Thursday, February 11, 2016


Just one sentence about New York City:

It is the town of hope for Billy Klenosky, a song writer whose masterpiece, “April in Siberia,” was voted “Bomb of the Month” by radio station WINS.

Gay Talese, New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).
As Billy, Mr. Klenosky leaves virtually no digital trail: the name appears in Portuguese and Spanish translations of Talese’s book, and in a Chicago Tribune review of the book. The name William yields more. The Social Security Death Index lists one William Klenosky, born May 28, 1922, died July 15, 1988. His parents were Sol (1894–1970) and Bessie Frenkel Klenosky (1899–1974). Sol was a restaurateur; Bessie, a “fundraiser and production chief” for the American Red Cross. William enlisted in the Army in October 1942 and served as a private. Bessie and William were both residents of Kew Gardens, Queens, when they died.

“April in Siberia” — or “April in Siberia!” — was released in 1959, one side of a 45 on the Bald Eagle label. The performer: Billy “K.” (A name meant to suggest Murray the K?) Billboard called the record “semi-humorous”:

[Billboard , April 13, 1959.]

William Klenosky made his first appearance in the New York Times in 1960, not as a songwriter but as a political candidate, running in a Democratic primary to represent Queens’s Fourth Congressional District. He lost. In July 1961, he was hoping to be elected mayor of New York, dropping a bid for the Democratic nomination to run as an independent. By August, he was collecting signatures to run under the name of the New City party (presumably a party of his creation). On September 20 the Times reported that Klenosky had submitted petitions with 7,600 names. And a day later, the New City campaign was over:

[New York Times , September 21, 1961.]

But no sign in the Times yet of “April in Siberia.” That would come two years later. On May 6, 1963, the show UTOPIA! A Musical opened at Manhattan’s Folksbiene Playhouse, presented by Billy K Productions, with book, music, and lyrics by William Klenosky, and a cast of twenty-seven. On May 7 the Times published a review by Louis Calta. The show’s premise was odd: an astronaut and cosmonaut encounter a group of Tories living in the Rocky Mountains. “A silly little musical,” “a lot of inadvertent humor,” “some strange doings,” said the Times . The reviewer managed to spell Klenosky’s name both correctly and incorrectly in the course of just a few hundred words. Among the show’s songs (all of which the Times pronounced “inadequate”): “I Work for Pravda,” “The Masses Are Asses,” “You’ve Got the Devil in Your Eyes,” and, yes, “April in Siberia.”

The Times review is perhaps most valuable for its summary of Klenosky’s mayoral campaign:

[New York Times , May 7, 1963.]

UTOPIA! closed on May 12.

In 1966 Klenosky was a Republican candidate for office, running to represent Queens’s Tenth District in the New York State Senate. He lost to Democrat S. R. Thaler. In 1967 Klenosky was back on Off-Broadway, with a one-man revue, Klenosky Against the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune , presented by “Billy K Productions in association with God,” with book “by Life,” music and lyrics by Klenosky, and “lighting by Con Edison.” Among the numbers: “Krushchev, Castro and Klenosky,” “The Republican Dilemma: Goldwater or Klenosky,” “Klenosky v. Thaler,” and “Lindsay Was Prettier and Taller Than Klenosky and Who’s Sorry Now?” The show closed within two weeks. For those unacquainted with the name, John V. Lindsay was elected mayor of New York City in 1965. Does that song title mean that Klenosky attempted a second run for mayor? Or was he still ruing his 1961 petitions debacle?

These fragments of a life suggest to me that William Klenosky had a marked and not necessarily congenial sense of humor, a strong ability to resist discouragement, a penchant for self-dramatization and exclamation points, and an extravagant sense of his own importance. I can imagine him sitting on Joe Franklin’s couch: “Here’s a young songwriter and performer I’m sure we’re going to be hearing a lot more from.”

For eighteen dollars, it’s possible to hear at least a little something from William Klenosky: eBay recently listed a copy of “April in Siberia!” b/w “She Broke My Heart, So I Broke Her Jaw.” The address for the Bald Eagle label: 80-32 Lefferts Boulevard, Kew Gardens 15, New York. Klenosky was breaking into the music business from home: 80-32 is a residential address, and it was Klenosky’s address when he filed his petitions in 1961. Today the 80-32 residence is still owned by a Klenosky.

The record is on its way here. Stay tuned.


March 1, 2016: I wondered whether the 1966 song “Lindsay Was Prettier and Taller Than Klenosky and Who’s Sorry Now?” was evidence of a second Klenosky run for mayor of New York City. Yes, it was. A newspaper editorial made a passing reference to a 1965 Klenosky campaign:

[“Absurd Law,” Milwaukee Sentinel , October 1, 1965.]

