Monday, September 30, 2013


In 1942 “Skylark” appeared on the pop chart four times. The first recording was by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra featuring vocalist Ray Eberle, and it rose to number seven. All told, the hit recordings were:

Glenn Miller (1942, Ray Eberle, vocal, #7)
Harry James (1942, Helen Forrest, vocal, #11)
Dinah Shore (1942, with Rosario Bourdon and His Orchestra, #5)
Bing Crosby (1942, with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra, #14)

Hoagy Carmichael originally wrote the composition that would become “Skylark” for a musical about his deceased friend, Bix Beiderbecke. The song’s melody is said to have been based on Beiderbecke solos, at least the phrasing, a claim supported by the composition’s original title, “Bix Lix” (“Bix Licks”). Though the musical did not get produced, Carmichael reworked the composition and passed the melody on to Johnny Mercer who, some months later, called Hoagy and sang him “Skylark.” By that time Carmichael had forgotten he wrote it!

“Skylark” was the second in what Richard Sudhalter in his Carmichael biography Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael calls Carmichael’s “musical aviary.” First came “Mr. Bluebird” (1935) with lyrics by Carmichael, and finally there was “Baltimore Oriole” (1942) with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster (“I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good”).

In his Mercer biography titled Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer, Philip Furia explains the yearning expressed in “Skylark” as a voicing of the lyricist’s longing for Judy Garland with whom he had a stormy affair. Mercer told a friend that he wrote “I Remember You” for Garland and that “One for My Baby” (1943) bemoaned her loss.

Johnny Mercer claimed that “Skylark” was not inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley’s (1792-1822) poem, “To a Skylark,” although the similarities cannot be ignored. Both men were sad geniuses who turned to the skylark for answers: Mercer, with regard to romance queries, “Won’t you tell me where my love can be?” Shelley, with broader concerns, requests, “Teach me half the gladness, That thy brain must know...”


Friday, September 27, 2013


Even though I was born over twenty years after dancer Eleanor Powell's last movie, I have had a crush on her for years. Not only was she a great dancer - not just a great dancer but one of the best female tap dancers, but she was a true beauty as well. She only made a few movies in her short time in Hollywood, but every movie was better because Eleanor was in it. Fred Astaire had many leading ladies and dance partners during his career. He made a string of movies with Ginger Rogers. However, Eleanor Powell was the only female partner who could keep up with Astaire, and at times nearly out dance the famed hoofer.

Eleanor Powell was born on November 21, 1912, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Powell studied ballet at age six and began dancing in Atlantic City nightclubs before she was a teenager. She joined the Co-Optimists dance troupe in New York City in 1928, about the time she began to study tap dancing. The following year she was a headline performer at New York’s prestigious Casino de Paris nightclub, and she made her Broadway debut in the musical Follow Through. She signed a Hollywood contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and she first danced onscreen as a featured performer in George White’s Scandals (1935). Within a few years, she ranked as MGM’s top female dancer (with the possible exception of Ginger Rogers), and the studio created lavish screen vehicles tailored specifically to her talents. In such films as Born to Dance (1936), Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), Rosalie (1937), Honolulu (1939), Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), and Lady Be Good (1941), Powell exhibited an assertive, athletic style of tap dancing that was unique among female dancers of the era. As Fred Astaire observed, “She ‘put ’em down’ like a man, no ricky-ticky-sissy stuff with Ellie. She really knocked out a tap dance in a class by herself.”

Because of her dominating style and commanding virtuosity, she was not generally cast opposite male dancers—of whom there were few in her league—but rather was placed in roles in which her “independent woman” persona was showcased in solo dance routines. Only Astaire was her onscreen equal; their duet to Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” in Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) is probably Powell’s best-known dance number. More often, however, her leading men—including Robert Taylor, Robert Young, James Stewart, Jack Benny, and Red Skelton—handled the comedy and drama, leaving Powell to concentrate on all things terpsichorean.

Following Broadway Melody of 1940 Powell was sidelined for many months following a gall stone operation and things changed somewhat for the worse, at least as far as Powell's movie career was concerned. 1941's Lady Be Good gave Powell top billing and a classic dance routine to "Fascinatin' Rhythm", but Robert Young and Ann Sothern were the actual stars of the film. The same happened with Red Skelton in Ship Ahoy (1942) and I Dood It (1943), although in Ship Ahoy her character nonetheless played a central role in the story, and Powell's dance skills were put to practical use when she manages to tap out a morse code message to a secret agent in the middle of a dance routine.

She was signed to play opposite Dan Dailey in For Me and My Gal in 1942, but the two actors were removed from the picture during rehearsals and replaced by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. Later, production of a new Broadway Melody film that would have paired Powell with Kelly was also cancelled.

She parted ways with MGM in 1943 after her next film, Thousands Cheer, in which she appeared only for a few minutes to perform a specialty number (as part of an all-star cast), and the same year married Canadian-born lead actor Glenn Ford.

