Monday, November 19, 2018

COMING SOON: A MONTH OF VERA-ELLEN


Each Christmas time when the 1954 classic White Christmas movie is shown I am re-introduced to dancer Vera-Ellen. Her grace and talent is in every movie she made. It is unfortunate that she hasn't made more movies. For the month of December, all of our articles will feature the underrated dancer Vera-Ellen (1921-1981).

We have a lot of special stories planned from movies reviews and rare photos to a rare interview with one of the last people to have known Vera-Ellen. I hope December will be a special month - not only for the holiday season, but for the remembrances of Vera-Ellen. She was one of the most remarkable dancers of Broadway and Hollywood...


Saturday, November 17, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: BING CROSBY - SWINGING ON A STAR

On October 30th I got an early Christmas present when author Gary Giddin's long awaited second volume of his biography of Bing Crosby came out. It took me about two weeks to finish, but it was a great biography. It took a long time for Gary to come out with this second volume. The first volume, Pocketful Of Dreams came out in 2001. The reading community has changed a lot in 17 years, and I worry that this new volume will not do as well as it deserves to do. The life of Bing Crosby is quite remarkable, and Bing Crosby deserves to be remembered more than he is.

The positive parts of "Swinging On A Star - The War Years" is the amount we learn about Bing Crosby. I pride myself in knowing a lot about Der Bingle, but Gary Giddins wrote about things I never knew about. He eluded to an affair Bing had with singer Trudy Erwin, but he doesn't really delve into that. Towards the end of the book he writes about the affair Bing had with actress Joan Caulfield, which I knew about but did not know the personal details about. What amazed me the most was the amount of work Bing tirelessly did for the war effort during World War II. Audiences knew about the work that Bob Hope during the war, mostly because Hope probably told everyone, but Bing Crosby kept a lot of his work for the soldiers to himself. I also never knew about the struggles Bing was having at home during the 1940s. His wife Dixie Lee was destroying herself with alcohol, and to read Bing's own words in regards to his wife is both eye opening and touching.


There is not much wrong with the 600 plus page book on Bing, but at some points author Gary Giddins could have benefited with a better editor. Some of the long stories on people such as director Leo McCarey were way too long and slows down the book. Director McCarey is important to Bing's career, but I don't think he deserves the pages he got in this book. The only other complaint I have is the ending of the book. It ends abruptly like the publisher just picked a point and made Gary end it there. I know there are hopes for a third volume, but a better ending would have been more gratifying for the reader.

However, Gary Giddins has a way to make you truly feel like you are a part of his books. I read an online review, and the particular reviewer complained about the amount Giddins devoted to the diary of two Crosby fans that literally followed Bing around through the years. I wished there was more from the sisters, and their diaries on Bing would make a fascinating book. At times I felt anger towards Bing when Gary wrote about Bing's parenting of his sons or his affair with Joan Caulfield. I felt sadness when Gary wrote about Bing's wife drinking herself to death and to some of the dying soldiers Bing entertained overseas. Any book that Gary writes is not only enlightening but truly engrossing.


Gary Giddins was asked recently about a third volume of Bing Crosby's life, and he basically says it depends on sales of volume 2, which makes me nervous. Is there an audience for Bing Crosby in 2018? I wish there was but I am not optimistic. You do not really have to be a Bing Crosby fan to love the book. My wife likes Bing Crosby, because I introduced her to him but she is hardly a major fan. Every day when I read another chapter of the book, I would tell my wife something I learned, and she actually got really into it. So please spread the word about this book, and please support Gary Giddins' writings. The book is pretty close to a masterpiece!

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10

NOTE: You can purchase the book here.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

RIP: ROY CLARK

Roy Clark, the legendary guitarist and singer, Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member, Grammy, ACM and CMA award winner and co-host of the “Hee Haw” television series, died today at the age of 85 due to complications from pneumonia at home in Tulsa, Okla.

His 24-year sting on the at times deliberately corny “Hee Haw” show belied his stellar musicianship and deep pedigree as a country-music pioneer, particularly the “Bakersfield” sound of the late 1950s and early 1960s in which he was deeply involved with fellow picker Buck Owens, who also appeared on the show. With the later rise of country stars ranging from Emmylou Harris and Dwight Yoakam to Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, Clark’s vast influence has received its proper due.

During the 1970s, Clark frequently guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and enjoyed a 30-million viewership for Hee Haw. Clark is highly regarded and renowned as a guitarist and banjo player, and is also skilled on classical guitar and several other instruments. Although he has had hit songs as a pop vocalist (e.g., "Yesterday, When I Was Young" and "Thank God and Greyhound"), his instrumental skill has had an enormous effect on generations of bluegrass and country musicians. He has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1987 and, in 2009, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.


