Saturday, October 4, 2008

Organist and Vacuum Cleaner Collector Stan Kann Passes On

Stan Kann may not be a familiar name to many of you, but if you are a Missourian (especially one who attended the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis years ago) or you watched a lot of talk shows in the Seventies, you may well have heard of him. Kann was the organist at the Fabulous Fox Theatre for many, many years. In the Seventies he gained fame for his rather extensive collection of antique vacuum cleaners (he had over 180) and appeared on many talk shows. He passed September 29 at the age of 83 after having had open heart surgery.

Kann was born on December 9, 1924 in St. Louis. He developed his interest in vacuum cleaners when he was eight years old, fascinated by them as his parents were too poor to afford one. In high school he became a vacuum cleaner salesman for a time and eventually learned how to repair them. He learned to play piano while attending Soldan High School, where he was a member of the school orchestra. As a graduation present his parents gave him a trip to New York City. While there he attended Radio City Music Hall, where he was transfixed by the theatre's gigantic pipe organ. He went onto study the classical organ at Washington University.

His interest in the organ led him to convince Ed Arthur, who then owned the Fabulous Fox, to restore the theatre's old Wurlitzer organ. He and his fellow students did as many repairs as they could before calling in an expert on organ restoration, W.A. Brummer. Kann would play the organ at the Fabulous Fox Theatre during the silent movies shown there and before and after sound movies. He also played it at any special events held at the theatre. Kann would play the organ at the Fabulous Fox from 1953 to 1975. He also performed at various St. Louis area restaurants, including Ruggeri's Restaurant on the Hill and Stan and Biggie's. In the Fifties and Sixties he served as the music director on The Charlotte Peters Show and The Noon Show on KSD-TV. He also played the organ for sequences in the film The Fury and the TV show M*A*S*H.

It was in the Sixties that Kann met Phyllis Diller, then living in Webster Groves, Missouri. The comedian not only admired his organ playing, but thought he was also extremely funny. When Kann let Diller see his vacuum cleaner collection, she introduced him to Johnny Carson, who booked him and several of his antique vacuums on his show for June 8, 1966. Kann would appear on The Tonight Show several times throughout the Seventies. He also made appearances on The Mike Douglas Show, The Alan Hamel Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and Hee Haw. Kann appeared in the documentary short Meet Marlon Brando in 1966. In 2005 Mike Steinberg directed the documentary Stan Kann: The Happiest Man in the World, chronicling Stan's life. As a comedian, he sometimes filled in for Diller on her shows and appeared in such venues as The Playboy Club.

From 1975 to 1998 Kann lived in Los Angeles, California. He returned home to St. Louis in 1998. His last performance on the organ at the Fabulous Fox was the Saturday before he died. Fittingly, his memorial service is being held there.

While many knew Kann for his extensive vacuum cleaner collection, I have no doubt he will be remembered as an organist. Having played at the Fabulous Fox Theatre for years and at various other venues around the country, he effectively made his whole career out of the instrument. Over the years he even won awards for his talent. It made his famous in St. Louis, where he was one of the city's most valued citizens. For anyone who loves organ music, the passing of Stan Kann is saddening indeed.

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