Wednesday, April 27, 2016

MUSIC BREAK: JERI SOUTHERN - WITHOUT A WORD OF WARNING

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: TOTO

Contrary to popular belief, the little black Cairn terrier who played Toto in The Wizard of Oz was not named Toto. That is, until The Wizard of Oz became so popular that almost everyone forgot what her original name was! Like all the other cast members, she had a character name, Toto, and a real name: Terry. She may have been the best actor on the set, too, because without even the benefit of makeup or a costume, the girl dog played a boy dog.

Interestingly, Terry received incorrect billing in the closing credits. She is billed as "Toto" playing the role of "Toto." Her actual name, at the time of filming, was Terry.

Terry's owner and trainer was a man named Carl Spitz. He ran the Hollywood Dog Training School. Spitz adopted Terry in 1933, when she was just a year old. He had no plans for Terry to become a movie star. Her original owner had left Terry to be trained, but then never returned to pick her up.

Terry was to appear in 15 films altogether. The Wizard of Oz was the only one in which she actually got a screen credit. Her first appearance was in Ready For Love in 1934. This was just one month before her first major film with a big star. Later that year, Terry appeared with Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes, playing the role of "Rags."


In 1938, Terry was taken to a casting call looking for a dog that resembled Dorothy's black dog in the Wizard of Oz books. Terry was hired on the spot and immediately began living the high life. This meant living for two weeks at Judy Garland's house! Judy became quite fond of the dog and wanted to adopt Terry after filming ended, but Carl Spitz said no.

Terry received a $125 weekly salary (which was over twice as much as the Singer Midgets each received for playing the Munchkins). But life in the spotlight isn't always glamorous. Terry didn't like being in the basket when Miss Gulch took her away from Dorothy. She cowered when the set's wind machines were turned on to simulate the twister that swept her and Dorothy our of Kansas to the land of Oz.

She also suffered a sprained foot after accidentally being stepped on by one of the Wicked Witch's guards. But Terry recuperated and returned a few weeks later to finish her scenes. 


After her immortal role as Toto, Terry appeared in a half-dozen other films. In 1942, three years after The Wizard of Oz, Terry's name was officially changed to Toto.

Terry died in 1945 at the age of 13 (that's 91 in human years). She was buried in the pet burial area behind Carl Spitz's residence and kennel. But according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Terry was stuffed and auctioned in 1996 for $3,600!

Toto is alone early in the film when she escapes from Elvira Gulch's basket and later she escapes alone and runs to get the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow alone, in order to help rescue Dorothy from the Witch...




Friday, April 22, 2016

TONY MARTIN AND HIS TENEMENT SYMPHONY

Here is an excellent article (way too good for me to have written it) on the great crooner Tony Martin and his version of the haunting Tenement Symphony. The source of the great article is below...

I guess my first impression of Tony Martin consisted of three words: "Please Go Away."

This was also my first impression of Allan Jones and Kenny Baker, who also got in the way of the Marx Brothers by stopping the movie for a song. The excuse in Martin's case, was he played a song-plugger in "The Big Store."

Martin's big number in the film was the infamous "Tenement Symphony" a grandly pretentious exercise in fake-Gershwin with florid and sappy lyrics (Sid Kuller, who later produced a peculiar album of adorable things kids say, set to music, was a culprit) about the harmonious melting pot that was "the tenements." This was specifically the Lower East Side ("the blacks" were in Harlem and "the PR's" in Spanish Harlem, both uptown).

Thanks to "The Big Store," generations who don't care a damn about big band singers, and couldn't name most of them, know who Tony Martin is. Some know him derisively while others are more loving, as reactions to this song range from loathing to "so bad it's good" laughter. Oddly, there wasn't a "melting pot" presence among customers in "The Big Store," except for Chico Marx, and some stereotypical over-populating Italian immigrants looking for bedding.

Despite being so memorable (mostly for all the wrong reasons), Tony's song was not released as a single until 1948. The earliest versions were 1941 (Larry Clinton) and 1944 (Anne Shelton and the transportation-challenged Dorothy Carless). It's last significant cover versions were in the 50's (Arthur Godfrey and Marion Marlowe) and 60's (Sammy Davis Jr.) From there, the musical tenement was pretty much condemned.


Readers under 30 (if there are any) should know that "The Cohens and the Kellys" is a reference to an ancient ethnic play and comedy film series, and that "Oh Marie" was an Italian song, thus hilarious when referenced to an Italian girl going out with a Jew:

Schubert wrote a symphony
Too bad he didn’t finish it
Gershwin took a chord in ‘G’
Proceeded to diminish it
I sought a variation on a theme that I thought pretty
And I found my inspiration on the east side of the city

The Cohens and the Kellys, The Campbells and Vermicellis
All form a part of my tenement symphony

The Cohen’s pianola, The Kellys and their victrola
All warm the heart of my tenement symphony

The Campbells come tumb’lin’ down the stairs! Hoodlya! Hoodlya! Hoodlya!
"Oh Marie, oh Marie" you’ll be late for your date with Izzy!

And from this confusion, I dreamed of a grand illusion
It’s my tenement symphony in four flats!

The kid on the first floor practicing the minuet.

The kid on the second floor yelling for the dinner that he didn't get.
The guy on the third floor waking from his slumber by the guy on the fourth floor practicing the rhumba!

The songs of the ghetto inspired the allegretto!
You'll find them in my tenement symphony!
The cry of the vendor made a lullaby sweet and tender!
I combined them in my tenement symphony!
The yelling of children will greet your ears: "Doolya doolya doolya!
Holy gee Holy gee! Gotta stop! There's a cop!"
Aaaaand from this confusion, I dreamed of a grand illusion. It's my tenement symphony in four flats!!

Speaking of ethnic diversity, few knew that Tony Martin was Jewish. He seemed to have more in common with Perry Como. He was born "Alvin Morris," and got an early break when he appeared in "Sing, Baby, Sing," with one of the era's best loved and now forgotten female vocalists, Alice Faye. Could anyone under 50 even name a hit song for either Tony or Alice?


They were married in 1937 and divorced in 1940. By then, Martin could be spotted in many a spotty "variety" movie…a mix of song, story, and maybe a laugh or two. "The Big Store" arrived in 1941, and after World War II, Tony returned home for hit singles (the best known, though maybe not in his version these days, is "To Each His Own"). He married Cyd Charisse in 1948, and in the mid-50's, made more movies that nobody wants to see these days, including "Here Come the Girls" and "Hit the Deck." Interest in Tony Martin…as well as Perry Como and most others of that type, waned in the 60's, and competition came from a new generation of easy-going singers, such as Allan Jones' son Jack Jones, and everyone's huckleberry friend, Andy Williams. To say nothing of Wayne Newton.

But Tony Martin's stuff still sold to old fans who were finally giving up their 78's for vinyl and CD, and the New York nightclub Feinstein's booked him in 2008, when he was in his 90's. He got as decent reviews as ex-Marx Brothers vocalist Kitty Carlisle did when she also turned up at that club for a few nights of "yes, I'm still alive, I can still sing, and look, I'm not wetting the floor."

Reviewing the show, NY Times cabaret reviewer Stephen Holden called Tony "his generation's Last Man Standing," a reference to late colleagues Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Russ Columbo…and a nice snub of Tony Bennett.

We'll let Holden finish up this obit. He made it look so easy, he was so easily overlooked. But, quoth The Times, despite the "laid-back persona...Mr. Martin rarely appeared out of black tie. Young swains of the 1950s preparing for their first prom could avail themselves of a popular tuxedo model called the Tony Martin.In a sense Mr. