Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Today's Birthday Girl

Today is Carol Channing's birthday. According to a veryvery dear, veryveryclose, veryverywonderful friend of mine, it should be proclaimed a gay national holiday. I saw Channing perform her production of "Show Girl" or a variant of it in my rather provincial hometown of Charleston, West (by god) Virginia sometime just before the Punic Wars. When she did her rather scathing Dietrich takeoff, my friends and I were laughing so hard we liked to spit out our livers whilst most of those season ticket attendeees around us looked on at us with Grant Wood "what's so funny" expressions on their faces. (I seem to recall that Dietrich sued to try and stop Channing from doing the Marlene impersonation. And lost.) At a certain point, Channing broke the fourth wall and addressed clearly what was our little quick-on-the-uptake claque. We were more than welcome, she said, to go with her on the bus to the next stop and be in the audience there as well. For a minute we thought she must have meant it. All Channing has to do is arch an eyebrow and I'm reduced to paroxysms (or is that perox-isms? ) of laughter. Does anyone remember her R&H "Oklahoma" parody from "Show Girl"? Instead of belting out a round of Happy Birthday to Carol, why not sing along to her recording here of "This is a Darn Fine Funeral." (link for a limited time only)

"This is a darn fine funeral
We've all had a darn fine time
The coffee and cake that they served at the wake
Was thoughtful and tasted sublime
Now that Aunt Bessie's gone to her maker
There's something's we're burstin' to say
Yes this is a darn fine funeral.
Yes this is a darn fine
F - U - N - E - R - A - L
Yes this is a darn fine day
Yippeeee!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Silver Masked Tenor

The best thing about maintaining this blog---aside for a daily excuse to do some sort of writing---is the nice outpouring of interesting emails that come from readers. Some of these emails have attachments that contain mp3s of music, mostly rare and/or unreleased tracks of singers both known and unknown. But of all the cuts I've received since starting this blog, none have had the impact on me that a couple of dozen unreleased cuts sent to me from a singer in northern California have. He is not all that well known now, but I think he should and will be heard from much more in the year to come. Jeepers. . .I'm starting to sound just like Charles Bickford in A Star is Born. I won't tell you his name at this point, but I would like to share with you part of "Gentle Rain," one of the tracks he sent to me.

Early Plastic for sale

My web site

Beverly Kenney's Birthday

Today is Beverly Kenney's birthday. Sometimes it almost seems as if this space operates as a Kenney web site. Since beginning this blog a year-or-so ago, I've posted a number of entries relating to this great jazz singer.

Here is a link to the most extensive BK post .

Recently a friend of Beverly's sent me a memoir of his friendship with her. Here is small portion of it:

"Millie was from Fairlawn, New Jersey, and both Beverly and I knew her. One night she called Beverly and said that Nicky Hilton of the Hilton Hotels and a much sought-after bachelor had seen her picture on a magazine cover and through his connections had tracked her down and asked her for a date. Millie, who was really shy, said yes, but only if he'd take her to the Vanguard to see Beverly perform. Beverly arranged with Max Gordon, the club owner, to get us the best table. We got to the club, Beverly went to her dressing room, and I went to the table to wait for Millie and Nicky. Now Nicky had a well deserved reputation as a world-class playboy. He raced cars, boats, and planes, was very good looking, and had been married to Elizabeth Taylor. The place started to fill up and just about ten minutes before the show was to start, Nicky and Millie came in. They caused a bit of a stir as they walked over to the table. The Vanguard of those days was a serious club, it had the best jazz musicians and the best comics. It was a breeding ground for stardom. The place fell silent as the lights dimmed and the spot picked up Beverly. She looked sensational and my heart skipped a beat as she started off with 'You Make Me Feel So Young.' The crowd loved her, but after a few songs, I could hear a group of four people behind us talking while Beverly was singing. This was just not done at the Vanguard; you came to hear the performance, no one else. I turned around and saw two cigar-smoking guys with two world-class bimbos. I told them we came to hear the girl, not them, and to please keep quiet. As they continued to drink more, their talk grew louder, until when Beverly started to sing 'I Long for a Lover, a Certain Kind of Lover', one of them yelled out a rather ungentlemanly remark. As if it had been well orchestrated, Nicky and I were on these two guys in a blink of an eye and before we could throw our second punches, the bouncer had ejected the two cigars and the bims. Beverly hardly missed a note, but did introduce us to the crowd and loud applause when she finished her song. She sure was fun."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Harold & Fayard, Fayard & Katherine Hopkins-Nicholas

More Fayard

No two people could have been more unalike, except in their talent and love for one another, than Fayard and Harold Nicholas. Harold was dour and introverted and somewhat bitter that the Nicholas Brothers had not been given their just due. Of course, all that was eventually to change, culminating in the 1991 Kennedy Center honors. But Fayard, perhaps the happiest man I ever met, appeared as if he could care less about the world's onetime failure to recognize the freres' greatness.

Fayard hated the phrase THE Nicholas Brothers. Should be "Nicholas Brothers," always without the preposition. It was one of the few times I ever saw him grouchy, when I threw out a few possible exceptions at him:

"But what if. .. ?"

