Friday, April 24, 2015


Tommy Dorsey always had the best vocalists in his orchestra. From Frank Sinatra to Jo Stafford, he definitely knew talent. One of his best vocalists of the 1930s was the great Edythe Wright. Pretty much forgotten today, Wright brightened up many of Dorsey's records of that era with her phrasing and confidence in her singing.

Edythe Wright was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, the youngest child of Harrison Burr Wright and Hanna(h) Heffernan on August 16, 1914 In the 1910 census Hannah and her children are listed as living in Leonia (Bergen County, New Jersey at the home of Harold Chase who is married to Hannah's sister Helen. Chase was a baseball player for the New York Yankees who eventually was scarred by allegations of throwing games and illegal betting.  Edythe Wright is listed as being born in 1915 and the 1920 census lists Hannah as a widow so presumably Harry has died.

Further research is needed to document Edythe's activities between 1930 and 1935 and determine exactly how she became known to Tommy Dorsey. A February 8, 1938 article in MIT's newspaper The Tech says, "She hails from New Brunswick, New Jersey, where, prior to graduation, she was a leader in high school amateur theatricals and athletics." In Bandstand Edythe states that she went to St. Peter's Parochial School and St. Peter's High School (closed 2007) in New Brunswick before transferring to New Brunswick High School where she graduated in 1933. From there she spent time running a coffee shop with her sister (which one is unstated), studied drama at the New Jersey College for Women at New Brunswick (now a part of Rutgers) and spent her summers at Sea Girt, New Jersey. During the summer of 1935 she was asked by bandleader Frank Dailey to fill in for his vocalist Nancy Flake during an engagement at the Asbury Park Casino. She was heard by Tommy Dorsey's agent and despite her supposed dislike of being a band vocalist and lack of formal musical training, accepted a permanent job with Dorsey. She was twenty-one years old.

Edythe Wright's career spanned from September 1935 through September 1939, and she made 121 studio recordings (of which 120 were issued on 87 discs) with Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra/Clambake Seven/California Ramblers, several recordings under a pseudonym for transcription purposes, was a fixture on radio (Jack Pearl Show, Raleigh-Kool), contributed arrangements to the Dorsey band. However, in September 1939 she left the Dorsey band and was immediately replaced by Anita Boyer and then Connie Haines. It was also reported that she had an affair with Dorsey, and his wife demanded she leave the band,

Evidence exists that Edythe did at least one broadcast for the Ellery Queen radio series (#148 "The Frightened Star") broadcast on July 14, 1940 with a rebroadcast in October 1943. She apparently spent the war years in California and returned to New York/New Jersey in 1950 to manage Sy Oliver (advertised in Variety). Oliver at that time was affiliated with Decca Records.

Somewhere along the way she married John T. Smith. The date of the wedding is unknown. According to the U.S. Census of 1920 Smith was born in 1919 and resided in Milburn Township. The 1930 census lists his residence as Sea Girt. According to his U.S. Army file, he enlisted in the Army on October 6, 1941 and was assigned to Fort Dix with the rank of private. His civilian occupation(s) are listed as "Motorcycle Mechanic or Packer, High Explosives (Munitions worker, ammunition) or Toolroom Keeper or Stock Clerk or Stock Control Clerk". He served as a combat engineer in Alaska during World War II. Smith died in June 1981.

During the 1950s she was apparently a Democratic Committee woman from Wall Township, New Jersey and according to friend Rose Shiffman directed amateur theatricals at the Chadwick Beach Club in the early 1960s. Her residence was 10 Pershing Avenue in Manasquan, New Jersey. She died from pancreatic cancer at the Point Pleasant Hospital on October 27, 1965. She left behind her husband and son as well as three brothers and three sisters. She was 51 years old...gone too soon, but her memory and the melody of her voice lingers on....

