Tuesday, April 30, 2013


reposted from 2006 (with slight alterations)

About twenty years ago the L.A. Times published an amazing article about Deanna Durbin. One of their writers---could it have been Kevin Thomas?---found himself in the French Village where Durbin resides. They didn't know one another, but he decided to affect an unannounced pop-in. He rang the bell, or pulled the chain, or rapped with the knocker. . .or whatever, and a moment later the door was answered by someone immediately recogniseable. Doubtlessly Durbin! She was perfectly okay with the unannounced intrusion, and the writer spent the rest of the afternoon with her as she lived her daily life, went shopping in the market, etc. Worth checking out the article on-line or wherever.

I was at songwriter Lew Spence's 2006 birthday party here in L.A. about a half-year back---the one where Pinky Winters sang AND accompanied herself on piano---and had a delightful conversation with writer-actor-director George Furth. He told me that he happened to be pretty good friends with Durbin. There were about a half-dozen others in the conversational circle (all much younger than Furth and myself), and nary a one of them had ever heard of Durbin. Not even a single, "I think I once heard my mother. . .." Somewhat ironically, even as I write this, Durbin is a very well-known and revered artist in the former Soviet Union where pretty much, I am told by reliable persons, nearly everyone knows who she is.

For the record, my favorite Durbin movie is "Christmas Holiday," where she plays piano in a whorehouse and falls in love with Gene Kelly who turns out to be a psychopatic killer and is mowed down in a hail of gunfire, after which she goes into a church and sings Ave Maria. The End! Directed by the great Robert Siodmak, who helmed this one between making "Phantom Lady" and "Cobra Woman". . .the same year, 1944!

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY WITH DEANNA DURBIN AND GENE KELLY! Clearly wartime movie patrons thought they getting a festive holiday musical romp. Instead, can you just imagine their utter shock, dismay and even occasional vomitation as they stumbled out of theaters after viewing this deceptive film noir? The film in which Durbin intro'd Frank Loesser's "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year."

It's a safe bet that this sub rosa film noir was responsible for at least a few suicides amongst unforewarned filmgoers. ("Momma went to the Bijou and never came back.")

One of several failed attempts image reconstruction for the star. Finally, in 1949, she packed it in and moved to France, lived happpily everafterward, and was never heard from professionally again. Like Garbo, Jo Stafford and only a handful of others, she knew to quit while she was ahead (well. . .almost).

Monday, April 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Sir Duke

     photo by Ted Williams

From my memoir, Early Plastic

"The next time I went was a Sunday morning, at the very beginning of a day's worth of Duke Ellington Apollo Theater stage shows. He didn't come on until the set was nearly over at around 12:30 pm, but at least he showed (jazz musicians are notorious for knowing the existence of only one eleven o'clock per 24 hours). I didn't have the good sense to appreciate being in the presence of legendary tappers Teddy Hale and Bill Bailey, who preceded Ellington that day and who I foolishly thought of as being something boring and passe that I had to sit through to get to the Duke. This was a common attitude of the day that, for a time, threatened to kill off this great indigenous American art form."

Can't even recall the name of the movie at the Apollo that day. Angel Baby? Probably split after the Ellington set.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Anita Gravine update

Jazz singer Anita Gravine's new web site

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Department of amplification

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on this blog that the only time I had ever been fired from a job was at a recording studio in New York more than a half-century ago. Not true. I forgot. This morning I remembered another gig from which I was also bounced. It goes something like this.

A quarter-century (or so) ago, I worked for a presti-di-ji-ja---oh, hell, magician---by the name of Richard J. Potash (aka: Ricky Jay) at something called the Mulholland Library of Conjuring and the Allied Arts in Los Angeles (a snooty way of saying "Magic Museum"). He hired me as an assistant librarian at the place solely because I happened to know who the mid-19th century professional French farteur, Le Petomane, was. No other reason. Whether I could type or spell was not even a consideration.

I could probably fill a book with (mostly) negative recollections about the year or so I was in Potash's employ. One particlar remembrance I have is of a CBS summertime (lowest viewership expected) TV not-so-special in which he, ahem, starred. His tarsome forte was doing tricks by throwing playing cards at things. The show was shot at some restored film theater in the wilds of Orange County. All I can actually recall about the affair is that the later videotaped punch-ins for botched tricks must have cost nearly as much as the actual production itself.

