The Original Max Allan Collins

June 12th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

I had many lovely responses to my shameless Golden Anniversary tribute to my lovely wife, Barb. Several people inquired about where the photo of us was taken: that was on May 31 on our anniversary overnight getaway to Galena, at our favorite Italian restaurant there, Vinny Vanucchi’s.

We stayed at the Irish Cottage (which is not a cottage, of course, but a very nice hotel on the outer outskirts of Galena). We dined at our other favorites – Otto’s Place, a breakfast spot on the Galena River across from the old, restored train station, and the Log Cabin, a restaurant that’s been there since the ‘30s and is a classic steakhouse that has the look and feel of somewhere the Rat Pack would hang out. We took a trolley tour of the town (though we’d been there many times) and soaked up some history and saw lots of Painted Ladies (i.e., Victorian mansions and homes).

This was in part research, because I have agreed to do a follow-up to The Girl Most Likely, a thriller set in Galena that I delivered to Thomas & Mercer last year for publication later this year. The police chief there, Lori Huntington, has been most helpful. But we were mostly having fun – the downtown shopping, half-a-mile of it, is gift shops and antiques shops and two wonderful used bookstores. We also visited (by appointment) Main Street Fine Books, which gave up its Main Street location some time ago and is now on the lower level of a beautiful modern home. Bill Butts and his wife Yolanda welcomed us, and Bill had set aside a first edition of Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back for me.

You know, Barb and I talked about going somewhere special – like Ireland or France or England – but instead settled on doing what we wanted to do, as opposed to what was expected of us. We went to Galena, a place we love, and chose the Irish Cottage over Ireland.

On June 2nd, still celebrating, we dined at our favorite Muscatine restaurant, DaBeet’s, where I’d arranged for chef Awad Dabit to prepare Barb’s favorite, Dover Sole. Earlier that day was a nostalic trip for both us, at the Muscatine Art Center, a wonderful museum in the historic Musser mansion. How wonderful? They display works by Renoir, Chagall, O’Keefe, Picasso, and Grant Wood, among many others.

But Barb and I were there to see the Elks Chanters exhibit. The Chanters was a male chorus that my father, Max A. Collins Sr., directed for fifty years, up to his passing in 2000. The original Max Collins was a remarkable guy. He went to Simpson College on a combined music and athletics scholarship. He was an incredible singer, who turned down offers to pursue professional opera, and a high school music teacher whose students racked up record wins at state music contests. He also put on the first high school productions of Oklahoma and Carousel – in the nation. When he left teaching after ten years for a better-paying job at HON Industries, the office furniture company, he kept his musical hand in with church choirs and, in particular, the Chanters.

How good were the Chanters? Well, in the fifties they entered the national Elks chorus competition and won, beating men’s choruses from the biggest cities in America. The next year they won again. The year after that they won yet again, although other choruses tried to block them, claiming the Muscatine outfit was clearly professional. They weren’t, but after that year, the competition was ended and the Chanters were made the permanent national champs.

Dad took his group all over the state and various parts of the country, including of course Muscatine, to schools and nursing homes; they also put on an annual Christmas concert. Every year around June they presented an elaborate show, with a concert portion divided between religious and popular works, and a Broadway-style revue with costumes, dancing, and the wives and kids of the Chanters participating. Each revue had a theme my father had been working on all year – Rodgers and Hammerstein, Legends of Popular Music, Grand Ole Opry and on and on.


Small part of Museum Art Center exhibit

His chorus had a uniquely masculine sound and he created it from everyday guys in all walks of life here in Muscatine. The Muscatine Art Center, thanks to Donna Reed (whose late husband Morrie Reed was one of Dad’s stars), has mounted an impressive display of Chanters memorabilia and has a big-screen TV showing the Chanters (and my Dad) in action. The exhibit goes through mid-August.

As a kid, I was in Chanters shows and so was son Nate. But I never joined the group. I had my musical path and Dad had his. I think he understood mine was not a rejection but a recognition that he would be seen as favoring me if he used me in any special way. I had appeared in high school productions (King Arthur in Camelot and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady) and many around town expected me to be a Chanter. But I was busy playing rock ‘n’ roll.