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I am not sure the name of the channel, but now that I switched cable providers, I get a nostalgia channel that shows some old movies and television shows. A few weeks ago they aired “The Colgate Comedy Hour” with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and the other night while going to bed I got to watch The Road to Bali again. The Road to Bali is a 1952 comedy directed by Hal Walker and starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. Released by Paramount Pictures on November 1, 1952, the film is the sixth of the seven Road to … movies. It was the only such movie filmed in Technicolor and was the first to feature surprise cameo appearances from other well-known stars of the day.

George (Bing Crosby) and Harold (Bob Hope), American song-and-dance men performing in Melbourne, Australia, leave in a hurry to avoid various marriage proposals. They end up in Darwin, where they take jobs as pearl divers for a prince. They are taken by boat to an idyllic island on the way to Bali, Indonesia. They vie for the favours of exotic (and half-Scottish) Princess Lala (Dorothy Lamour), a cousin of the Prince (Murvyn Vye). A hazardous dive produces a chest of priceless jewels, which the Prince plans to claim as his own.

After escaping from the Prince and his henchmen, the three are shipwrecked and washed up on another island. Lala is now in love with both of the boys and can't decide which to choose. However, once the natives find them, she learns that in their society, a woman may take multiple husbands, and declares she will marry them both. While the boys are prepared for the ceremony, both thinking the other man lost, plans are changed. She's being unwillingly wed to the already much-married King (Leon Askin), while the boys end up married to each other.

Displeased with the arrangement, a volcano god initiates a massive eruption. After fleeing, the three end up on yet another beach where Lala chooses George over Harold. An undaunted Harold conjures up Jane Russell from a basket by playing a flute. Alas, she, too, rejects Harold, which means George walks off with both Lala and Jane. A lonesome Harold is left on the beach, demanding that the film shouldn't finish and asking the audience to stick around to see what's going to happen next.

Among the celebrities who made token "gag" appearances in this film are bandleader Bob Crosby (Bing's brother), Humphrey Bogart, by way of a clip from The African Queen, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and Jane Russell, as her character from the 1952 film Son of Paleface. The cameo by Martin and Lewis was part of a 'comedy trade' whereby they made an appearance in this movie while Hope and Crosby appeared in Martin and Lewis's Scared Stiff the following year. Martin and Lewis also made films for Paramount at the time.

The movie is in public domain due to it not being registered properly by Paramount, Bing Crosby Enterprises, and Bob Hope Productions. The three companies co-financed the film. As a result, there have been at least a dozen DVD releases from a variety of companies over the years. However, both CPT successor Sony Pictures Television and what is now Fremantle Media hold ancillary rights to this film, and official video releases have been issued under license from Fremantle Media (and its predecessor companies All-American Television and Pearson Television), the most recent DVD and HD-DVD releases coming from BCI Eclipse.

By the time this Road movie was made, Bing and Bob were beginning to look long in the tooth to play swinging bachelors. The storyline on the film was flimsy at best, but it provided the backdrop for the singing of Bing Crosby, the laughs of Bob Hope, and the beauty of Dorothy Lamour. Bing and Bob sang a lot of duets in the film, but the best of their vocal pairings was the opening number “Chicago Style”. Bing sings one love song “To See You Is to Love You”, which is not the best song, but Crosby was in fine voice. It is great to see the trio in technicolor, and despite the movies failings I have a soft spot for this film. The Road to Bali was the first of the Road movies I saw growing up. So if you want to have a fun trip, by all means join Bing and Bob for this Road trip. You will not be disappointed…


Sunday, April 19, 2015


If only Elaine Stritch could have secretly attended her own funeral like Tom Sawyer, she would have witnessed a standing ovation.

In early 2013, the legendary Broadway star abandoned her longtime home of New York for Birmingham, Mich., where she underwent surgery a year later for stomach cancer, a diagnosis she never publicly revealed. After she died in July of 2014 at 89, she was buried at a small service in Chicago alongside her husband, the actor John Bay.

The priest delivered an unconventional eulogy, especially when he started to warble “I Feel Pretty,” one of her signature covers from “West Side Story.” He ended his remarks by asking the attendees to give Stritch a round of applause. “We stood up and clapped,” recalls Chiemi Karasawa, the director of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” who spent two years trailing—and later befriending—the grand dame. “He wanted us to acknowledge her as a performer, because that’s how she wanted to be acknowledged. I thought it was touching he picked up on that.”

