ITS A TYPICAL WEDNESDAY EVENING
at Pat Luby’s Cafeteria in Casa View. At the Conn organ, Miss Inez has just run through a “Fiddler on the Roof” medley, “Bingo,” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas*’ before sliding gracefully into “Happy Birthday” as a cake is carried to the table of an elderly customer. Soon after, she zips into a snappy “In the Mood,” inspiring another of her fans to break into a jaunty step as he makes his way to the register. Miss Inez has them rockin’ again.
Inez Teddlie has had them rockin’ for more than Fifty years, a name, a pair of hands, a sound that has cultivated a following down through whole generations of Dallasites. Say the name “Miss Inez” to anyone over thirty who grew up in this city and chances are the mention prompts an immediate smile and fond memories of days at the ballpark and the lilting melody of organ music punctuating the game. Old-timers remember back even further, to the radio days when families gathered in front of the old Bakelite Westinghouse to listen to WRR and entertainment generated live, downtown, just for Dallas.
Miss Inez’s two steady jobs now are playing Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings and Sunday lunch at Pat Luby’s, and as piano accompanist for the Dallas Rotary Chorus, a position she has held I for forty years and that has taken her from New Zealand to West Germany. Miss Inez has been around a while. In fact, an evening chat with Miss Inez is like a local entertainment tour of the past half-century, though the farther back she goes the less definite she is about dates.
On an Easter Sunday in the late Thirties, she and Pete Teddlie were married on the air at WRR radio in Dallas. At the time, they both worked for the station, Miss Inez as staff accompanist, Pete as an announcer.
“I wasn’t too much for it, but I eventually gave in,” she explains of her over-the-air-waves wedding. “The station manager called it a ’studio romance’ and thought it would be fun… It was held right in the studio and the staff orchestra played.
“Back then they had a big pipe organ in Fair Park. Since I really wanted to have a church wedding I put my foot down and had them pipe in the processional.”
Miss Inez first captured the public’s attention as the accompanist for WRR’s “The Kiddie Show,” a Saturday morning live talent show broadcast from the now defunct Melba Theater. It was a comedian for the show, “Little Willie” (Ben McClesky), who first started calling her Miss Inez. The show later switched to the Palace Theater, also gone, and became “Stars for Tomorrow,” which she co-produced and directed until it went off the air in 1965, one of the last live entertainment
shows broadcast in Dallas.
“We saw a lot of kids who eventually became professional entertainers,” she remembers. “Some of them had real talent. I also saw a lot of parents push their kids whether they had talent or not.”
Miss Inez was still a popular radio figure when her career took a turn in 1949. Dick Burnett, owner of the Texas League baseball team, the Dallas Eagles, and namesake of Oak Cliffs Burnett Field (gone, too), asked her if she’d play at home games.
“I knew very little about baseball,” she says. “But I thought I’d give it a try. I played in blowing rain, and sometimes it was so cold I had to wear gloves.”
At the time there were few organs in baseball stadiums. And as far as Miss Inez knows, none in the Southwest.
“It became very popular. All the kids would come by, and the people got to know me,” she says. ’The next year San Antonio and Houston and several other teams in the league had organs installed. People still tell me they remember hearing me play at Burnett Field.” A whole generation of Dallasites, now parents themselves, learned to appreciate the sport to the trill of Miss Inez’s “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The petite organist was so popular the stadium honored her with Miss Inez Night in 1952 and showered her with a pickup full of presents. She played for the Eagles until 1966. She later played a few times in Arlington Stadium for the Rangers, but didn’t like it as much.
“In Arlington they had me up in some little room away from everyone. What I’ve always enjoyed most about playing is meeting people.”
Miss Inez has played the organ at just about every type of sporting event Dallas has seen: the Dallas Chaparrals (basketball), the Dallas Blackhawks (hockey), horse shows at Fair Park, baseball-including, for years, the Rangers’ Winter Banquet-Dallas’s first indoor soccer game (at Fair Park Coliseum), and, of all things, the Dallas Golden Gloves boxing tournament.
“I just hated seeing those boys knock themselves out,” she laments. “I guess I’ve played for just about everything but football, but I can’t imagine organ music at a football game would be very appropriate.”
Miss Inez was born in Arkansas, then moved to Oklahoma as a young child. Her father owned pharmacies and liked to move around. They eventually settled in McKinney, where she graduated from high school. She started playing the piano at age four.
“I could play before I knew what I was doing,” she says. “I didn’t know I couldn’t do it so 1 just did it. I just feel 1 was given a gift.”
Miss Inez started working for WRR right out of high school, passing up an opportunity to attend the University of Oklahoma because she liked her job at the station.
“If I’d gone to college I probably would have become a music teacher,” she says after a long day that began with a breakfast performance with the Rotary Chorus and was ending after her evening stint at Pat Luby’s. Miss Inez began playing in cafeterias in 1956 at the Luby’s in the Inwood Shopping Center. She was so popular that Luby’s installed organs in most of its cafeterias until the chain was sold. She later played at Rad-ford’s Cafeteria on Hillcrest for eleven years until it closed in 1982.
“We have the only organ in a cafeteria in Dallas” says W. C. (Dub) Radford, co-owner of Pat Luby’s and former owner of Radford’s. “We get a lot of comments on Miss Inez, especially from the older folks who remember her from the ball field.”
Miss Inez enjoys playing cafeterias because the customers appreciate the music of another era and because she enjoys the contact. “I recognize a lot of the people by their song,” she says. “I might not know their name but 1 remember the requests they’ve made.” At one time, Miss Inez kept a list of songs she knew from memory, a “playlist” of more than a thousand titles, titles accumulated over a long lifetime.
Don’t ask how long. She won’t tell. “Last Sunday, a woman came up to me in the cafeteria,” she reports, “and said she was eighty-three years old and just knew I had to be up there, too. So she asked me ’Do you mind telling me your age?’ and I said ’Yes.’ I don’t think she quite knew what to do.”
Her Conn organ, with “Miss Inez” inscribed across a treble clef, now stands quiet a few feet away as Inez Teddlie breaks out her scrapbook, a large, unruly record of a life in Dallas show business. The articles go back to the late Forties. Miss Inez apologizes for its unkempt and incomplete look. A little mess is fine, I assure her, and we agree that finishing a scrapbook might signal the end of a career.
And that is something neither-Pat Luby’s customers nor the eternal Miss Inez even want to consider.