"Nicholas Brothers!," he adamantly shot back. No THE. . . Ever!" Never could quite figure that out?

Fayard told me that once in Paris, not too many years ago, he saw a French dance duo doing the Nicholases act down to the last split. Afterwards, he went backstage to introduce himself, thinking it would give the duo a kick. But before he got around to it, one of the dancers informed him that their act was a tribute to the both now-deceased (!) Nicholas Brothers. I can't recall whether Fayard bothered to disabuse them of the exaggerated reports of his and Harold's passing.

In 1992 I curated a show at the California Afro-American [now "African-American"] Museum entitled "Hollywood Days Harlem Nights." One corner of the exhibition space was given over to a Nicholas tribute. It included Fayard's original costume from the original Broadway production of Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and a non-stop loop of the Brothers' inarguably most famous routine, from the motion picture Stormy Weather (1943). Fayard told me that when the film originally opened, at a Hollywood theater showing the film, that on more than one occasion so insistent was the audience's response that the projectionist had to rewind the film back to the beginning of the routine and show it all over again. Not long after laying that anecdote on me, I was in Paris and a first run (not revival house) theater was exhibiting the film on the Champs Elysee no less. And even though the Brothers are not dramatis personae in the feature, it was their name that was featured most prominently on the elaborate hoarding outside the theatre. . .a much larger than life cutout of the duo. I took a picture and gave it Fayard when I returned home.

Fayard (I always called him Mister Nicholas and he never disabused me of that notion) told me that one time a perfectly decorous Caucasian newspaper reporter was interviewing him about the brothers' illustrious career, and the subject turned to Harold Nicholas' womanizing. He had bedded some of the most glamorous woman in and out of show business and was married for a period to legendary beauty Dorothy Dandridge. The reporter stayed on that topic for a protracted period till she could no longer contain herself. Fayard told me the scribe paused, then rhetorically inquired: "Do you mind if I ask you something? [beat] Just how big IS Harold's Johnson." His retelling to me was followed by, of course, that endearing head-thrown-back laugh of his.

Fayard was a member of the Bahai faith, which I don't know a lot about. BUT one of their tenets is that the death was not to be considered an occasion for mourning. Thus it was that after the death of his second wife Barbara, the next night he was at the opening of an event of one sort of another featuring his protege Savion Glover. Not so long after that, he and Harold were scheduled to appear at Hollywood's Ford Theater. And even though Harold had passed the day before, Fayard carried on as a touching single. It was very moving. Not a dry eye in the house.

This is the opening of the didactic I wrote for Brothers' installation at Cal-Afro (as it was called then):

"In one of their very first film appearances, the singing-dancing Nicholas Brothers appear in a Harlem talent show. 'Are you professionals?', the m.c. dubiously asks. 'Professionals, nothing. We're past that stage,' seven-year-old Harold Nicholas replies." No truer words---even if scripted---were ever spoken.

Christmas in January

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I finally found it! (see prior entry)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Yet More Memories of Fayard

I only encountered Mary Astor in passing at the MPCH in Woodland Hills, CA when I went there to visit Fayard Nicholas in the late 80s and early 90s. She was very very reclusive and Fayard and I just caught her out on the sidewalk one afternoon. A quick hello.

I also met Viola Dana, who was a big silent star but made only a handful of talkies before retiring. One time I thought I spotted actress Mae Clarke, she of Jimmy Cagney grapefruit-in-face fame. I turned to someone and said, "Isn't that Mae Clarke?" And the party growled fiercely, "Yeah, and they oughta put her in a cage." I learned that although Clarke had just arrived, she was a real take charge type and already trying to run the place.

The bungalows at the Country Home all had the names of the occupants on the door on brass plates. I would just walk around and swoon over the placques. Especially when I espied the nameplate for Charles Barton, Universal-International (doesn't Universal presume International ?) helmer of a whole slew of Abbott & Costello and Ma & Pa Kettle epics. Was it true what they said about Marjorie Main's world class porn collection (her husband was a sexologist)? I was tempted to knock on his door and ask Barton (and other stuff, too), but ultimately common sense, not to mention good taste, prevailed. If the place hadn't been so far away I would have definitely offered my services as a volunteer.

Fayard had absolute total sense memory of EVERYTHING that had ever happened to him. He recalled to me that although he and Harold had only been hired for a few days for the MGM Garland-Kelly "The Pirate," that because of Garland's tardiness, etc. they were kept on salary for well over a month. He also told me that and...oh god he told me so much!!!

Ironically, his brother Harold could recall absolutely nothing and relied upon Fayard to recount details of their dual fabulous career to him. Fayard told me about the time he and Harold went to the Las Vegas airport to pick up the latter's former wife, Dorothy Dandridge, who was visiting them in LV. This was perhaps 15 years before he told me the story. Fayard said, "When she came toward us, I noticed that she was wearing a pair of toreador pants that had a slight tear repaired with a safety pin. I remember saying to myself at the time, "Oh dear, that's not Dorothy's style at all. Something must be seriously wrong." And he was right!