Despite her enormous popularity, Powell appeared in only 14 films during her career and largely retired after her marriage to actor Glenn Ford in 1943. She returned to star in Sensations of 1945 (1944), in which she performed a surreal number, dancing inside a giant pinball machine, and to perform a dance routine in Duchess of Idaho (1950). She hosted a religious television series, The Faith of Our Children, from 1953 to 1955. After her divorce from Ford in 1959, she performed for a few years in musical revues in New York and Las Vegas to great acclaim. In 1965 the Dance Masters of America bestowed upon her the title of World’s Greatest Tap Dancer.

In 1981, Eleanor made a rare appearance at the American Film Institute award ceremony for Fred Astaire. Even though she was almost 70, Powell still hade the beautiful and grace she always had in all of her movies. It is too bad she could not talk Astaire into dancing with her one more time. Around the same time Eleanor was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She tried fighting the disease and told people "I am going to fight, but my life as always is in God's hands". She would lose the battle on February 11, 1982 in Beverly Hills, California. A great talent was silenced, but her taps will go on forever...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Richard Nixon's helicopter once landed on the back lawn so the president could play a round at the nearby Lakeside Golf Club. Lucille Ball and Jack Benny drank and gossiped at the holiday parties in the living room. And the homeowner, Bob Hope, tried out punch lines on his kids in the dining room. For the first time since the long-lived entertainer built his home in a San Fernando Valley walnut grove in 1939, Hope's 5.16-acre Toluca Lake estate goes on the market Monday, at an asking price of $27.5 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. The compound that Hope shared with his wife, Dolores, and their four children has a nearly 15,000-square-foot house, a golf hole, an indoor pool and a manicured rose garden.

The flat, sprawling lot is unusual for the upscale neighborhood and others like it; in Toluca Lake and similar ZIP Codes in Sherman Oaks, Encino, Studio City, Bel-Air, Holmby Hills and Beverly Hills, there are only 22 properties of more than five acres that belong to a single owner, according to a property search conducted by the estate. The comedian and movie star collected real estate and at one point was one of California's largest individual property owners, holding some 10,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley alone. But it was the house at 10346 Moorpark St. that he considered home, according to his daughter, Linda Hope, who still lives a few blocks away.

"The Moorpark house is a very special property in the Valley and something that meant a whole lot to my mother and dad," she said. "They built what for them was kind of a dream house." The sale will mark a major change in the neighborhood that the Hopes helped to shape. The home, which is listed with Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker and Drew Fenton of Hilton & Hyland, has grown and evolved over the years. Architect Robert Finkelhor designed the original English traditional-style main house, and in the 1950s, John Elgin Woolf renovated it in a more contemporary style, using glass to accommodate Dolores' desire to bring the expansive feeling of the grounds inside.

The Hopes left many belongings for their heirs to sort and distribute, a process that has taken years: multiple auctions of items such as Bob's golf cart and Dolores' Chinese porcelain, a sale at St. Charles Borromeo Church and a garage sale at the home that had lines stretching down Moorpark. Another Hope home, in Palm Springs, a modernist estate that architect John Lautner designed to resemble a volcano, went on the market in February with an asking price of $50 million and has yet to find a buyer. "Putting the Moorpark house on the market, in a way it's a light at the end of the tunnel," Linda Hope said. "It's been an occupation for two years at least. Every time we'd open a closet, we'd go, 'Ahh!' " One amusing find, particularly given the Hopes' vast wealth, was bags of quarters — Dolores' winnings from years of playing gin rummy with actor Telly Savalas. The six-bedroom, seven-bathroom main house has been staged for sale with contemporary furnishings, but elements of the Hopes' lifestyle dot the property, including the giant "H" in the iron entry gates.

When Bob Hope traveled, often on one of his 57 tours to entertain the U.S. military, Dolores liked to add a room or two. "When Dad came back, Mother would joke that he'd need a road map to find the bedroom," Linda Hope said. The estate was designed around the particular needs of the Hopes, including privacy, with large trees bordering the grounds, and a 4,000-square-foot front office building for the staff that managed the Hopes' very successful businesses in radio, television, film and real estate. Bob Hope died in 2003 and his wife Dolores died in 2012...


Monday, September 23, 2013


My childhood was not always 100% happy, but any memory I have of watching movies or television at a young brinbs back nothing but fond memories. One of those memories is watching "Ma and Pa Kettle" movies on Sunday morning. The movies series would rotate with other movie series like Abbott and Costello and "Blondie". I never get tired of watching Ma and Pa Kettle, and one of the reasons I loved the series was because of its star Marjorie Main.

Born Mary Tomlinson in Acton, Indiana on February 24, 1890, Main attended Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, and adopted a stage name to avoid embarrassing her father, Samuel J. Tomlinson (married to Jennie L. McGaughey), who was a minister. She worked in vaudeville on the Chautauqua and Orpheum Circuits, and debuted on Broadway in 1916. Her first film was A House Divided in 1931.

Main began playing upper class dowagers, but was ultimately typecast in abrasive, domineering, salty roles, for which her distinct voice was well suited. She repeated her stage role in Dead End in the 1937 film version, and was subsequently cast repeatedly as the mother of gangsters. She again transferred a strong stage performance, as a dude ranch operator in The Women, to film in 1939. Main was signed to a MGM contract in 1940, and stayed with the studio until the mid-1950s. She made six films with Wallace Beery in the 1940s including Barnacle Bill (1941), Jackass Mail (1942), and Bad Bascomb (1946). She played Sonora Cassidy, the chief cook, in The Harvey Girls (1945). The director, George Sidney, says in the comments on the film that Miss Main was a "great lady" as well as a great actress who donated most of her paychecks over the years to the support of a school.

