Sunday, February 27, 2022


Following a career of more than 70 years, Eddie Bracken died November 14, 2002 in Montclair, New Jersey. He was 87, though most sources list the year of his birth as 1920 and Bracken would never confirm the date, saying, with a laugh, "I'd rather have people say, 'Doesn't he look wonderful?'" He was married almost 63 years to the former Connie Nickerson, who died in August of that year; they met in a tour of What a Life. "She was my leading lady, and has been ever since," he once told me. The Brackens were the parents of five. "I did it the hard way," he said, "one wife."

On June 1, 2001, the actor celebrated what he claimed was his 15,000th stage performance, playing the Starkeeper in a Paper Mill Playhouse production of Carousel. His milestone performance presented an occasion to interview Bracken, which I'd done three times previously. Paper Mill press representative Charlie Siedenburg introduced Bracken as "affable and congenial," and the actor -- always ready to get a laugh -- scowled, "What the hell do you want?" He noted that his record was "unofficial, because I played Hello, Dolly! [for which Bracken received a 1978 Tony nomination] overseas, I did Sugar Babies in Australia, many shows in Las Vegas. Those were not Equity shows and they weren't counted. But even if I only claimed the 11,000 that I've got in Equity, nobody's even close to that."

The youngest of three sons of Irish immigrants, Edward Vincent Bracken was born in Astoria, New York. "My father was a foreman for the East River Gas Company and my mother demonstrated appliances for Con Edison at Queens Plaza. I sang in courtyards, and people would throw coins. I did shows at the Knights of Columbus Hall. I shared a bill with Ethel Merman [then Zimmerman]; Ethel sang 'Honey, Stay in Your Own Backyard' and I did 'Cross My Heart, Mother, I Love you.'" Bracken didn't complete grade school: "I attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel but they didn't know what to do with me. I was always dreaming about other things. But it was there that a priest, Father Smith, put the bug of show business in my system."

As a child actor, he worked in Kiddie Troupers movie shorts and made his Broadway debut in 1930's The Lottery. A series of flop shows preceded three hits directed by George Abbott. After being cast in the Boston company of Brother Rat, Bracken succeeded Frank Albertson in the Broadway production. Said Bracken, "I owe George Abbott my whole life. Brother Rat was my first Broadway hit; I met my wife in What a Life; and Too Many Girls sent me to California." When Abbott signed to direct the 1940 movie version of the Rodgers and Hart musical Too Many Girls, he brought several cast members to Hollywood. Bracken, Van Johnson (who had understudied three roles), and Desi Arnaz made their feature debuts in the film and Arnaz hit it off with the film's female lead, Lucille Ball. Bracken was signed by Paramount Pictures and stayed in Hollywood a dozen years.

His most memorable movies were two 1944 Preston Sturges comedies, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero. The former cast Bracken as Norval Jones, a Good Samaritan who weds pregnant Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) and becomes a national hero when she gives birth to sextuplets. In the latter, he was Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith, who's mistakenly thought to be a war hero. "I think those are my favorites," he recalled. "I also loved Summer Stock, The Fleet's In, and Hold That Blonde. And National Lampoon's Vacation [1983] and Home Alone 2 [1992] have been seen by all the kids. [Those movies] gave me a whole new career, and that's what they remember me from now."

In his biography of Judy Garland, Gerold Frank writes that Garland found Bracken so funny during the making of Summer Stock (1950) that "every time she looked at him, Judy broke up." Recalled Bracken, "They finally had to get someone else to stand off camera [in his place] so that Judy could say the lines." He claimed that movies typecast him: "I wanted a change of pace, but no one would listen. I'm not a comedian; I'm an actor who does comedy."

Bracken returned to Broadway in 1953, taking over the lead from Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch, in which he later toured. In 1955, the release of the Columbia album archy and mehitabel began Bracken's long association with a cockroach-poet named archy (who could only type lowercase keys). Carol Channing did the voice of the toujours gai feline, mehitabel. A 1957 Broadway musical version, Shinbone Alley, co-starred Bracken and Eartha Kitt; in 1960, he and Tammy Grimes played the leads for PBS-TV's Play of the Week; and, in 1971, Bracken and Channing supplied the voices for an animated film version.

In 1965, Bracken returned to Broadway to take over the role of Felix Unger (his favorite stage part) in The Odd Couple, "the greatest comedy ever written." He played in the Neil Simon comedy for two years and then toured in it. "Felix is the toughest, most exhausting part I've ever played, and one of the most dramatic," he stated. "The more dramatic you play it, the funnier it gets." Bracken also did Simon's Come Blow Your Horn, Plaza Suite, and The Sunshine Boys. His most recent Broadway appearance occurred in 1982, when he filled in for a vacationing Mickey Rooney in Sugar Babies. "I toured in that," he told me, "and played it over a year in Australia."

