Friday, March 29, 2013


There was a boy - a very strange enchanted boy...anyone who is a fan of classic popular music is probably familiar with those lyrics from the song "Nature Boy". The song, written in 1948, was very different compared to the other music being put out of the day. However, what is even more unusual than the song is the mysterious songwriter. Eden Ahbez was born George Alexander Aberle on April 15, 1908. He is often considered the first American hippie, whose lifestyle in California was very influential on the hippie movement. He was known to friends simply as Ahbe.

Living a bucolic life from at least the 1940s, he traveled in sandals and wore shoulder-length hair and beard, and white robes. He camped out below the first L in the Hollywood Sign above Los Angeles and studied Oriental mysticism. He slept outdoors with his family and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. He claimed to live on three dollars per week.

Though born in Brooklyn, New York to a Jewish father and a Scottish-English mother, he was adopted in 1917 by a family in Chanute, Kansas and raised under the name George McGrew. During the 1930s, McGrew lived in Kansas City, where he performed as a pianist and dance band leader. He probably also lived in New York City for some time, although little is known of that period of his life.

In 1941, he arrived in Los Angeles and began playing piano in the Eutropheon, a small health food store and raw food restaurant on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. During this period, he adopted the name "eden ahbez," choosing to spell his name with lower-case letters, claiming that only the words God and Infinity were worthy of capitalization. He is also said to have desired the A and Z (alpha and omega), the beginning and the end, in his surname. During this period, he married Anna Jacobsen and had a son. Sadly Anna died of leukemia in 1963, and his son drowned mysteriously at the age of 22 in 1971.

In 1947, at the prompting of Johnny Mercer, Ahbez approached Nat "King" Cole's manager backstage at the Lincoln Theatre in Los Angeles and handed him the music for his song, "Nature Boy." Cole began playing the song for live audiences to much acclaim, but needed to track down its author before releasing his recording of it. Ahbez was discovered living under the Hollywood Sign and became the focus of a media frenzy when Cole's version of "Nature Boy" shot to #1 on the Billboard charts and remained there for eight consecutive weeks during the summer of 1948. Ahbez was covered simultaneously in Life, Time, and Newsweek magazines. Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan later released versions of the song. The melody was also featured in the background of the film The Boy With The Green Hair (1949) which starred Pat O' Brien and Dean Stockwell.

Ahbez continued to supply Cole with songs, including "Land of Love (Come My Love and Live with Me)", which was also covered by Doris Day and The Ink Spots. He also worked closely with jazz musician Herb Jeffries, and, in 1954, the pair collaborated on an album, The Singing Prophet, which included the only recording of Ahbez's four-part "Nature Boy Suite." The album was later reissued as Echoes of Eternity on Jeffries' United National label. In the mid 1950s, he wrote songs for Eartha Kitt, Frankie Laine, and others, as well as writing some rock-and-roll novelty songs. In 1957, his song "Lonely Island" was recorded by Sam Cooke, becoming the second and final ahbez composition to hit the Top 40.

After his only solo record was released in 1960, he began to fade away from the music scene. After the death of his wife and son, Ahbez completely wtihdrew from the public. He hung out in the California desert near Indio and would wander into town for supplies and company, sharing his poems and philosophy. Ahbez kept writing new music and even kept a piano at a local music studio. From the late 1980s until his death, he worked closely with Joe Romersa, an engineer/drummer in Los Angeles. The master tapes, photos, and final works of eden ahbez are in Romersa's possession.

Sadly he died on March 4, 1995, of injuries sustained in a car accident, at the age of 86. Another album, Echoes from Nature Boy, was released posthumously. The music industry in the 1940s and 1950s did not know what to do with Eden Ahbez, but his song "Nature Boy" is as haunting and mysterious in 2012 as it was when it became a surprise hit in 1948. Sometimes the most beautiful music comes out of the strangest places...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


More than three decades after her untimely death at the age of 52, movie fans are still in love with Grace Kelly. And the Weinstein Company seems certain that love could add up to some serious box office returns and awards season recognition.

The Weinstein Company announced Monday that they have secured American distribution rights to "Grace Of Monaco," in which Nicole Kidman plays the luminously beautiful movie star who became a real-life princess after marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco (played in the film by Tim Roth). The film was directed by Olivier Dahan, whose 2007 picture "La Vie En Rose" (about the life of the great French singer Edith Piaf) won international acclaim and earned leading lady Marion Cotillard an Academy Award as Best Actress.

In a statement, TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said, "More than thirty years after her death, Grace Kelly’s story continues to be one of insurmountable allure, and we are so happy Olivier Dahan has brought it new life. As always, Nicole Kidman’s commanding performance is the perfect portrait of a woman who was not only royalty but who also remains a legend of the silver screen and fashion icon."

Weinstein has a reputation for shrewd campaigning for his movies during Oscar season, and during his tenure as head at Miramax, he helped promote "The English Patient," "Shakespeare In Love," and "Good Will Hunting" into Best Picture winners. After co-founding TWC, Weinstein helped do the same for "The King's Speech" and "The Artist." With "Grace Of Monaco" scheduled for a late-December release, Weinstein may well believe this project has just the sort of allure that will add another Oscar to his trophy case (and a few bucks to the studio's bank account).

"Grace In Monaco" depicts an episode in Grace's life during the 1960s in which both her marriage and the stability of Monaco were hanging in the balance, as differences with her husband coincided with a standoff between France and Monaco. Prince Albert II of Monaco has been critical of the film's screenplay, and Monaco's royal family released a statement reading in part, "It recounts one rewritten and needlessly glamorized page in the history of Monaco and its family with both major historical inaccuracies and a series of purely fictional scenes."

"The royal family wishes to stress that this film in no way constitutes a biopic," they added.

Kidman responded in an interview, saying, "This is not a biopic or a fictionalized documentary of Grace Kelly, but only a small part of her life where she reveals her great humanity as well as her fears, and weaknesses."

Director Dahan also weighed in. "I am not a journalist or historian," he said in response to the royal family's statement. "I am an artist. I have not made a biopic. I hate biopics in general. I have done, in any subjectivity, a human portrait of a modern woman who wants to reconcile her family, her husband, her career. But who will give up her career and invent another role. And it will be painful." Dahan added, "I understand their point of view. After all, it is their mother. I do not want to provoke anyone. Only to say that it's cinema."
Regardless of how Monaco's royal family feels, with Kidman in the lead and Roth, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Paz Vega, and Milo Ventimiglia in the supporting cast, "Grace of Monaco" should be a fascinating look into the life of an international icon, and there's no doubt TWC will see to it we hear plenty about it before the movie opens in December...


Monday, March 25, 2013


Remember that song from the 60s "Dominique"? The woman who sang that was Sister Jeanne Decker - better known as "The Singing Nun." She was living in a Belgian convent when her song became a hit, and in 1966 a movie about her life was made, called (oddly enough) The Singing Nun, starring Deborah Reynolds. The following year a TV series spoofing the movie was made. It was called The Flying Nun, and it starred a young actress named Sally Field.

