About The Artist
Elsewhere, one can read about the Saylor Sisters and their early musical journey. This particular biography will focus on Wanda Saylor's career once the sister act broke up.
A 1953 TV Guide article published in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area tells readers that Wanda took all of eight piano lessons that came free with the piano her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Saylor had bought on a payment plan at a department store in downtown York, Pennsylvania. She was only about six years old at the time the piano arrived at the Saylor household. She and her sister began to sing together and were getting attention at local parties and social events.
Wanda wrote of her memories of being at WRVA as we had told her about our research into the Old Dominion Barn Dance. She remembers there was a late afternoon show with, as she remembers it, a large group of entertainers and Grandpa Jones, Ramona (billed as little Indian Girl) his wife, and led by a gal named Sue who played accordion and her husband. They paid her one or two dollars to come to station after school to play accordion on the show so Sue could be the emcee and sing unencumbered! She was only 13, she was rather proud.
After leaving Richmond she went to WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia. They were on the Jamboree, but she recalls it was held in studio A because of the war.
Even then Cousin Elmer would work to break Wanda up laughing. Wanda says he had a great yodeling voice and did comedy. I saw him later when I came back on WWVA.
Next came WPTF in Raleigh, North Carolina. School became more important for her after she dropped out in Raleigh and went to work.
Wanda notes that the family moved to Philadelphia in 1945. Her Mother had remarried and they now had a baby brother. While in Philadelphia, the sisters did some work on WFIL. It was some early morning show she says and that meant trying to stay awake in their first class at school.
After graduating from Red Lion High School in 1947 the sisters sent an audition disc to WIS in Columbia, South Carolina and were hired. Wanda and her sister moved there summer of 1947. But the sister act would come to an end when her sister married a young man she had met in Raleigh in 1949. Wanda struck out on her own.
But after a few months, she decided she wanted to go back home and visit her daddy and other family in York. But during that stay, she decided to drive over Wheeling, West Virginia to visit old friends. She says by that time, the show had moved back to the auditorium. She took her accordion and went to WWVA. That stay lasted about six months and she appeared on the famed Wheeling Original Jamboree show broadcast each Saturday night.
Cowboy Phil and the Golden West Girls wanted Wanda to play for them. They were rehearsing so she played along and was hired. It was Cowboy, Abbie Neal (who ran the group---an excellent musician) and Gay and Tina Franzi and Wanda. Wanda remembers it was fun, a great group. They did a daily show at 9:30AM and often left after the show to play a fair or a Park some where.
In Winter of 1949 Wanda thinks they toured New England--The Latches(sp) Theater Group. When Dagwood fell down the stairs we got ready to go on stage.
Back in WWVA Wanda was getting restless again and Gene Johnson, their booker, had plans for them to move to WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. As tempting as it was, Wanda was lonesome for the south so she left and moved to Southern Pines, North Carolina where her Mother was living.
During that time Wanda joined up with her sister (Jeeny) who was working with her husband (Jimmy Duke) as an act called "The Dukes of Carolina." On February 26, 1950, Wanda joined them at Graham Memorial hall where "hillbilly music" was to echo in their concert. Jimmy was going to play bass, her sister would be on the guitar and Wanda handled the accordion. Wanda also had a noon time show on WTIK in Durham.
After several months Abbie called and asked me to come out to Iowa. By that time Wanda said she was ready and joined them there. A gal named Dorothy had been the accordion player that replaced Wanda when she left for North Carolina. Dusty Brown was now with them instead of Tina. Dusty and Wanda became best friends and they corresponded with each other until her death.
She stayed with the group when they left WHO and toured from Iowa and Ohio - playing Grange Halls and other bookings courtesy of Gene Johnson then they went back to Wheeling.
For about six months or so Wanda and her sister worked for MCA out of New York and New Jersey doing clubs and but they hated it. They broke their contract with MCA by telling them her sister was pregnant (but she wasn't).
Meanwhile Abbie, Gay and Dusty were doing a TV show in Pittsburgh. They didn't want Cowboy, just the girls. They still worked WWVA with Cowboy and drove to Pittsburgh each morning. On a snowy day they had a bad accident near Wheeling and Abbie was severely injured and ended up with a smashed hip.
Wanda got a call from Pittsburgh and by then Wanda said she was ready for something different — and this was TELEVISION!!! She flew to Pittsburgh and began another chapter of her career.
Unfortunately, Abbie was off the television show for many months and people had gotten used to hearing "Your gal, Wanda" and when Abbie returned, it was just a difficult situation. Wanda says she quit the show and it only lasted short while after she left.
Wanda would return to television in Pittsburgh on WDTV (Channel 2) heading up the Wilkens EZC Ranch Gals show. The Wilkens Jewelry Company was the sponsor and Wanda would lead an all-female band. The show would begin on September 14, 1953 and would air Monday through Friday. A Billboard article that stated Wanda was looking to hire a couple of musicians notes that the pay was double scale. Guy Franzi and Dusty Brown were also a part of the band. Al Nobel was their announcer.
In that 1953 TV Guide feature article, Wanda told of the group's approach on the Wilkens' EZC Ranch programs. She had developed a passion and devotion to the folk music had long been part of those shows and indicated she refused to compromise with it in its simplets, most common forms.
She was quoted, "There's no reason why hillbilly music should be confied to three major chords...on the EZC Ranch, we don't play it that way either. Just because people like hillbilly music doesn't mean they don't want to hear it in its widest musical range."
