A Great Sister Act Hits St. Louis
Mary and Ruth Miccolis are excellent examples of how good, old-fashioned tenacity could pay off for radio entertainers during the medium’s heyday.
Born in the early ‘20s in the Cook County suburb of Melrose Park, the girls moved to the St. Louis area while in their teens to pursue their dream of breaking into show business. Even now it’s hard to imagine two youngsters making such a break from their parents, but back then, it was almost unheard of for young girls to take such a step. They did, however, have a good reason for taking the chance.
A talent scout for KMOX had heard their work in an audition and offered them a job on the radio. It was 1938, and there was still a lingering economic Depression, so having a job at such a prestigious station made their decision a bit easier.
St. Louis, while not the city Chicago was, offered Mary and Ruth plenty of opportunities. They won a national yodeling competition, which was held at Kiel Auditorium, employing a vocal technique known as triple-tongue yodels. They became part of Pappy Cheshire’s group on KMOX and regularly participated in the Barnyard Follies show and The Old Fashioned Barn Dance show, sponsored by “Uncle” Dick Slack’s furniture stores, endearing them to the rural listeners as well as those in the city. They also were on a Saturday morning show that KMOX fed live to the CBS Network.
Pappy Cheshire was a promoter, and he schooled the girls in the realities of the radio business for entertainers. He didn’t pay his people as well as one might expect because, he reasoned, the radio exposure created plenty of opportunities for personal appearances, and that’s where the money was. And there was plenty of demand for the Miccolis Sisters.
There were many hillbilly entertainers leading the same sort of life, among them a comic musician named Ambrose Haley. Haley had played the stand-up bass with several groups at KMOX and was kept busy doing the personal appearance circuit too. His infectious comedy, which was a throwback to the days of Vaudeville, made him a popular booking at county fairs throughout the Midwest, and he approached Ruth and Mary about joining his program, which was then being broadcast on KXOK. That station, owned by the St. Louis Star-Times had its studios in the newspaper’s building at 12th and Delmar, just a few blocks north of the KMOX Mart Building studios.
Their work on KXOK also gave the Miccolis Sisters more national exposure, this time on the fledgling ABC Radio Network. Because their change in stations came during World War II, Mary was forced to expand her act a bit. The war had tapped many of radio’s male entertainers for conscription into the service, and Haley’s act needed a straight man. Mary became the “straight woman.”
KXOK was also a conduit for the two women to strike up a professional relationship with one of Hollywood’s most famous cowboy stars, Roy Rogers. He came to town for an extended appearance and visited the station, where he met Mary and Ruth, and he invited them to join him in his visits to local veterans hospitals and military posts and in his act, which was playing at the Fox Theater.
When Ambrose Haley got an offer of a job at WIBW in Topeka, he took it and moved the Miccolis Sisters too. After many years in the broadcast entertainment business, Mary and Ruth Miccolis retired in the Kansas City area with their families.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 07/08)