She was born Jeanne-Paule-Marie Deckers on October 17, 1933 and in September 1959 entered the Missionary Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Fichermont, headquartered in the city of Waterloo, who had been founded to provide assistance to the Dominican friars in their missions in the Belgian Congo. While in the convent, she wrote, sang and performed her own songs, which were so well received by her fellow Sisters and by visitors, that her religious superiors decided to let her record an album, which visitors and retreatants at the convent would be able to purchase.

In 1963, the album was recorded in Brussels at Philips. The single "Dominique" became an international hit. Many radio stations in the U.S. played it and other softer hits more often in the wake of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Overnight, the Dominican Sister was an international celebrity, with the stage name of Sœur Sourire (Sister Smile).  "Dominique" was the first Belgian song to be a number one hit single in the United States. In 1966, a movie called The Singing Nun was made about her, starring Debbie Reynolds in the title role. Deckers rejected the film as "fiction". My grandfather loved that corny film, and for a long time it was hard to find on video.

Deckers did not gain much from this international fame, and her second album, Her Joys, Her Songs, did not get much attention and disappeared almost as soon as it was released. Most of her earnings were in fact taken away by Philips, her producer, while the rest automatically went to her religious congregation. She left the convent in 1967, planning to continue her musical career under the name Luc Dominique and to pursue social work, which she had studied at the Louvain, becoming a lay Dominican. She moved in with a childhood friend, Anne Pecher, a physiotherapist who was also a former member of the Dominican Sisters. She could not keep her initial professional name of Sœur Sourire, as the Dominican Sisters owned the rights and refused permission.

Deckers released an album entitled I Am Not a Star in Heaven. Her repertoire consisted of religious songs and songs for children. Despite her renewed musical emphasis, Deckers gradually faded into obscurity, possibly because of her own disdain for fame. She was never able to duplicate the success of her one hit.

Her musical career over, Deckers opened a school for autistic children. In the late 1970s, the Belgian government claimed that she owed $63,000 (approximately the equivalent of some $275,000 as of 2012) in back taxes. Deckers countered that the royalties from her recording were given to the convent and therefore she was not liable for payment of any personal income taxes. As her former congregation refused to take any responsibility for the debt, claiming both that they no longer had any responsibility for her and that they did not have the funds, Deckers ran into heavy financial problems. In 1982, she tried, once again as Sœur Sourire, to score a hit with a disco synthesizer version of "Dominique", but this last attempt to resume her singing career failed.

The song - and the singer - turned out to be a bit of a one-day wonder. By the 1980s, she had many problems - with money, with the Roman Catholic Church, and with her own sexuality. On March 29,1985 , she and her longtime companion, Anna Peche, had a few drinks, a bunch of barbituates, and died. The double suicide made headlines at the time, but today, very few people remember either The Singing Nun, or the song that made her famous.

Despite the fact that they had committed suicide, she and Pécher were granted their request for a church funeral. They were buried together in Cheremont Cemetery in Wavre, Walloon Brabant, the town where they died. The inscription on their tombstone reads "I saw her soul fly across the clouds", a line from Decker's song "Sister Smile is dead"...

Friday, March 22, 2013


Interview with Larry Parks
by Roger Ebert - August 25, 1968

Twenty years after he starred in "The Jolson Story," Larry Parks still meets people like the cab driver who took him to the theater the other day. Parks and his wife, Betty Garrett, got into the cab and the driver said, "Say, aren't you Larry Parks? I saw you in the Jolson picture."

And then, in tribute, the cabbie put a kazoo in his mouth and banged on a tambourine with his right hand and sang "My Mammy" while he was driving down Michigan Ave.

"He had a hell of a Jolson imitation," Parks said. "I guess he drives around the city singing to himself when he doesn't have a fare. But it was the strangest thing . . ."

There must be times when Larry Parks wonders if the world is filled with would-be Jolson imitators.

Indeed, it may be. There's a tavern in Old Town with Jolson records on the jukebox, and when somebody drops in a dime, half the customers raise their voices in unskilled harmony: "Because it isn't raining rain, you know, it's raining violets . . ."

But the funny thing is, Al Jolson himself didn't much approve of Larry Parks for the role, even though Parks eventually won an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

"It's quite a story," Parks recalled. "In the beginning, Jolson wanted to play himself. Well, that's understandable, but he was too old. He was 58. So then Jolson wanted James Cagney for the role. Cagney had just finished playing George M. Cohan. "Jolson was never too happy with me. And I had another problem. All of Jolson's movies were for Warner Brothers, and we were making 'The Jolson Story' for Columbia. So Harry Cohn, the studio boss, asked Jack Warner if we could borrow the Jolson films so I could study them. And Jack Warner, in a heartwarming display of reciprocity, said hell no.

"So I had to do Jolson without having seen him. I remember the one time Jolson visited the set I was doing a number. And be said, kid, you're moving around too much. So he did the song. And he did everything but bang from the rafters. Then he said, see? I didn't move a muscle."

Parks smiled. He and his wife sat in their suite at the Churchill Hotel, where they've stayed since taking over the leads in "Cactus Flower" at the Shubert. Parks occasionally got up to tend to the lamb chops, a light dinner before their performance.

"The studio called the picture Harry Cohn's Folly until we were about halfway through," Parks remembered. "Then everyone got excited. I had one particular problem. Jolson had pre-recorded all the songs before the script was ready, and he sang every one as if he were going to drop dead at the end of it. "Well, that was Jolson. He always sang like that, which was why people loved him. But it was difficult from an actor's point of view. In one scene, I was supposed to be singing as loudly as I could one second, and then collapse in the middle of the song. How do you taper off at the top of your lungs? I finally decided to play it as if I were singing so loudly out of desperation, struggling to get to the end of the song."

"The Jolson Story" has since become something of a classic, a regular on the late show. But Jolson's blackface songs, and Parks' version of them, have taken on different overtones since 1948.

"Here's a clipping from the Portland Oregonian," Parks said. It was an editorial suggesting that times had changed, that blackface was offensive, and that "The Jolson Story" should be quietly laid to rest by TV stations.

"I don't see it that way," Parks said. "The movie was made innocently enough, without any desire to offend. I think if you start suppressing old films for reasons like this, you're cutting off your own past. I thought Bill Cosby's special on TV was wonderful, the one tracing the rise and fall of the Negro stereotype in movies. I think that sort of approach to Hollywood's past is the wise one, instead of trying to ignore it or forget it."

Together and separately, Parks and Miss Garrett have had interesting acting careers. They trooped England from one end to the other in vaudeville; they've appeared in a score of films (she was the girl opposite Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "On the Town"); and in many plays (they were together on Broadway in "Bells Are Ringing").

Miss Garrett began her career with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and got her early theatrical experience with Orson Welles' original Mercury Players, perhaps the most talented company the American theater ever developed.

"Orson had an unbroken string of successes," she recalled, "but, unfortunately, I joined the company just in time for his first flop: a play called 'Danton's Death.'

"He was a genius, but in that one he let his genius get slightly out of hand. He loaded up that little Mercury Theater with thousands of dollars worth of lights, and he tore out the stage and put in elevator platforms, so all the actors were constantly moving up and down out of the depths.