The article also posed another question to her - did she have any other aspirations beyond music in her life? She replied, she wanted to get married and have as many children as the Lord would let her have. Something that in the end did come true.
Wanda left the show and later would do other shows, but would leave. On one occasion, she cited a "nasty director." But The very last time she left the show was after she had just gotten married and did one last show (a telethon). She left went to her husband, who was waiting for me, and our first son born 8 days later. Wanda stated they had nine children—six boys three girls
The telethon Wanda referred to was an annual benefit show sponsored by the Pittsburgh Press. The 90-minute show was for "The Press Old Newsboys Fund for Children's Hospital". The first such show was in 1951 and it raised over $50,000. In 1952, listeners / viewers from the tri-state area contributed over $101,000. The casts of the Wilkens Amateur Hour and the Wilkens E-Z-C Ranch Gals shows would all participate. The show would be broadcast over WDTV (Channel 2) and aired over radio station KQV. It was stated that "...every cent of money raised will go to Children's Hospital. Not one penny of expense in connection with the program will be deducted from contributions received." In fact, the Wilkens Jewelry Company paid the expenses. Harold Lund, WDTV manager, was credited for the station donatin an extra half-hour to the broadcast. Jim Murray, manager at KQV was likewise doing the same. Master of Ceremonies for the broadcast was Al Nobel who would introduce the Wilkens E-Z-C Ranch Gals - Wanda, Gay, Dusty and Pat.
The Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce would offer their offices (adjoining the WDTV studios) to hold a bank of 100 telephones for the show.
In late February 1954, Harold V. Cohen told readers of his "The Drama Desk" column that Wanda and Leo Heisel, who was on the WENS technical staff as an engineer, had taken out a marriage license with the intent to use it around the first of the month.
On March 2, 1954, the Pittsburgh Press ran a picture of Wanda, letting readers know that she had married Leo on March 1.
In April 1954, Wanda was presented with an award by Harold Cohen on behalf of the TV Guide publication. Wanda had been selected by the viewing audience as "the personality most worthy of network recognition" in a poll conducted by TV Guide. It was noted that Wanda had a show called "Music From The Heart" sponsored by the Wilkens Jewelry company each day at 7:45pm.
In July of 1954, Will Fanning, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Radio & TV Writer wrote a bit of a review of what he saw when he tuned in Wanda's show in his "Radio-Television" column. Since such accounts are hard to come by for many of these early shows, a little recap of his observations are in order.
Apparently Mr. Fanning was channel surfing Sunday night July 11 and by accident dialed in WDTV around 6:30pm to see the second half of the E. Z. C. Ranch Gals show featuring Wanda Saylor. Will thought the producer, Lou Silberman, might have to sit down and read his comments based on some sarcasm he had written in the past. But he noted, "...we actually enjoyed the "Memory Lane" offerings very much."
Mr. Fanning noted that Wanda was "wisely giving her girls of a lot of individual play for their solo numbers." Wanda told Will that the first half of the show features Western numbers along w tih three amateur performers under the guidance of announcer, Al Nobel.
He said he missed the first half where they may have stacked all the "corn", but the second half he saw was "...first-rate entertainment, well able to stand on its own 30 minutes."
In December 1954, Wanda and the E.Z.C. Ranch Gals once again participated in the benefit TV show for the "Old News Boys Fund for Children's Hospital". Newspaper coverage in the Pittsburgh Press leading up to the show featured the Wilkens stars at the hospital posing with the kids. The show raised $77,069.
But that benefit show would be the last appearance for Wanda in Pittsburgh for a time. She departed the next day for St. Petersburg, Florida to join her husband Leo who was at WSUN-TV. As a result of Wanda's departure, Dusty Brown became the new leader of the "Music From The Heart" program that aired each day on WDTV. Dusty was said to be one-sixteenth Indian as a great-great-grandmother on her father's side was a full-blodded Iroquois. Her real name was Gloria Jean Brown and she was born in Richwood, West Virginia. She was one of the original E.Z.C. Ranch Gals when Wilkens Jewerly began the shows in 1951.
But a couple of years later, WDTV (later KDKA) once again enticed Wanda to return to Pittsburgh and organize a group for a new show that would again be sponsored by Wilkens. A short news item in September told readers she was seeking new talent for the show. Further research shows that the new show would replace the Eddy Arnold series that had been running in that time slot for six months.
By this time, Wanda and Leo and their two children, Robert and Jonathon, were living in San Antonio, Texas as Leo was working at WOAI-TV.
At the end of 1956, Wanda and the E.Z.C. Ranch Gals once again took part in the annual fund raising drive for the "Old News Boys Fund for Children's Hospital." In 1956, the master of ceremonies was now Brian McDonald and Lew Short would also help out. Wanda would be accompanied by Dusty Brown, Gay Franzie, Pat Steele and Bonnie Sheehan.
Wanda's husband was director of engineering at KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, South Dakota when he retired. He passed away on January 1, 2009. They had been married for all but 55 years.
Leo was born in Etna, Pennsylvania. He served in the United States Navy during the final months of World War II and participated in the liberation of the Philippine Islands. Upon discharge, he pursued a career in broadcast engineering that took him and Wanda to Florida, Texas, Michigan, New Hampshire and finally, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In 1965, he became the Vice-President of Engineering for Midcontinet Broadcasting and helped extend the coverage for KELO-TV.
Leo and Wanda raised nine children: Robert, Jonathon, Leo, Ruth, Laura, Benjamin, David, Jennifer and Matthew.
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