Perhaps her most famous role is that of "Ma Kettle", which she first played in The Egg and I in 1947 opposite Percy Kilbride as "Pa Kettle". She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the part and portrayed the character in nine more Ma and Pa Kettle films.

By the early 1950s, she had appeared in a majority of MGM musicals, including, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Belle of New York and It's a Big Country. In 1954, Marjorie Main played her last roles for the studio; Mrs. Hittaway in The Long, Long Trailer and Jane Dunstock in Rose Marie. In 1956, Main was well-received as The Widow Hudspeth in the hit film Friendly Persuasion. In 1958, Main appeared twice as rugged frontierswoman Cassie Tanner in the episodes "The Cassie Tanner Story" and "The Sacramento Story" on NBC's western television series, Wagon Train. In the first segment, she joins the wagon train, casts her romantic interest on Ward Bond as Major Adams, and helps the train locate needed horses despite a Paiute threat. George Chandler guest stars as Cleveland McMasters in the first segment. In 1964, she appreared on an episode of Perry Mason.

Main was married to in 1921 to Stanley LeFevre Krebs, who died in 1935. She never had children or even remarried. In 1974, a year before her death, Main attended the Los Angeles premiere of the MGM compilation film That's Entertainment. It was her first public appearance since she retired from films in 1958. At the post-premiere party, she was greeted with cheers of enthusiasm from the crowd of spectators. However at the time she already was quite ill with cancer. She died of lung cancer on April 10, 1975 at St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been admitted on April 3, at the age of 85. Her name is listed on her headstone as Mrs. Mary Tomlinson Krebs, with her stage name Marjorie Main underneath...

Friday, September 20, 2013


Fred Astaire danced with some of the most talented leading ladies from Ginger Rogers to Cyd Charisse. Many people would agree that he never danced with anyone better than Rogers, but Astaire danced with numerous leading ladies over his forty year career in Hollywood. Not every dancer Astaire made a movie with spelled success or are remembered as Ginger Rogers was. After Rogers, Fred Astaire made a lot of movies with different actresses in the early to mid 1940s.

After leaving RKO in 1939, Astaire made his way to Paramount Studios. The studio teamed Astaire with Bing Crosby, and since the men were the stars of 1942′s Holiday Inn, the studio could cast females who weren’t necessarily name above the title types. Thus Marjorie Reynolds (1917-1997) and Virginia Dale (1917-1994) got their chances to dance with the master. Rewatching the movie, Reynolds danced with Astaire better than Dale did. Virginia Dale's main number with the famed dancer was "You're Easy To Dance With". Dale looks like at the most she is making all of her steps, but she looks heavy footed. It is definitely not a comfortable or graceful pair. Astaire does much better with Marjorie Reynolds. Reynolds could not sing a lick, but her dancing is much better than Virginia Dale's attempted moves. Reynolds and Astaire's best number was "Be Careful It's My Heart". It is a graceful and elegant slow dance, I could have seen the dancing duo making another movie together but they never did. However, after this film both actress-dancers returned to B films and faded from public view — although Reynolds had a brief comeback on TV as the wife on the popular Fifties situation comedy, The Life of Riley, starring William Bendix as the bumbling Chester Riley.

At the age of 18, beautiful actress Joan Leslie (born 1925) was paired with Astaire in the film The Sky's The Limit. The score was written by Johnny Mercer, but not much greatness came out of the movie except for the song "One For My Baby". Astaire did a great job on the song, but it became the unofficial anthem of Frank Sinatra in the 1950s. All dances were choreographed by and credited to Astaire alone, another unusual departure for him, as he generally worked with collaborators. What is not unusual is the selection of dance routines, which is the standard Astaire formula of a comic partnered routine, a romantic partnered routine and a "sock" solo, each of which is seamlessly integrated into the plot. Joan Leslie is one of the most beautiful actresses in the 1940s, but she could sing as well as she could dance. The only good dance numbers were the ones that Astaire did on his own.

Lucille Bremer (1917-1996) was an accomplished dancer under contract to MGM. She was a former Radio City Hall Rockette who had been on Broadway, and after signing with the studio was given a big push. She was Judy Garland’s older sister in Meet Me in St. Louis, then given a starring part opposite Astaire in Yolanda and the Thief, released in 1945. She danced with him again in two sequences for The Ziegfeld Follies (1946). But then, after Til the Clouds Roll By, she seemed to fall out of favor with Mayer and producer Arthur Freed. In later years it was reported that after singer Ginny Simms turned down Louis B. Mayer's advances that he turned to Lucille Bremer who became his secret girlfriend for awhile. When she broke up with him, he basically made sure she would never be a huge star. I never thought she danced well with Astaire. Her best dance scene was with Van Johnson in Til The Clouds Roll By, but then again Bremer looked good dancing next to Johnson. In any event it was deemed that she hadn’t scored with the public. Her career languished. Whether it was the studio’s, or Bremer’s decision, her contract wasn’t renewed. She starred in a few non dancing roles, then retired.