"I remember we all had to do noises in the night, in addition to our roles. I did animal noises. Joseph Cotten had to do sex noises in the night. Can you imagine? Joseph Cotten?"

"Sex noises?" her husband asked.

"Oh, you know," Miss Garrett said. "Groans of ecstasy and all that. He started out with a lot of enthusiasm, but after two weeks he completely lost heart. You'd see him in the dressing room with a hunted look on his face."

Parks said he and his wife have more or less settled down into "Cactus Flower" and are enjoying themselves after a hectic period of preparation. "We learned on a Monday that we'd be replacing Hugh O'Brian and Elizabeth Allen in the play," he said. "We had to leave for Chicago that Thursday. Betty went out and bought the play, and we learned the lines before we left California, but still there were only 10 days for rehearsal."

"All the same," Miss Garrett said, "opening night went smoothly, thank goodness. It's a well-made comedy, I think; that helps. The other night my tongue got twisted and I bobbled a line, but the audience laughed anyway. That was sort of a blow to my ego."

"What helps," Parks said, "is that we've worked together so much. When my back is turned, I generally know what she's up to. Right, Betty?"

"Well," said Miss Garrett, "it sounds good."


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


The sad saga of Mickey Rooney's life continued to be played out in courts. A probate court judge today approved the sale of actor Mickey Rooney's long-time home in Westlake Village after the 92-year-old moved into a smaller residence because of his failing health.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Reva Goetz gave the nod to Kapilack Investments LLC in West Hills to buy the home for $1.03 million. The proceeds will be split, with Rooney getting $500,000 and his current wife, Janice Rooney, getting $525,000.

Attorney Michael Augustine, Rooney's conservator, said after the hearing that Rooney could no longer climb the stairs at his Westlake Village home, so he has moved to the one-story residence of the entertainer's stepson, Mark Rooney, and his wife, Charlene, in the west San Fernando Valley.

Augustine also said Rooney and his wife will be living apart, but no formal legal procedures to end the marriage will be undertaken.

Despite Rooney's age, Augustine said the actor continues to make public appearances and was a passenger on the Turner Classic Movie Classics Cruise that sailed last month from Miami to Mexico. He also said Rooney recently made a public service announcement on behalf of military veterans.

Rooney's goal is to resume his entertainment career, Augustine said. "Mickey wants to work," Augustine said.

In September 2011-- amid allegations by Augustine that the actor's stepson, Christopher Aber, and his wife,
Christina , financially and verbally abused the former child star for a decade, leaving the entertainer powerless over his assets and personal life -- Goetz gave court protection to the actor by naming Augustine as his conservator.

Christopher Aber is Janice Rooney's biological son. The Abers have declared bankruptcy.

Janice Rooney's lawyer, Yevgeny Belous, said outside the courtroom that the Westlake Village home had sentimental value for his client, who lived at the location with the former child star for many years."But things change and it was time to move on," Belous said.

Although Rooney and his wife have reached agreement on most of the issues between them, still unresolved are the allegations concerning the Abers. Rooney's attorneys allege the two are liable for breach of fiduciary duty and fraud stemming from elder abuse, along with misappropriation of the actor's name and likeness, and are seeking a permanent injunction against the couple as additional protection for Rooney.

According to the complaint, Aber took advantage of the trust and confidence that Rooney put in him, and in the process took control of the actor's income and finances to enrich himself and his wife, while leaving Rooney no control over or access to his finances.

The petition alleges that the Abers regularly withheld food and medication from the actor, leading to bouts of depression.

Rooney's film career dates back to his teens, when he was one of Hollywood's most famous child stars, beginning with his role as Andy Hardy...



"Bye, Bye, Blackbird" is a song published in 1926 by the American composer Ray Henderson and lyricist Mort Dixon. It is considered a popular standard and was first recorded by Gene Austin in 1926. It was the #16 song of 1926 according to Pop Culture Madness. In 1982, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) posthumously awarded John Coltrane a Grammy Award of " Best Jazz Solo Performance" for the work on his album, Bye Bye Blackbird. Recordings of the song often include only the chorus; the verses are far less known.

The song was also copied by Charlie and His Orchestra, German Karl Schwedler, of The Templin Band during World War II as part of Joseph Goebbels' propaganda campaign. But the lyrics were changed to reflect the German political rhetoric of the time and intended to demoralize the Allied forces. The tune(s) were sung in English and aimed at United States and British troops, as well as British citizens. The song and melody were not permitted to be played in Nazi Germany because the Nazi leadership forbade progressive styles of music such as jazz.

Paul McCartney recorded the song for his 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom. McCartney said that "A lot of these songs, like 'Bye Bye Blackbird', were ones that I'd sung along with" at family gatherings.

There is much speculation about the meaning of the song. At least two commentators tribute the song to a prostitute's leaving the business and going home to her mother. As such, it is the opposite of "House of the Rising Sun," where the prostitute returns to the business. The reason for the song's apparent ambiguity is that the opening verse and the verses about the bluebird are rarely sung.

I have many recordings of this song, and it  is one of my all time favorite songs (despite what some people think the lyrics mean). My favorite recording of the song is a mournful and soulful version of the song by Peggy Lee from the movie "Pete Kelly's Blues" (1959). Another favorite version is one sung by my son. Even though he is not a professional singer, there is just something cute about a three year old singing the song...

Monday, March 18, 2013


I got this story from a fellow blogger - I wish I had written it, but it is much too good. Check out the original article and story at:  Geezer Music Club. You won't be disappointed visiting his site...

The Perseverence Of Irene Daye

One of the things I’ve learned during six years of doing this is that even performers who don’t reach big stardom can still have fascinating life stories. A good example is big-band songbird Irene Daye, who was never a huge name but still managed to be the solo vocalist on one of the biggest hits of the era. But wait, there’s more. She then married the band’s trumpeter and retired (at age 23) to raise a family, only to be forced to resume her career a few years later because her husband had abruptly died. But she persevered, again becoming the star vocalist for a well-known band — and eventually even married the bandleader, before once again retiring from performing.

Irene Daye was still in high school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in the mid-1930s when she began her professional career by landing a job singing for the Jan Murphy Orchestra. Within a couple of years she had managed to work her way into a spot as the lead female vocalist for one of the biggest of the big bands — Gene Krupa’s. She stayed with him until 1941, long enough to make dozens of records, none bigger than the last one she recorded for him — “Drum Boogie” — which was so popular that it was even featured in the Gary Cooper movie, Ball Of Fire. (According to IMDB, Barbara Stanwick’s singing was dubbed by Martha Tilton, but several other sources name Irene Daye so let’s go with that.)

It was also about then that trumpeter Corky Cornelius won Daye’s heart and she retired from performing to become a wife and mother. (Krupa replaced her with Anita O’Day, who subsequently enjoyed a long and celebrated career.) Unfortunately, Cornelius died within a couple of years and Daye had to go back to work, but she wasted no time latching on with Charlie Spivak and his orchestra. She was a solid part of the group for several years before finally marrying the bandleader in 1950, and again retiring from active performing. She eventually took over the business side of his career, but died at just age 53 in 1971...


