Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The POLKS Who Live on the Hill

This a.m. I TIVO'd on TCM Radio Stars on Parade, and when I watched it a couple of hours later, who should pop up in this 1945 flick but one of my all-time favorite singers, Lucy Ann Polk. In the film she was singing with the vocal group The Town Criers that consisted of the four Polk brothers and sisters (2+2). Very very hip, ahead-of-its-time vocal group sound. (Take THAT, Kay Thompson!)
I finally met Lucy about ten years ago, not too long before she died. Actually twice, at parties. When I began talking with her the first time, she warned me, at the start, that she suffered from dementia. She then proceded to just knock me out of my chair with her wit and recollections. A fine singer AND---it turns out---raconteur.
Ironically, I had TIVO'd the movie because singer Billie Haywood 11/10/03-7/4/79) was in the cast (I hadn't noticed the "Criers" listed). Among her many acheivements were that a.) She introduced the standard "My Last Affair" in New Faces of 1936, b. Billie Holiday is believed to've nom de vocalisted herself, partially, after Haywood, and c. Page Cavanaugh told me that when he worked with the singer and her husband pianist Cliff Allen on a bill at Hollywood's popular Bocage in the late forties in H'wood, they were just about the hottest thing in town. (They also appeared at such H'wood venues as Billy Berg's, Swanee Inn and the Streets of Paris, and NY's Blue Angel, Spivy's Roof,
Le Ruban Bleu and Village Vanguard.) Not bad for a duo that had started out in Harlem nearly two decades earlier in a dive called The Coal Bin. Which was just that. . .a converted coal bin.

Alas, on 5/19/48, Allen got hit by a car and died. Thus, natch, putting an end to the act as a duo.

Unfortunately---the name of the character as "Mabel'" in the above-noted film should have been a dead giveaway---Haywood played a maid and had one line. (There are a couple of Haywood-Allen Soundies but I've never seen them.) There's also a 30-minute docu about Haywood, by filmmaker Richard Wedler, that was produced in 1973 entitled (based on her signature tune) I'm the Prettiest Piece in Greece (Page Cavanaugh sings Billie Haywood).

PS: Anyone have a transfer of Haywood and Allen's above-posted 78 rpm? I've never heard her sing. One would think. . . (the projected epitaph on my tombstone or can of ashes) that the recording of "My Last Affair" by the singer who intro'd it would be readily available somewhere. Dream on. . ..

update 3/10: After Cliff Allen's death, his partner seldom performed again. She would become Mae West's maid and then, eventually, was murdered for her Social Security check, i.e. sadly, Haywood and Allen, who gave the world so much musical joy for more than two decades, both met---separate---violent ends. If any further proof were needed. . .there, most likely, is NO god. That's my take. Go figger.

Somewhere in Canada there's a photograph of the duo by the great George Platt Lynes. If Haygood had an original print, she could have sold it and quite nicely moved out of her near-destitute situation circa 1970.

A 1975 issue of the Daily Pennyslvanian deemed the Haywood docu I'm the Prettiest Piece in Greece "A strange and moving comment on fame and oblivion." That seems to sum it all up quite nicely.

courtesy Richard Wedler
(click to enlarge and read)


Meredith Brody said...

How can we see I'm the Prettiest Piece in Greece?!?

Bill Reed said...

workin' on it even as we speak