The Losers Party! Readers of a certain age will remember the New York Mets as largely hapless in their early years.


March 1, 2016: I am now the proud owner of a copy of William Klenosky’s 1959 45. Here are two snippets that illustrate Klenosky’s broad — some would say overbearing — sense of humor: “April in Siberia!” and “She Broke My Heart, So I Broke Her Jaw.” Notice the glitches with time: nine seconds into the first snippet, thirty-five seconds into the second, the singer is racing ahead of his own music.

Thanks to Elaine for digitizing these snippets.

Also from New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues
“Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen”
Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions

New York Times sources
“Results of Primary Contest in City.” June 9, 1960.
“Levitt Denounces Wagner As Failing in Leadership.” July 25, 1961.
“2 Mayoral Petitions Issued.” August 10, 1961.
“9 Entries Listed in Mayoral Race As Filing Is Ended.” September 20, 1961.
“Stephen Kennedy Still Undecided.” September 21, 1961.
“Theater Tonight.” May 6, 1963.
“Theater: ‘Utopia!’ Opens: Musical by Klenosky at Folksbiene Playhouse.” May 7, 1963.
“8th ‘Utopia!’ Show Is Last.” May 13, 1963.
Death notice for Sol Klenosky. October 9, 1970.
Obituary for Bessie Klenosky. December 20, 1974.

Other sources
“Reviews of New Pop Records.” Billboard , April 13, 1959.
Dan Dietz, The Off Broadway Musical, 1910–2007 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010).

[Dietz’s book is my source for song titles and the details of Klenosky’s shows.]

comments: 6

Eric Broque said...

Bill Klenosky was a family friend and frequent dinner guest when I was a boy. I recall UTOPIA! and it's songs, now reminiscent of Springtime for Hitler, both excessive in line with Marx brothers films. I remember the run for mayor (more than once perhaps?) and the fluid change of party (before I had any understanding of politics). Wasn't there a brother, Rudy, also involved in politics (but not music or theatre)? My father who was fond of my "Uncle Bill" but not of his habit of sniffing food before eating laced a dish with freshly grated horseradish to teach him a lesson not soon forgotten. That story remains in our family now passed on the the next generation. Your history, for which I am greatful, documents my memories for them as well.

Michael Leddy said...

Eric, thanks for sharing that story here. When I write this sort of post, I always hope that interested parties might find it, and I’m glad that you did.

Yes, there was a second run for mayor; it comes up near the end of my post. A 1984 The New York Times lists a Rudolph Klenosky as a losing candidate in a race for a seat in the state legislature. It looks like your memory is right.

Broadway Jimmy said...

To answer the question of one of the commenters, yes, William Klenosky had a brother, Rudy, who was a lawyer. He also had a younger brother, who is still alive, Theodore, yclept Ted.I know this because I'm part of the same family--my father was a brother of their mother. Bill, known to us as Willie, was very energetic and imaginative. In hindsight, we wonder whether he had ADHD. He was articulate in a blue-collar sort of way, and we were somewhat boggled by his forays into politics. My impression (I was very young at the time) is that he ran for office at least wice, maybe even three times. As for Rudy running for mayor, that is something I never knew. After their parents death, and the death of my father, we were not nearly as close to their side of the family, and have lost touch with them.
About Utopia!, my memory may play me false, but I am rather sure that neither "April in Siberia" nor the rather unfortunate "B" side, "She Broke My Heart So I Broke Her Jaw," were in that musical. As for it being an odd subject for a musical, that seems a somewhat narrow view, considering that there was a television show just a few years ago with an extremely similar concept.Though of course, one can argue that the bar is very low for television series concepts. Utopia! was inspired, I know, by the Mercury space program, and the notion that if an orbital vehicle landed off-course, it could potentially end up in a valley in the Rockies where there might have been an isolated settlement. One never knows. Of all his enterprises, I thought Utopia! actually was one that had considerable merit.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for adding to the story, Broadway Jimmy. Yes, the songs on the 45 predate the show. “April in Siberia” is among the Utopia! songs listed in The Off Broadway Musical, 1910–2007. Here’s the page that describes the show.

Larry Gross said...

Wow, as a young child I participated in a parade through the streets of Kew Gardens, NY in support of Billy K. Klenosky's 1960 election campaign. He gathered neighborhood kids at his home on Lefferts Bl, provided campaign signs on sticks, and we marched up and down Lefferts Bl.

Michael Leddy said...

Larry, thanks for sharing that scene here. It makes me happy that people who remember Mr. Klenosky can find him here.