Thursday, January 31, 2019

Remembering Morgan Kaolian

Morgan Kaolian (left) with Bob Crane
performing a skit on WICC Channel 43
in Bridgeport, CT (circa 1953).
August 16, 2008. It was a hot, summer weekend in New England, and I was in the thick of researching Bob Crane's life for his biography. During this time, traveling to and from Connecticut was nearly a monthly occurrence for me. I was hopping all over the Nutmeg State, going to libraries, exploring every nook and cranny in search of Bob's story through those who knew him in his early years.

And Stratford, Connecticut, is where I first met Morgan Kaolian—pilot, aerial photographer extraordinaire, former Sikorsky Memorial Airport manager, former WICC art director and traffic reporter (affectionately known locally as “Captain Traffic”), creator of Gyro the Robot, owner of Aeropix, and former director of Long Island Sound America, to name just a few of his titles and roles. And—for my specific interest at that point—a former coworker and friend of Bob Crane.

Thunderstorms were rolling through in between pockets of sunshine as Dee Young and I sat waiting for Morgan at Knapp's Landing restaurant, situated near the banks of Long Island Sound. To say I was nervous about meeting Morgan is an understatement. Aside from being someone of great importance to the telling of Bob's life story, Morgan was also not entirely sold on participating in the book. Dee, who had known Morgan for most of her life, arranged our meeting so I could hopefully win him over and change his mind.

In 2006, when Linda Groundwater reached out to Morgan about being interviewed, he initially agreed to contribute. But after giving the matter more thought, he stepped back. As with so many who knew and loved Bob, Morgan was cautious. If our intent was to ridicule Bob or dwell on his murder, then he wanted no part of it. He only agreed to meet me as a favor to Dee more than anything else. He had, however, also hinted to Dee that if the weather cooperated, maybe we could all take a flight. So while I was nervous, I will admit to also being excited—and optimistic.

I remember when Morgan entered the restaurant. Despite the heat and humidity, he was sharply dressed, wearing a tweed blazer and dress pants. Dapper would be the best word to describe Morgan Kaolian. Dee introduced us, and the happy twinkle in his eye somehow reassured me that things were going to be just fine.

Morgan slid into the seat across from me, and as we talked, he grew increasingly more interested in our work on Bob's biography. He listened intently to me explain the project's goals and mission—to tell Bob Crane's complete and full story, and not dwell on his murder or promote any type of scandal. The three of us talked for hours, and it wasn’t long before any and all fears on both sides were completely alleviated.

WICC and Channel 43 Staff (1953). Bob Crane is back row, center.
Morgan Kaolian is back row, standing, first on the left.
Photo courtesy of Scott Crane.

Morgan thoroughly enjoyed telling his stories about working with Bob Crane at WICC and specifically on WICC's Channel 43 during the 1950s. His recollections are all included, of course, in Bob Crane: The Definitive Biography. But for instance, Morgan loved talking about the time Bob held up a $100 bill on the air and told the viewing audience that the first person who called would win the money. But—nobody called! Nobody was watching because very few people could afford the bow-tie antenna to receive Channel 43 on the new UHF frequency. Morgan laughed as he said they basically were performing their Ernie Kovacs-type skits for the cameramen! Morgan was full of stories, and as he told them, he would laugh—more like giggle and chuckle like a school boy—and his eyes would sparkle as he brought his memories to life.

After we wrapped up our discussion and paid for lunch (Morgan always insisted on paying for our meals—always), we collected our belongings and made our way out of the restaurant. Morgan was insistent. We were going for a flight!

At the time, Morgan owned four airplanes, which he kept in hangars at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Bridgeport. A life-long pilot, Morgan began flying in the 1940s, even before he learned how to drive a car. He loved flying so much that he made a side career of taking aerial photographs and selling them to clients or submitting them for publication in The Connecticut Post and on other news outlets. On top of that, he gave professional sky rides to the public. For $50, he would take the adventurous up in his Piper J-3 Cub or his Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

Within a half hour of leaving the restaurant, we were soaring the Connecticut skies. I was seated up front in the copilot seat. Dee was in the back (aka, back seat driver! "Contact!"), and for the next twenty minutes, all I can remember is a feeling of euphoria. I've flown as a passenger on commercial airliners all of my life; my father worked as a mechanic for the airline industry, and I travel frequently for work. But no commercial flight would ever compare with this! A front-row seat with the ground far below. It was as if we were flying with the angels, and it was, truly, one of the best moments of my life.

For more photographs from my sky rides with Morgan, click here.

So began my long, eleven-year friendship with Morgan. Like so many of those who were a big part of Bob Crane's life, Morgan and I became dearest, most treasured friends. We'd chat on the phone occasionally, too. I'd fill him in on the progress of Bob's biography, tell him about things I had going on here in New Jersey at work or at home, and he'd reminisce about his time at WICC and flying. I'd usually start our conversations with something like, "Hi Morgan! What have you been up to?" He'd always answer, "About a thousand feet!"

One of my favorite memories of Morgan was the time he hosted an hour-long tribute to Bob Crane on WICC. Dee was in her office down the hall (Dee was Former Assistant Business Manager for WICC/WEBE before retiring a few years ago), and I was listening online. Dee later told me that in between each segment during the commercial breaks, Morgan would zoom out of the booth, tear down the hall to her office, burst in and ask her, "How am I doing?" And Dee would answer, "You're doing GREAT!" And Morgan would ask, "Is Carol listening in New Jersey?" And Dee would say, "Yup, she is!" And with that, Morgan would spin on his heel and zip back to the booth in time to do the next segment, only to zoom back down the hall to Dee during the next commercial break!

You can listen to Morgan's tribute to Bob Crane in the video below.

I have grown to love Connecticut so very, very much, and primarily because of the beautiful people I've met and befriended there. Every trip to Connecticut included a visit (and often a flight, until his retirement from flying) with Morgan. I'd stay with Dee and her husband Doug. Sometimes we'd go flying with Morgan—like the time in December 2008 when we flew from Sikorsky to Oxford, just for lunch! And sometimes, we'd meet up for dinner or even just a Dunkin' Donuts coffee. 

Over the past couple of years, Morgan's health began to decline, but he always bounced back. This last time, however, he didn't bounce back. At 90 years young, Morgan passed away peacefully on the morning of January 27, 2019. And a little piece of me died that day with him.

With the loss of Morgan Kaolian, we lost a remarkable man. Morgan was smart. He was funny. He was a skilled aviator and brilliant aerial photographer—he would literally turn the plane on its side while flying to grab the best shots of the landscapes below. He mastered night aerial photography, and in January 2011, his nighttime photos were on display at the City Lights Gallery in Bridgeport. Opinionated but eloquent, he fought for what he believed in, including his dream of restoring Pleasure Beach. Morgan was playful, and witty, and charming. Morgan had a class and style all his own. 

I have so many memories of fun times spent with Morgan. He was an important part of Bob Crane's life and his biography, but he was more than that. So much more.

When I visited Connecticut, and Dee, Morgan, and I would get together, we laughed. A lot. Sometimes, when he'd get going on telling his stories, he'd suddenly stop. Mid-sentence. Mid-memory. And he'd kind of look up a little to the right, as if looking directly at the memory that only he could see. And his eyes would sparkle and he'd grin. This knowing, mischievous, school boy grin. But he'd never share whatever it was that made him smile in that moment. I think this was perhaps one of Morgan's most endearing qualities. Some memories are so sacred and special, they are not meant to be shared with anyone else.

Rest in peace, Morgan. Now you are flying with the angels.

Morgan Kaolian
April 5, 1928—January 27, 2019