He is survived by Barbara, his wife of sixty-one years, his sons Roy Clark II and wife Karen, Dr. Michael Meyer and wife Robin, Terry Lee Meyer, Susan Mosier and Diane Stewart, and his grandchildren: Brittany Meyer, Michael Meyer, Caleb Clark, Josiah Clark and his sister, Susan Coryell.

A memorial celebration will be held in the coming days in Tulsa, Okla., details forthcoming...


Monday, November 12, 2018

FORGOTTEN ONES: DICK STABILE

This article was written by my good friend BG on his Geezer Music club blog. He gave me permission to republish the excellent story here. Here is a link to his page and the original story: Geezer Music Club!

One of the things I enjoy about reading biographies of entertainment legends is learning about the less famous people whose lives revolved around the stars, like the guy I ran across in a book about Dean Martin. An accomplished saxophonist who’d gotten his start in the early big band era, Dick Stabile was the musical director for Martin and Lewis at the height of their fame as a comedy team, and for many years also backed up Dino on some of his best records. Along the way he found time to have a pretty good career as a bandleader.

Growing up in Newark meant that Stabile was just a stone’s throw from New York, and he wasted no time moving there in the 1920s to make a living as a professional musician. Still just a teenager, he bounced around a while and ended up in the well-regarded Ben Bernie’s orchestra, where he would spend the next decade learning the music business inside and out.

By the late 1930s Stabile had formed his own band and he found a lot of work in New York nightspots, including hotels and ballrooms, a fertile field for bands at that time. He also married singer Gracie Barrie, which proved to be a good move. Not only was she popular with fans of the band, she was also the one who kept the outfit going when Stabile later left for service in World War II.


In the post-war years the big band era was in decline and Stabile began to change with the times, working more in radio and eventually relocating in Los Angeles, where he later began to work with Martin and Lewis. He would spend a number of years as the duo’s musical director, appearing on stage with them and eventually on TV too. Even after the comedy team split, he continued to provide musical accompaniment for Martin on some of his best records. He also recorded with other stars — Della Reese for one — before eventually returning to the leadership of a band of his own. In his later years he relocated to New Orleans, where he was a popular part of the local music scene until his death in 1980, at age 71....


Friday, November 9, 2018

JONI MITCHELL AT 75

As an adoring-but-anxious crowd wondered if she'd appear at an all-star concert celebration on her 75th birthday, Joni Mitchell was stuck in traffic. It was only fitting for a singer and songwriter whose music helped define the experience of modern Southern California.

Glen Hansard could have been describing the guest of honor when he sang of "a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway" in his rendition of Mitchell's "Coyote" soon after the show finally began, nearly an hour late.

James Taylor, Chaka Khan, Kris Kristofferson, Rufus Wainwright and Seal were also among those serenading Mitchell with her own songs Wednesday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Mitchell didn't speak or say a word all night, but just showing up was a triumph. For 3 1/2 years, she has been almost completely absent from public life after an aneurysm left her debilitated and unable to speak, and little has been revealed of her condition since.

"You know, Joni has had a long and arduous recovery from a really major event," Taylor, one of Mitchell's oldest friends, told The Associated Press before the show. "But she's doing so much better."

Mitchell needed help walking in and getting to her seat in a front corner. She suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015. The audience greeted her with a standing ovation and spontaneous chorus of "Happy Birthday."


The crowd's love for Mitchell was matched by the artists themselves, especially the women, many of whom said Mitchell was much more than a musical influence.

"Joni Mitchell is an inspiration to every girl who ever picked up a guitar," Emmylou Harris said after singing Mitchell's "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire." That inspiration apparently has its limits. Harris didn't play guitar on the song, saying with a laugh that the "chords are too hard for me."

The songs were interspersed with photos of Mitchell and audio clips of her speaking throughout her career, allowing her to serve as the evening's narrator even as she remained silent.

Later in the evening, film director and Mitchell mega-fan Cameron Crowe presented her with the Music Center's Excellence in the Performing Arts Award at a dinner gala whose guests included David Geffen, Lily Tomlin, Anjelica Huston and Tom Hanks.


The concert brought four decades of songs that showed the twisting career path of the onetime Canadian folkie who became the quintessential California singer-songwriter behind albums like "Blue" and "Court and Spark" and then took her music to places her soft-rock contemporaries would never dare go.

Diana Krall showed the depth of Mitchell's jazz influence as she sat at the piano and sang "Amelia" from 1976. Kristofferson and Brandi Carlile showed that Mitchell could be a little bit country with their version of 1971's "A Case of You" and its memorable chorus, "I could drink a case of you darling. Still I'd be on my feet."

As the show approached its end, the curtain fell and the crowd chanted for an encore. They went wild when it rose to show Mitchell standing at the front of the stage in a long red coat, black hat and cane.
She blew out candles on a birthday cake and swayed to the rhythm as all of the night's musicians combined for 1970's "Big Yellow Taxi."

