Sunday, December 30, 2018


At the end of the year one of the saddest things is always to remember the stars we have lost. In 2018, we lost so many more entertainers, celebrities and Hollywood legends. It is sad to have lost them, but it great to always remember the memories that they left behind...

Margot Kidder

Actress MARGOT KIDDER died on May 14th at the age of 69.She was a Canadian American actress and activist. She rose to fame in 1978 for her role as Lois Lane in the Superman film series, opposite Christopher Reeve. Kidder began her career in the 1960s appearing in low-budget Canadian films and television series, before landing a lead role in Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970). She then appeared playing Siamese twins in Brian De Palma's cult thriller Sisters (1973); in the slasher film Black Christmas (1974); and the drama The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), opposite Robert Redford. Her performance as Kathy Lutz in the blockbuster horror film The Amityville Horror (1979) gained her further mainstream exposure. After a highly publicized manic episode and nervous breakdown in 1996, Kidder's career began to slow. By the 2000s, however, she had maintained steady work in independent films as well as television, with guest-starring roles on Smallville, Brothers & Sisters, and The L Word. In 2015, she won an Emmy Award for her performance on the children's television series R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour. She also acted in theatrical productions, most notably appearing on Broadway in a 2002 production of The Vagina Monologues. In 2005, Kidder became a naturalized U.S. citizen. In later years, Kidder became an outspoken political, environmental, and anti-war activist.

Actress CHARLOTTE RAE died of  bone cancer at the age of 92 on August 5th. Rae was known for her portrayal of Edna Garrett in the sitcoms Diff'rent Strokes and its spin-off, The Facts of Life (in which she had the starring role from 1979–1986). She received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy in 1982. She also appeared in two Facts of Life television movies: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris in 1982 and The Facts of Life Reunion in 2001. She voiced the character of "Nanny" in 101 Dalmatians: The Series and Aunt Pristine Figg in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. She also appeared as Gammy Hart in Girl Meets World.

Ex-wife of Frank Sinatra, NANCY SINATRA SR died on July 13th at the age of 101. She was married to crooner Frank Sinatra from 1939-1951. Together they had three children: Nancy, Tina, and Frank Jr. Once the elder Sinatra became famous his many affairs caused the couple to break apart. Nancy Sr. never remarried. Frank Sr died in 1998, and Frank Jr died in 2016.

Singer VIC DAMONE died of respiratory failure at the age of 89 on Feburary 11th. He is best known songs such as "You're Breaking My Heart" (a number one hit), the number four hit "On the Street Where You Live" (from My Fair Lady), and "My Heart Cries for You" (also No. 4). Frank Sinatra said often that Damone "had the best pipes in the business", and Damone was intimate friends with Sinatra. Vic Damone also made a handful of movie appearances in MGM musicals of the 1950s including: Kismet (1955) and Hit The Deck (1955). Damone retired in 2002.

Jerry Van Dyke
Comedian and television star JERRY VAN DYKE died of heart failure on January 5th at the age of 86. He always lived in the shadow of his older brother Dick Van Dyke, but after many failed television shows, Jerry rose to stardom with roles on Coach from 1989 to 1997 and The Middle from 2009 to 2015, where he played Patricia Heaton's father. His last appearance on the show was in 2015, and he had been in failing health since being involved in a car crash that year.

Singer ARETHA FRANKLIN died of cancer on August 16th at the age of 76. She began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. After signing to Atlantic Records in 1966, Franklin achieved commercial success and acclaim with songs such as "Respect", "Chain of Fools", "Think", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" and "I Say a Little Prayer".

Actor KEN BERRY died on December 1st at the age of 85. Berry starred on the television series F Troop from 1965 to 1967, Mayberry R.F.D from 1968 to 1971 and Mama's Family from 1983 to 1990. He also appeared on Broadway in The Billy Barnes Revue, headlined as George M. Cohan in the musical George M! and provided comic relief for the medical drama Dr. Kildare, with Richard Chamberlain in the 1960s.

Actor R. LEE ERMY died of pneumonia at the age of 74 on April 15th. He achieved fame when he played Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, which earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Ermey was also a United States Marine Corps staff sergeant and an honorary gunnery sergeant. During his tenure in the United States Marine Corps, he also served as a drill instructor. Other films included all three Toy Story cartoons, Life (1999), Saving Silverman (2001) and a final movie appearance in The Watch (2012).

