Saturday, March 26, 2005

Queen Leer

Yesterday, I burned a CD of 78 rpm recordings by the long-ago diseur and musician Dwight Fiske for the son of a late, lamented comedy genius. He'd told my good friend and constant traveling companion of the last 35 years, David Ehrenstein---they are journalists and colleagues at an L.A. newspaper---that his dad had recommended Fiske highly, and yet he had never been able to find any recordings by him. I wanted to write a note to accompany the CD that would place Fiske into socio-cultural perspective. I did so, and by the time I finished, I realized that I had also written my blog entry for today (as my grandmother used to say, re: not wasting anything: "Everything but the oink."). Here's what I wrote to him:

Inasmuch as Dwight Fiske recorded in excess of a hundred sides circa 1935-'45, one would think there would be something available. Yet he is one of those once-famous public figures, like authors James Branch Cabell and Carl Van Vechten, who have simply fallen through the cracks of cultural history, rarely, if ever, to be heard from again.

Some of the tracks on the CD I made are not listed in a brief bio of Fiske and (seemingly) exhaustive discography---with titles like: "Two Horses and a Debutante," "Africa Whispers," "Coney Island Honeymoon," "Puss in the Corner," "Senorita Margarita Del Campo---to be found here. Which leads me to wonder just how much more Fiske actually recorded.

The rubric under which these risque releases were presented to the American record buying public was "Party Records." Presumably, they were sold----"Psssst--- under the counter. One friend of Fiske's recalled:

"In that era [the 1930s], a young lady had not experienced living if she had not seen Dwight Fiske. At every party you went to, you had to hear one of his records."

A fair amount of Fiske's material was written by the wonderful novelist (and friend of Fiske's) Dawn Powell. Fiske even appears as a character in one of her novels. . . as a woman. According to urban legend, he was somewhat miffed at his involuntary "sex change" and complained to Powell, "You've turned me into a woman!" To which Powell reportedly replied, "It isn't the first time that's happened and it won't be the last."

An explique du texte reveals that an awful lot of Fiske's material related to the phenomenon of. . . size, as in "size queen." Apparently he went against the tide of latter-day sentiment and felt that penile dimension decidedly DID matter.

In his book Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of Cabaret, James Gavin writes:

"Fiske's stories told of such characters as Pomona the Deer, a charming doe out to make an honest buck; Queen Isabella, whose frustrations grew unbearable during Columbus's long absences ("She didn't give a damn whether the earth was flat or round!"); and Salome, so driven with desire for John the Baptist that she performed the dance of her life in order to seduce him. "Which only goes to prove," declared Fiske, "that if you want something long enough. . .and you want it hard enough. . .you're bound to get it in the end [emphases Fiske's].

Many of Fiske's tales ---all were delivered unsung, singspiel-fashion---were published in his collections Without Music in 1933 and Why Should Penguins Fly? in 1934.

The former had a foreword by Robert Benchley who writes of Fiske as "one of our most literate writers of humorous prose" whose humor "is based on characterization and a choice of words" and "a skilful utilization of emphasis."

Admittedly, Fiske's art has not---to put it mildly---aged well, and it is hard to believe that anything so tame could have at one time been considered so nudgenudgewinkwink. But his self-accompanied (piano) monologues do still manage to possess a certain charm and interest, if for no other reason than his "literate" (per Benchley) way with words. For a sample of Dwight Fiske, click here (link removed)

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My parents had 5 of Fiske's records. 14th Wedding Anniversary, Columbus and Isabella, Clarissa the Flea, Mr. Webster and Mr. Green. I have been pondering what to do with them. Have you any suggestions?? Joan G. Gambill in Ft. Worth, TX