Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Two Birthdays of Note

A few years ago I published the following essay on another web site I once oversaw. Inasmuch as today is the birthday of its subject, singer-actress Annie Ross (b. 1930), today presents a good opportunity for re-posting it here.

A while back, David Ehrenstein, my good friend and constant traveling companion of the last thirty years---i.e., SO---was to interview Jack Larson for a book about gay Hollywood. You know, Jack Larson? Jimmy Olson from Superman on TV! And so I drove him out to the wilds of Beverly Hills where Larson resides. Upon our arrival, much to my surprise / annoyance / chagrin, displeasure---take your pick!---David suggested, as if I were nothing more than his effen driver, that I wait outside in the car while he went inside to schmooze. I felt just like Eric von Stroheim in Sunseet Boulevard.

But it was a hot summer day, and after a while I began to get thirsty. So after about a half-hour I crawled up to Larson's entranceway, scratched on the door, explained that I was "the driver," and begged for a thimbleful of water. Aside from thirst, an additional motivation for my intrusion was the fact that I'd never been in a Frank Lloyd Wright house before. Larson lives in one, a small pied de terre, but a Wright house nonetheless, Whilst the David shot me dirty looks, the thoughtful Larson invited me to come in and sit a spell. Far be it from to intrude, but at one point Larson mentioned that singer Ella Logan used to be his next door neighbor. I could no longer feign being a proletarian non-sophistication. I piped up:

"Ob, I just saw Annie Ross at the Jazz Bakery a few nights ago.”


"Annie Ross."

"What does that have to do with Ella Logan?," Larson inquired.

"That's Ella Logan's niece. She used to live with her. Next door.”

"You mean, Annabelle Short? I'd wondered whatever happened to her. Nice kid.”

Ross' main time in the sun was as a member of the inarguably legendary early sixties jazz vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Dave Lambert died not long after the dissolution of the trio in the late Sixties.

Ross and Jon Hendricks, the other two members aired the their acrimonious feelings toward one another in the 2002 press (apparently they were every bit as estranged from one another as soul's Sam and Dave). It was around that time that I saw them perform at L.A's Jazz Bakery. It was the last of five sold out nights before a very young crowd of several hundred people. Most were not born when LH&R originally were in existence.

The last time I saw the trio perform, before Lambert died, I had not yet had sex for the first time. I was in high school. That's how far back they go. Now I'm in my dotage and Annie and Jon were still sexy. . . at least from twenty yards away.

The later-revealed, long-lingering bad feelings between them were not obvious at the Jazz Bakery: Jon was his usual jaunty self and Annie looked gorgeous. In the 1950s she was considered one of the most beautiful women around. She might now appear sixty-something up close, but on stage at the Bakery she still looked years younger. Which might say as much for the preservative powers of heroin (Ross' ONE TIME hard drug of choice) as it does about good genes.

Before the show began, I took a walk over to nearby Culver Boulevard where the street light posts possess plaques celebrating a few hundred of the many thousands of films shot there.

Not thirty yards from the Jazz Bakery there stood one for Our Gang Follies of 1938, in which Ross sang her Aunt Ella's signature tune, "Loch Lomand." In the '38 short, Annie's billing is Annabella Logan, her family name that she shares with her aunt Ella. She had won a talent contest in New York City, the prize for which was a six-month MGM contract. Years later, she saw the film for the first time and thought that she looked like a "terribly precocious midget." Under her MGM pact, she participated in exactly one film, this "Follies." A few years later she came back to the studio for a sophomore, and final, appearance in the Judy Garland vehicle, Presenting Lily Mars. The Freed Unit's loss is our gain.

It was only much later in my life that I learned that two of my main cultural heroes when I was in high school, Ross, and Lenny Bruce, were romantically involved. Apparently it was a triangle, with heroin the shared "partner" between them.

Jack Larson might have heard of Annie Ross, if for no other reason than the fact that she is a longtime member of director Robert Altman's "stock company." Yet he had no idea what had transpired in little Annabelle Short's life after she moved out of Aunt Ella's.

Which only goes to prove that one man's diva is another's next door neighbor.

Here's a track from Ross' ultra rare LP "Loguerhythms"

Today is also the birthday of another singular actress-singer, Second City Alumnus Barbara Harris (b. 1935). Come out, out wherever you are!

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