Actress DOROTHY MALONE died at the age of 92 on January 19th.She as an American actress. Her film career began in 1943, and in her early years she played small roles, mainly in B-movies. After a decade in films, she began to acquire a more glamorous image, particularly after her performance in Written on the Wind (1956), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Her film career reached its peak by the beginning of the 1960s, and she achieved later success with her television role as Constance MacKenzie on Peyton Place from 1964–68. Less active in her later years, Malone returned to films in 1992 in Basic Instinct.

John Mahoney

Actor JOHN MAHONEY died on February 4th at the age of 77. He is best known as Kesley Grammer's father on the long running television show Frasier, which ran from 1993 to 2004. Born in England, he entered acting late in life, but he became a dedicated character actor. His best known film role was in Say Anything (1990) and Dan In Real Life (2007). His last appearance was as Betty White's love interest in the television show Hot In Cleveland in 2014.

Singer NANCY WILSON died on December 13th at the age of 81. Her career spanned over five decades, from the mid–1950s until her retirement in the early–2010s. She was notable for her single "(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am" and her version of the standard "Guess Who I Saw Today". Wilson recorded more than 70 albums and won three Grammy Awards for her work. During her performing career Wilson was labeled a singer of blues, jazz, R&B, pop, and soul, a "consummate actress", and "the complete entertainer". The title she preferred, however, was "song stylist"

Songwriter and author JANET CANTOR GARI died on January 28th at the age of 89. Janet was the youngest of Eddie Cantor's daughters, and the last surviving one. She was a songwriter who has collaborated with Toby Garson, the daughter of composer Harry Ruby, on children's shows and an off-Broadway musical. Janet had written many books as well including "Don't Wear Silver In The Winter", which was the story of her elusive mother Ida Tobias Cantor. It was published in 2008.

Entertainer ROY CLARK died on November 15th at the age of 85 of pneumonia. was an American singer and musician. He is best known for hosting Hee Haw, a nationally televised country variety show, from 1969 to 1997. Roy Clark has been an important and influential figure in country music, both as a performer and helping to popularize the genre. Although he has had hit songs as a pop vocalist (e.g., "Yesterday, When I Was Young" and "Thank God and Greyhound"), his instrumental skill has had an enormous effect on generations of bluegrass and country musicians.

Singer and golfer DON CHERRY died at the age of 94 on April 4th. In music, he is best known for his 1955 hit "Band of Gold". He started as a big band singer in the orchestras of Jan Garber and Victor Young. In 1951 he recorded his first solo hits, "Thinking of You" and "Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle". Throughout his singing career, Cherry was also a top-ranked amateur golfer, and was in contention to win the 1960 U.S. Open before eventually finishing tied for ninth along with Ben Hogan, four strokes behind winner Arnold Palmer.

Gloria Jean

Child star GLORIA JEAN died on September 1st at the age of 92. is an American actress and singer who starred or co-starred in 26 feature films between 1939 and 1959 including If I Had My Way (1940) with Bing Crosby, Never Give A Sucker A Break (1941) with WC Fields, and Copacabana (1947) with Groucho Marx.

Actor TAB HUNTER died of a heart attack at the age of 86 on July 8th. Hunter made over 40 films during his career which peaked in the late 1950s. His most known film was 1958's Damn Yankees, which he played the title character, Joe Hardy. He also had a number one hit in 1957 with the song "Young Love". Hunter hadn't made a movie in years but appeared in numerous documentaries about Hollywood including one on his life called Tab Hunter Confidential in 2015.

Actress MARY CARLISLE died on August 1st at the age of 104. She starred in more than sixty Hollywood films, moving beyond bit parts after coming to attention, alongside the likes of Gloria Stuart and Ginger Rogers, as one of 15 girls selected by the Western Association of Motion pictures as their WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1932. Her first major role was in the 1933 film College Humor with Bing Crosby. The two performers worked together in two additional films, Double or Nothing (1937) and Doctor Rhythm (1938). After her marriage in 1942 and a starring role in Dead Men Walk (1943), she retired from acting.

Actor GARY BEACH died at the age of 70 on July 17th. He was best known for the role of Roger De Bris in both the stage and film productions of The Producers (2005). In 1994, Beach originated the comical role of Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast, a performance that earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Previously, he performed in the chorus for the 1989 Les Misérables: Complete Symphonic Recording. In March 2008, Beach joined the United States national tour cast of Monty Python's Spamalot in the lead role of King Arthur.