Friday, March 15, 2013


In the 1930s there were no two bigger stars than Al Jolson (1886-1950) and Ruby Keeler (1910-1993). They were only married from 1928 to 1940, and by all accounts the marriage was an unhappy one. However, they did adopt a child - Al Jr (1935-2007), who later changed his name to Albert Peter Lowe, and more importantly the marriage left behind some wonderful picture moments of the two great stars. Here are a few of them...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


For every Rita Hayworth or Betty Grable that made it big in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s, there were a ton of equally beautiful starlets that never quite made it. A lot of the Hollywood hopefuls would just go home after failing to become a star, but sadly many of them turned into tragic footnotes on the pages of tinsel town history. Carole Landis never became the star that Grable did, but she was not an unsuccessful starlet either. A lifetime of pain and simply bad luck traveled with Landis wherever she went and her fairytale story in Hollywood did not have the happy ending.

Carole Landis was born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste on Jan. 1, 1919, in Fairchild, WI. Landis moved to California from the Midwest in 1934, and first found work as a hula dancer and a Big Band singer in San Francisco. After signing a studio contract with Warner Bros., she appeared in more than 20 films in 1937 and 1938, including A Star is Born with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and "A Day at the Races" with the Marx Brothers. But Landis usually played bit parts -- cashiers, hat-check girls, secretaries and party guests.

Her big break came when director Hal Roach cast her with Victor Mature in One Million Years B.C. (1940). She followed that with Turnabout (1941), co-starring with Adolph Menjou, and I Wake Up Screaming (1941), with Mature and Betty Grable. Landis continued to star in small films, while the best roles in the biggest films were given to the more established Hollywood stars of the day. The best movie I ever saw Landis in was Moon Over Miami (1941). The star of the film was Betty Grable, but Landis played her bookworm assistant and in my opinion Landis looked more beautiful in the film than Grable.

Landis toured extensively with the USO during World War II, helping to sell War Bonds and entertaining the troops, both in the United States and overseas. She wrote about her experiences in a best-selling book titled, "Four Jills in a Jeep," and also starred in the film version of the book, playing herself. During her entertaining overseas Landis contracted amoebic dysentery and malaria, which she never completely recovered from.

In 1945, Landis married Broadway producer W. Horace Schmidlapp. By 1948, her career was in decline and her marriage with Schmidlapp was collapsing. She entered into a romance with actor Rex Harrison, who was then married to actress Lilli Palmer. Landis was reportedly crushed when Harrison refused to divorce his wife for her; unable to cope any longer, she committed suicide in her Pacific Palisades home at 1465 Capri Drive by taking an overdose of Seconal. She had spent her final night alive with Harrison. The next afternoon, he and the maid discovered her on the bathroom floor. Harrison waited several hours before he called a doctor and the police. Carole Landis died on July 5, 1948 at the young age of 29.  According to some sources, Landis left two suicide notes, one for her mother and the second for Harrison who instructed his lawyers to destroy it. During a coroner's inquest, Harrison denied knowing any motive for her suicide and told the coroner he did not know of the existence of a second suicide note.

I have never been able to watch a Rex Harrison movie after hearing what he did to Carole Landis. No one makes anyone commit suicide, but with the fragile mental state Landis was in, Harrison used her even though he had no intention of leaving his wife. Harrison did not break any laws, except his code of ethics was non existant. Carole Landis deserved better than the life she led. Abuse at home, four failed marriages, and a career that went downhill quick pushed Landis to make a decision that ended a true beauty's life. It was a tragic end to a beautiful actress, but what also was tragic was how short her life was and how much talent she had that was never realized...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Singer Fran Warren sadly has passed away. She died on her 87th birthday on March 4, 2013. Frances Wolfe, known by her stage name, Fran Warren, was an American popular singer and big band vocalist who was born on March 4, 1926. She was born as to a Jewish family in the borough of the Bronx, in New York City. After some time on a chorus line at New York's Roxy Theater, she auditioned with the big band of Duke Ellington at age 16; though she never made it into Ellington's band, she soon became a singer with bands led by Randy Brooks, Art Mooney, Billy Eckstine, Charlie Barnet, and Claude Thornhill.

It was Eckstine who gave her the stage name of Fran Warren. With Charlie Barnet, she replaced Kay Starr as featured vocalist. In 1947, she made the charts for the first time, with the Thornhill band's recording of "A Sunday Kind Of Love" on Columbia Records. She made a number of other records with Thornhill that year.

In 1948 she went solo, signing with RCA Records. On RCA she made a number of recordings, but her biggest hit was a duet with Tony Martin, "I Said My Pajamas (and Put On My Pray'rs)" which reached No. 3 on the charts. Other recordings which she made include more duets with Tony Martin and with Lisa Kirk.

In the early 1950s, after a number of her RCA records failed to chart, she moved to MGM Records. She had a number of records for MGM, making her last chart hit in 1953 with "It's Anybody's Heart". Her long-playing albums included Hey There! Here's Fran Warren, arranged by Marty Paich (Tops, 1957) [1] and Something's Coming, arranged by Ralph Burns and Al Cohn (Warwick, 1960).

Warren appeared as a guest on several television variety programs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and she had a supporting role in the 1952 comedy film Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd. Also in the 1950s, she also started to play in musical comedy, performing in The Pajama Game and Finian's Rainbow and later playing the title role in Mame. She did not neglect her band singing, touring with Harry James in the 1960s. In 1964, she received negative publicity and lost bookings when arrested for marijuana possession.

In the late 1970s, she reconnected with musical director and trumpet player Joe Cabot, with whom she had worked extensively during the 1950s and 1960s. From 1979-1982, they toured together with the musical review The Big Broadcast of 1944, and enjoyed two sold-out engagements at New York City's acclaimed jazz club, Michael's Pub.

She resided in Connecticut until her death on March 4, 2013, her 87th birthday. Fran enjoyed involvement in the Friars Club, Society of Singers and the Copa-Girls. Fran is pre-deceased by her husband Woody Witt, daughter Jody Steinman-Ellentuck and is survived by her beloved daughter Athena (Tina) Witt, son-in-law Larry Grunfeld and two nieces, Audrey, Debbie. Another voice of an unforgettable era has been silenced...

Monday, March 11, 2013


I was so happy to sit down and finally be able to watch an adult movie. I was beginning to forget what live action people look like on the screen. I recently rewatched the masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption (1994). I have always loved the movie, but I had only seen it twice before at least ten years ago. It was about time I gave the film another viewing. Although I have it on DVD, I watched it on  the A&E network - and despite the edits and commericals, it made for a very nice Sunday afternoon viewing.

Adapted from the Stephen King novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who spends nearly two decades in Shawshank State Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money laundering operation. Despite a lukewarm box office reception that barely recouped its budget, the film received favorable reviews from critics, multiple award nominations, and has since enjoyed a remarkable life on cable television, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray.