After dancing with Joan Caulfield and Olga San Juan in another Bing Crosby film, Blue Skies (1946) Astaire retired from movies yet again. However, he was a work alcoholic and he was coaxed back to working by MGM and an injured Gene Kelly for Easter Parade (1948) with Judy Garland. Throughout the 1950s Fred Astaire kept dancing with new, younger partners. like Vera-Ellen, Jane Powell, Leslie Caron, Audrey Hepburn, and Cyd Charisse. No matter how big, or small their careers might be the women who danced with Fred Astaire on screen are in a class by themselves...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Interesting story I found...

On this night in 1957, Louis Armstrong, in his hotel room in Grand Forks, North Dakota, blew his top over the Little Rock Central High School integration crisis, blasting Governor Orval Faubus for being "two-faced" and President Dwight Eisenhower for having "no guts" to let Faubus call in the National Guard in to prevent black students from integrating the high school. "The way they are treating m...y people in the South, the government can go to hell," he barked. "It's getting so bad a colored man hasn't got any country."

Armstrong put his entire career on the line to speak out against injustice as his September 17 North Dakota comments made headlines around the world. However, a recently discovered private reel-to-reel tape owned by Armstrong found the trumpeter venting about Faubus and the Little Rock situation to interviewers on September 8 and September 10. He had spent over a week telling anyone who would listen about the injustice going on in Little Rock but it wasn't until reporter Larry Lubenow of North Dakota ran with Armstrong's September 17 comments that the story blew up.

Armstrong received little support at the time, instead getting more criticism from both the white and black press. Today, his stance is celebrated as a landmark moment in Civil Rights. He knew what he had done. He cut out various clipping about the incident, wrapped them in Scotch tape and stuck them in a scrapbook. This is Armstrong's copy of a Pittsburgh Courier story about his Little Rock comments, containing some of his fiercest comments...


Monday, September 16, 2013


Peg LaCentra, born on April 10, 1910, grew up in Boston. She very briefly attended the New England Conservatory of Music, studying piano. She also attended the Katharine Gibbs Finishing School and the Fenway Academy of Dramatic Art, as her early goal was to become an actress. Before moving to New York in 1931, she was an announcer at Boston radio station WNAC. Once she hit New York, she soon joined NBC as a singer and actress.

While singing with Dick McDonough's Orchestra on "The Mell-O-Roll Ice Cream Show," in 1936, Peg met Artie Shaw, then a sideman with McDonough. Shaw told her he was organizing his own orchestra and needed a singer. She joined Shaw in the summer of 1936, performing at the Lexington Hotel, the Paramount Theater in New York and on recordings. So Peg has the distinction of being Shaw's first vocalist. After Shaw's band broke up about a year later, she sang on radio with Benny Goodman. She and Goodman did not get along, and she quickly rejoined Artie Shaw when he formed another orchestra.

Although a good singer, Peg recorded very little; her recording output is confined to the 1930s. She recorded under her own name and, in addition to Shaw, with the orchestras of Victor Young and Johnny Green. In 1939, she was given her own program on NBC, "The Peg LaCentra Show."

She later appeared in a number of films and episodic TV, particularly dubbing non-singing actresses. The most famous of these are Susan Hayward in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) and Ida Lupino in The Man I Love (1947) and Escape Me Never (1947). She appeared (as herself) in the background of Joan Crawford's Humoresque (1946), singing. In 1957, she had a leading role on the television sitcom The Marge and Gower Champion Show, but she did not stay active in show business.

In 1939, Peg married radio actor Paul Stewart, an original member of Orson Welles' "Mercury Theater of the Air." They remained married until his death in 1986. They never had any children. She passed away of a heart attack on June 1, 1996, at her home in Los Angeles. She was 86.

There is a rare LaCentra compact disc out there just dedicated entirely to her Shaw vocals. However, the issue is quite and expensive when you do find it online. Most of my recordings of her come from Artie Shaw's reissues. However, his early band which Peg sang for is largely forgotten. Peg LaCentra never gained the recognition that other Artie Shaw vocalists had like Helen Forrest, but she was a quite capable singer who worked well with the early Shaw band. Like many of the "vocal refrain" singers of the big band era, she is largley forgotten now. However, she was one of the reasons why the big band era was so big...

Friday, September 13, 2013


On this day, September 13th (Friday the 13th this year), one of the greatest actresses of classic Hollywood was born. Claudette Colbert was born on this day in 1903. She was born Émilie "Lily" Chauchoin (pronounced “show-shwa”) was in Saint-Mandé (an eastern suburb of Paris), France to Georges Claude Chauchoin (1867-1925) and Jeanne Marie (née Loew, 1877-1970). Despite being christened "Emilie", she was called "Lily", because she had an aunt living with her by the name of Emilie. The aunt was her maternal grandmother's adopted child, Emilie Loew (1878-1954), who wasn't a blood relative, worked as a dressmaker, and never married. Colbert's nickname "Lily" came from Jersey-born actress Lillie Langtry. Jeanne Chauchoin and Colbert's grandmother Marie Augustine Loew (1842-1930) were born in the Channel Islands in the British Isles, and they were already fluent English speakers before coming to the U.S., though French was spoken in the family circle. Colbert's brother, Charles Auguste Chauchoin (1898–1971), was also born in Jersey.