Asked by his parents to name his brother when he was born, Fayard had dubbed him Harold after Harold Lloyd. Fayard was in his early seventies when I happened to mention to him one day that I was aware that "Fayard" was the French word for beech tree. "It is????" he replied with amazement. "I always just thought my parents made it up," he said, throwing his head back, laughing loud and hard his famous laugh (Fayard laughed as well as he danced). I thought it remarkable that no one had ever bothered to inform him of that in all his more than seven decades of life.

Cat Blog Friday

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Yasmin

Dear Ellen:

Thanks for the pic of Yasmin. She looks a bit like our cat Kuro, beyond just considerations of color. Kuro almost never stops staring at me with these big saucer eyes, the same color and size as Yasmin's. I anthropamorphically read into it: "Who are you? Who am I? What's my role? What's my mission?" And so forth.

One of four ferals that were born on my back porch four years ago, Kuro is the only one I was able to "seduce" and the only one who lived. . .I think. He is strictly an indoor cat, and I hope that helps him to live a good long life. In all likelihood he will outlast me. Which is the way I want it. Last year when I was in Tokyo, he accidentally got out of the house in L.A. I was absolutely bereft when I learned the news telephonically. Pretty much sat in my hotel room and mourned for a couple of days. Then a friend took me to a Buddhist shrine. And even though I hold no truck with the unseen as opposed to the seen, I prayed and Kuro did return home at just that instant I learned when I went back to the hotel and phoned home.

I have had perhaps a half-dozen cats in my lifetime, but Kuro is THE one. Every night at EXACTLY 6:30 he comes crying at me for his daily fix of bonito.

Kuro: "meowmeowmeow."
Me: "Bonito?"
Kuro: meowMeowMEOW!
Me: "Kitchen?"

By now, he's absolutely nuts, going round and round in circles. Not one to tease animals, I get up from whatever it is that I am doing and head toward the kitchen, Kuro running a few paces in front of me. Reaching our goal, I "fish" into the cabinet for the bag and by now he's completely out of control.

Kuro: "MEOWMEOWMEOWMEOWMEOW!"

The smell permeates the air so much that even though I have put the bowl o' bonito on the floor, the smell of it has so intoxicated him olfactorily, that he begins running all over the kitchen looking for it. . .although it in EXACTLY the same place every night. Sometimes I say, "Hey, silly. Over here," then I lift him up, carry him over to the bowl, and gently push his face down into the bonito. And the mad cat scarfs it all down, though he doesn't like the smaller particles that are a bit like dust (I sprinkle that on his wet food the next a.m).

This happens 365 nights a year and it never fails to bring me unmitigated happiness and joy. Guess it doesn't take a lot for me, hunh?

Best,

Bill

Thursday, January 26, 2006

More on Fayard

Throughout most of the 1990s, dancing superstar Fayard Nicholas, who died Friday, lived at the famous Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, CA. I had the pleasure of visiting him and his second wife, Barbara, there on numerous occasions. I was always impressed by the place, as it struck me as a model demonstration of the way that senior citizens should be treated by society. I met a lot of famous and talented people on those visits, including Mary Astor, Mae Clarke, screenwriter Henry Ephron, character actor Whit Bissell, et al. But that's another story.

Often Fayard and Barbara would invite me out for the monthly birthday parties that were held there for the residents. There was almost always top drawer talent that would contribute their services for the afternoon occasion. Usually, I knew in advance who was performing. But one day the Nicholases invited me out, and this time Fayard would not tell me who was on the bill: "Just get out here. Trust me." And he was right. It's a double bill I'll not soon forget. Perhaps the hippest double bill in history, for it was Donald O'Connor followed by---hang onto your hats---Little Richard. Perhaps two of the finest performers of their respective disciplines. O'Connor came on first, accompanied by a pianist, and was quite terrific. And you'd have thought it would have been he (more of the audience's era) who would have garnered the lion's share of the applause that day. But it was, in fact, Little Richard who truly captured the adoration of the mostly octagenarian crowd. If you'll pardon the expression. . .he killed.

It was a Richard Penniman that relative few have had the opportunity to see. He spritzed and riffed and rapped and goofed till the audience was dizzy with affection for him. He was on for only about forty minutes or so, and only dabled at piano for less than half that time. But at the end of his set, the crowd was so overcome that they literally threw away their crutches and walkers, leapt up out of their wheelchairs---HEALED--- and rushed him like a pack of rabid teenaged fans. It's an afternoon I'll not soon forget: like I wrote in a previous post about Fayard, I can remember with great sense memory near every moment I spent with him.

Fortunately, I happened to have my tape recorder with me that day---I was probably going to also interview Fayard---thus I recorded the set. And so now, thanks to the late, great Fayard Nicholas---it is the twilight of the gods I tell you, the twilight of the gods---here is, like you've never heard him before, Little Richard! "Live From the Motion Picture Country Home" (link for a limited time only)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

FAYARD NICHOLAS R.I.P.

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Fayard Nicholas and his wife, Katherine Hopkins-Nicholas, May 2005 (photographed by David Ehrenstein)

I am happy to count among my friends the great dancer, Fayard Nicholas, who died today.

