Karen Wyman, Teen Sensation Recording Star, Older and Wiser, Is Ready Again for the Spotlight
By: Ellis Nassour
For a time, say, about 10 years, Karen Wyman was the "It Girl," a teenage cutie pie with a voice that simply amazed everyone. She became a favorite of Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and, particularly, Dean Martin, and a recording star. "Success was thrilling, exhilarating, hectic," she says, "but it was also overwhelming. One day I woke up and realized I wasn’t enjoying life – actually, that I hardly had a life."
Amazingly, at what could have been a peak of her fame, Wyman walked away. "I lived, as Agnes Gooch says in Auntie Mame!" she laughs. "And, now, I’m back."
After singing at few "preview" one-nighters and benefit appearances for the first time in 24 years to test the waters, Wyman is making her official New York "return" Friday and Saturday, December 20 and 21 with her new act The Second Time Around at the Metropolitan Room. Showtimes are 7 P.M. Having caught her recently at two of her "test runs," as she put it, she hasn’t lost an iota of that rocket-fueled belt and sparkle. She’s still at the top of her game "but now I possess the life-wisdom I lacked as a teenager."
Wyman’s casual announcements in social media of her "return" garnered incredible response. "Frankly," she admits, " I was stunned so many still remembered me." She shouldn’t have been. At the time, her impact across the spectrum of the music industry was massive.
She was in good hands, groomed by one of the leading show business manager/record producers [and TV producer] of the time, Ken Greengrass, who helped guide Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.
The Bronx-born Wyman says she was always singing, "then it dawned on me and my parents that I should work with a coach." That was Marty Lawrence, who was impressed enough to have Wyman make a demo. "I did and Marty knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. It landed at a major record label but there was no interest and then someone else knew someone who knew someone at NBC. The network flew my parents and I to L.A. to meet with Greg Garrison, the producer of The Dean Martin Show. At the audition, Dean heard me and peeked in. I couldn’t believe it when he took me aside and said, and, believe me, I remember his exact words, ‘Darlin’, I’ve never heard a voice like yours!’"
She was booked, "and, shock of shocks, Dean came early and did something he was famous for never doing, he rehearsed with me. We did a duet. He was a great star and larger than life. And couldn’t have been nicer, lovely, a real class act. I sang ‘Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here’ from On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Then, Dean and I did a duet.
"Marty must have phoned the entire universe to tell them to watch," she adds, enthused. "And watch they evidently did because I wasn’t even back at the hotel before the phone was ringing. The calls were overwhelming. We must have heard from every manager in the business. It was crazy, but I was very grounded. My parents helped, and I didn’t take myself too seriously. I looked at it as an adventure."
Wyman was just 16 (now those numbers are reversed) when in short order, she became a recurring toast of the town on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show The Toast of the Town. " Then, came The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson."
"Johnny not only had me on," recalls Wyman excitedly, "but had me come over and chat. That was special. I lost count, but he had me on lots of times. On those rare occasions later, when we’d accidently run into each other, he always stopped to ask how I was doing, what I was doing."
Appearances followed with Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors, Glen Campbell, Dick Cavett, and David Frost. She wasn’t old enough to drink, but she headlined top in nightclubs. She recorded albums for MCA/Decca Records, working with Emmy-winning producer Peter Max, recording with a full orchestra.
"As they say, I was hot," she laughs. "It sounds so strange today, but I was a household name. I was all over TV and the radio. As I look back, I can’t help but realizing how truly blessed I was.
"Then, after a few years," she continues ruefully, "everything changed. The music business was in flux. Rock and rock operas were the rage, and a different kind of music was in vogue." Though she continued to perform in Atlantic City, opening for major acts, such as Don Rickles, Wyman "officially retired" in 1989.
"I stepped away," she explains. " Life took me on a path I never thought I’d go on, but I didn’t have a life. It happened beyond fast. I needed some time to fine myself. When I broke in, I was still a kid – an intuitive one, I guess, because I very quickly became savvy about how the business worked. However, I was recording and singing songs that had themes I really didn’t know a lot about. Now, I’m a woman! I know!"
Luckily, for her fans and those who’ll become new fans, she can still belt a song out of the ball park.
Accompanying Wyman will be pianist/music director John Oddo , Jay Leonhart on bass, and Eddie Caccavale on drums. Directing is Dennis Deal.
Karen Wyman: The Second Time Around carries a $25 music charge plus two-drink minimum. For reservations, book online at www.metropolitanroom.com or call (212) 206-0440.