Jeanne held various occupations. While Georges Chauchoin had lost the sight in his right eye and hadn't settled into a profession, he was a pastry-shop owner in Paris and also worked in banking business but made some inappropriate investments. Marie Loew had already been to the U.S., and Georges' brother-in-law (surname Vedel) was already living in New York City. Marie was willing to help Georges financially but also encouraged him to try his luck in the U.S. After suffering business setbacks, in order to pursue more employment opportunities, her family including Marie and Emilie Loew emigrated into Manhattan in 1906. They lived in a fifth-floor walk-up at 53rd Street. Colbert stated that climbing those stairs to the fifth floor every day until 1922 made her legs beautiful. Her parents formally changed her real name to Lily Emilie Chauchoin. Georges Chauchoin worked as a minor official at First National City Bank. Colbert quickly learned English from her grandmother Marie Loew before entering public school and remained fluent in French. She had hoped to become a painter since she could first grasp a pencil. In 1912 her family was naturalized in the U.S. Colbert studied at Washington Irving High School (known for having a strong arts program), where her speech teacher, Alice Rossetter, encouraged her to audition for a play Rossetter had written.

In 1919, Colbert made her stage debut at the Provincetown Playhouse in The Widow's Veil at the age of 15. However, Colbert’s interest in the arts still leaned towards painting. Intending to become a fashion designer, she attended the Art Students League of New York, where she paid for her art education by working as a dress-shop employee. After attending a party with the writer Anne Morrison, Colbert was offered a bit part in Morrison's play and appeared on the Broadway stage in a small role in The Wild Westcotts (1923). Influenced by her father's middle name Claude, she had been using the name Claudette instead of her first name Lily since high school, and for her stage name she added her maternal grandmother's maiden name Colbert. She formally changed her real name to Lily Claudette Chauchoin. Her father Georges died in 1925 and her grandmother Marie Loew died in New York in 1930.

After signing a five-year contract with the producer Al Woods, Colbert played ingenue roles on Broadway from 1925 through 1929. During this period she disliked being typecast as a French maid. Colbert later said, "In the very beginning, they wanted to give me French roles … That’s why I used to say my name Col-bert just as it is spelled instead of Col-baire. I did not want to be typed as ‘that French girl’". She received critical acclaim on Broadway in the production of The Barker (1927) as a carnival snake charmer. She reprised this role for the play's run in London's West End. Colbert was noticed by the theatrical producer Leland Hayward, who suggested her for the heroine role in For the Love of Mike (1927), a silent film now believed to be lost. The film didn't fare well at the box office.

In 1928 Colbert signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, which was looking for stage actors who could handle dialogue in the new "talkies" medium. Colbert's skill as a speaker was one of her best assets, but at first she didn't like film acting. Her earliest films were produced in New York. During production of the 1929 film The Lady Lies, she was appearing nightly in the play See Naples and Die. In 1930 she starred opposite Maurice Chevalier in The Big Pond, which was filmed in both English and French. She co-starred with Fredric March in Manslaughter (1930), receiving critical acclaim for her performance as a woman charged with vehicular manslaughter. She was paired with March in four productions, including Honor Among Lovers (1931) with Ginger Rogers. While these films were box office successes, she also starred in Mysterious Mr. Parkes (1931), which was a French-language version of Slightly Scarlet for the European market, although it was also screened in the United States. She sang opposite Maurice Chevalier in the Ernst Lubitsch musical The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), which was a box office success. Decades of great roles and movies followed, and the rest is classic Hollywood history...



I am a huge fan of comedian Jerry Colonna, and it looks like other celebrities were as well. Jerry had one of the most charming personalities, so I thought it would be interesting to showcase some pictures of Jerry with his "friends"...

Jerry with Mickey Dolenz

Jerry with Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman

Jerry with Artie Shaw
Jerry with Ray Anthony and Mickey Rooney

Jerry with Patsy Kelly

Jerry with Bob Hope and President Lyndon Johnson

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


When I used to exchange music more with friends who liked the great music, I had a lot of friends in England. It was wonderful because I got introduced to some wonderful British singer that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. One such great singer, who died to young, was Dickie Valentine Valentine was born Richard Maxwell (his birth father was Dickie Maxwell) on November 4, 1929 in Marylebone, London. He was known as Richard Bryce, as his mother later married Bryce, and gave her young son that surname.

His first acting job was at age three, when he appeared in the Jack Hulbert/Cicely Courtneidge film Jack's the Boy. He first trained as a singer during his work as a child actor, and during that time developed a flexible vocal style and skills as an impersonator of famous singers. He was overheard singing by actor-singer Bill O'Connor while working as a call boy at Her Majesty's Theatre, and encouraged him to take lessons. Since he could not afford them, O'Connor paid for them.

He sang in clubs and learned stagecraft to help gain confidence and experience. While he was in his late teens, he was singing at the Panama Club one night when music publisher Sid Green saw him and brought him to the attention of Ted Heath. On Valentine's Day 1949, Valentine, who at the time was relatively unknown, was signed by Ted Heath to join his band, Ted Heath and his Music, as a singer to work alongside Lita Roza and Denis Lotis. He was voted the Top UK Male Vocalist in 1952 while singing with the Ted Heath Orchestra, the most successful of all British big bands, and again after going solo in 1954.