M.A.C., Jr., watching M.A.C., Sr. and his group

Here’s one story about my dad, who was an incredible teacher of vocal music, as this will demonstrate.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the chorus director put me (a tenor) with a bass, an alto and a soprano, as a quartet that would try out for the All-State Chorus – this is roughly the nerd equivalent of All-State sports honors. The director, who was new in town, told us that he would not have time to work with us. That he would be working with several quartets of junior and senior students, who had a chance of winning; but this would be a good opportunity for us to see what we were up against in the future.

I reported this to Dad. He told me to assemble my quartet (Mike Lange, Joyce Courtois and Kathy Bender) and that he would work with us. No one in the history of Iowa schools, at least up to that time, had put more students into the All-State Chorus (winners were sent to Des Moines for a big concert) than my father. Well, Dad worked with us all right. And the three quartets the high school chorus director coached all flamed out.

We won.

We won the next year, too, and the next. And at our final year at Des Moines, when the All-State Chorus was assembled to rehearse for its concert, its director asked the group of several hundred, “Who among you have been here before?” Our hands and some others went up. Then: “Who among have been here for all three years? Please stand.”

We four stood.

No one else did.

Thanks, Pop.

* * *

Barb and I have finished listening to Dan John Miller’s reading of Killing Town. I know some of you (myself included) are sorry to see Stacy Keach retire from the audio series. But Dan really knocks it out of the park.

If you enjoy listening to books on audio, and you like my work and/or Mickey’s, get your hands…which is to say your ears…on this one.

* * *

The graphic novel collection of Quarry’s War is out now! I spotted it in Daydreams, an Iowa City comic book shop. Amazon lists the on-sale date as July 3rd, but apparently comic book shops get it earlier.

I’ll post more on this later.

M.A.C.

Tags: , , ,

5 Responses to “The Original Max Allan Collins”

  1. Craig childs says:

    I read Quarry’s War on Saturday and loved it! A great entry in the series. I left a 5* review on Amazon (although under my wife’s account, by accident) and Goodreads.

  2. Bryan K McMillan says:

    As nice a tribute to your Pop as the last pop was to your wife – very nice! You’ve got a nice flair for this nostalgia sort of writing.

    Galena is super-nice. My wife and I overdue for a vacation in general but we haven’t been there in forever.

    Cool Donna Reed/ Max, Sr. connection!

    Looking forward to hearing the new Mike Hammer on the KILLING TIME audiobook. (Alas, I still have the audiobooks for KILL ME DARLING and KING OF WEEDS to get through first – I never have time to listen to audiobooks anymore. I wish I had my old commute for work – I’d have wiped them all out by now.)

    Speaking of the old Mike Hammer, I hope Stacy Keach is doing okay. He collapsed onstage a ways back and had to cancel a Hemingway one-man-play he was doing here in Chi-town; I think you even posted about this when it happened (without checking and my memory isn’t always great). I haven’t heard anything since.

  3. Apparently the comic book shops are cavalier about release dates — I’m told WAR isn’t officially out for three weeks or so.

    The Donna Reed I mentioned is not THAT Donna Reed, though the actress was an Iowan, too. My connection to the famous Donna Reed is Paul Peterson from the TV show, who was in MOMMY’S DAY.

    Stacy had to leave the Hammer audio series because when we changed houses, the money just wasn’t there for him. He was already being generous about his rate. I am thrilled we had him as long as we did. And Dan John Miller is great also. I believe Stacy’s health is fine — that Chicago episode was years ago.

  4. Michele Parish Zuniga says:

    The first adult choir I sang in was directed by your dad. My mother, Dorothy Parish sang with him to decades. I’m still singing in church choirs and occasional solo. I remember howcgood you were in Camelot and My Fair Lady. Nice to have these happy memories brought to mind.

  5. Bryan K McMillan says:

    Not quite years ago for Mr. Keach (https://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment/pamplona-opener-halted-as-star-stacy-keach-falls-ill/) but fingers crossed / agreed with your sentiment.

    Looking forward to hearing the new Hammer for sure. I got an early Father’s Day present, (Triple Play: Nathan Heller Casebook) so looks like I’ll be hearing him sooner than I thought.

    And a happy early Father’s Day to you (and Nate) as well.

Leave a Reply