Directed by Frank Darabont, he secured the film adaptation rights from author Stephen King after impressing the author with his short film adaptation of The Woman in the Room in 1983. Although the two had become friends and maintained a pen-pal relationship, Darabont did not work with him until four years later in 1987, when he optioned to adapt Shawshank. This is one of the more famous Dollar Deals made by King with aspiring filmmakers. Darabont later directed The Green Mile (1999), which was based on another work about a prison by Stephen King, and then followed that up with an adaptation of King's novella The Mist. Rob Reiner, who had previously adapted another King novella, The Body, into the movie Stand by Me (1986), offered $2.5 million in an attempt to write and direct Shawshank. He planned to cast Tom Cruise in the part of Andy and Harrison Ford as Red. Darabont seriously considered and liked Reiner's vision, but he ultimately decided it was his "chance to do something really great" by directing the film himself.

 In 1947, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, based on circumstantial evidence, and is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy quickly befriends contraband smuggler Ellis "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman), an inmate serving a life sentence. Red procures a rock hammer for Andy, allowing him to create small stone chess pieces. Red later gets him a large poster of Rita Hayworth, followed in later years by images of Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch. Andy works in the prison laundry, but is regularly assaulted by the "bull queer" gang "the Sisters" and their leader Bogs (Mark Rolston).

In 1949, Andy overhears the brutal chief guard Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown) complaining about taxes on a forthcoming inheritance, and informs him about a financial loophole. After another vicious assault by the Sisters nearly kills Andy, Bogs is beaten and crippled by Hadley. Bogs is sent to another prison and Andy is not attacked again. Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) meets with Andy and reassigns him to the prison library, to assist elderly inmate Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore); a pretext for Andy to manage financial duties for the prison. His advice and expertise are soon sought by other guards at Shawshank and from nearby prisons. Andy begins writing weekly letters to the state government for funds to improve the decrepit library.

In 1954, Brooks is freed on parole, but unable to adjust to the outside world after 50 years in prison, he hangs himself. Andy receives a library donation that includes a recording of The Marriage of Figaro. He plays an excerpt over the public address system, resulting in his receiving solitary confinement. After his release, Andy explains that he holds onto hope as something that the prison cannot take from him, but Red dismisses the idea. In 1963, Norton begins exploiting prison labor for public works, profiting by undercutting skilled labor costs and receiving kickbacks. He has Andy launder the money using the alias "Randall Stephens".

In 1965, Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows) is incarcerated for robbery. He joins Andy and Red's circle of friends, and Andy helps him to pass his General Educational Development examinations. In 1966, after hearing the details of Andy's case, Tommy reveals that an inmate at another prison claimed responsibility for an identical murder, suggesting Andy's innocence. Andy approaches Norton with this information, but the warden refuses to listen. Norton places Andy in solitary confinement and has Tommy murdered by Hadley under the guise of an escape attempt. Andy refuses to continue with the scam, but Norton threatens to destroy the library and take away his protection and preferential treatment. After Andy is released from solitary confinement, he tells Red of his dream of living in Zihuatanejo, a Mexican Pacific coastal town. While Red shrugs it off as being unrealistic, Andy instructs him, should he ever be freed, to visit a specific hayfield near Buxton to retrieve a package.

The next day at roll call, on finding Andy's cell empty, an irate Norton throws one of Andy's rocks at the poster of Raquel Welch hanging on the wall. The rock tears through the poster, revealing a tunnel that Andy had dug with his rock hammer over the previous two decades. The previous night, Andy escaped through the tunnel and the prison's sewage pipe with Norton's ledger, containing details of the money laundering. While guards search for him the following morning, Andy, posing as Randall Stephens, visits several banks to withdraw the laundered money. Finally, he sends the ledger and evidence of the corruption and murders at Shawshank to a local newspaper. The police arrive at Shawshank and take Hadley into custody, while Norton commits suicide to avoid arrest.

After serving 40 years, Red receives parole. He struggles to adapt to life outside prison and fears he never will. Remembering his promise to Andy, he visits Buxton and finds a cache containing money and a letter, asking him to come to Zihuatanejo. Red violates his parole and travels to Fort Hancock, Texas to cross the border to Mexico, admitting he finally feels hope. On a beach in Zihuatanejo, he finds Andy, and the two friends are happily reunited.

The cast is excellent from Tim Robbins to Morgan Freeman - I can not picture anyone else playing their roles. Jame Whitmore also was great as the aging prison inmate. Another great role in the film was Warden Samuel Norton. Character actor Bob Gunton was perfect as the corrupt warden. I first noticed him when I saw the mini-series Sinatra, and he played bandleader Tommy Dorsey perfectly. I never read the Stephen King book, but I can not picture it being better than this movie, and this is rare. It is amazing that a movie about prisioners and the jail system in the 1940s and 1950s can tug at your heart strings, but this film does. I love King's horror novels, but I have to say I would love for him to write more sentimental books like "The Shawshank Redemption". Hollywood has a history of not getting movies right that they take from a book, but in this case, they certainly did...


Saturday, March 9, 2013


In the 1950s, one of the great voices in popular music was that of Keely Smith. She never became the vocal mega star that Jo Stafford or Doris Day did, but Smith made some wonderful albums during her career. She was born on this day, March 9th, in 1932. Smith showed a natural aptitude for singing at a young age. At 14, she started singing with a naval air station band led by Saxie Dowell. At 15, she got her first paying job with the Earl Bennett band.

Smith made her professional debut with Louis Prima in 1949 (the couple were married in 1953); Smith played the "straight guy" in the duo to Prima's wild antics and they recorded many duets. These include Johnny Mercer's and Harold Arlen's "That Ol' Black Magic", which was a Top 20 hit in the US in 1958. In 1959, Smith and Prima were awarded the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus for "That Ol' Black Magic". Her "dead-pan" act was a hit with fans. The duo followed up with the minor successes "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen", a revival of the 1937 Andrews Sisters hit. Smith and Prima's act was a mainstay of the Las Vegas lounge scene for much of the 1950s.

Smith appeared with Prima in the 1959 film, Hey Boy! Hey Girl!, singing "Fever", and also appeared in and sang on the soundtrack of the previous year's Thunder Road. Her song in Thunder Road was "Whippoorwill". Her first big solo hit was "I Wish You Love". In 1961, Smith divorced Prima. She then signed with Reprise Records, where her musical director was Nelson Riddle. In 1965, she had Top 20 hits in the United Kingdom with an album of Beatles compositions, and a single, "You're Breaking My Heart". Her Reprise recordings have never been made available on CD.

In 1985, she made a comeback with I'm In Love Again (Fantasy Records). Her albums, Swing, Swing, Swing (2002), Keely Sings Sinatra (2001) for which she was Grammy nominated, and Keely Swings Count Basie Style with Strings (2002) garnered critical and fan acclaim. She works a light touring schedule. She was booked at the Cafe Carlyle in New York City in 2007. On February 10, 2008, Smith performed "That Old Black Magic" with Kid Rock at the 50th Grammy Awards. Happy 81st birthday Miss Keely Smith...

