Monday, October 09, 2006

It's Lee Wiley's birthday!!!

"Lee, who?"

Lee Wiley (1910-1975) is clearly the greatest---extra-categorically---unknown American artist. Even amongst seemingly devoted followers of American Popular Song. God knows Wiley had enough extra-musical mythic resonance to have guaranteed remembrance of her. A beautiful tart-tounged, substance-abusing, chain-smoking beauty who sang in and haunted Upper East Side intime boites, breaking hearts along her merry way back in the 30s and 40s.

I picture her as a kind of jazz singing Dorothy Parker. Albeit sexier. I have tracked down the one known Lee Wiley TV appearance. It's supposedly in the Jack Paar archives. According to Paar's archivist, Jack kept everything that he was interested in or that had special meaning, and told NBC to dump the rest. Let's hope that the Wiley meant something to him. I gave the guy the exact date but somehow couldn't get him to check for me. I was working on adapting a Japanese NHK special on Wiley for American TV. That's tantamount to being shown on one of the big three U.S. nets in prime time. Singer Barbara Lea is in it.

The penultimate scene, and the finale of the special finds a Japanese singer going to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and, first, informing them that they have overlooked the great Lee Wiley---"Lee, who?"---and then flash forward a few months later and she returns for Wiley's installation in the HOF. Nobuko Miyamoto, is an actress---the widow of Juzo Itami, the director of Tampopo---who upon hearing Wiley sing for the first time, did a complete career turnabout and became a vocalist. Japanese are kuru kuru pa (i.e.krazzzeeee!).

My adaptation never came to pass BTW, i.e., 'Lee, who?'

note: The above is a modification of a post herein from from a months ago.

3 comments:

David Ehrenstein said...

The Good Doctor should know that while gone Lee Wiley is not forgotten by The Happy Few. In The Company, Robert Altman utilizes Lee Wiley's rendition of "My Funny Valentine" to great effect. Likewise in Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys, Willey's version of "It Never Entered My Mind" figures in a pivotal scene.

J A Lee said...

...and she had, I think, two numbers on the killer soundtrack to Hanson's L.A. Confidential. But you're right, Bill. She is far too aficianado-only. Has Night in Manhattan ever had a CD reissue?

David Federman said...

Collector's Choice Music reissued all three of the Columbia 10-inch LPs from which "Night in Manhattan" was culled. And CBS Sony in Japan occasionally reissues the 12-inch LP version you are referring to.