In November 1954, Valentine was invited to sing at the Royal Command Performance, and in February 1955 he was top billed at the London Palladium. Not only did he sing, he also did jokes and impersonated many people, including Johnnie Ray, Frankie Laine, Mario Lanza, and Billy Daniels. He recorded two number one hits, "Christmas Alphabet" and "Finger of Suspicion" (my favorite of his recordings). His first chart-topper came only two months after his marriage to Elizabeth Flynn at Caxton Hall, which caused scenes of hysteria and was widely expected to sound the death knell to his career. In fact, 1955 was by far his best chart year, with two number ones and three other Top Ten hits. While his second number one saw Valentine playing King Canute to Bill Haley's incoming tide of rock and roll, "Christmas Alphabet" marked the first time in the UK that a song created for the Christmas market hit number one. In April 1955, Valentine again topped the bill at the London Palladium for two weeks, a month after winning the male vocalist category in the NME poll. He went on to win this title consecutively from 1953 to 1957.

He married Elizabeth Flynn, a professional ice skater, in 1954. They had two children together, Richard and Kim, but divorced in 1967. Valentine married the actress Wendy Wayne in 1968.

In 1961, he had a television series Calling Dickie Valentine. In 1966 Valentine partnered with Peter Sellers on the ATV sketch show The Dickie Valentine Show, but it did not last long. Due to the rise of rock 'n' roll, Valentine's fame began to wane during the 1960s, he remained a popular live performer until his death.

Travelling to his next gig at the Double Diamond Club in Caerphilly, Wales, he was killed outright in a car crash on a single lane bridge at Glangrwyney, near Crickhowell, Wales on May 6, 1971, at the age of 41, together with pianist Sidney Boatman and drummer Dave Pearson, aged 42. The coroner's inquest revealed the car in which the three were travelling to have been driven in excess of 90 mph at time of impact, and that Valentine — who was driving his wife Wendy's Hillman Avenger, with which he was unfamiliar, (he was awaiting delivery of his new customised car) — had lost control of the vehicle while attempting to take a (clearly marked) dangerous bend. Valentine had travelled on that stretch of road many times and was familiar with the hazards. It was thought Valentine's attention might have been distracted by conversation with his friends, in addition to tiredness (the crash having happened at 4.20am). It was also noted that there was heavy fog at that time.

Like his American counterparts like Guy Mitchell and Johnnie Ray, the change in the music industry and society as a whole, caused Dickie Valentine's career to go downhill, but it did not stop him from making music, and it did not stop his fans from enjoying his records. Even with his sad young death, Valentine left behind great examples of his talents that are available on records and now even CDs...

Monday, September 9, 2013


By the time the 1940’s and 1950’s arrived women directors were virtually unheard of in Hollywood. Those women who had influenced the film industry from its inception, and who were in fact responsible for much of film’s initial popularity, had names no one mentioned, remembered or recognized. Ida Lupino’s name was known but as it appeared in front of the camera. She had been a successful actress for years, having given strong.

With performances in films like High Sierra and They Drive by Night. But in the late 1940’s, Lupino wanted more creative control over her projects. The opportunity for this was never going to happen unless she started her own production company. She did so, The Filmakers, with her then husband, Collier Young. The Filmakers shot their films on location with small budgets and tackled subjects Hollywood didn’t want to go near – taboos at the time and even now to some degree – unwed motherhood and bigamy were two. After producing two films with her new production company, Lupino began production on a new script she had written called Not Wanted. Director Elmer Clifton had a heart attack on the 3rd day of shooting and Lupino took over and directed the entire picture. She declined directorial credit on the film but it was her first endeavor as director. Ida Lupino would go on to direct six movies for The Filmakers from 1949 through 1953. No other woman could boast a similar accomplishment.

After four "woman's" films about social issues – including Outrage (1950), a film about rape – Lupino directed her first hard-paced, fast-moving film, The Hitch-Hiker (1953), making her the first woman to direct a film noir. Femmes fatales, sure — these stories could scarcely exist without them — but women behind the camera? To add a layer of irony on top of the unlikeliness, The Hitch-hiker does away with any trace of overt womanly presence. By the time we get to know the film’s hapless protagonists, a couple of buddies who look and act like fresh-cut slabs of all-American blandness, they’ve already told their wives they’re off to a fishing trip, and they’ll get back when they get back. Bearing straight south down the open road, no sooner do they reach Mexico than they pick up a hitchhiker. By the time they come to understand that this black-clad, lumpy-featured fellow has killed before, may well kill again, and intends to mount a ceaseless campaign of psychological manipulation in order to get a ride to his freedom, we understand why hitchhiking has gone out of style.