I don’t think I will ever forget a single moment I spent with him. The first time I met him was 15 years or so ago. I scheduled a luncheon appointment to interview him about Dinah Washington. Much to my surprise and sorrow, the years of doing all of those incredible terpsichorean pyrotechnics had taken their toll. I can still remember my shock and sadness as he crossed the street to meet me. He had to support himself with two canes! But THEN about six months later, he had that miraculous hip replacement surgery, and I was there when he danced in performance again for the first time. I get all verklempt just thinking about it.

We remained friends over the years and in 1998 I interviewed for my book “Hot from Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment.” Here's a portion of the profile I wrote about Fayard and his brother Harold.

“In 1936 the Cotton Club--- founded by gangster elements in 1923 at the comer of 142nd Street and Lenox Avenues---moved downtown to the Broadway-Times Square area. Everything else, though, remained pretty much unchanged; including the feathers and fans, and legs flying non-stop to great music by Ellington and Calloway, et al. Another tradition that stayed the same was the painful reality of the Club's whites-only policy, by which the blacks entertaining there could not afford to become too distracted. But the dancing Nicholas Brothers may have even been moving too fast, and been too young to notice the glaring irony of it all. A sensation almost from the moment they turned professional in 1930, by 1937 when the Nicholas Brothers starred in Tall, Tan and Terrific at the Cotton Club---at the respective ages of 18 and 14--- Fayard and Harold were already old hands at the glamorous night spot, having first taken the place by storm uptown in Harlem five years earlier.

"When we did Tall, Tan and Terrific at the Cotton Club in 1937, Harold and I were doubling. We were in Babes in Arms AND the Cotton Club show as well," Fayard remembers. "We only had a few days to rehearse for the Cotton Club, but during that time George Ballanchine, who choreographed Babes in Arms, came to the club to watch us work, I seem to recall. It was really something doing both shows at the same time. After we finished Babes in Arms at the Shubert we went to the Cotton Club to do the midnight show. We had a tutor and went to school every day. We would get home so late that we'd sleep until early afternoon. The tutor would come at three o'clock in the afternoon and after we finished we went back to bed."

Fayard Nicholas recalls that---because of their youth---he and brother Harold may have been among the few of her fellow performers at the Cotton Club to have ever seen a sweeter side to Ethel Waters. One of the handful of American entertainers unquestionably deserving of the term "legendary," Waters behind the scenes was equally as noted for her dark moods and unpredictable temperament as she was for her stunning interpretations of songs. Nicholas speculates:

"She liked us because we were kids and didn't represent the same kind of threat that adults did. She called us her boys. She didn't mind us getting a lot of applause. At least, not too much. But anybody else. . .oh, man! I remember one night at the Cotton Club they were doing a tribute to Bill Robinson and she was there, all the Broadway and movie stars were there to greet Bill Robinson. I was sitting in the box with her and Bill was on the stage. He said, 'I would like to say a word about my good friend Ethel Waters. Ethel, who would have believed that you and I would be the leaders of our race?' She lit up, stood up and said, 'Oh, thank you, thank you.' And people applauded. I said to myself, 'This is great, this is great, they're finally friends.' And then she went back stage. I stayed in the box. A little while after that, Bill came over to my table and said to me, 'Can you imagine that?' I said, 'What?,' And he said, 'After I praised her, she came backstage and still called me a son of a bitch.'"

If anything did change with the relocation [of the Cotton Club from Harlem] to the Times Square area. it was the caliber of the entertainers, which became greater than ever. Louis Armstrong, had never appeared at the Cotton Club when it was in Harlem, but at the Broadway and 48th location he became a regular along Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington,
Cab Calloway and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. For Tall. Tan and Terrific, the Club's show for the Fall of '37, (an engagement he eventually had to postpone), Robinson was to receive $3,500 a week, more money than anyone had ever been paid before for a nightclub appearance, regardless of race. As for the mob element-led by the notorious OwneyMadden-involved in the running of the Cotton Club: "Yes, it's true they were gangsters," says Fayard Nicholas who laughs, adding, "But they were nice gangsters."

Think about any and all of the positive attributes we use to describe the best qualities that humans can possess: wit, kindness, intelligence, compassion, generosity, hipness. . .genius, etc. Fayard had every last one of those attributes in abundance. Very high! Very evolved!

BROKEBACK! THE MUSICAL

For those of you who can't get enough of IT.
My web site

Monday, January 23, 2006

Love is a Fress of Nature

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Although the big screen version of the gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain has still not---you should pardon the expression---opened wide, we here at Landfill Productions are fortunate to have received an advance copy of the DVD edition. And although we are not allowed to reveal all the enhanced content that will be included, we have been given permission for our roving entertainment reporter, Chris Schneider, to give you an advance peek at one of the special features of the DVD edition. Take it away, Chris!

Chris: The working title for the Ang Lee-directed "Brokeback Mountain" was "The Man Who Brought Back No Fish." That was in reference to the fishing trips Ledger's character and Gyllenhaal's kept making together, trips supposedly devoted to fishing. Well, the DVD of "Brokeback Mountain" now reveals to us a deleted scene shot while that title for the film was still under consideration.

time: mid-1970s

Jack Twist, now married, dozes in front of a TV set emitting the faint sounds of the voices of Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand from the film "Let's Make Love."