Thursday, March 7, 2013


She was the accidental superstar. Fifties and Sixties film icon Kim Novak rarely grants interviews these days but she gave a doozy to Turner Classic Movies' Robert Osborne for Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. The hour-long chat, filmed before a live audience, will air on TCM, followed by four of the star's top films: Picnic (1955), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Bell, Book and Candle (1958) and Of Human Bondage (1964). Novak, still fantastically gorgeous at 80, had a meteoric rise in the business: She went from being a Chicago refrigerator model known as "Miss Deepfreeze" in 1953 to major film star in two short years.

By 1956, she was considered the top box-office star in the world. Novak gave it all up just as quickly, moving from Hollywood to Oregon where she now paints up a storm — she works mostly in watercolors — and lives with her husband of 37 years, veterinarian Robert Malloy.   Though Osborne is, as always, the consummate gentleman, no topic is off limits in his gab session with Novak — not even her alleged affair with Sammy Davis, Jr. that scandalized Hollywood — and the result is one of the most poignant, cathartic, tearful confessionals ever. TV Guide Magazine had a follow-up talk with Novak to find out what triggered the waterworks.  

TV Guide Magazine: We've watched a million stars be interviewed on TV but don't recall any becoming as emotional as you did during your talk with Osborne. At one point you almost have a mini-breakdown. What brought that on?
Novak: I'm an emotional person. I haven't done that many interviews over the years and, I figure, if I'm going to do it, I better give it my all — or don't do it at all. I guess I broke down a bit when we touched on something that feels rather incomplete in my life. Unfinished business, perhaps.  

TV Guide Magazine: You admit to having regrets about the way you retreated from Hollywood, that maybe you should have stayed and battled for quality roles the way other stars did. Are those regrets occasional and fleeting, or do they really haunt you?
Novak: I feel my life is complete because of my art, my painting. But, by the same token, I think I owed my fans more than I gave them. Perhaps I cheated the people who appreciated me and supported me by not sharing more of myself. But what can I say? I took the path that was before me. I'm not the type to clear the trees to make a path. [Laughs] I'm a tree lover! I guess the sad part for me is that the longer I've been out of the business, the better prepared I am to be an actress. I have been so fully living my life, learning the lessons of life, and growing so much as a person and as an artist, that I would be a much better actress now. But I did what I did. I thought I was doing it the right way.

TV Guide Magazine: Yet you left your fans with so many terrific films. Do you find some consolation in that?
Novak: I do. Still, I don't feel I ever reached my potential as an actress. I certainly didn't try to promote myself. I'm not a pushy person so there's always that turmoil for me — do you wait for something to happen or do you make something happen? I've always believed that if something is meant to be, it just works out. Yet I would see other actors fighting for themselves, fighting for the great roles. Which is right? Are you supposed to push the door open or do you wait for an open door? My choice was to move away from Hollywood but I always thought that if a role was really right for me, it would somehow come to me wherever I was.  

TV Guide Magazine: Would you do it differently if you could go back in a time machine?
Novak: [Laughs] Probably not! I never intended to be an actress. I never dreamed of it, never even thought about it. I became one because I was discovered. It literally just happened, as if by magic. I was still in junior college when I visited a movie studio in Hollywood with a friend — we'd both been in San Francisco on a summer modeling job — and I was asked to do a walk-on in the Jane Russell movie The French Line. Soon after, I was placed under contract at Columbia and given starring roles. So it all seemed like destiny, but then my destiny changed when [Columbia chief] Harry Cohn died and the roles coming to me were no longer good ones. They were silly roles in stupid scripts of no value. Beach movies! Or the same-old-same-old glamour parts that offered little that was interesting in the way of character. I left and went into the real world to paint characters that were far more fascinating and satisfying than the ones I was being asked to play.  

TV Guide Magazine: Which of your films do you think shows your greatest potential?
Novak: The early ones with the great scripts. Harry Cohn knew how to buy the most wonderful material. Perhaps Picnic is the one. The work of [playwright] William Inge brought out the best in me. The problem was, Harry Cohn was a dictator. He did everything at that studio! And when he died, it was like the head was cut off. The people who were left behind didn't know how to find a good script. I didn't want to go down the drain, so I ventured out on my own. And, after a while, I had to physically remove myself from town. Nowadays, you can live out of town — anywhere in the world, really — and your team will keep you in the game and make sure you survive. That wasn't the case back then.

TV Guide Magazine: What were your thoughts when you heard your movie Vertigo was picked as the greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound's poll of international film critics? It dethroned Citizen Kane!
Novak: [Laughs] I was just so grateful to be alive to witness it! And, of course, I was wishing Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock could have been around, as well. They were both such magnificent men. How much that would have meant to both of them! Back when we made the film, none of us could have imagined it would have such longevity or acclaim. For all my misgivings about my life and choices in Hollywood, seeing Vertigo voted No. 1 made me think that maybe my trip was really worth it. Maybe I did have a certain amount of value.  

TV Guide Magazine: Seriously? You really needed convincing?
Novak: Oh, sometimes I do. Sure. Sometimes I'll catch a movie on TV — something that's beautifully acted and directed — and I'll cry my eyes out thinking, "I wish I'd done that one!" But then it passes. The next day I'll go out in nature and paint a picture and be truly excited.  

TV Guide Magazine: What's the perfect day for Kim Novak?
Novak: It would include painting, of course, and riding my horse and being with animals. I would be outdoors exploring new territory, experiencing the camaraderie of creatures that know you, that let you in and share their appreciation of life. Then there's more joy in taking all that and expressing it in imagery on canvas. I'm lucky enough to live on a river, where there's always something wonderful and new coming along with the flow. Sure, I have my regrets sometimes, but when I look at life, and the river flowing, I feel nothing but joy in knowing that I've chosen the right path — and I didn't need to cut down any trees to do it...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Since I started collecting music in the 1980s, I always enjoyed the singing of Ginny Simms. As a novice teenager, I did not know much about her, and I compared her singing to being a cross between Dinah Shore and Kate Smith. I do not know if that is a fair assessmentm, because Ginny Simms was so much more. I think Ginny Simms had nearly perfect pitch, second to only Jo Stafford. While Simms never became the star that Dinah Shore or Jo Stafford was, she was an important vocalist in the big band era.

Virginia Ellen Simms was born on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas, on May 25, 1914, the only child of Gertrude Lee of Virginia and Dormer Simms of Alabama.While still in high school, she worked as an usher at her father's theater in the evening. It was at this same time she developed a special skill for the piano, which made her want to become a concert pianist. But eventually, she enrolled in the Fresno State Teachers' College. It didn't take long for Virginia to form a vocal trio called Triad in Blue with two other members from her Sigma Phi Gamma sorority, as a way to earn tuition money. The trio performed at college proms and concerts with local bands. Later, at the urging of friends who heard the trio perform, Virginia would break out as a solo singer--even having her own radio program on a local Fresno radio station. She also took vocal lessons to further her vocal ability; during which time she had an unsuccessful audition for Guy Lombardo. In 1932, though, she got a job as vocalist with the band of Tommy Gerun that played at the famous Bal Tabarin in San Francisco. There, she shared the microphone with fellow singers Tony Martin (then still known as Alvin Morris) and Woody Herman. Unfortunately, radio material has not survived nor were any commercial recordings made by the Gerun band.