Lupino’s film doesn’t just remove the women from the noir formula; it leaves aside most of the darkness implicit in the genre’s very name. Apart from a few tense nighttime scenes and a climactic chase through an after-hours shipyard, the bulk of The Hitch-hiker‘s action takes place under a harsh Mexican sun that bleaches out nearly everything but the jagged shadows cast by unearthly rock formations along the empty road. Though actually shot on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the movie takes its foreign setting seriously, offering several relatively extended sequences and exchanges conducted entirely in untranslated Spanish. By the standards of midcentury American genre film, this nearly counts as an act of radical artistic experimentation. Yes, The Hitch-hiker plays a bit broadly today and leans on a few tropes that must have seemed creaky even in 1953, but it remains an unusual enough entry in noir history to merit attention — and not just because of the sex of the director.

Her films are all emotional, affecting, melodramas despite their measly budgets. The outcome of Lupino’s films always seems neutral where even the person doing wrong is not blamed for it in the end – no judgment. Her protagonists are ordinary people so her films did not feature the glamour Hollywood wanted and expected at that time. I expect it was either a result of the difficulty of getting funds in order to produce more movies, or perhaps the lack of funds in order to compete in marketing her films given the competition at the time, or simply a lack of interest in a small budget film directed by a woman, but Lupino’s directing of feature films did not last. In order to continue her directing she moved on to the small screen and directed many, many episodes of popular television shows. Ida Lupino continued to direct in television well into the 1970’s and I would say, became a pioneer in that medium as well...

Friday, September 6, 2013


I never thought I'd live to see a Hollywood scene with no Jack Nicolson. He’ll still sit court side at Los Angeles Lakers’ games, but Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson has quietly retired from the movie business, has exclusively learned. The 76-year-old icon has no plans to appear in films again after a career spanning five decades. “Jack has — without fanfare — retired,” a well-placed Hollywood film insider confirmed to Radar. “There is a simple reason behind his decision — it’s memory loss. Quite frankly, at 76, Jack has memory issues and can no longer remember the lines being asked of him. There is not word if the memory loss is due to dementia or other memory diseases. “His memory isn’t what it used to be.” The three-time Academy Award winner has not worked since How Do You Know in 2010 starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson.

Tellingly, producers for the forthcoming film Nebraska had wanted him to play the key role of an aging, booze-addled father who makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. The role ultimately went to Bruce Dern, after Nicholson advised the filmmakers that he was not interested, the source said.

Nicholson began his Hollywood career in the 1950s, first working as a gofer for animation legends William Hanna and Joseph Barbera at the MGM cartoon studio. He left soon after to pursue his dream to star on screen. The New Jersey-native made his film debut in a low-budget teen drama The Cry Baby Killer, in 1958, playing the title role. He’s best remembered for his Academy Award winning roles as Best Actor for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and for As Good as It Gets. He also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1983 film Terms of Endearment. Nicholson has been nominated for a record-setting 12 Oscars, eight for Best Actor and four for Best Supporting Actor, making him the most nominated male actor in Academy Awards history. “Jack has no intention of retiring from the limelight,” said the source, who noted his regular appearances on the Hollywood party circuit, court side at his beloved Lakers and his co-presentation of the Academy Award for Best Picture with First Lady Michelle Obama, earlier this year. “He’s not retiring from public life, at all. He just doesn’t want a tribute,” added the insider. “He’s happy to tacitly join the retirees club like Sean Connery.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I have to admit, I am a big fan of movie biographies. I even like so called film bios of the 1940s like Jolson Story (1946) - the life of Al Jolson and Words And Music (1948) - the life or Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. However, I was excited to see my all-time favorite film bio again! The movie Chaplin (1992) I believe is by far the best so-called biography ever to be put on film. The movie is not perfect, but I think Robert Downey Jr was one of the few people able to capture the magic that was and is Charlie Chaplin.

The film was adapted by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman from the books "My Autobiography" by Chaplin and "Chaplin: His Life and Art" by film critic David Robinson. Associate producer Diana Hawkins got a story credit. The original music score was composed by John Barry. It was produced and directed bythe great Richard Attenborough.

The film is structured around lengthy flashbacks as the elderly Charlie Chaplin (Robert Downey Jr.) (now living in Switzerland) recollects moments from his life during a conversation with fictional character George Hayden (Anthony Hopkins), the editor of his autobiography. Chaplin's recollections begin with his childhood of extreme poverty, from which he escapes by immersing himself in the world of the London music halls, after which he relocates to the United States.

There are references to some of his many romantic episodes (including Hetty Kelly, Mildred Harris, Georgia Hale, Marion Davies, Edna Purviance, Lita Grey, Paulette Goddard, Joan Barry and Oona O'Neill), his professional collaboration with Mack Sennett and friendship with Douglas Fairbanks.

Downey was not the only great actor in the movie. Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie's daughter, played her own grandmother in the film, and she captured Charlie's mother's decent into insanity very convincingly. Kevin Kline was in great form as Charlie's swashbuckling friend Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Also rounding out the cast was the underrated Nancy Travis as Joan Berry - a troubled woman who accused Chaplin of having a child with her out of wedlock. The child was proven not to be Chaplin's but he was forced to support the child until the baby turned 21.

Although the film was criticized for taking dramatic licence with some aspects of Chaplin's life, Downey's performance as Chaplin won almost universal acclaim. Attenborough was sufficiently confident in Downey's performance to include historical footage of Chaplin himself at the end of the film. The film was lauded for its high production values, but many critics dismissed it as an overly glossy biopic. One critic wrote that the screenplay "endeavors to cover too much ground. The life of Charlie Chaplin was so vast and varied that a film is far too restrictive a format to give it justice.