Basically, I was canned as the result of doing my job properly---Potash eventually won some kind of major award as the result of my actions---which pissed him off no end. The incident happened to mark one of the few times in my life when I responded with a comeback of which I still remain somewhat proud. No l'espirit de l'escalier for me. I said to him, "May you die of cancer without me." I then turned on my heels and (I can only call it) flounced out of his office. I still have no idea of from where my response cameth. Alas, if what I meant by my outburst was a curse upon the life of the near-morbidly obese Potash, it seems not to have worked. It appears that there is a new documentary about/with him of one sort or another. Twelve viewers on IMDB have, so far, awarded it a 3.3 stars rating out of a possible 10. Thus, perhaps, giving his good buddy, playwright David Mamet (The Anarchist, Phil Spector, etc), a run for Potash's money in the recent boxoffice-bombs sweepstakes.

I forget but I never forgive.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dusty post redux

Posted by Hello

(updated blog post from 3/2/2005)

Dusty Springfield died in 1999. She was born on this day in 1939. Were Dame Dusty (she was knighted by the Queen of England mere days before her passing) still among the living, she would be 74.

Fourteen years later, I retain sense memory of the news flashing across Dusty's fan sites on the internet, only moments after her passing. At the time, I happened to be spinning [at hundreds of rpms per second] a CD Springfield track, "Morning," ("The morning, so sad; the morning so beautiful. . .") when the unhappy but not unexpected news came.

The singer's fans are a loyal lot. Most of those Dusty sites and boards still bustle with posthumous news, i.e., rumors of a biopic, a rose named after her, etc. But of this legion, I am probably one of the relative few who ever saw her perform live, much less received a message from her on an answering machine. Let me explain:

In 1980 I was writing for the late, lamented L.A. Hearst newspaper, The Herald-Examiner. Mostly I was relegated to reviewing and interviewing events and people that others either didn't care to write about or else knew nothing. I joked about the job and called it "Schlock Patrol." But most of it was mercifully right down my alley, especially the chance to review a Springfield concert (8/22/80) at L.A.'s Greek Theater. It was a Friday evening event; the review appeared the following Monday. Here's what I wrote, along with some added 2005 comments by me in brackets. I'll get to the phone message, afterward.

The review
"Long overdue for a stateside performance, the once-reigning [wish I hadn't used that "once"] queen of blue-eyed soul, Dusty Springfield, took to the stage Friday evening at the Greek Theater as opening act for dithyrambic singer/composer Peter Allen. She [Springfield, that is] has not performed in the United States in eight years, and never in L.A. [where did I get that?. . .not true] ; after the encores and flurry she generated, her decidedly low profile is more a mystery than ever. For Springfield, almost as seminal a '60s rock force as Aretha Franklin, was in fine form as she ripped and roared through an enthusiastically received 15-song set [I was so high on excitement at finally seeing Springfield "live," it's a wonder I was even able to count to 15].

It wasn't until the singer plunged into her grab bag of hits ("The Look of Love," "Son of a Preacher Man" etc.) that much of the less-than-capacity [could you puh-leese be a bit more specific?] audience comprehended the magnitude and pervasiveness of Springfield's to contribution to pop music over the past decade-and-a-half; but as if to dispel charges of antiquarianism the singer chose to open her presentation ["presentation"? Goddeses do not phone ahead, and they definitely DO NOT "present"] with a recent hit (not hers) "At Midnight" [well, whose then?, you dribbling, indistinct scribbler]. Though there were already many Springfield aficianados at the Greek, clearly a great many others were won over to her Ben Webster-ish scoop-de-doop vibrato [must hang on to my jazz creds at all cost].

Utilizing a 15-piece back-up crew, she sveltely strutted and karate-chopped her way through this one [meaning "Almost Midnight"?] in a manner totally unlike the way she might've during the good old days when she was the No. 1 female British pop/rocker [and that "good old days" style consisted of. . .?]