Actor SCOTT WILSON died of leukemia on October 6th at the age of 76. He had more than 50 film credits, including In the Heat of the Night, In Cold Blood, The Great Gatsby, Dead Man Walking, Pearl Harbor, and Junebug. In 1980, Wilson received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for his role in The Ninth Configuration. He played veterinarian Hershel Greene on the AMC television series The Walking Dead from 2011 to 2014.

Nanette Fabray

Actress NANETTE FABRAY died on February 23rd at the age of 97. She began her career performing in vaudeville as a child and became a musical theatre actress during the 1940s and 1950s, winning a Tony Award in 1949 for her performance in Love Life. In the mid-1950s, she served as Sid Caesar's comedic partner on Caesar's Hour, for which she won three Emmy Awards, as well as co-starring with Fred Astaire in the  1953 film musical The Band Wagon. From 1979 to 1984, she appeared as Grandma Katherine Romano on the TV series One Day at a Time. Her last work was on Broadway in 2007.

Actor BURT REYNOLDS died on September 6th at the age of 82. He first rose to prominence starring in television series such as Gunsmoke (1962–1965) and Dan August (1970–1971). His breakout film role was as Lewis Medlock in Deliverance (1972). Reynolds played the leading role in a number of box office hits, such as The Longest Yard (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), Hooper (1978), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). After a few box office failures, Reynolds returned to television, starring in the sitcom Evening Shade (1990–1994). He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boogie Nights (1997).

Actor HARRY ANDERSON died of a stroke on April 16th. He was 65.  He is best known for the lead role of Judge Harry Stone on the 1984–1992 television series Night Court, and later starred in the sitcom Dave's World from 1993 to 1997. In addition to eight appearances on Saturday Night Live between 1981 and 1985, Anderson had a recurring guest role as con man Harry "The Hat" Gittes on Cheers, toured extensively as a magician, and did several magic/comedy shows for broadcast, including Harry Anderson's Sideshow (1987). He played Richie Tozier in the 1990 miniseries It, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.

Actor JOHN GAVIN died on February 9th at the age of 86.Gavin was the United States Ambassador to Mexico (1981–86) and the President of the Screen Actors Guild (1971–73). He was best known for his performances in the films Imitation of Life (1959), Spartacus (1960), Psycho (1960), and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), playing leading roles in a series of films for producer Ross Hunter. He was also married to actress Constance Towers from 1974 until his death.

Director and actress PENNY MARSHALL died of diabetes on December 17th at the age of 75. She rose to fame in the 1970s for her role as Laverne DeFazio on the television sitcom Laverne & Shirley (1976–1983). Marshall progressed to directing films in the 1980s, making her directorial debut with Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986) before directing Big (1988), which became the first film directed by a woman to gross more than $100 million at the U.S. box office. Her subsequent directing credits included Awakenings (1990), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, A League of Their Own (1992), Renaissance Man (1994), The Preacher's Wife (1996), and Riding in Cars with Boys (2001).

Friday, December 28, 2018


This latest obituary is not of some famous legendary actor or singer, but it is a local guy from Pittsburgh. Peter Valliant died a day after Christmas on December 26th at the age of 92. He was responsible for one of the happiest parts of my early adult life, and now married dad life. Pete opened, owned, and operated Valliant's Dinner in the North Hills section of Pittsburgh since 1968. His son Gerry had long taken over operations of the diner, but Pete was also seen there, greeting customers or slicing potatoes. Their diner on Babcock Boulevard in the North Hills is an institution. It's an institution I have been going to for nearly 20 years now.

He might not remembered my name, but Pete would always ask me when I came in on a Saturday nursing a hangover, "Do you have a girlfriend yet". He then would add to take my time to find the right woman.  My children did not get to fully know Pete, but they love Valliants almost as much as I do. They do not call it "Valliants Diner", but they call it "our diner". Pete and the family make you feel like you are part of their family.

Pete was preceded in death by his loving wife, Helen (Kastanis); and is survived by daughter Harriet; son, Gerri (Paula Balouris); and granddaughters, Eleni, Maria (Haralambos) Papas, Alexandra, Anna (Andrew) Abboud; and great-grandson, Nikolas Papas. He is also survived by his sisters, Tasoula Lagousis and Mamoula Voutsinas of Kefalonia, Greece. He was born in the town of Farsa on the island of Kefalonia, Greece, where he worked on boats with his cousins and uncles from an early age. After extensive travel around the world as a captain in the Greek Merchant Marines, he emigrated to the United States in 1950.

