. Louis where you told me they used a Model Sixty [LX] Electrolux?
So that was much later, then.
Did you ever use it?
Was it the kind that the motor was always running, and you just opened the valve to stick the hose in?
— What other vacuums did you have in that house?
So — but you said as a kid you didn’t have any vacuums. What was the first one that you —
Were they —
— So their car was a Hoover, right?!
[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 —
How did they know that you could fix them?
Did you ever wreck anybody’s vacuum?
So that was legitimate?
So whatever happened?
Did they make you pay for it?
Did you get a spanking?
Where did he find that?
It was new? He brought it home new?
So that would have been what year? About?
She had a particular day?
And where did she keep her vacuum?
Did she have 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?
What color? The blue one? Or the purple one?
Did you sell many of them?
[Interview is interrupted by a knock at the door. No, it was not a vacuum cleaner salesman.]
Let’s go back. You started to tell a story about how — you said, “I remember one day” — when you were selling the Airway —
I hope they never found out! So did you sell any of those Airways?
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!
So do you remember any Kirbys from when you were —
Did it have a Sani-Emptor?
Who had that?
So you don’t remember any ’Kirby-Kirbys.’
So where did that old Kirby come from that you have?
So that was your first job? Working for Airway?
What did you do after that?
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?
So you had two Eurekas?
So ... then you went to work for Hoover.
— Oh. Okay, after you sold Airway what did you do?
Well, what I mean is, what was your next job? Your next employment after —
When did you decide to become a musician?
You took piano lessons, and — When did you get interested in the organ?
— Heard who?
How do you play that? Um, spell that?
How old were you when you started playing the organ?
Was it in a church?
Where did you —
What year was that?
Oh. So it was still a toggle switch?
So that would have been ’47, ’48 maybe? Actually, it could have been as late as 1952.
Any relation to Phyllis?
Well, back to where we started: Who did you study the theatre organ with?
Wow! George Wright. I didn’t know that. In St. Louis?
How did you get to play the organ at the Fox?
So what year was this?
So was it well received?
Wow! How often did you play?
Oh, my goodness! Wow!
How did you get on television the first time?
How do you spell that?
— What kind of organ was there?
Hammond. Who was the other host?
I know you met Phyllis Diller in St. Louis — she used to live there. Did you meet her because of your TV show?
Was she already doing her comedic character, I mean, with the fright wigs and “Fang” and all that?
So y’all became friends?
So SHE got you on the Carson show!
And what year was that?
How many times have you been on the Tonight Show?
HOW many times?
You’ve been on seventy-seven times?
Oh my goodness! That’s amazing. That must be a record.
Do you have videotapes of all those appearances?
Because I’ve only seen one or two.
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?
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 hed 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! Heres the revised edition:
So who dubbed you, “Stan Kann the Gadget Man?”
Oh, is that what it is?
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?
How many did you have?
— You’d get it —
So did you have a lot when you were little?
Where did you keep them?
Did your mother ever get irritated or —
Did anyone ever think you were strange or tease you —
Did your Mom ever use any of your vacuums?
Did people ever tease you about vacuum cleaners?
And how would you respond to that?
— You have her in a box??!
She used the bed for a closet?
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.
Really? What was different about it?
Did anyone ever catch you doing that and ask you what you were doing?
Hm. Getting high on vacuum bags. Were there any vacuum cleaners that you were —
Oh yeah — now, somewhere along the line you started talking about the varieties of vacuums in St. Louis.
How did you get hooked up with the Hoover company?
— I saw the one that was in the Hoover company magazine.
Where did you find those giant Hoovers?
He hadn’t seen uh, uh, uh, uh 972?
What was she doing at the Goodwill?
Isn’t that something. My goodness!
You must have been thrilled.
Did you talk about it on your radio show?
That was a pretty nice favor, that she did for her. What was her name, the owner of the Fox Theatre?
— That was really something.
How did you find that one?
That’s the one that looks like a big 541, right?
Isn’t that great! have you ever seen the Model O Hoover, the original one?
What was your first contact with the main Hoover company, in Canton?
When was the first time you went to Canton?
A nationwide TV commercial?
What model was the new one?
Dial A Matic, maybe?
Funny, I thought you had been in contact with them all along, you know, for a long time.
Your big house in St. Louis — the entire third floor was your collection, right?
And you had a workshop down in the basement?
When did you move to Los Angeles?
How did that come about?
Have you ever thought about moving back to St. Louis?
Do you have any living relatives?
Then you probably don’t want to know!
None in St. Louis?
You were an only child?
When did your parents pass away?
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.
I don’t think so. You’re really a special guy!
How many do you have now?
And all counted?
How many Model 700 Hoovers do you have?
When did you start going to Goodwill stores looking for cleaners?
And you found a lot of good finds?
What was the cleaner you found in a warehouse, or a shipping and storage place, or something?
How much did you pay for it?
Tell me about Phyllis Diller’s gold Kirby.
Why did they do that?
What ever happened to it?
She — Phyllis — gave it to you as a present, right?
Do you remember what model it was?
What color was the bag and trim?
Light brown or dark brown?
Oh, square? Not triangular-shaped?
Oh! Tell us about your system of rotating your vacuum cleaners.
Do you have any particular pattern of —
What do you vacuum with most often? Do you have a favorite? Do you use the Hoover 700 a lot?
So the vacuum cleaner that you are using, do you have it on display somewhere, or —
Some of Stan’s Electric Sweepers
(Photo cir. 1970)
Is there any vacuum cleaner you don’t have that you wish you have?
Are there any vacuum cleaners that you bought new?
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.
I see you have a Filter Queen sitting here. Do you like it?
I understand you have one cleaner that Sonny, your cat, is very fond of.
That’s amazing. Most animals are afraid of vacuum cleaners.
How old is he?
Did you get him when he was a kitten?
How did you find him?
At your house?
[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 can’t imagine walking into a thrift store and seeing a Hoover Duster sitting there.
What do you think is the rarest machine that you have?
It’s all original, huh?
That’s important. To make the cleaner look right.
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?
Where did you find that?
What’s that big thing you’ve got —
That big drum-thing with the fly-wheel, that big cylinder-cleaner that you had over at Jesse’s place for a while?
Where’d you find that?
What other non-electric cleaners do you have?
You have a Royal hand-pumper don’t you?
Some people claim that Hoover manufactured the first electric sweeper. Do you agree with that?
Who do you think had the most ridiculous gimmick?
Wasn’t it Airway that Hoover sued?
What’s the most money you’ve ever paid for a vacuum cleaner?
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?
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.
My favorite photo of Stan, taken by me in 2003.
(Please note that all text and some images* are copyright (c) 1995-2008 by Charles Richard Lester. You are welcome to disseminate information or graphics from this web page for non-commercial use only but only after requesting and receiving permission by its author (me). Please apply to Charles Richard Lester: one_three_sevenat1377731.com (change "at" to the "@" symbol). Thank you for appreciating the value of creativity.
|- Back to my Vacuum Cleaner Page -|
|- Back to my Home page -|