Broadcast Pioneers member Lazarus Louis Ferrari, known to us as Larry, was a Boston native, born in 1932, and became interested in playing the organ while attending elementary school. A nun at his parish suggested he "Americanize" his name and ever since that, he was Larry. He made his first public appearance when he was eleven years old at a church in Boston (he became the church's organist and held that position for several years) and performed for over 50 years. He was the National Concert Artist for the Lowrey Organ Company. Undoubtedly, he was one of the finest organists in the United States.
Previous to playing the organ, Larry took lessons on the piano, but switched to the more complicated organ keyboard shortly before his 11th birthday. He helped his parents pay his tuition at prep school for his last couple of years by performing at a local roller skate rink. After graduation, he continued his performances at the rink, along with other professional work and joined his father, a chef in the restaurant business.
In 1952, Larry joined the Army and was assigned to special services at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He hadn't been assigned duty on Christmas Day of that year. With some of his new service buddies, they went to a GI club on the base. There, Larry saw an organ and proceeded to play several songs for himself and his friends. Ferrari forgot all about it, but the other GIs didn't. They recommended him to their Commanding Officer as a possible candidate for an audition for a TV program. He took it and passed with flying colors.
Shortly thereafter, Larry appeared on "Soldier Parade" with Arlene Francis on ABC-TV (from New York City) and performed for numerous public service audio programs that were syndicated from coast-to-coast. On that ABC-TV show, the judges were so impressed with Larry's talent that he won the first prize money.
Once Larry finished his basic training, he was assigned to the Army's Special Services. Part of his duties was performing for patients at the base hospital. Larry loved his craft and it showed. He auditioned and was signed to play a four -week engagement for the Army on television in Philadelphia (WFIL-TV, Channel 6) during 1954. The audition was on the base and attended by four Channel 6 executives including former Broadcast Pioneers President Jack Steck. They loved him and he appeared on each of the four weekly programs, "Fort Dix Presents."
He was a giant hit right from the beginning and was invited back for a weekly series. For 43 years, "The Larry Ferrari Show" could be seen in the Philadelphia area on Channel 6. It was the second longest running show on the station, only surpassed by Chief Halftown. It is believed to be the only show of its kind in the country. Not bad for a guy who was once told, 'Organ music on television will never go.'"
In a 1991 interview, Larry said, "I remember always turning around and looking up to the choir loft to see who was playing. I wanted nothing else to do in life, but play music. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I knew I was." Though Larry's programs have been canceled more than once, they always resurfaced, usually because of the demand by the Channel 6 viewers. In February of 1957, WFIL-TV announced that Larry's show was being dropped because of a full program schedule. On Sunday, February 17, 1957, the last show aired live. In a matter of a couple months, Ferrari was back into the schedule.
One of Larry's hobbies was ham radio (WA2MKI). He played the farewell performance on the organ at the Boyd Theater in Philadelphia. From 1985 until early in 1997, Ferrari was the organist at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, New Jersey. Larry's last broadcast aired on Sunday, November 30th, 1997 at 6:30 am. Larry passed away on November 20, 1997 from cancer. He was 65 and lived in Cinnaminson, NJ.
W. Carter Merbreier knew Ferrari for almost three decades, ever since Merbreier's show, Captain Noah made its debut on WFIL-TV. "He played the show's background music," said Merbreier, who retired in the mid-nineties. "Larry and I had lunch together darn near every day for 28 years. Most people think of Larry as being identified with an older audience," said Merbreier. "I remember him being with the children at the employees' Christmas parties. All the kids would crowd around the organ, sit on the bench with Larry, and he'd let them bang the keys." Every time you saw Larry, he would have a smile on his face. He was one of those people who made you feel good just to be around. He was a life long member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia (and a member of our Board) and provided the organ dinner music at many of our annual banquets.
On Thursday, November 16, 2000 at the Bala Golf Club, Larry Ferrari was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. Accepting the award for Larry Ferrari was his long time friend and member of the board of the Broadcast Pioneers, W, Carter Merbreier (Captain Noah). Larry played the music on his show along with others including Dialing for Dollars.
Debbie Steinberg, a visitor to our website e-mailed:
Here's my memories. As a young girl growing up in Northeast Philly, I fondly recall listening to Larry Ferrari playing the organ. My grandmother had a organ which was a fascination to all the grandkids, so watching someone as wonderful as Mr. Ferrari was such a treat. Thank you, Mr. Ferrari for all the memories.
Jerry Schenker, a visitor to our website e-mailed:
Why is it that there is never a mention of Larry playing the music for the Rex Morgan Show? As a young teenager I was able to pull in channel 6 from where I lived in NJ. I was 14 then. I happened to tune in to the show one day and saw Larry playing on the Lowrey Festival. I was so awed at his playing that I asked my father to buy me an organ so I could take lessons. He did buy me one.
My parents brought me down a couple of times to see the Rex Morgan Show where I got a chance to speak with Larry after the show. Through conversation, Larry said he would be playing at the Philadelphia National Bank and would not be on the show on December 21, 1962. That was my 16th birthday. I was already playing the organ for 5 months.
I wrote to the station and asked if I could substitute for him that day. Rosalie Jenkins wrote back to tell me that they had already engaged a substitute for the day (who would allow a teenager to sub who only has played for 5 months) but she did allow me to play the organ on the show on my birthday for 1 minute. I still have the original letter from WFIL-TV. After the show, my parents took me down to see Larry at the bank and then went to buy some Shellenberger chocolates, which was one of the sponsors on the Rex Morgan show. Is Rex Morgan still living? Anyway, I am 64 years old, have been playing organ ever since and consider myself pretty good, thanks to Larry Ferrari.
Known TV Air Times
November 1955 - Saturdays at 10 pm
November 1955 - Sundays at 10 am (Hymns of All Churches) - Channel 6
Sunday, February 17, 1957 - end of show (time period not known)
May 2, 1959 (Show Debut) - Saturdays, 8 pm to 8:30 - Channel 6
Sunday, July 17, 1960 - 12:30 to 12:45 pm on WFIL-TV & WLYH, Channel 15 (Lebanon), both owned by Triangle
Sunday, February 22, 1976 - Channel 6 - 11:30 am to 12 noon
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Mike Muderick
Text written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
© 2002, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
All Rights Reserved
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