In late September 1934, Ginny joined Kay Kyser and His Orchestra as their female vocalist. Kyser's Orchestra had a steady gig at The Blackhawk Club in Chicago, and Ginny would remain with and tour with Kay Kyser for eight years. Eight years with one band is considered rare when you see how vocalists switched from band to band. In the late 1930s, she decided to change her first name from Virginia to Ginny as she is still remembered today. Thanks to their popular weekly radio show, the Kollege of Musical Knowledge (which aired regionally in 1937 on the Mutual Broadcast Network and was then nationally sponsored on NBC in 1938 by Lucky Strike), she achieved national popularity. She ably handled the sweet mid-tempo love ballads, often joined by band mate Harry Babbitt.Her first record with the Kyser band was recorded on the Brunswick label on June 17, 1935, to be followed by many others. Ginny also made three RKO films with Kay Kyser: That's Right, You're Wrong (1939), which co-starred Lucille Ball and Adolphe Menjou; You'll Find Out (1940) and Playmates (1941), which co-starred John Barrymore and Lupe Velez.Between the films "That's Right, You're Wrong" and "You'll Find Out," Ginny decided to undergo plastic surgery on her nose, teeth and parts of her face, as performed by Dr. Joel Pressman, known then as the best plastic surgeon in Hollywood. It is easy to judge that this operation was successful.

In the summer of 1941, Ginny Simms decided to leave the Kyser band (she was replaced by Trudy Erwin) and started her second solo career with a daily 5-minute radio program for Kleenex and a movie contract with RKO Radio Pictures. She continued recording commercially for the Okeh label and then later for Columbia Records. With her increasing popularity, her records sold in the millions. She was dubbed the "official sweetheart" of more than a 100 college fraternities. As one of the major stars of the U.S. music scene, her schedule between her radio show, guest appearances on other programs, films and recording contracts, and live performances, must have been grueling. Despite her busy schedule, Ginny Simms managed to visit all army camps from her native Texas to the Washington State in a 1941 tour-de-force, six months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Throughout World War II and after, Ginny showed great concern for all branches of the Armed Services. Her commitment was acknowledged by President Roosevelt, and she was honored with an invitation to lunch with the Roosevelts at the White House.

In 1943, Ginny joined the roster of stars at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. According to several people who worked in the business at the time, Louis B. Mayer had plans to make her into a big star at the studio. Consequently, the publicists at MGM did their best to make her into a national figure. Prior to her first MGM release, 1944's Broadway Rhythm, which starred George Murphy and Gloria DeHaven and was filmed in Technicolor, MGM publicists got Ginny's pictures in all the papers and national fan magazines. Photo stills of Ginny Simms were issued in great quantity. While a May 8, 1944 Time magazine review of the show felt there was "... plenty of time to doze between the best moments," the article did note there were "... a great many tunes, of which the best remains the 1939 All the Things You Are, as Ginny Simms sings it."Unfortunately, studio head Louis B. Mayer developed a love interest in Ginny and subsequently proposed to her. When she turned him down, stardom at MGM was not to be, and her future as an actress had ended.

After a quick marriage in 1945, her first son, David Martin von Dehn, was born in August 1946, followed by second son Conrad three years later on December 27, 1949. Apart from becoming a mother, 1946 also brought a change of record companies for Ginny Simms. Her contract at Columbia Records expired in December 1945 when Dinah Shore switched from RCA Victor to Columbia Records. Ginny signed with ARA (American Recording Artists), a small, short-lived label based in Los Angeles. She also got a part in Warner Brothers' highly-fictitious portrayal of the life of Cole Porter, Night and Day, wherein Cole was played by Gary Grant. This high-budget musical, shot in glorious Technicolor, gave her the best opportunity in years to show her singing abilities. However, after this high profile film, Ginny would only make one more movie appearance in 1951.

Ginny Simms now signed a recording contract with Sonora Records (with its motto, Clear as a Bell) in 1947. The company issued her only album on 78 rpm, appropriately titled Night and Day, after the recent release of the Warner Bros. movie. She remained very active in radio in the late 1940s. Apart from numerous appearances on Command Performance, Mail Call, Personal Album and other AFRS programs, she had a weekly regular show on CBS for two seasons starting in 1945. The show, appropriately called The Ginny Simms Show was originally sponsored by Borden's Milk, but in 1947 she switched sponsors and sang for the Coca-Cola Co. for a season. From 1950 to 1951, she had a show sponsored by Botany Mills and by August 1951 she sang regularly with Jack Smith on his long-running Tide Show. Her marriage to Hyatt von Dehn grew more and more difficult in the meantime. As a result, she filed for divorce for the first time in June of 1948. After a brief reconciliation, she finally separated from him in January 1950, when their second baby was only four weeks old. She was awarded a divorce in March 1951.

On June 27, 1951 marked Ginny Simms' second wedding day. She married a 33-year-old millionaire oilman, Robert Calhoun, in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel. Even though she was quoted in magazines of the day as saying she had loved Robert Calhoun for years, the newlyweds were already parted by mid-September. When Ginny Simms had a miscarriage in December, the new pair reconciled, but in March 1953, she finally (and again) filed for divorce. She was awarded this divorce a few weeks later in June 1953. In the 1950s, the music style had changed dramatically since the 1940s. According to Variety, these appearances at nightclub were not too successful for Ginny. Her voice had changed, Variety claimed; she didn't have the same timbre and sweetness as in the earlier days. In 1960, Ginny Simms and Pat Boone helped promote the new resort town of Ocean Shores Estates, and Ginny Simms opened and operated the Ginny Simms Restaurant at the Ocean Shores Inn. After her passing in 1994, that restaurant was torn down to make way for the new Shilo Inn.

On June 22, 1962, Ginny Simms got married for the third time. The wedding with groom-to-be, Donald Eastvold, Sr., 42, was performed by Judge Merrill Brown in Miss Simms' home at Thunderbird Heights in Palms Springs. The best man and maid of honor were Mr. and Mrs. Merwyn Bogue. Merwyn Bogue is perhaps best remembered as performer "Ish Kabibble" with the Kay Kyser Orchestra. The wedding reception took place at the North Shore Beach Club on the Salton Sea, 30 miles south of Palm Springs. Donald Eastvold, Sr., former Attorney General of Washington State, became a developer and had a multi-million dollar marine community project there with co-owner oilman Ray Ryan. Sadly on November 20, 1963, Donald filed for divorce while Ginny's father was seriously ill in the hospital. In December that same year, she is quoted as saying she and her estranged husband would not have any reconciliation; she would seek a divorce and only see him as a business partner because their real estate development project would probably continue for another ten to 15 years. However determined this sounded, the pair remained married until Ginny's death in 1994. After her marriage to Don Eastvold, Ms. Simms regularly appeared in her own restaurant in Ocean Shores, Washington. During that time, an independent label produced her last studio LP, appropriately called "Ginny Simms at Ocean Shores."

