If you watched New Orleans television in the sixties – an era many describe as the golden age – chances are very good you shared a cup of coffee with Bob and Jan Carr by the rooftop pool of the Royal Orleans Hotel.
“It was an exciting time to be on live television,” Bob remembers. “They gave us free rein, and we made it up as we went along.”
And now, as they approach 70 years of marriage, this couple is still making it up as they go along, treating life as the supreme adventure that it is and having a wonderful time.
The Carrs met when both were students at Carnigie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, and they married while undergraduates.
“After two dates, I gave her my fraternity pin, then went looking for an engagement ring,” Bob remembers, looking up at his silent but smiling wife, who describes herself as a country girl when growing up in Martins Ferry, West Virginia. “I was 4-H and all that.”
But Jan Carr had shed that image by the time she was in college. Recently married, and having completed the school year, she decided she wanted to be a Rockette – a member of the storied dance troupe that performs in Radio City Music Hall. After all, she had studied dance when younger and had been featured in a tap-dancing performance at the Capital Theater in Wheeling, West Virginia. So she convinced her mother to accompany her to New York City for an audition. And, in the end, she was one of the few candidates selected to perform in the summer program.
“It was hard work, believe me. We would rehearse from the time we got up until it was time to go to bed,” Jan remembers. “I loved it, but I began to realize that I already had my hands full as a wife and a student.” So she returned to college in Pittsburgh, but brought back with her the knowledge that she was good enough to be a Rockette.
After graduation, Jan found herself back in New York, along with her husband.
“We figured if we were going to be famous, New York was the place to be,” Bob says with a twinkle in his eyes.
In the city, Bob worked in the mailroom of Kidder Peabody, a large investment firm at the time, moonlighting as a model, scoring roles in print ads for Zippo lighters (“She Gave Me a Zippo!”) and Coca-Cola, among others, while Jan worked in the CBS casting office, steering jobs Bob’s way when she could.
After deciding New York wasn’t fulfilling their dreams they returned to West Virginia, to a Wheeling television station, where they learned the trade in the then-emerging industry. After a brief stint with a stained glass manufacturer selling windows to churches – “a real job that paid well,” the couple accepted positions in the late fifties with WWL Radio in New Orleans.
“We weren’t sure about this one,” Bob admits, “We really wanted television and we had reservations about moving to the Deep South. We wanted California, but a friend who offered us the job wowed us with talk of ‘fifty-thousand watts, reaching across America,’ so we decided this would be a stop along the way to the coast. Maybe a stepping stone.”
“But It turned out to be a great job for us,” Jan adds. The Bob & Jan Radio Show broadcast out of the Roosevelt Hotel, and they interviewed all the acts that were playing in the Blue Room at the time – celebrities like Patti Page, Mel Torme, Carol Channing and Roberta Sherwood.
They quickly settled into the job and into the city, and as they did, they fell in love with New Orleans. Bob chronicled this time in his book, Raising Our Children on Bourbon.
To quote from the dust jacket of the book:
“This is the story of Bob and Jan Carr, who escaped the mundane life of mid-America and moved to the heart of the infamous French Quarter to raise their children (four in all) among the ‘Quarter eccentrics’ while pursuing spectacular careers in radio and television. Join them as they renovate and restore a Bourbon Street mansion, passing through one crisis after another; their Ku Klux Klan encounter; sunbathing strippers next door; integration of the Desire bus line; and school problem solutions, all interspersed with the bizarre and myriad characters of the ‘Quarter’.
“Laugh with them as they relate anecdotes of encounters with celebrities: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Brenda Lee, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Clay Shaw, Ruthie the Duck Girl and more than a score of the famous and infamous.”
During their French Quarter era, beginning in 1960 and lasting into the seventies, Bob and Jan were offered the kind of television shows they had always wanted: The morning show Second Cup, Midday, the Sunday Showcase of Homes and Bob & Jan from The Al Hirt Club.
“It was a blur,” says Jan, “raising four kids at a time our careers were blossoming, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”
Then in 1973, after an ownership change at WDSU, things quieted down, and an opportunity sent Bob in an entirely different direction. He went to work with the International House, the predecessor of the New Orleans World Trade Center, where he later became the managing director, and continued in that role for twenty years.
“A little bit of this, and a little bit of that,” he says with a smile, “and a whole lot of happiness.” Jan nods in agreement.
Today, after settling into Christwood, the couple still runs at a fast pace. Bob is President of the Christwood Men’s Club, which takes up much of his time, and serves as a volunteer for the Health Center Task Force. Together they take theater trips to New Orleans, attend lectures by visiting speakers and participate in numerous social events. They also travel frequently, having taken nine European river cruises.