from the STL Journalism Review, July/August 2001
About the "Rabbit Stew" letter in your June 2001 edition ...
Ron Elz was, indeed, the first "Johnny Rabbitt" on KXOK. His shortlived tenure there was followed by a shortlived hire at WIL where he repeatedly identified himself as "Johnny Rabbitt."
As director of production at KXOK, I was charged with the responsibility of scheduling round-the-clock recordings of WIL to prove to a federal judge that Mr. Elz was using the name "Johnny Rabbitt" without regard to the fact that the name "Johnny Rabbitt" was registered to KXOK under the provisions of the Trademark Act of 1946, as amended.
Mr. Elz and the management of WIL were admonished by the judge to discontinue the practice upon presentation of the tape recordings that were made of WIL under my supervision.
Richard W. Fatherley
Kansas City, Kan.
After becoming aware of the recent letter to the editor wherein one Ronald Elz claims to have been the "original Johnny Rabbitt," I was taken aback and determined to send this note to you.
As you well know, Don Pietromonaco is the Johnny Rabbitt that all St. Louisans recall, even if they do not realize it. While Mr. Elz may be the "original" Johnny Rabbitt, having donned the bunny hat sometime in "early 1962" by his own admission, he misrepresents by omission, the facts that reveal he did not create the persona that is so fondly recalled throughout the greater Midwest.
That omission is the fact that Mr. Elz was Rabbitt for hardly more than one year. This he cannot dispute. My father, Don Pietromonaco took over as Johnny Rabbitt in 1963 and crafted the image and lore that is so often recalled. Since my father did not publicize his name, Mr. Elz can lay claim to being the "first" Rabbitt, and leave out the detail that he only lasted a short number of months on KXOK, thereby leading people to believe he is the Rabbitt they remember.
To this day, as executor of his estate, I still receive occasional fan mail addressed to his long-time residence in Marina del Rey, which only can be explained by my father's having remained the Rabbitt, and voicing his sidekick Bruno J. Grunion along with other characters, throughout the remaining 1960s. (Query, where was Elz then?)
I have countless "Johnny Rabbitt Army Cards" with my father's likeness imprinted thereon, and literally thousands of photographs of him with various musical stars, celebrities and St. Louis luminaries. I also have many photographs depicting thousands of screaming fans crowding my father for his autograph.
My father never sought publicity under his real name. Therefore, residents of St. Louis may not recognize his name. However, when anyone fondly recalls KXOK and Johnny Rabbitt from mid-1963 throughout the rest of that decade, Don Pietromonaco is the Johnny Rabbitt they cherish. Unfortunately, since my father's passing, it has become easier to capitalize on the memory of Johnny Rabbitt.
To Mr. Elz all I can say is, you are right: You can't change the past, as hard as you might try.
Attorney at Law
I can't summon the mercy to help a rabbitt out of a stew; but, I can provide additional recipes beyond Hasenpfeffer namely Li`evre Au Jus, even better, Lapin Farci.
Messing with people's names, adding middle initials (ask Robert R. Lynn, David D. Rogers or Steven B. Stevens about this), and in some cases creating entire new monikers, was one of my marketing hallmarks; to wit, Shad O'Shea, Charlie Cherokee, Happy Herb Holiday, Jockey John, Stinky Shafer, Jay McKay, Big Ears Bernard (the station's St. Bernard mascot), Kay of Kx-OK; and, oh yes, Johnny Rabbitt. A few people came on board with built-in names like Richard Ward Fatherley, Davey O'Donnell, and Danny Dark who became the voice of NBC-TV. Peter Martin, an original KXOK Trademark, was already on staff.
I did not, for example, create Bruno J. Grunion. Credit where credit is due. Bruno was the sole creation of Don Pietromonaco who was and shall always be the definitive Johnny Rabbitt. He took the Johnny Rabbitt image and built it to its all-time apex. Anything else, past or present, is just an imitation. People who can't forget the past should try to remember a little more clearly. Sometimes the truth hurts, but only certain people feel the pain. To paraphrase Rhett Butler, frankly my dear, I don't give a sham. This is not important in the grand scheme of things, but I am compelled to set the Rabbitt, uh, record straight.
These are the facts, just the facts, Ma'm: The nom de radio-emission, Rabbitt, the on-the-air personality name, complete with two t's, was created by me personally in December of 1960, as part of the marketing plan for WFUN, Miami. Rabbitt subsequently hit the Florida airwaves in the spring of 1961 as the voice of an Easter promotion. I should know because I was that first Rabbitt voice.
Subsequently, I was rehired by my old boss Todd Storz to create the new sound of KXOK. My contract with KXOK specified that all of my promotions and personality concepts would become the Intellectual Property of KXOK and Storz Broadcasting Company. The name Johnny Rabbitt was on the drawing board to air on KXOK pending location of a personality to play the part nearly a year before any of us ever heard of Ron Elz. Since we all know that nothing is new under the sun, it will be no surprise to thinking memorabiliaphiles that Johnny Rabbitt came about from an amalgamation of my Easter character with the then Voguish Playboy rabbit image replete with cotton-tailed Bunnies and the first name of the world's most popular new entertainer, Johnny Carson. How could we miss? Only by hiring the wrong radio actor to play the part.
Don "Stinky" Shafer was my first Kx-OK air personality to utilize a small animal as part of his logo, and the gimmick was so successful that we bought two deodorized pet skunks for Stinky to walk on leashes like dogs. It was all great fun although we never could quite get the smell off the skunks, or off Don Shafer either! An on-the-air change at KXOK caused a shuffling of shifts and opened the evening show to a new personality. A small talent search was conducted, and Ron Elz was hired on a test basis to become the voice of Kx-OK's new personality, Johnny Rabbitt, officially owned by KXOK in accordance with my Storz employment contract. The name Johnny Rabbitt was trademarked by Storz with the United States Trademark and Patent Office with my knowledge and contract permission. That trademark joined Peter Martin, and subsequently was joined by Big Ears Bernard, and other Storz-owned trademarks. Regardless, Ron Elz did not last long as The Rabbitt, and had to be discharged and replaced. In that time frame, I was elevated from program director to station operations manager, I named Ray Otis as program director, and Storz brought in the illustrious Jack Sampson as general manager. Together, we hired the man who became the definitive Johnny Rabbitt, Don Pietromonaco. Otis found him and the three of us agreed that he was the one. I indoctrinated him and he became the definitive Rabbitt character from the very first day. He promptly cleaned up the hutch (believe me, it needed cleaning badly-there were pellets everywhere) and created an on-the-air and off-the-air Johnny Rabbitt that far exceeded our feral expectations.
Competition was fierce in those days, and WIL seemed to take promotional advantage of Elz by hiring him to go on the air as Johnny Rabbitt against us.
Naturally, we filed suit and Judge Meredith in United States Federal District Court in 1964 issued a restraining order against WIL and Elz. He shook his finger at the defendants and told them that they could not use the name Johnny Rabbitt or the name of any other little furry animal. It was all great, delicious fun in those days. Whatever happened to the name Johnny Rabbitt after I left St. Louis is of no concern to me. What happened while I was pulling the strings was very much of concern; and now, you know the accurate facts. By the way, the real---the definitive Johnny Rabbitt, Don Pietromonaco, passed away a few years ago after spending some time on his yacht docked in Marina del Rey, Calif.
I absolutely cherish my time in St. Louis, which I consider to be the quintessential middle-American town. It is the true heart-of-America. With all that California has to offer, there has not been a day in my life that I have not missed the real people and that big generous town on the Mississippi.
President & Executive Producer
Laguna Niguel, Calif.