Monday, November 5, 2018

RECENTLY VIEWED: THE NUTCRACKER & THE FOUR REALMS

It's hard to imagine that Christmas movies are already coming out, but that is what is happening! This past weekend I took my daughter to see The Nutcracker And The Four Realms. Sadly it looks like the movie is not doing well in the box office, (It made $20 million in its opening weekend off of $125 million plus budget), but I found it to be pretty good. It does not compare to last year's Beauty And The Beast, but this was a fun movie to take my six year old to.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a fantasy adventure film directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston and written by Ashleigh Powell. It is a retelling of E. T. A. Hoffmann's short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" and Marius Petipa's The Nutcracker, about a young girl who is gifted a locked egg from her deceased mother and sets out in a magical land to retrieve the key. The film stars Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Misty Copeland, Helen Mirren, and Morgan Freeman.

All Clara wants is a key - a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer's annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key-which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It's there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip, a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger, to retrieve Clara's key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.


Mackenzie Foy was really good in the female lead playing Clara. She best known for appearing as Renesmee Cullen in the 2012 film The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Also veteran actors like Morgan Freeman and Helen Merrin are their usual bests. They never put in a bad performance in any rule. However, the stand out for me was Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy. I never really thought much of her as an actresses, but she was unrecognizable in her role, and she really did a great job on her character.

The movie is not perfect. I feel that the poor box office is due the movie being released too early in the holiday season. Also, i think that more explanation is needed for how the Four Realms were created. However, to a six year old and her father (who is always trying to make time for his beautiful daughter), this film was great. I had a tear in my eye during some parts of the movie, and as the lights came up on the movie theater I walked out with my very independent daughter, and she grabbed my hand to hold. I think this movie did it's job...

MY RATING: 8 OUT OF 10


Sunday, November 4, 2018

HISTORY BREAK: EVA PERON

“Evita! Evita! La santa Peronista!” Anyone who has seen Andrew Lloyd Weber’s operetta Evita knows at least a little something about the life of Eva Perón, one of Argentina’s most beloved and controversial political figures. While she was never an elected official, Evita had a profound and lasting impact on the social and political landscape of Argentina.

Born in 1919 in the town of Los Toldos, Argentina, Maria Eva Duarte grew up with her parents and four siblings. Her family was quite prosperous at the time she was born. Evita’s father, Juan Duarte, was given the role of Deputy Justice of the Peace in 1908, and the family enjoyed a great deal of prominence. At this time, the leftist Radical Party had won the presidency, and conservative ideologies continued to become increasingly unpopular: bad news for Juan Duarte, who was solidly affiliated with the Conservatives.

After moving to Buenos Aires, Evita worked as an actress, and made her way in the big city as best she could without any real financial stability. It wasn’t until 1944 that Evita would meet Juan Perón, who, as a result of his involvement with a military coup that resulted in a takeover of the Argentine government, was currently the Secretary of War and Labor.


Evita and Juan Perón were married in 1945, and in that same year, Juan Perón was imprisoned by opposition from within his party over fears that he would eclipse the presidency. Released a short time later, Juan Perón went on to win the presidency, and thus came the rise of Evita as an influential political figure.

The Peróns were both popular among the poor and working classes and unions in Argentina. The particular set of policies and beliefs held by Juan Perón eventually became a political party and political philosophy known as Perónism. While Perónism was popular among lower socioeconomic classes in Argentina, Argentina didn’t necessarily have too many sympathetic friends abroad, particularly in Europe.

As first lady, Evita was tasked with meeting foreign leaders in Europe, and in 1947, an invitation by the president of Spain lead Evita on a trip known as the Rainbow Tour. On this tour, Evita met with leaders in Italy, Portugal, France, Switzerland, and Monaco, as well as Argentina’s South American neighbors, Brazil and Uruguay. Evita used these special visits to promote her husband’s agenda abroad. She was also accompanied by a huge entourage, and traveled in style.


Despite criticism against her (some justified, some not), Evita is credited with many wonderful accomplishments. She was instrumental in passing a law that gave women the right to vote in Argentina in 1947. In 1948, she established the Maria Eva Duarte de Perón Foundation, which served poor children and elderly people. Evita is perhaps best known for championing the rights of the descamisados (meaning “the shirtless ones,” referring to working class laborers). Throughout her political career, Evita supported legislation that would improve working conditions and wages for some of Argentina’s poorest workers.

Eva Perón experienced and accomplished all of this on only 33 years, the age when she died of cervical cancer. Evita died in 1952, but the legacy she and Juan Perón left behind when they started the Peronist movement is every bit as active in Argentina today as it was when they first rose to prominence. The subject of endless debate, Evita’s Peronism (and its opposition) is still very much a defining political and social feature of Argentina. Because of this, Argentina’s future will forever be entwined with the history of La Santa Peronista...



SOURCE