He was a dandy Cap'n Andy in a 1989 Paper Mill production of Show Boat that was taped for PBS-TV's Great Performances. He also played the role in Houston, Washington, D.C., and "for the State Department, we did it for three weeks in Cairo, Egypt. I even sailed down the Nile. They call it up the Nile, and I couldn't convince them that they're wrong." As Cap'n Andy, Bracken knew just how long to pause between syllables of "Happy" when pronouncing his troupe, "One, big, hap--py family!" Doing a duet of "Why Do I Love You?" with stage wife Parthy (Marsha Bagwell), he followed her singing of the line "I am lucky, too" with an acerbic aside: "Damn right!" And in Andy's recap of a Cotton Blossom melodrama that was interrupted by two backwoodsmen, Bracken was wonderfully funny when pantomiming a fistfight in slow motion (a routine he did as far back as 1941 at Manhattan's Paramount Theatre, in a stage show accompanying one of his movies). Trying to find just the right words to explain what it is that Cap'n Andy's wife has, the veteran performer's facial expressions got a series of laughs before he brought down the house by declaring: "A mean disposition!"

Eddie Bracken once told me, "I've made a good living and I've had a good time doing it. Has it been tough? You bet! I went broke three times, but I'm proud of the way I've recovered. You never hear any scandals about me. I'm well respected. I've got a happy family, a nice home, and I'm working in my business. What more could I ask?"

Saturday, February 26, 2022


Joni James, a dulcet-voiced pop singer whose 1952 recording of the ballad “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” sold millions of copies and established her as a Hit Parade queen for a dozen years before she largely exited the music world, died Feb. 20 in West Palm Beach, Fla. She was 91.

Her son, Michael Acquaviva, confirmed the death but not did provide a specific cause.

In the pre-Beatles era, Ms. James flourished as a petite, raven-haired musical star whose warm, plaintive and slightly husky vocals — often backed by lush string arrangements — were favorably compared to those of better-known contemporaries such as Doris Day and Connie Francis.

Ms. James was 21 when “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” became a No. 1 hit. Her other signature recordings included a version of Hank Williams’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as well as “Have You Heard,” “How Important Can It Be?” “There Goes My Heart,” “Mama, Don’t Cry at My Wedding” and “Little Things Mean a Lot.”

Her 1960 album “Joni James at Carnegie Hall,” featuring a symphony and chorus conducted by her then-husband and musical director, Anthony “Tony” Acquaviva, was another commercial success and included jazz-pop standards such as “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” and “Let There Be Love.” Lindsay Planer, a critic for, praised the “maturity and refined elegance in her delivery,” setting her apart from other teen idols of the ponytail pop era.

Ms. James, who developed a fan base as far away as the Philippines through overseas tours, told the Associated Press in 1960 that she navigated a musical path through the surging appeal of rock with a simple philosophy: “Sing for the 20-year-olds, the 30-year-olds and the 50-year-olds. Forget the 12-year-olds, because they’ll soon forget you.”

Giovanna Carmella Babbo was born in Chicago on Sept. 22, 1930, one of six children raised by a widowed mother during the Depression. She was a dancer in her youth and began babysitting, modeling undergarments and icing cakes in a bakery to pay her way to New York to study ballet.

She also sang at fraternal clubs and in talent contests and said she was astonished by the warm audience reaction to her voice, which she had considered inferior to her dancing ability.

After she performed on singer Johnnie Ray’s popular TV show, reportedly as a last-minute substitute, a deluge of fan letters drew the attention of the show’s sponsor, an appliance merchandiser. A representative with the advertiser then steered her to MGM Records, which signed her in 1952. Her single “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” stayed on the charts for weeks and established her as an overnight recording star.

She never again generated the level of commercial fervor that greeted that debut single, but she maintained a steady output of pop songs for the next dozen years before mostly dropping out of the business, except for periodic concert and nightclub engagements, and appearances at U.S. military posts overseas. Acquaviva, whom she had wed in 1956, developed a severe case of diabetes, and by 1964 she was needed to care for him and their two children.

“I became the nurse and the Italian mother,” Ms. James told the Times. “I wanted to be near my family. Besides, I couldn’t possibly turn away from Tony. He was in a wheelchair for years. They were going to amputate his leg at one point because of gangrene, but we saved it. I used to bathe the leg six times a day.”

Ms. James mounted a comeback after Acquaviva’s death in 1986, including engagements at Carnegie Hall. She also oversaw the remastering and rereleasing of many of her early recordings, which she and Acquaviva had the foresight to buy from MGM soon after her early retirement.