Dusty launched a consciousness-raising [did I really write that?] hit medley which included, among others, "Wishin' and Hopin'" and "You Don't Have to Say You Me." Also offered up [and Goddesses also do not "offer"] were a few items ["items". . .gakkkk] from the widely-acclaimed 1969 album, Dusty in Memphis---her last effort before an inexplicable mid-career recording sales slump began to plague her in a manner somewhat akin to soul man Al Green's fall from public favor. But Dusty is definitely of the moment, and so the real crowd pleaser was her last (but one) encore, a heavily-desaccharinized re-tooling of the top-billed Allen's "Quiet Please, There's a Lady on the Stage." If headliner Peter Allen is your cup of musical meat, he too woulda' knocked your socks off Friday; but his real contribution was the smashing "Welcome-back, Dusty" party thrown that night." ###

After the concert, there was a party, but if Springfield attended I didn't see her. And that was fairly much that until Tuesday morning when I arrived at the paper to learn that Springfield had phoned and wanted to speak with me. The person who took the message also captured the gist of what Springfield wanted to talk to me about: She wished to thank me for the kind words, etc. Never had THAT happen before. She left her number. I phoned her back, got a machine, and left my number. Then, a couple of days later I came home to find a message on my machine, which I saved and still have around here somewhere at Oblivion Towers. But that is the closest I came to talking with her. Just as well. ME: "Humadahumada. . ." if you catch my drift.

Since Springfield's brave, valiant, Margaret Sullavan-like passing in 1999, there have been several biographies about her. All of which, to one degree or another, paint a rather harrowing picture of Dusty's private life. And finally explain the "mystery" (see above review) of why she had maintained such a low profile throughout much of the '70s. Hard to believe, but when she performed that killer and obviously very expensive act at the Greek, in fact Springfield was living in Rape-at-High-Noon downtown Hollywood, only a couple of steps up from bag lady (not that there's anything wrong with that). During the last decade or so of her life, she did finally get her offstage act together as well; alas only to be gobsmacked with a diagnosis of terminal breast cancer five years before her death. (Seeeee! I told you there was no god.)

Fortunately, the act she performed at the Greek that night was captured for posterity. . . sort of. For it is virtually the same show she'd performed only a few months earlier before the Royal Family at a charity performance at London's Royal Albert Hall; same backup personnel, almost the same repertoire, identical arrangements. I think she might have even been wearing the same gowns. The video concert opens with Dusty's backup group singing---in essence, for the Queen---"The Bitch is Back." That's my Dusty!

I'm not sure if a video of the affair is commercially available at the present time [there is now in 2013], but I have never witnessed a more crazed, over-the-top audience. Think of a Springsteen concert, then double the fervor. Even the Queen was rattling her jewelry. Like I say, Springfield was flat broke at the time, but she died a quite wealthy woman, who left a significant sum in her will for taking care of her surviving and beloved cat, Nicholas. What a Dame!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Petite Vallee Madeleine

Michael Feingstein's latest entry in his enjoyable and informational Great American Songbook series on PBS reminded me of a relatively brieft but highly memorable part of my life. When I first moved to NYC in the early sixites (I was the Marie Curie of U.S. middle-class runaways), the first job I had was as an intern recording engineer at the once great (but even then, shadow of its former self) studio, Empire Broadcasting.

Feinstein's latest was about the great days of radio and the part played by outfits such as Empire in preserving whatever bits and shards of sound that have managed to survive from that three-decade broadcasting epoch. By the time I arrived there, the place was reduced to recording things like stenography instruction tapes, remakes of the old Farting Contest comedy (?) record, and the occasional commercial for its one big remaining account, Robert Hall Clothes (do they still exist?).

In the course of this week's Feinstein episode, a discussion about the well-known overweening egomania of one-time radio superstar Rudy Vallee ensued. This, too, reminded me of Empire Broadcasting. To wit: One day on the job, I heard a loud commotion emanating from the reception area. It rurned out to be Vallee, arriving for a gig, and furious over our teen receptionist, and soon-to-be nunnery novice, not knowing who he was. Next, turning on his heels, the onetime highly famous (now not so much so) singer stormed out of the place and could still be heard shouting---even after the elevator doors had closed: "I'M RUDY FUCKING VALLEE!" Proof once more that, as C.B. DeMille remarked in Sunset Boulevard, "A hundred press agents working overtime can do horrible things to the human spirit." And that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Empire was the only job from which I was ever fired. . .for general ineptitude. My sacking was topped off by Mrs. Kelaher, the owner, heaving a giant metal reel of two-inch recording tape at me as I made my final exit.