The pastor learned all about Stritch, whose prolific career spanned the stage (“Sail Away,” “Company”), films (“Romance & Cigarettes,” “September”) and television (“One Life to Live,” “30 Rock”), by viewing the documentary on the plane ride to the service. “That’s how he got to know who she was,” Karasawa says over a recent lunch with Variety at New York’s Lambs Club. “And that’s something you wouldn’t expect—to go to a funeral and have the priest come over and congratulate you on your movie.”

During those final hours, Stritch had her TV tuned all day and night to Turner Classic Movies. With her eyes closed, she’d fire off her zingers. “Who is that, Garbo?” Stritch barked. “Great looking broad. [Beat] Boring as hell.” Even in her frail state, Stritch wanted another shot at show business. “I could not believe in her condition, she just wished she could be acting again,” Karasawa says. “She was never going to let go of her opportunity to perform.”

Karasawa once asked the Stritch what else she wanted from life. “I’d really like an award,” Stritch told her. For what? “I don’t know,” Stritch huffed. “I just want another award for something!” Appropriately enough, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” is being campaigned this Oscar season in the best documentary category. The film has recently been screened at industry gatherings hosted by D.A. Pennebaker, John Turturro, R.J. Cutler, Chris Hegedus and Rachel Grady. “I loved the documentary,” says director George C. Wolfe, who is helping organize a Broadway tribute for Stritch next week. “I thought it was thrilling—it captured her ferocity and vulnerability.”

Karasawa, a seasoned script supervisor and Oscar-nominated doc producer (2008’s “The Betrayal”), had never directed a film when she set about making the movie in 2010. She got the idea from her midtown hairdresser, who also did Stritch’s hair, and started scheduling appointments at the same time so they’d bump into each other. It took four months of courting before Stritch called Karasawa’s office at 2 a.m.—“God knows what she was doing at 2 a.m.”—and left a message declaring, “I really want to get started and do this thing.”

It was Stritch’s suggestion for Karasawa to take the director’s chair. “I pitched this idea to Elaine, ‘We’re going to find a fancy director with some kind of success,’” Karasawa remembers. “She looked at me like I was an idiot, and asked, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’” Stritch didn’t care about her lack of experience. “Surely you can pull this thing off,” Stritch told Karasawa. “Plus, I don’t want to meet anybody else. I’ve already gotten to know you.”

Funding for the documentary, which cost $500,000, was cobbled together by a string of private financiers. Karasawa shot Stritch for 300 hours, but after she maxed out her American Express card, she set up an Indiegogo campaign in early 2013 to raise funds for post-production. When Alec Baldwin, who played Stritch’s son on “30 Rock,” heard about their efforts, he donated $50,000 and invited the director over for an interview. The film also features testimonials about Stritch from Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Cherry Jones and Hal Prince.

Despite the glowing reviews, Stritch wasn’t pleased the first time she saw “Elaine Stitch: Shoot Me.” Karasawa had the idea that she would sneak Stritch into a screening room at NYU, and let her secretly watch the movie with a small crowd. Of course, Stritch made so much of a racket when they rolled her in (“Hello gang!” and “I can’t see a goddamn thing!”) that everybody was aware of her presence, and suppressed their laughter, which Stritch mistook for them not liking the movie.

“She sat down and gave me this whole addendum for what I need to change—to make it better and funnier and more wardrobe,” Karasawa says, explaining that Stritch was mad that she wore the same fur coat for most of her scenes. “She basically criticized it from top to bottom. She had never experienced herself onscreen as anything but a performer. Here she was playing herself.”

It was a role that made her so uncomfortable, she briefly stopped talking to Karasawa. But all was forgiven following the film’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere in April 2013, where 500 enthusiastic New Yorkers erupted in applause. “As I’m walking her down to the front podium, Elaine said, ‘See the changes I suggested really worked!’” Karasawa says. “I hadn’t changed a thing.”