Fade to:
Image of a stylized "river," with Ennis holding an outsized neon "fishing rod" and Jack sitting next to him.

Jack sings [to the tune of "Let's Make Love"]:

When folks talk of romancin',
Girlish curls ain't my wish.
I hate sissified dancin',
Baby -- Let's Just Fish.

When we're on Brokeback Mountain,
Long cold nights are dee-lish'!
I just spurt like a fountain,
Baby -- Why Not Fish?

I don't want no hoe-down;
C'mon, let's get low-down!
Darlin', when we *go* down ...
All thoughts of a tractor
Or babes with Max Factor
Go "Poof!" like TV's Milton Berle
-- Girl! --

Let fools talk to their closets;
*You're* my tastiest dish!
I love just where my jaw sits,
Baby -- Let's Just Fish!

[spoken to Ennis]
Don't just stand there, *do* something!

Now don't get all right-wing;
Loin-to-loin, we *might* sing ...
Loosen up, you tight thing!
The thrust of your ardor
Makes my heart beat harder;
I'm full as a larder with joy
-- Boy! --

Let me fondle your shirt, now;
It tastes good as a knish.
Must we stand here and flirt, now?
Gawd, boy,
Grab your rod, boy
-- And Let's Fish!

* * *
Reports vary as to whether a dance number was shot, in the style of Busby Berkeley's choreography for "The Shadow Waltz," involving chorus boys in cowboy garb and their lit-up "rods." In any case, there's no sign of it on the DVD.

copyright © Chris A. Schneider

Sunday, January 22, 2006

EX-CLU-SIVE!!!!

Nathan Lane sings the title tune at backers audition for Brokeback! The Musical. (Courtesy World Wide Pants) (link for a limited time only)

Today in Kuklapolitan History. . .

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. . .in 1952, Miss Dorothy Collins was a special guest. Most likely the plot revolved around Ollie having a secret crush on Collins, and going out of his way not to hurt Fran's feelings. (Doubtful if Dot did a Lucky Strikes commercial, though.) Call it a case of arrested development if you will, but KFO was my favorite TV show when I was eight and it still is. Such a hip show. If you don't believe me, check out some clips here.

Friday, January 20, 2006

catblogfriday












Kuro in Muffland, photographed by my LTSP, David Ehrenstein, who I write about extensively in my memoir Early Plastic.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

from "My Dinner with ANDY"

Portion of 3/2/65 conversation between my LTSP David Ehrenstein and Andy Warhol: (link for a limited time only)

DE: Who among the New American Cinema do you admire?
AW: Jack Smith.
DE: You really like Jack Smith?
AW: When I was little I always thought he was my best director. . .I mean best. . .the only person I would ever copy. I just think he's so terrific. And now since I'm grown up I just think he makes the best movies.
DE: What in particular do you like about his movies?
AW: He's the only one I know that uses color. . .
backwards.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Doesn't she look great?!

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Here at Oblivion Towers we still take pics the old-fashioned way. Just received from the developers some photos snapped by my LTSP (long time saddle pal) David Ehrenstein. This one of Teri Garr was taken wayyyy backkkk in December at the booksigning event at L.A's Book Soup for her memoir Speedbumps.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Roots

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Today is the birthday of the late jazz arranger George Handy. In honor of the occasion---admittedly a stretch--- here's a track ** (link for a limited time only) by his very former wife Flo Handy, sister of the late Ella Mae Morse, and current (?) widow of tenor sax great Al Cohn. Got that?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Disc o' the Day

I'm experimenting with a new mp3 upload. If you're interested, I've just put up a rare track of Carol Sloane (a wordless vocal) with Les Elgart performing Arlen and Mercer's "Goose Never Be a Peacock." (link for a limited time only) Click the link, scroll to bottom, click "free," then next page, enter the three letter code, enter, then click "open" on the popup dialogue box. Four steps instead of one in these increasingly pressured times in which we live. Let me know what you think of rapidshare. It's a bit more cumbersome than Yahoo upload, but faster (a half-minute on the average) on download. Just like me to always consider your needs first!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

My Telephonic Brush With Greatness

In my 2000 memoir, Early Plastic, I wrote:

"This is Shelley Winters, 225 Riverside Drive," the party on the other end of the line said to me. "Perhaps you recognize the voice. [Who wouldn't?] Do you know who this Emma Goldman person is? I'm auditioning to play her in a movie but I've never even heard of her." I would have sworn that left-leaning Winters had not only heard of Goldman, but somewhere in the heart of her Riverside Drive co-op had a shrine dedicated to the legendary feminist/communist/anarchist.

The call came in at NYC's Eighth Street Bookshop one evening in the early 1970s just before midnight closing time. Winters wanted to know if we had any books on Goldman. We did; practically an entire section. That night the store stayed open past its usual closing time, just long enough for a driver to arrive and pick up "one of everything" on Red Emma.

I can remember Winters on a panel show talking about getting kicked out of a weight watchers group because she said, "I always thought 'menopause' meant a pause between men."