He first settled in Pittsburgh as a bridge painter, and then as the owner of several restaurants, which he opened with his wife Helen, whom he married on June 27, 1954 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, of which he was a lifelong member. Peter and Helen first opened a restaurant in the Strip District, and later built and opened Valliant's Dairy—now Valliant's Diner—50 years ago on December 13, 1968. Helen passed away in 1974. Even in his "retirement", Peter continued to work at the restaurant, connecting with customers, many of whom he had known for over 40 years. He was gifted with a quick joke or story of his travel adventures, and a remarkable ability to welcome and remember details of all those who passed through the Diner's doors.

Pete will be missed but his legacy will live on for generations...

Monday, December 24, 2018


Bruce Kogan is back with a review of the yuletide classic White Christmas...

By 1954 the song White Christmas had become such a timeless classic that it was inevitable that a film would be made around it. And of course the star would be none other than Bing Crosby. But who to star with him.

Originally this was to be the third Irving Berlin outing for Bing and Fred Astaire. Then Donald O'Connor was to co-star, but finally Danny Kaye teamed with Der Bingle. Proved to be a felicitous combination.

By then Rosemary Clooney had worked in a few films well and more importantly, she had clicked with Crosby on the radio. Bing had teamed with several girl singers over the years, like Connee Boswell, Frances Langford, Mary Martin, Trudy Erwin, Carole Richards, Peggy Lee and a trio of sisters named Andrews. But he always said Rosemary Clooney was it for him and besides Mary Martin, the only other one who did became a leading lady for him.

It's not remembered because of the success of her solo career, but Rosemary Clooney started as a duo with her sister Betty who retired early to raise a family. So with Vera-Ellen as her sister in the movie, that was an aspect of the plot Rosemary could handle with ease.

The plot such as it is involves Bing and Danny as a song and dance duo who've expanded into the production end of show business. Through a little bit of a con game worked by Vera Ellen, the two meet a singing sister act like the Clooney sisters were. The sisters turn out to be headed to Vermont to work at a resort and the smitten guys go along with them.

Problem is there ain't any snow there. It's an unheard of 68 degrees Fahrenheit in early December. And the place is owned by Crosby and Kaye's former commander from World War II, played by Dean Jagger. He's about to lose his shirt and his pride. So our intrepid quartet go to work.

Irving Berlin's score for White Christmas is about half new songs and the other half from previous scores. That's how it was when you got Irving to work for you. Listen carefully even to the background music. You will not hear one note of a non-Berlin song.

One of those songs was a personal favorite of mine, Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. I recall in grade school in Brooklyn it was a song that the teachers had us sing in the school assemblies. Little did I know that it was introduced by the guy who proved to be my favorite entertainer. It's a patented philosophical Bing Crosby song that he did best and it serves as a ballad to woo and win Rosie. Bing sings it and then Rosie joins him in the reprise.

Danny Kaye has two good numbers. The first The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing is clearly originally for Fred Astaire, though Kaye and Vera Ellen make a lovely couple on the dance floor. The Choreography number I think was also done for Astaire, but here dancer John Brascia does the complicated dance routine while Kaye sings. I'm sure Astaire would have handled both jobs had the film been made with him.

All the stars do the Minstrel Show/Mandy number, but Vera Ellen really shines in it. She was a great dancer, really sparkled in every film she did.

Besides Sisters, Rosemary Clooney has a grand torch ballad that sold a few platters for her in Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me. She had a wonderful singing voice and the most impeccable diction of any female singer ever. You don't miss one throbbing word on any of her ballads.

White Christmas was Paramount's first film done in their wide screen process called VistaVision. And of course it was proper that their number one star for over 20 years be in this film. Of course jokes about Bing's derrière and the wide screen got into the repertoire of a certain comedian named Hope.

Just like the song that inspired it, White Christmas has proved to be a timeless holiday classic and will remain so...


Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Vera-Ellen only made 14 movies in her short Hollywood career, but every minute of the screen moment that was captured of her was memorable. Here are some great pictures of some of her leading men and friends that she worked with...

with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby

with Gene Kelly

with Donald O'Connor

with Caesar Romero

with Rock Hudson

with Edward G. Robinson

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Penny Marshall, who starred in "Laverne & Shirley," has died. She was 75.