Karasawa has been in full Elaine mode the last few weeks, cutting clips for the Broadway memorial service on Nov. 17. When she misses her friend, she listens to the dozens of voice messages that Stritch left her. In one she plays over lunch, Stritch calls her up with a rant about wanting the documentary to sell for millions, a delayed membership to a country club and a caretaker who complains about giving her a bath. Then she ends her monologue with a kiss. “Love you,” Stritch says, sounding motherly.

Stritch used to say she was frightened by death. “She didn’t want to be alone,” Karasawa says. “She didn’t want there to be nothing.” But she was at peace when her time came. Karasawa leaned over and told her how much she would miss her. “I miss me too,” Stritch responded. It was her way of saying goodbye...


Friday, April 17, 2015


Gene Kelly did have a 103-degree fever when he filmed the iconic dance sequence in the 1952 MGM movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” but milk was not added to the puddles.

And the taps were dubbed later–with Kelly dubbing his taps as well as Debbie Reynolds’, said Patricia Ward Kelly, who married the dancer-choreographer in 1990, when she was 31 and he was 77. He died in 1996.

Patricia Ward Kelly said her husband wanted to be remembered for his work behind the camera, as a choreographer, director, writer and producer, as much as for his performances on screen, including in “An American in Paris” in 1951.

“He wanted to be known for changing the look of dance on film,” she said.

She shows clips of dances he choreographed and performed at her tribute shows she gives all around the country like the "Alter Ego” number from “Cover Girl” in 1944 where he dances with himself through a double exposure of the film. The double exposure technique had never been tried before. “It was an incredible feat,” said Patricia Ward Kelly.

The dancing and the camera movements in that number were synchronized with the musical beat as was a number in the 1945 movie “Anchors Aweigh” where Gene Kelly danced with the cartoon character Jerry the mouse. Twenty-four drawings of the mouse were needed for every second of the dance.

“Cover Girl” was a turning point in Gene Kelly’s career because MGM never loaned him out to another studio again. He also gave up the idea of returning to Broadway, deciding instead to dedicate himself to a career in Hollywood.

Patricia Ward Kelly said the problem with showing dance on film is that it is two-dimensional. To combat that, Gene Kelly choreographed his dancers so they were constantly moving toward the camera and he kept the dances shorter than they would have been on stage. He also used light and color to add a sense of a third dimension.

She said Gene Kelly insisted that the full figures of his dancers be filmed, rather than allowing the camera to focus only on the feet or arms. He would cut the film on a dancer’s turn so the audience would be less aware of it.

Patricia Ward Kelly said that when her husband was asked to name his favorite dance partner, he often would say Jerry the mouse “because he showed up on time and worked his little tail off.”
He thought the best all-around dancer was Vera-Ellen and the best tapper was Eleanor Powell while Donald O’Connor was the most unsung, said Patricia Ward Kelly.

She said Gene Kelly choreographed his dances to show off his partners, whether Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra or Olivia Newton-John.

He was classically trained in ballet and had studied modern dance in New York with Martha Graham and others. But he took his inspiration from sports, including hockey, his favorite, she said.

He also was trying to create “a particular American style of dance,” so he preferred to choreograph to music by American writers, such as Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and Irving Berlin.

Gene Kelly also helped spur the use of Technicolor film in low light after he urged his co-director on the 1949 movie of “On the Town,” Stanley Donen, to shoot the last scene as daylight was fading because the Navy ship they were using was about to pull away from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Technicolor film previously had been used only with very bright lights, and the camera operators agreed to shoot the last scene of “On the Town” only under protest, Patricia Ward Kelly said.

She said she met Gene Kelly in 1985, when he was narrator on a television special that she was writing. When they met, she had not heard of the performer.

He brought her to California to work on his memoirs, and they married five years later.
She described taking dance lessons so she would be prepared to keep up with her husband but said he usually pretended to have an injured leg when they attended events that included dancing. They did dance together at home on New Year’s Eve. “He was the epitome of romance,” she added...


Wednesday, April 15, 2015


After Shemp Howard died of a sudden heart attack in 1955, the remaining Stooges, Moe and Larry kept the act alive, recruiting comedian Joe Besser as the third Stooge. This, as any Stooge fan will tell you, was the beginning of the end. Besser was never happy as a Stooge and, wary of what had happened to Curly, had a clause in his contract forbidding Moe from hitting him.

By now, Columbia was the only studio in town producing shorts, and in 1957, with television taking over the market, the department was shut down. In December of ’57, the studio declined to renew the Stooges’ contract and, after 23 years’ service, they were unceremoniously fired. A few weeks later, Moe returned to the studio to say goodbye to some old friends. He was refused entry by a security guard. Shortly afterwards, amid negotiations for a live tour, Joe Besser left the act.

By rights, this should have been the end of the road. But, in a supremely ironic twist of fate, the Stooges were actually on the brink of a major comeback. In 1958 Columbia offered a package of 78 Curly-era shorts for TV broadcast. Picked up by a number of networks across the US, they were an instant hit, particularly with children, and soon all 190 Stooge shorts were in circulation and drawing huge audiences. Suddenly the Stooges were in big demand, and Moe and Larry once again revived the act with Joe ‘Curly-Joe’ DeRita stepping into the breach. With Moe and Larry now getting on in years, this was the Stooges’ last hurrah. But it was, in many ways, a triumphant one. From 1959 to 1965 they made a series of feature films in the classic Stooge vein, including the infamous Snow White And The Three Stooges (which is not nearly as bad as people would have you believe — well, not quite). They also recorded 41 live wraparound segments for The New Three Stooges cartoon series. In 1969, Moe, Larry and Curly-Joe shot a pilot for a proposed TV show called Kook’s Tour, a Stooge-style travelogue. It was not to be. In January 1970, Larry Fine suffered a debilitating stroke, ending his career. Longtime Stooge co-star Emil Sitka was contracted to replace him, but no footage was ever shot with Sitka as a Stooge.

In December 1974, Larry suffered another stroke and, the following month, he died at the age of 72. With near unbelievable fortitude, Moe vowed the Stooges would soldier on, approaching veteran Ted Healy-era Stooge Paul ‘Mousie’ Garner. Tragically, while negotiating a number of movie projects, Moe was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died on May 4, 1975.

However, The Three Stooges live on. In the States it’s impossible to get through a week, a day even, without encountering a Stooge reference — images, clips, signature lines (“Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard” from 1934’s Men In Black crops up continually in films and on TV), catchphrases (“I’m a victim of soicumstance!” etc), noises (particularly Curly’s trademark “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!” and “woo, woo, woo!”), even sound effects — the Stooges’ ‘frying pan’ is a classic for the ages, still famously used by Vic & Bob. The Stooges are all gone now but their memories and comedy will live on forever...


Monday, April 13, 2015


Readers of my blog as well as people that know me, know what a fan I am of the music of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Lorenz Hart, more than anyone, was a true poet in every sense of the word. Most of my favorite songs are Rodgers and Hart compositions. One of my favorite of the uplifting songs by the duo was "Mountain Greenery". The song was a popular song composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart for the musical The Garrick Gaieties (1926). It was first performed on stage by Sterling Holloway. Fans of television's The Dick Van Dyke Show will remember the duet by Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in the episode "The Sleeping Brother".

Two of the first notable records of the song were made by Roger Wolfe Kahn and his Orchestra  on May 27, 1926 and Frank Crumit on July 29, 1926. Bing Crosby recorded a version of the song for his 1956 album Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings, but my personal favorite version of the song was made by Perry Como in 1948 for the film "biography" of Rodgers and Hart's life Words And Music. Como's version contains some verses that you normally don't hear in other recordings.

Rounding out the great versions of this song was Ella Fitzgerald's great version for  Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook in 1956. Mel TormĂ© had a top-five hit in Great Britain with his version also from 1956. Surprisingly The Supremes as well had a nice version of the song on their retro album The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart in 1966. The songs of Rodgers and Hart may be over 80 years old in some instances, but their words and music are timeless...