And now at last Shelley (to invoke the ad line from one of my favorite Winters films) has gone "back, Back, BACK to the world of the Mambo." Wotta gal!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bill Black epiphany

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Of the twenty-eight live recordings that "boy singer" Bill Black made with the Gene Krupa band, the one that kept bothering me was the title song (link for a limited time only) from the 1949 film Tulsa. Black performed it twice with Krupa in performances that were captured by air checks, both in the month of April '49 just before the film was released in May. Although inarguably not a top notch song in the league of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin et al, nevertheless, even in these two raw '49 air checks, one can hear that the number by Mort Greene and Allie Wrubel had "hit" (in the songplugger parlance of the times) "written all over it." A nice kind of bouncy "On the Trail" feel.

Then, like a bolt from the blue this a.m., it suddenly dawned on me as to WHY this hit song wannabe was never recorded in the studio. . .because there were no commercial sides made between December 1947 and September 1949 due to a musicians union strike. Duhhhh! And to the best of knowledge the number was never recorded by anyone.

Once Black moved out of St. Louis in mid-1948 intent on making it in the big time, because of the recording ban, the cards were stacked against from the instant he first touched down on Manhattan soil. Eventually, after the strike was over, he did cut a few tracks with the Gene Krupa band, but none of them were as remotely good as "Tulsa." The mob attack on Black that made him hors de combat for a couple of years in the early 1950s was just--so to speak--- the icing on the cake. Poor schmuck!

I don't have a copy of the film at hand, but I wouldn't even be surprised to learn that Black sang the song over the opening or end credits. And one wonders just how many others careers were similarly derailed by that '48-'49 work stoppage.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Cat Blog Friday

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Gladys Bentley was a man!" . . .

. . .Frances Williams insisted to me, when the subject of the ostensibly female, cabaret singer-pianist and court jester to the Harlem Renaissance was raised.

I interviewed the late actress-activist Williams, perhaps best-known as "Miss Marie" on the TV series Frank's Place for my 1998 book, Hot from Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment. I was reminded of Bentley (1907-1960) and my interview with Frances because today is Gladys' birthday.

If anyone should have known about Bentley, it was Williams. She was there at the time.

"Even when Frances was confronted with Sisters of the Renaissance, a publication containing information to the contrary [the passage on Bentley in 'Harlem' continued] she stuck to her guns: She shot a look that signaled case closed.. ..end of discussion.

Certainly, Bentley gave good cause for Williams to suspect she might be all man: Gladys worked entirely in male drag and sang double-entendre songs and parodies that often as not alluded to and/or celebrated the joys and perils of gay romance. But that was later on; here is Langston Hughes' description, in his The Big Sea, of Bentley in action 'before she got famous, acquired an accompanist, specially written material, and conscious vulgarity':

'Miss Bentley sat, and played a big piano all night long, literally all night without stopping-singing songs like 'The St. James Infirmary': from ten in the evening until dawn, with scarcely a break in between the notes, sliding from one song to another, with a powerful and continuous underbeat of jungle rhythm.' He goes on to describe the ample, ebony, and deeply butch performer as 'a perfect piece of African sculpture.' Novelist Carl Van Vechten was similarly taken with her (or him); in his Parties, he writes of an unnamed character who is clearly Bentley:

'There is a girl up there now you oughta hear. She does her hair so her head looks like a wet seal and when she pounds the piano the dawn comes up like thunder.'

In her Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, Daphne Duval Harrison
suggests that it wasn't only Frances Williams who felt that this woman
imitating a man might have, in fact, been-shades of Victor Victoria-a man (gay, at that) imitating a lesbian pretending to be man. She describes Bentley as a 'tough-talking, singing piano player who some believed to be a male transvestite and others a lesbian.' In Gay New York, George Chauncey recalls Bentley as: "[An entertainer] who performed in a tuxedo and married her lover in a much discussed ceremony."

If, in fact, Bentley was a lesbian, she recanted her sapphic ways for good in 1952in a magazine article entitled "I Am a Woman Again. She then married a sailor in San Diego and spent the remainder of her years writing her (yet to be published) memoirs. If ever there was a subject who cried out for further research it is Bentley who may have singlehandedly engineered the gender-bendingest hoax ever perpetrated on Cafe Society."

For more on Bentley, go here; to hear her in action, listen to this 1929 recording. (link for a limited time only)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Finally getting tired of tripping over the damn things. . .

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. . .my longtime saddlepal, David Ehrenstein, and I finally did what we have been promising to do for years. We had our O***rs---his was for the '53 screenplay of "Footsteps on the Ceiling" adapted from the play by Lloyd Richards, and mine for best sound the following year for the filmization of Ken Conway's Broadway hit, "Purple Like Grapes"---fused together and made into a lamp.

As you will no doubt recall, '53 and '54 were the last two years that the "Awards" were held at Chasen's. After that, the ceremony switched over in '55 to the Pantages---the year that b***h Grace Kelly robbed Judy of her rightful statuette for "A Star is Born" (but that's another story).

And although we have both been nominated in our respective categories numerous times since then, those were the only occasions we were fortunate enough to take home the big guy. Everytime David and I have lost since then, we've jokingly referred to our misfortune as the "Pantages Curse" ("If only they'd kept the damn thing at Chasen's!")