A publicist for Marshall told Fox News that the actress died "peacefully at her Hollywood Hills home" from complications due to diabetes on Monday.

"Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall," the Marshall family told us in a statement.

"Penny was a girl from the Bronx, who came out West, put a cursive 'L' on her sweater and transformed herself into a Hollywood success story," the statement added. "We hope her life continues to inspire others to spend time with family, work hard and make all of their dreams come true."

The New York-born actress rose to fame from her hit 1970s sitcom "Laverne & Shirley." She starred as Laverne DeFazio, the Milwaukee brewery worker, alongside Cindy Williams in the hit ABC comedy show. The series, which aired from 1976 to 1983, was among the biggest hits of its era.

It also gave Marshall her start as a filmmaker. She directed several episodes of "Laverne & Shirley" before making her feature film directorial debut in Jumpin' Jack Flash, the 1986 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg.

Her next film made Marshall the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million. Her 1988 hit comedy Big starring Tom Hanks, was about a 12-year-old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old New York City man. The film earned Hanks an Oscar nomination.

Marshall reteamed with Hanks for A League of Their Own, the 1992 comedy about the women's professional baseball league begun during World War II. That, too, crossed $100 million, making $107.5 million domestically.

Marshall also directed Geena Davis, Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Madonna, Denzel Washington, Rosie O’Donnell and the late Whitney Houston.

Per the statement, a celebration of Marshall's life will be held at a later date.

Marshall is survived by her older sister Ronny, daughter Tracy Reiner, and grandchildren Spencer, Bella and Viva...

Saturday, December 15, 2018


As a lifelong fans of movie musicals, I have always loved the dancing in movies. Vera-Ellen was never my favorite dancer growing up. (Eleanor Powell was always my favorite.) However as I get older I have come to really appreciate the movies of Vera-Ellen more. Here are my five favorite Vera-Ellen musicals...

Set in turn-of-the-century New York, wealthy playboy Charles Hill (Fred Astaire) falls in love with Angela (Vera-Ellen) a Salvation Army worker. The plot is slight but the musical numbers are top notch. The highlights was the musical number "Baby Doll" , which was sung by Astaire and danced by Astaire and Vera-Ellen with much emphasis  on twirling motifs and platform work and "Naughty But Nice", which was sung by ghost singer Anita Ellis but danced beautifully by Vera. The film lost money in its initial release, but it is a cute movie.

This film was a "biography" of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Fred Astaire played Kalmar and Red Skelton played Ruby. Vera-Ellen's role was not great, but he played Fred Astaire's wife in this fictional biography. The best number was 'Where Did You Get That Girl" which was danced by Astaire and Vera-Ellen. It was the highlight of the film and most of the other numbers went to Fred Astaire and Red Skelton. Another number not to miss was "Come On Papa". It was another high-kicking song and dance routine, this time for Vera-Ellen though!

This film is the movie that Vera is most remembered for. It also was her last big movie musical appearance, which is a pity. Vera got the chance to perform some great Irving Berlin numbers, and she never looked lovelier dancing to Berlin songs like: "Abraham" and "Mandy". The film belonged to Bing Crosby, but Vera-Ellen was great as Rosemary Clooney's sister and Danny Kaye's love interest. Vera and Danny Kaye had a beautiful musical dancing to a newer Irving Berlin song "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing". The movie was a great end to a short movie musical career.

This film was another musical biography that MGM was famous for. This time it was the life story of composers Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It is sad that Vera-Ellen is only in the movie for one number, but it was one of the greatest dances ever captured on film. Vera dances with Gene Kelly to the classic number "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue". The movie is basically fiction but the appearance that Vera makes in the film is definitely the best part of the film.

1. ON THE TOWN (1949)
Set in New York City, this classic movie musical probably featured Vera-Ellen the most. The whole film is spent with three soldiers (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin) trying to find Miss Turnstiles (Vera). I am not a big ballet fan, but I love the "Miss Turnstiles Ballet" (an instrumental number from Leonard Bernstein's score). Vera's dance numbers in the movie tended to be more of a ballet orgin, but the dances were flawless. Although Vera appeared with Fred Astaire and Danny Kaye in a lot of movies, I think the screen chemistry of Vera and Gene Kelly were the best. Vera possessed that athletic and enthusiastic dancing ability that Gene Kelly possessed.

Friday, December 14, 2018


Nancy Wilson, the Grammy-winning “song stylist” and torch singer whose polished pop-jazz vocals made her a platinum artist and top concert performer, has died.