My major complaint with the film was the make up for Robert Downey Jr that was used to age him to an 80 year old man at the end of the film. At the time of the film Downey was only 27, so to age him over fifty years was a daunting task. However, they made Downey look more like a burn victim than an elderly man. Maybe it is just me, but it does not look realistic. However, that barely takes away from the quality of the film and the portrayal of the subject. My wife is not a silent movie fan. I showed her this movie, and she wanted to watch a Charlie Chaplin movie after seeing it. Everytime I catch this movie on television, I am inspired by the film, by the superb acting of Robert Downey Jr, and by Chaplin himself - who I believe was one of the film industry's greatest geniuses...


Monday, September 2, 2013


Anyone that knows me, knows how obsessed with the music of the 1920s to 1950s I am. I try to collect it all, and it is music that has helped during the down times of my life, and it is the music that has been their during my happy high times. This top five will feature my five male singers of that era. There are other singers I like such as Johnny Cash from the country/western side or Billy Joel from the newer guys, but they belong on another list for another time...

5. BUDDY CLARK (1912-1949)
Buddy Clark has been gone almost 65 years, but his recordings were immensely popular to post war audiences of the 1940s. He started out as a band singer in the early 1930s, and even went to Hollywood to become a ghost singer. (He wasn't ugly, but his looks for more suited for records and radio). His biggest hit was "Linda", but he had numerous hits during his career. His career was sadly cut short when he died in an airplaine crash on November 1, 1949, and another one of his hits, "A Dreamer's Holiday" charted after his death. The name of Buddy Clark is not mentioned much anymore but should be.

4. AL JOLSON (1886-1950)
Jolson self proclaimed himself to be "the greatest entertainer", and no one could argue with that because he was. He started making records in 1911, which  was before the microphone was used in recording. His early records seem as old as the dinosaur now, but even those ancient records are worth listening to. Check out his superb recording of "I'd Climb The Highest Mountain" from 1926. He moved to movies in 1929, but within a decade he was out of vogue and supposedly washed up. The movie "Jolson Story" (1946) revived his career and from 1946 until his death in 1950 his voice never sounded better from his old chestnuts to new songs like "If I Only Had A Match" and "I Got Lucky In The Rain", Jolson's voice sounded better as he aged.

3. BOBBY DARIN (1936-1973)
When I listen to Bobby Darin it always sounds like he is singing like he was running out of town. Sadly, with a weakened heart - he pretty much was entertaining on borrowed time. He burst on to the scene in the late 1950s with the early rock hit "Splish Splash". However, he constantly fought record executives because he wanted to sing songs from the Great American Songbook like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Like Jolson, Darin could be full of himself. He told his manager one time that he would be "bigger than Sinatra", but his records demostrated he had a great talent. Some of my favorites by Darin include "Once Upon A Time" and "More", and he recorded a duet album with song writer Johnny Mercer in 1960 that I think is pretty much a masterpiece. He died on the operating table in 1973 during heart surgery, and it was way too soon.

2. DEAN MARTIN (1917-1995)
Like Bobby Darin, it seems like Dino never cared when he sang. There was never anything further from the truth. Dean cited Harry Mills (from the Mills Brothers) and Bing Crosby as two of his idols, and he emerged from the shadows of his comedy team with Jerry Lewis in 1956 to become one of the great recording stars of a generation. He was with Capitol Records from 1948 until his buddy Frank Sinatra started Reprise Records in 1962. I can never get tired listening to Dino's recording of "Ain't That A Kick In The Head" , and I lost track of how many movies it was in. People say that after 1964, he kind of gave up on his singing and became more of a comedian who sang, but I have a performance from 1978 of "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" that Dean did that I would rank up there with one of the great interpretations of the song. It was a sad Christmas for me when Dean died on that day in 1995.

1. BING CROSBY (1903-1977)
In my humble opinion Bing was the father of all popular music. Because of him there was Sinatra, Dino, Tony Bennett, and a host of other singers who poked out through Bing's shadows. It was a huge shadow Bing cast because he was so popular in the 1930s and 1940s that it has been said that Bing's voice has been heard more times than any human being in the history of the world. I am not sure of that, but no other singer before or since was as popular as Bing was. In the 1930s, his voice soared to near operatic heights on recordings like: "Temptation", "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime", and "Black Moonlight". In the 1940s, his recordings followed the trend of popular songs of the time, and I highly recommend songs like "Humpty Dumpty Heart", "Moonlight Becomes You", and "You Keep Coming Back Like A Song" from this song. Bing retreated from popular music scene once rock took over, but he did make some later albums in the 1970s which were some of the best material he recorded in decades. His death in October of 1977 marked the end of an era for music which never will be duplicated.

Now I know everyone will have suggestions for my list and the other talented singers I left off. However this is just a top five list and people would be left off. However, here are a few runners up that deserve to be mentioned as honorable mentions: Dick Haymes (1918-1980), Al Bowlly (1899-1941) Nat King Cole (1919-1965), Perry Como (1912-2001) and Tony Martin (1912-2011).