What fun it's been to be a part of this big town, bad town, damn good town and this crazy business called "show," all these many years.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Inez Jones

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da flip side

A few years ago on PBS there was a documentary about a trio of couples who had been together or married for an extended period of time. . .basically since the dawn of creation.

One twosome was a really hip heterosexual Jewish couple of old lefties, another was a gay duo---one-half of which was an ex ballet dancer who, sadly, had Alzheimer’s, and the third pair was singer-pianist Inez Jones and her husband, a sax player.

The latter live (still do?) in Kansas City in touching upscale genteel poverty (I think that socio-economically captures it). Jones talked to the camera about her career as a singer. At the peak of her popularity in the 1950s she played the posh Fairmont Hotel in SF. She also cut a record for the Riverside label that was reviewed very favorably in Down Beat.

An unbelievably hip old couple, they sat in their rundown kitchen, he played a wobbly but credible sax, and she sang and played. Alternately they reminisced about their life together and the KC jazz scene. At the time I remember thinking that I would love to have them for next door neighbors.

A year or so ago in a thrift shoppe I found this single of Inez singing "Don't Worry 'Bout Me," (b/w see above) backed by the great guitarist (think Nat King Cole) Oscar Moore. I try to keep my eyes open for this stuff. After listening to it I decided that I wanted Inez and hubby as neighbors more than ever.







Buy Early Plastique

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CC pt 2

By overwhelming popular demand, here is pt. two (link for a limited time only) of "Her Honor" Chris Connor on Sound Flights Into Jazz. Anyone for pt. three?

Monday, January 09, 2006

BOP RADIOooooo. . . KOTRrrrrrrr *

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Make that "Connor"




Topps Bubblegum Card circa '56
I was very young, and modern jazz was just reaching mass popularity when rock came in a swept it all away. Prior to then, the arrival of a new LP by such as Dave Brubeck, June Christy, George Shearing et al. was a fairly big deal with record buyers. This was certainly true of singer Chris Connor. Most jazz critics didn't like her, though, complaining of her "flatness," "bad pitch," "horrible intonation," etc. (I hasten to add that history has since absolved her.)

Indeed, her pitch is odd. But she's totally in control and knows exactly what she's doing: If she's singing some series of notes not in the original melody, she's she still manages to reflect the original melodic sense of the song. Then for a moment she'll hop back on the melody as written, only to jump back off again a couple of bars later. But there's no faltering, and she always lands on her feet. It's a very tricky thing that she does. The operative description for Chris Connor in the early stage of her career was "far out," and it still holds true to some degree today. Critics who try to compare her to Anita O'Day and June Christy are missing the boat entirely. I'll "buy" the husky voice part; beyond that, though, she comes off like no one singing has EVER sounded.

Listening to her is as intellectually stimulating as trying to crack the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. If you follow her harmonic and rhythmic logic all the way through a song to the end, often, by the time you get there, you're worn out. But it's a good kind of tired. This holds true as much for the ballads as the flagwavers. She lags behind the beat, then rushes ahead. And you can hear her musicians trying to keep up with her tempo-wise, slowing down, speeding up. This rhythmic tension between singer and players is a great part of the appeal. I saw her in a rehearsal session once; she’s a tough task mistress.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Chaos, pt. 2

As promised---see below---here is pt 2 of Chaos. (link for a limited time only)













To the best of my knowledge this parody of Top Forty radio is the only recording by the ad hoc comedy duo of Arbogast and Ross. A bit of Googling reveals that (Bob) Arbogast was a writer and performer of radio commercials, and his partner is believed to be Stan Ross of the legendary Hollywood recording studio, Gold Star.

I have always felt that this exquisitely funny, two-sided '59 comedy 45 rpm was like Mad Magazine come to life. Here is part one. (link for a limited time only)Part two tomorrow.

Is it just me, or is this one-off a work of near genius?

Friday, January 06, 2006

CBF

Tempo o' the Day

The recent cyber scandal that's beset the web site Wikopedia arose out of numerous erroneous entries such as the totally-out-to-lunch one to the effect that musician Nino Tempo is, in fact, a pseudonym for jazz saxophonist Stan Getz.

I was prompted to think about that recent brouhaha because today is Nino's birthday. Certainly one of the most interesting figures in the music industry, Tempo is arguably one of the few artists to have carved out successful careers for himself on both sides of the jazz-rock divide (and, no, Quincy Jones doesn't count). This is a fact expanded upon in a story that I wrote about Nino a couple of years ago for the on-line mag Spectropop . Tempo plays tenor sax just about as well as Getz, but did the latter EVER arrange anything as deliriously looney and brilliant as Nino's bagpipe rock arrangement of "I Love How You Love Me" (link for a limited time only) for himself and sister April Stevens? To have been both Don Costa's tenor man of choice AND one of Phil Spector's chief arrangers is quite an (not even dubious) achievement.