Wilson, who retired from touring in 2011, died after a long illness at her home in Pioneertown, a California desert community near Joshua Tree National Park, her manager and publicist Devra Hall Levy told The Associated Press late Thursday night. She was 81.

Influenced by Dinah Washington, Nat “King” Cole and other stars, Wilson covered everything from jazz standards to “Little Green Apples” and in the 1960s alone released eight albums that reached the top 20 on Billboard’s pop charts. Sometimes elegant and understated, or quick and conversational and a little naughty, she was best known for such songs as her breakthrough “Guess Who I Saw Today” and the 1964 hit ”(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which drew upon Broadway, pop and jazz.

She resisted being identified with a single category, especially jazz, and referred to herself as a “song stylist.”

“The music that I sing today was the pop music of the 1960s,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2010. “I just never considered myself a jazz singer. I do not do runs and — you know. I take a lyric and make it mine. I consider myself an interpreter of the lyric.”

Wilson’s dozens of albums included a celebrated collaboration with Cannonball Adderley, “Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley,” a small group setting which understandably could be called jazz; “Broadway — My Way”; “Lush Life”; and “The Nancy Wilson Show!” a best-selling concert recording. “How Glad I Am” brought her a Grammy in 1965 for best R&B performance, and she later won Grammys for best jazz vocal album in 2005 for the intimate “R.S.V.P (Rare Songs, Very Personal)” and in 2007 for “Turned to Blue,” a showcase for the relaxed, confident swing she mastered later in life. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a “Jazz Masters Fellowship” in 2004 for lifetime achievement.

Wilson was married twice — to drummer Kenny Dennis, whom she divorced in 1970; and to Wiley Burton, who died in 2008. She had three children.

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the eldest of six children of an iron foundry worker and a maid, Wilson sang in church as a girl and by age 4 had decided on her profession. She was in high school when she won a talent contest sponsored by a local TV station and was given her own program. After briefly attending Central State College, she toured Ohio with the Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band and met such jazz artists as Adderley, who encouraged her to move to New York.

She soon had a regular gig at The Blue Morocco, and got in touch with Adderley’s manager, John Levy.

“He set up a session to record a demo,” Wilson later observed during an interview for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “Ray Bryant and I went in and recorded ‘Guess Who I Saw Today,’ ‘Sometimes I’m Happy,’ and two other songs. We sent them to Capitol and within five days the phone rang. Within six weeks I had all the things I wanted.”

Her first album, “Like in Love!”, came out in 1959, and she had her greatest commercial success over the following decade despite contending at times with the latest sounds. Gamely, she covered Beatles songs (“And I Love Her” became “And I Love Him”), Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” on which she strained to mimic Aretha Franklin’s fiery gospel style. She was so outside the contemporary music scene an interviewer once stumped her by asking about Cream, the million-selling rock trio featuring Eric Clapton.

“It took me years to know what that question was about. Remember, I was constantly working or I was traveling to perform. The ’60s for me were about work,” she told JazzWax in 2010.

In the 1970s and after, she continued to record regularly and perform worldwide, at home in nightclubs, concert halls and open-air settings, singing at jazz festivals from Newport to Tokyo. She officially stopped touring with a show at Ohio University in September 2011, but had been thinking of stepping back for years. When she turned 70, in 2007, she was guest of honor at a Carnegie Hall gala. The show ended with Wilson performing such favorites as “Never, Never Will I Marry,” ″I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the Gershwin classic “How Long Has This Been Going On?”

“After 55 years of doing what I do professionally, I have a right to ask how long? I’m trying to retire, people,” she said with a laugh before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.

In accordance with Wilson’s wishes, there will be no funeral service, a family statement said. A celebration of her life will be held most likely in February, the month of her birth.

She is survived by her son, Kacy Dennis; daughters Samantha Burton and Sheryl Burton; sisters Karen Davis and Brenda Vann and five grandchildren...

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


I wanted to take a break from our Vera-Ellen month to remember my Grandfather who would have been 90 today. He left us way too soon in 2002, but he is the reason for who I was, who I am, and who I will continue to become...

Friday, December 7, 2018


With the internet, I get a lot of spam and junk email. I nearly deleted an email I got from an address I didn't recognize. However, I read it, and it was from someone who had read one of my stories about the great Vera-Ellen. It was more than just a fan, it was a nurse that took care of Vera while the dancer was a patient at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center when Vera-Ellen died on August 30, 1981. I was still skeptical at this email, but I called the medical center and verified this nurse worked there. She did not want me to publish her name, even though she retired from the hospital in 2002. She got to know Vera-Ellen briefly...

