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'Molly and Me' host remembered as more than a radio star

September 06, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Molly Messner will be remembered as the longtime host of WCBG's talk show, "Molly and Me," but her greatest contribution to American popular culture might have been helping the actor who played Jack Tripper on "Three's Company" get his start in show business.

"Molly got him his first on-stage experience at Totem Pole (Playhouse)," Charles Hubley, a retired sales manager at the station, said of the late John Ritter.

Ritter's father, country singer Tex Ritter, came to town to see the show and told Molly's husband, the late Bud Messner, he was unimpressed by his son's thespian talents.

"Tex told Bud, 'He'll never make it,'" Hubley said.

Molly Darr Messner died Monday at Chambersburg Hospital at the age of 79, leaving behind a lot of good memories, according to family and friends.

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"She spoke her mind and loved to have a good time," son Graham Messner said.

"She was a very inspirational person to me. She taught me a lot about life," said friend Ron Woods. "I just loved her to death because she made me laugh."

"Molly originally thought she was going to be a Grand Opera singer, but found she liked the hillbilly tunes better," reads an entry on Hillbilly-Music.com. "She auditioned with Bud Messner and got the job."

The daughter of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. president Edward Darr, Molly was visiting Chambersburg when she came to the attention of a local radio station program director, who connected her with Messner, according to her obituary.

"She was in Chambersburg for a wedding, and she sang at the reception and played piano," Graham Messner said. His father's band, the Skyliners, toured for five years with her as featured vocalist.

That country music connection over the years included friendships with Ritter, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Little Jimmy Dickens, the son said.

Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas, whose father owned a radio station "in friendly competition" with the Messners, said he introduced himself to Dickens some years ago at an airport in Nashville.

"He immediately asked me about the Messners," Thomas said.

The couple, who married in 1950, owned WCBG from 1963 to 1990, Graham Messner said. "Molly and Me," with co-host Bob Huff, ran through the 1970s and 1980s, he said.

"Bud was a pushover and Molly kept things in order," Hubley said. "I used to tell her, 'Molly, you're the worst boss I ever had, and the best friend.'"

Messner appeared in many community theater productions over the years and founded the "Red Stocking Revue" of local and professional talent to raise money for the Chambersburg Hospital Auxiliary. It was in community theater 26 years ago that Woods, then 16, met her.

Messner took Woods under her wing, he said, correcting his grammar, schooling him in the social graces and forming a lifelong friendship.

"She was a very young 79," Woods said. "She was full of life."

"Mom had a quiet compassion for people," Graham Messner said.

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