Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kay Thompson à la Russe

Here's a section, courtesy of author Sam Irvin, about KAY THOMPSON PARTY, VOLUME 1: LET’S TALK ABOUT RUSSIA  (Hanover-Signature, SM 1017) from his forthcoming biography of Kay Thompson, to be published 11/2/10 by Simon and Schuster. Thanks to Irvin for permission to reprint. By the way, much like there was never a Volume 2 of jazz singer (Here Comes) Carole Creveling's album, although it was titled "Volume 1," similarly there was not a volume 2 of this Kay Thompson long out-of-print vinyl outing. And speaking of recordings, check out Sam's spectacular K.T. collection issued a few months ago. Available at finer brick and mortar record stores everywhere. (Are there any remaining?) And at: amazon.com

Hear here (link to the recording)

By Sam Irvin:

Hanover-Signature Record Corp., 119 West 57th Street, New York 19, N. Y., was owned by Bob Thiele and Steve Allen. The label’s other spoken word records included recordings by Jack Kerouac; and, Bill Dana’s hit comedy album My Name José Jiménez. Others comics and jazz artists on the label included: Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows, Don Cornell, Jack Kane, Milt DeLugg, Jerry Fielding, Morey Amsterdam, George Cates, Audrey Meadows, Jane Harvey, Don Adams, Sam Levenson, Yank Lawson, and Pat Harrington, Jr.

Let’s Talk About Russia was a spoken word album. The label tells us that it was “actually recorded at Miss Thompson’s home.” Her apartment at that time was located at 9 East 62nd Street, off 5th Avenue.

It was released in November 1959 (to coincide with the publication of Thompson’s book, Eloise in Moscow). Billboard reviewed Let’s Talk About Russia on January 11, 1960.

The album was produced by Richard Grossman (Kay’s editor at Simon & Schuster).

Kay’s agent at that time was Mace Neufeld (who later produced such mega-hit movies as THE OMEN and HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER). He put together the deal for Thompson to record this party for Hanover-Signature.

LP jacket cover: Color photo of Kay holding a balalaika with one hand (quite misleading since there is not one note of music on the album), a cigarette in the other hand, seated in front of a table with loads of cocktails and a silver ice bucket. Kay is dressed in a beige blouse with three-quarter sleeves.

Back cover: Five black-and-white photos of Kay’s party. Kay wears a fur hat in two of the photos. She sports a black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps, cut just below the knee. She wears several pearl necklaces and in two of the photos, she has draped one of the strings of pearls over her head. There is another photo, a head-to-toe profile, cut-out and floating on the white background, of Kay dressed in her mid-calf-length fox fur coat, carrying umbrella, camera, fez-like hat, and scarf blowing over her shoulder in the wind.

Guest List at Party: Bob Thiele, co-owner of Hanover-Signature Records], Jane Harvey, singer (and Mrs. Bob Thiele), Dick Grossman, producer of this LP; Kay’s Eloise editor at Simon & Schuster, Mace Neufeld, Kay’s agent (and future mega-hit movie producer); Bill Dana, comedian; Sally Kirkland [Sr.], fashion editor for Life (and mother of actress Sally Kirkland); Mary Leatherbee, another fashion editor for Life; Sid Ramin, Milton Berle’s music conductor; Trudy Warner, aka Gertrude Warner, played “Margot Lane” on radio’s THE SHADOW from 1949-1954; Paul Rosen, percussionist; Dennis Stock, photographer (most famous for his shots of James Dean); Harold Roth, vice president of Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster; Irving Stimler, Associate Producer of SUPER FLY (Warner Brothers, 1972); in 1979, he was the proprietor of Caracalla Restaurant behind Lincoln Center, 168 Amsterdam (between 67th and 68th Streets); he was a vice president at M-G-M for a decade “with a personal penchant for movie musicals.” His restaurant presented M-G-M musicals to diners on Mondays and Tuesdays with a $10 “all-you-can-eat” Italian buffet; Majorie Holyoak, not sure what she was doing at the time, but, in 1985, she was working for 60 MINUTES as “Director of Audience Services”; And, last but not least, Eloise makes a surprise cameo appearance for one line at the very end of Side 2: “Here’s what you can’t do in Moscow. Charge it, pajalasta, and thanks a lot.”
Also courtesy of Sam Irvin:

Let’s Talk About Russia liner notes by Richard Grossman:

On February 16th last [1959] a blizzard swirled and whirled into Moscow. With untiring wind it whooshed down the long road from the airport to the city. There it circled the Kremlin, sought out the carved crannies of St. Peter’s Basilica, whistled through the National Hotel, and spread from there, ubiquitously, into every corner of the Russian capital.

But there was something different about this February blizzard. True, it bristled withy energy, it went everywhere, it touched everything – but it was different. It was a pretty blizzard, a blizzard with music and a beat to it, a blizzard with a sprittely pixie-child buried somewhere in the middle of it, a girl blizzard; the tallest, blondest, chic-est, longest-and-prettiest-legged blizzard that ever touched down in the middle of the ochre buildings of Moscow. Kay Thompson had landed…

And now she’s back with us. Bubbling with things to say about Moscow – not about the sputniks and nutniks, but about the things she knows and sees so well wherever she goes; music (from balalaika to bop), clothes (her own and the world’s), children, drink, hotels, men (her own and the world’s), restaurants, cars (Eloise rides in a Rolls), airplanes, women, conversation (her own and the world’s), herself…

Of course, “herself” is a Kay of many well-known parts. In this album, though, she’s Kay at home – where, as a happy habit, she brings the world with her to share with her guests.

That’s where you are now. You’ve been invited to Kay’s; you’re sitting in the living room of what she calls her “flat”; the room is large and squarish, the colors are white and an especially alive and brilliant orange. Around you are fine books, fine paintings, fine food and drink and you see and hear – not altogether as a surprise – even another facette of Kay Thompson.

Oh, the same grace is there, and the poise and the electric quickness. But you are her guest, you are comfortable and aware of it, you are curious and you are being served food for your curiosity. You ask about Moscow and Kay tells, tells you the personal, picturable, hold-in-your-hand things about Russia and Russian people:

What are those quilted mandarin jackets like? What does a Russian girl think of Jazz? or the Bible? Where do the young-in-love go in Moscow? Pear Lemonade instead of tea? A meal of farinaceous foods? A hotel room the seems “very long ago”? A porcupiny vicuna coat with a split up the back? A fashion show at G.U.M.? A ride to the palace of Prince Yssupouv, standing in queue at the tomb of Lenin, a soaring moment of “The Stone Flower” at the Bolshoi Ballet? A puff on a Russian cigarette, a chord from a balalaika, a Soviet seal act at the circus…

To be Kay Thompson in Moscow is to be both endlessly inquiring and everlastingly retentive. These are the qualities that radiate from her as she plays hostess in this superbly produced album to some friends very like you, people who love her and like to hear her good, lively, knowledgeable talk. An evening with Kay, they know, is full of laughs, high spirits, intimate warmth and hospitality, musical phrases and the insights of a bright and charming woman who would like nothing better than to have you drop by for the evening. And a purely delightful time you’ll have.

---Liner notes by Richard L. Grossman

UPDATE 8/19/10
Author Sam Irvin has a new website in celebration of the forthcoming publication of his long-awaited Kay Thompson bio. It's here!


Unknown said...

another great posting, Bill. Your site is wonderful.

Ravel said...

WoW ! I wanted to hear that for a long time! Thanks!