Friday, April 10, 2015


Bing Crosby started the 1940s only increasing his fame and stardom. His radio and recording career was successful, and he was at the top in both of those genres. Regarding movies, he was getting more and more popular with film goers, and from 1945 to 1949 he was the most popular movie star in the country. No one before or since has matched that feat.

Crosby started off the decade being paired for the first time with comedian Bob Hope in Road to Singapore (1940). The film lacked a great plot, but it made up with the laughs and songs that Bing got to introduce in the films. Bing and Bob made five “Road” movies in the 1940s, and Bing got to introduce some popular love songs in the films like: “Too Romantic” in Road To Singapore, “It’s Always You” in Road To Zanzibar (1941), “Moonlight Becomes You” in Road To Morocco (1942), “Welcome To My Dream” in Road To Utopia (1946), and “But Beautiful” in Road To Rio (1947).

Back to the early 1940s, Bing Crosby kept on making successful films; the roles were getting better as well. In Rhythm on the River (1940) he played a ghost song writer and got to sing the beautiful ballad “Only Forever. In The Birth of the Blues (1941) Bing sang all old songs as he played a clarinetist trying to get jazz to the masses. Then a year later Bing hit the mother lode when he starred in Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn (1942). The union of Bing Crosby’s singing and Irving Berlin’s songs was a marriage made in musical heaven! Not only did Bing have the lucky pleasure of introducing “White Christmas” in the film (It almost was cut from the film!), but he sang a boat load of great Berlin songs like: “Be Careful It’s My Heart”, “Easter Parade”, and “Happy Holidays”. During this period of Bing’s singing and movie career, he really could do no wrong. Everything he touched was turning into musical gold.

Bing won an Oscar for playing Father O’ Malley, a priest that could sing in Going My Way (1944). A song Bing sang in the film also won the Oscar for best song (“Swinging on a Star”). It is the third time Bing introduced a song that won an Oscar. (He introduced “Sweet Leilani” which won in 1937 and “White Christmas” which won in 1942). The song “Swinging on a Star” was not really a great song by any stretch of the imagination, but because of Bing’s delivery it would become another one of Bing’s best remembered songs. Lightning almost hit twice in 1945 when he played Father O’Malley again in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). Bing was nominated for another Oscar but lost. He introduced two more great songs in that film as well – “In the Land of Beginning Again” and “Aren’t You Glad You’re You”. At this point Bing was specializing in the philosophical songs that told everyone how to make it through life.

Bing’s first post-World War II musical was one of the best musicals he ever made. He was paired again with dancer Fred Astaire and songwriter Irving Berlin for the Technicolor lavish musical Blue Skies (1946). Even though the film was a postwar movie, it was pure sentimental and took place during the two World Wars. The plot was merely a backdrop for the music, and this film was filled with Irving Berlin standards – more than two dozen of them like: “I Got My Captain Working For Me Now”, “Blue Skies”, “All By Myself”, “Heat wave”, “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody”, “Puttin On The Ritz” and the list could go on and on. Bing got the chance to sing a few new Irving Berlin compositions with the best being “You Keep Coming Back Like A Song”. The song was one of the most recorded songs of 1946, and it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song, but it lost. It would be another decade before Bing would make a musical as big as Blue Skies. It was the biggest musical he ever made at Paramount, and it was one of the most successful.

Bing sort of coasted through the rest of his movies of the late 1940s. They were good, but they were not anywhere near the caliber of Holiday Inn, Going My Way, or Blue Skies. Bing continued to introduce great songs in the film though like “My Heart Is A Hobo” and “As Long As I’m Dreaming” in Welcome Stranger (1947), “The Kiss In Your Eyes” from The Emperor Waltz (1948), and “Once And For Always”  in A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949). Bing still was a top movie star as the 1950s approached, but the music industry would be changing with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll. As a result the movie musical would change. Coupled with Bing’s personal problems in the early 1950s, he soon would see his movie star fade slightly. However, in the 1940s Bing was definitely the biggest movie musical star in the heavens that we call Hollywood…