Michael Feinstein's "Songbook" series features much footage of him flying about the country in a private jet and digging through various obscure sound archives, all the way down to dumpsters, searching for precious aural artifacts. It's---as the saying goes---dirty work, but someone has to do it. If I could, I would. As Jim Ameche might have said: "Don't miss a single episode of this exciting program."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Jonathan Winters R.I.P.

I remember Winters' first network TV appearance EVER.  Per usual, I was staying home from school, allegedly sick. And on the Garry Moore daytime show, Moore intro'd this brand new comedian from Dayton, Ohio. Winters then came on and proceded to thoroughly and absolutely KILL (that's comicspeak). So much so that at the end of his turn, Garry invited him back for the very next day's broadcast. Naturally, I was "sick" again the next day. I did that a lot. I was a TV baby, and I LOVED the new-ish medium. School? Feh! If it was a choice between seeing Jonathan Winters on his SECOND TV shot, or else learning how to diagram a sentence. . .fergit it. No contest! Who can EVER forget Winters' "World's Oldest Living Airline Stewardess"? Just read the NYT J.W. obit in which Jonathan describes his alcoholic salesman father as "a hip Willy Loman." Now, I ask you, how hip is that? In the early sixties my friend Ken Weaver and I almost never spoke to one another in anything but Winters argot.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The next big thing?

Jacob Collier is a mere 17 years old. He also sings straight ahead standards and plays first rate jazz piano and bass. (Cute, too.) When I first checked him out on youtube at the suggestion of a friend, it seemed somewhat improbable to me that the culturally bereft U.S. was any longer capable of turning out young talent of the first water like this. A bit of googling disclosed to me that I was---alas and perhaps---correct. Collier is London-based.

There are approx. 15 clips of him on youtube, including a couple of duets with his mother who plays excellent jazz violin. My guess is that he will be able to blow Justin Bieber, JayZ et al and their ilk out of the water in the near future. No CD yet, but even as I write this post, I would surmise that a management team is working overtime to figure out the best way to launch Collier.

This cheers me up!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Thinking about VDP

When I first met Van Dyke Parks it really wasn't all that long after his first great Warner Bros Records period. I was writing for the rock rag, Fusion. Or maybe it was Zoo World, or ROCK, or Rolling Stone or. . .?  I was to visit VDP's abode for an interview with him (I'm not sure it was ever published). I asked him on the phone where he lived. He told me, "Melrose Hill," of which---being fairly "new" to L.A.---I had never heard. (He doesn't live there anymore.) See link.
"Where's that?," I asked. He replied: "Oh, just a shriek away from rape at high noon." Which was the sad truth and yet couldn't have been a more apt set of directions. For when I turned east off of godforsaken Western Avenue, I found myself in an almost rural (and beautiful) back country, mile square (or so) section that I could never have dreamed existed in this otherwise totally low-beat, slummy area of Hollywood. In other words, just "a just a shriek away from rape at high noon." I still remember his description from all those decades ago. Parks and his wife even had a small working farm in their large backyard. Talk about anomalous!
Some time earlier in this century I spoke with Van Dyke on the phone when I interviewed him about arranger, the late (let's call him) Michael Drink, for a Japanese music mag. Parks was completely open about Drink's homosexuality which was, it turned out, a closely guarded secret on the part of the latter's family. Van Dyke volunteered the info without my even asking. Up until then, I had no idea. I didn't write about it in the mag. That sort of thing is still not done in Japan, but it turned out to be the key that unlocked a number of other mysteries about Drink, who is a bit famous in Japan, but not in the U.S. For example, Drink arranged many hundreds of tracks, but only conducted on a handful of occasions. Turns out he was fearful of  being "spotted" as gay by the old boy network of mostly men's men studio players ("How about those Miami Dolpins!?" Nudge nudge.)
Parks wasn't outing ('member "outing"?) Drink. It just never crossed Van Dyke's mind to be secretive about something that was so crucial to Michael's artistic inscape. A couple of years later, in a U.S. mag, I DID allude to Drink's death of HIV and the family went totally nuts. Threats of lawsuits and (stopping just this side of implied) violence, i.e. "We know where you live."
Van Dyke called my house a few months ago and even though I had not spoken to him on the phone for several years, he immediately recognized my voice, i.e. he asked: "Bill, may I speak with David." He is the only person I've ever encountered telephonically who can tell our voices apart. Talk about having a good ear!