Ginny Simms' first husband, Hyatt Robert von Dehn, died July 28, 1975, at the age of 58 in Pebble Beach. Ginny Simms died of a heart attack at the Desert Hospital in Palm Springs on April 4, 1994. She was survived by her two sons and her husband Donald. She was followed by her 45-year-old son Conrad on September 2, 1995, who died of cardiopulmonary failure. Donald Eastvold, Sr. succumbed to heart failure in Palm Springs on December 9, 1999. He would have celebrated his 80th birthday less than a month later on January 2, 2000. Ginny Simms might have had trouble with her career and personal life, but one thing is very certain. Ginny Simms had no trouble keeping her fans happy, and every day I try to find more and more recordings from this talented songbird...

Sunday, March 3, 2013


One of the joys of childhood is discovering the classic Walt Disney cartoons. What child does not know the classic songs from Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio.  One of the greatest songs to come out of those movies was "When You Wish Upon A Star". It not only was a great song from the movie Pinocchio, but it in my humble opinion one of the greatest songs ever written. The movie and the song itself have overshadowed the original voice who sang that song - the great Cliff Edwards. Edwards is barely remembered at all except maybe for being the voice of Jiminy Cricket, but he was so much more. Before his 1940 recording of "When You Wish Upon A Star", Edwards had been a great jazz musician and singer for years. His recordings during the jazz era defined a whole genration, but unfortunately Edwards life was not as happy as many of the songs he sung.

Clifton Edwards was born in Hannibal, Missouri., on June 14, 1895. As a child, he sold newspapers and worked in a shoe factory and then ran away from home before finishing school. Before the age of 16, he was singing in St. Louis saloons and, since many of these dives had no piano, he learned how to play the ukulele to provide his own accompaniment. (He tried to attract more tips by planting a dollar bill on his uke.) His first traveling job was working with a carnival pitchman who sold nose whistles in department stores so Edwards learned how to play the kazoo.

In Chicago, Edwards attracted the attention of Joe Frisco, a popular stuttering comedian, who hired Edwards as part of his vaudeville troupe and he eventually ended up playing the Palace Theater on Broadway. Edwards became a star performer in his own right and appeared in Ziegfeld's Midnight Follies, as well as making the rounds of the Keith-Albee circuit of more than 400 vaudeville venues around the country. Edwards adopted the stage name "Ukulele Ike" after a waiter at the Arsonia Cafe in Chicago where he was performing couldn't remember his name and kept calling him "Ike".

Cliff made his first record in 1919, and by the early 1920s he was one of the most popular recording stars, and his record sales was up there with popular crooner Gene Austin. Listening to these early recordings, the audience can really hear what a great jazz sing Edwards was. Recordings like "Fascinating Rhythm", "Hard Hearted Hannah", and "I'll See You In My Dreams" are great examples of a talent at the top of their profession.

After dominating records and vaudville, it was only natural for Edwards to get a call from Hollywood. He caught the eye of movie producer Irving Thalberg, and he signed Edwards to a contract with MGM. His first movie appearance was in the forgotten film "Marianne" in 1928, but his next appearance in "Hollywood Revue of 1929" would be a much better appearance. The movie featured many of MGM's biggest stars of the day like Jack Benny, Marion Davies, and Buster Keaton. The film was basically as the title says a revue. Benny was the master of ceremonies introducing the acts. Cliff Edwards introduced the song "Singin In The Rain" in the film (which would go on to be a hit for Gene Kelly in 1952), and he performed a number of skits. During the movie he befriended comedian Buster Keaton, and they starred in a number of movies together until MGM dropped Edwards in 1933 due to his growing drug use.

In the mid 1930s he moved on to RKO Pictures where he made a series of B-movies. In 1939, he voiced the off-screen dying Confederate soldier in Gone with the Wind in the makeshift hospital scene with Vivien Leigh and Olivia De Havilland casting large shadows on a church wall. In 1940 came his most famous voice role, as Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio. Edwards's rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star" from that film is probably his most familiar recorded legacy. In 1941, he voiced the head crow in Disney's Dumbo and sang "When I See an Elephant Fly". For the rest of his career Cliff Edwards would be associated with Walt Disney. That association would ultimately be as much of a curse as it was a blessing.

Edwards was careless with the money he got in the boom years of the 1920s, always trying to sustain his expensive habits and lifestyle. While he continued working during the Great Depression, he would never again enjoy his former prosperity. Most of his income went to alimony for three former wives and for paying other debts. He declared bankruptcy four times during the 1930s and early 1940s. Edwards married his first wife Gertrude Ryrholm in 1919 but they divorced in 1923. He married his second wife Irene Wylie in 1923, and they divorced in 1931. In 1932, he married his third and final wife actress Judith Barrett. They divorced in 1936. He never had any children.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Edwards wandered around Hollywood from any job he possibly get. His once great singing voice now was weak with the years of alcohol and drug abuse it had endured. He made sporadic appearances on television into the 1960s, where he sometimes appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club. Gone were the glory years of the jazz era and the fame of the 1940s, Edwards faded further and further down a lonely path of isolation and loneliness.

In 1967, the Disneyland record The Further Adventures of Jiminy Cricket was released and according to respected Disney musicologist Greg Ehrbar "deteriorating health had caused Cliff Edward's diction to become slurred and his brilliant comic timing to virtually evaporate in what would be his last Disney recording." In his last years, Edwards sometimes spent his days hanging around the Disney Studio lot in hopes of more work and was occasionally taken to lunch by animators eager to hear his tales of the golden age of vaudeville.

He was no longer officially employed by Disney when he entered a nursing home in Hollywood in 1969 as a charity patient supported by the Actor's Fund. The Disney Company quietly paid Edwards' medical expenses as well.

At the time of his death from a heart attack at the Virgil Convalescent Hospital on July 17, 1971, at the age of 76, Edwards' passing wasn't reported to the public for several days because hospital officials didn't consider it newsworthy since they didn't know he had ever been famous. His body was initially unclaimed and donated to the UCLA medical school. When Walt Disney Productions, which had been paying many of his medical expenses, found out about this, it offered to purchase the corpse and pay for the burial.

Thirteen years after Edwards' death, Disney provided a marker for the performer's grave when the lack of a proper headstone was reportedly brought to the company's attention by the Ukulele Society of America. In addition to his name and years of life, the marker simply reads, "In loving memory of Ukulele Ike."

Cliff Edwards was so much more than Ukelele Ike or Jiminy Cricket, he was really a great jazz artist. I would put his recordings of the mid 1920s up against anything put out by Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang at the time. Like so many other talented people in Hollywood, that talent was masked by some true demons. Who knows what heights Cliff Edwards' career would have taken had he not plunged into alcohol and drug addiction. Whenever I hear Edwards sing the optimistic song "When You Wish Upon A Star", I can not help but to feel a little sad at what a lonely life he led. People may not know who Cliff Edwards is, but it is gratifying that young fans at least fall in love with the Jiminy Cricket character that Edwards created, and a whole new generation is wishing upon a star...