In 1997, Ms. James married Bernard “Ben” A. Schriever, a retired Air Force general who helped develop the intercontinental ballistic missile program. They had long been social acquaintances on the West Palm Beach social scene, and he had been among the first to encourage her return to singing. “I was a bent-wing sparrow, and he pushed me to come back,” she told the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune.

Schriever died in 2005. In addition to her son, of Alabama, survivors include her daughter, Angela Kwoka of Florida; two brothers; two sisters; and two grandchildren.

As Ms. James revived her career — she stopped performing about 15 years ago — she said she was greeted by audiences as a long-lost friend or with curious stares (“It is either ‘Joni, where have you been?’ or ‘Joni who?’ ”). But she told the Tribune that she never had any intention of adapting to an updated repertoire.

“I resent rock-and-roll because it only tells one half,” she said. “All they have is rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, which is great. But when you fall in love and want to be romantic, you still need that gorgeous melody.”

“I can’t live without singing,” she added, “because I love music, and how can you live without love?”

Sunday, February 20, 2022


 Continuing our look at the biggest box office stars of each year, we go to 1943 now. World War II was still raging on, and Betty Grable was the biggest box office star of the year!


1. Betty Grable
2. Bob Hope
3. Abbott and Costello
4. Bing Crosby
5. Gary Cooper
6. Greer Garson
7. Humphrey Bogart
8. James Cagney
9. Mickey Rooney
10. Clark Gable

Sunday, February 13, 2022


 No one showcased romance more than classic Hollywood. There are some great pictures of classic Hollywood celebrating February 14th. Here are just a few of them...

Betty Hutton

Jean Harlow, Clark Cable, Myrna Loy

Mary Carlisle

Marilyn Monroe

Mary Pickford

Cyd Charisse

Monday, February 7, 2022


In the world of jazz and big band, there are countless gifted artists who have died young like Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, and Eddie Lang to name a few. Another gifted musician to add to the list is Jack Jenney. Born in Mason City, Iowa on May 12, 1910, he was a celebrated jazz trombonist who was best known for instrumental versions of the song Stardust, was one of the United States' most popular musicians of the 1930s and 1940s. Christopher Popa, in an article for Big Band, quoted jazz critic and author Leonard Feather as saying Jenney was known "for the quiet beauty of his tone and style on sweet melodic variations, of which 'Stardust' was the most extraordinary example."  George T. Simon, historian and author, commented that Jenney "blew his instrument with great feeling, what for me is the warmest, most personal sound I've ever heard from any horn."

Jack attended Prescott Elementary and Franklin School and played with his father's band from age eleven.  He first played professionally locally at the age of thirteen with "Art Braun and his Novelty Boys," a Dubuque jazz band before transferring from Dubuque High School on a music scholarship for three years at the Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind.  In 1926 he was a member of the orchestra that entertained Queen Marie of Romania during her visit to Chicago. 

Jenney's first professional job was with Austin Wylie in 1928. By 1935 he was rated at the foremost trombonist in the dancing world enabling him to earn $550 each week as he performed with Victor Young's recording orchestra.  He also had stints with Isham Jones (recording with the latter) and Mal Hallett (1933). Jenney was in great demand for studio work in New York, working with Victor Young, Fred Rich, radio staff orchestras and appearing on recordings with ensembles led by Red Norvo, Glenn Miller (1935), Dick McDonough, the trombonist's wife singer Kay Thompson (1937), and Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians. Jenney won the Down Beat Reader's Poll for trombone in 1940 and was voted into the Metronome All Star Band the same year.  He appeared in such movies as "Second Chorus" (1940), "Syncopation"and "Stage Door Canteen" (1943), performing in the latter with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. In correlation with the movie, "Syncopation," RKO joined with the Saturday Evening Post in conducting a poll of 100 radio stations to determine what musicians the nation would prefer in a "dream team." The trombonists selected were Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden and Jenney. 

Jenney was one of two trombonists (the other was Jack Teagarden) who played as part of the Metronome magazine all-star band, which recorded King Porter Stomp for Columbia on February 1, 1940. In 1939-40 Jenney led his own band which included Peanuts Hucko, Paul Fredricks, and Hugo Winterhalter. Although it appeared at the World's Fair and Loew's State Theatre in New York City the following year, the band became only marginally successful.

Jenney briefly worked with Benny Goodman's band around the end of 1942 and the start of 1943. He was drafted and served in the Navy during World War II During 1943-44, he led a Navy band, but was discharged for health reasons. Jenney settled in California to do studio work, but developed kidney trouble. He sadly died suddenly due to a burst appendix on December 23, 1945 in Los Angeles. California. He was only 35 years old. It is hard to find recordings by the band of Jack Jenney, but do yourself a favor and check them out if you can. For Jenney's trombone work alone, they are worth listening to and remembering him...