To set the record straight one final time, while I have never been in the same room with Stan and Nino at the same time, I can assure you that I have spent time with the latter long after Stan Getz experienced, in the immortal words of writer Eve Babitz, "the last word in your friends having fun without you. "

A great guy!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Today is Julius La Rosa's birthday.

La Rosa is still on the scene, and there is a healthy contingent of fans (myself included) and critics (Whitney Balliett especially) who consider him one of the best male jazz-pop singers around.

When, on October 19, 1953, Arthur Godfrey fired Julius La Rosa on air "live" for his lack of so-called humility, it was major news. Maybe the top show biz story of the year---or close. Neighbors ran into the streets shouting the news, and the seemingly avuncular, awshucks Godfrey went---at warp Jerry Lee Lewis speed---from being the most powerful personality in radio-TV to dead media meat almost overnight. The meglomaniacal character, Lonesome Rhodes, brilliantly portrayed in the film "A Face in the Crowd" by Andy Griffith, was inspired by Godfrey.

La Rosa, meanwhile, went on to carve a nice recording career for himself. Eventually he became a popular dee-jay, and he's still performing. This is a track (link for a limited time only) from his terrific 1961 LP "The New Julie La Rosa" (not that there was anything wrong with the old one).

As for Godrey, who died in '83, his wife of 40-some-odd years divorced him on her deathbed, and his famous last words (when asked by a nurse "Can I get you anything?") were, "Yes, get me some friends."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sex Sea Hijacker?????

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Two or three times a year my sister, who still lives in my hometown of Charleston, WEST (bygod) Virginia sends me a big whomping mess 'o clippings from the two local newspaper, the Gazette and the Daily Mail. Included in the latest batch, received a couple of days ago, was an article about the funeral of cult rockabilly legend Hasil Atkins (attendees included the great "Dancing Outlaw" Jesco White), and various other puff pieces about hometown girls-made good---I'm so prouddddd---Conchatta Ferrell, Jennifer Garner, Ann Magnuson, and Skytriss.

But the clipping that brought it all rushing back to me was a photo, in the 10/17/05 column of Charleston landmark historian Richard Andre, of the 1975 Lyric Theatre fire that wiped out the old place for good. He wrote, in part: "From the 1930s up until the 1960s, the Lyric was a respectable place where the kids went to watch the good guys win and John Wayne storm 'The Sands of Iwo Jima'. . .Sadly in the 1970s, the small theatre became a porno palace as the marquee declared 'Teenage Sex Kittens'." The "respectable," part notwithstanding, I wrote about the Lyric in my 2000 memoir Early Plastic as follows:

"In addition to the Rialto, there were approximately twenty other smaller, second-run, double-feature neighborhood theaters in Charleston, including two-the Greenbriar and Lyric---on infamous Summers Street, which were parentally off limits to all but trashiest of local youth due to their regional resemblance to Bowery grindhouses. What it was we were supposed to be avoiding was never exactly spelled out to us by our parents, but had something to do with rats nibbling on your toes and about winos (perhaps nibbling on other parts of your anatomy). The Greenbriar was where they played producer Kroger Babb's cycle of films, including Mom and Dad---"separate showings for men and women and a nurse attendance at all times"--which seemed to come around every six months or so. Occasionally, the Greenbrier even got religion when local church groups "four-walled" the place for showings of regionally-filmed, cheesy bible pageants featuring cross-eyed Jesuses and hillbilly Marys. These were a genre unto themselves.

The Lyric was topheavy on westems, and when the bus from the coal mine camps pulled up in front on weekends, nearly all the passengers would empty out into it in an ant-like trail. In his essay on the movies, "The Devil Finds Work," James Baldwin observed that people did not go to see Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, but Sam Spade as Humphrey Bogart. If that's true, then were these obscure (to me) Vera Hruba Ralstons and Jane Frazees advertised on the one-sheets outside the sub-respectable Lyric and Greenbriar where Monogram and Republic films had their local premieres? Who were these Weaver Brothers and Elviry, and the Three Mesquiteers? I was destined never to find out. Only when the original Godzilla premiered at the Greenbriar---and I was fairly along in my teens---did I dare enter its dreaded inner sanctum. In the final analysis, my upcoming loss of virginity proved easier than my belated first visit to this long-maligned movie house. A childhood's worth of parental bad press accorded the Greenbriar died hard while my heart beat like a hammer as I skulked my way into the place and found a seat. I felt rejected when the movie was over and I had not been advanced upon by a single one among the Raincoat Brigade's number. For as long as I could remember, authority figures kept warning me about a dangerous strangers at the Greenbriar, Lyric and elsewhere, but none ever materialized.

A few years after I saw Godzilla at the Greenbriar, I finally succumbed to the lure of the Lyric when a triple bill of Joy House (Lola Albright and Alain Delon!), Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed (Dean Martin and Carol Burnett!), and Lady in a Cage (Olivia De Havilland and James Caan!), whose scandalous reputation preceded it (but which no other theater in town would exhibit) proved too much for me to resist. The experience proved well worth all the alleged rats scampering over my feet and the gum stuck to my shoe soles it cost me to view this bizarre triple bill during my maiden foray to Charleston’s notorious Lyric which, fittingly, not long after that became the first theater in town to go Triple-X."