QUESTION: Many people say Vera-Ellen was a recluse in her final years, so people have no clue what Vera-Ellen was like when she got older. What was she like when you knew her?

NURSE: I didn't meet Vera until she was diagnosed with cancer a few months before she died. She was quiet and petite, and she had the most beautiful eyes

QUESTION: There has been rumors that Vera-Ellen suffered from anorexia. Do you know if there is any truth of this?

NURSE: When I was assigned to be her nurse, I got to look at her file. At the time, around 1981, she was not suffering from anorexia, but her medical history did mention she suffered from anorexia when she was younger.

QUESTION: How was Vera during her final days?

NURSE: I was on vacation when Vera died so I did not see her on her final days. However, the other nurses say she died peacefully in her sleep. She was highly sedated on her final days, but she was a very sweet and kind woman.

QUESTION: Did Vera ever talk about her days in Hollywood?

NURSE: If you would not know who she was, you would never have known she was a Hollywood star or even in the movies. The only thing that she got in the hospital was a bouquet of flowers from a Fred. We later learned they were from Fred Astaire.

QUESTION: What do you remember most about Vera?

NURSE: What I remember most is she seemed a little sad. However, no matter how bad she was feeling, to the end she would ask how I was and what was going on in my life? I have had a few other famous people as my patients, but Vera-Ellen was the nicest and sweetest...

Saturday, December 1, 2018


To start off our month of Vera-Ellen, here is the original review of the forgotten Vera-Ellen/Fred Astaire gem The Belle of New York (1952). This was written by Bosley Crowther and appeared in the NY Times of  March 6, 1952...

Add to the list of young ladies who have danced on the screen with Fred Astaire the name of Vera-Ellen and mark it with a star. For this agile and twinkling charmer, who accompanies the ageless Mr. A. in his latest if not his greatest Metro musical, "The Belle of New York," is as graceful and pleasing a dancer as any that has gone before, and she adds a considerable presence to this trifle at Loew's State.

And, believe us, a presence is needed, in addition to that of Mr. A., for little of any marked distinction is in evidence, outside the two stars. A couple of bright production numbers, including a series of Currier & Ives tableaux that have a beguiling sparkle in the Technicolor used; a couple of Johnny Mercer lyrics, attached to some Harry Warren tunes, and that is about the total—outside of Vera-Ellen and Mr. A. If it weren't for them and their dancing, "The Belle of New York" would be kaput.

As it is, the two nimble performers have just about all they can do to keep this slight musical moving for the brief hour and twenty minutes that it runs. Somehow the script about a playboy who falls wildly and buoyantly in love with a prim hallelujah singer on the sidewalks of gaslit New York is so thin and dramatically boneless that it couldn't possibly move from here to there on the strength of the trifling complications with which it is barely endowed or the mild incidental assistance of Keenan Wynn. Alice Pearce and Marjorie Main.

And so Director Charles Walters desperately calls upon his stars to remedy the vast emaciation with the frequent use of their muscular limbs, to which enterprise of salvation they apply themselves with a will. Together they cut some darling figures in those Currier & Ives tableaux, directed by Robert Alton in a cutely exaggerated style. A game of old-fashioned badminton is burlesqued with delicacy and grace and a gay figure-dance on an ice pond is actually done by the two on skates. Together they also scamper to a nice tune called "Baby Doll" and frolic all over a horse-car to a frivolous jingle called "Oops!"

It is separately, however, that they deliver their best, to our taste—as if vyeing with one another in pedal dexterity. Mr. A. gets first go with a dizzying and reminiscent tap, in top hat and tails, while perched precariously atop the Arch in Washington Square. That is put in the shade by Vera-Ellen when she does a delicious pantomime, in opera-length hose and ruffled scanties, to the tune of "Naughty But Nice." And just when you're starting to pity the old master for being outclassed Mr. A. pops back in a honey of a soft-shoe sand dance that takes the prize. The title of the tune to which he does it? With pleasure: "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man!"

But again, as we say, there's little cooking but Vera-Ellen and Mr. Astaire in this handsomely costumed, brightly lighted, dramatically empty film. Punning upon the nursery jingle, "The Belle of New York" has only toes.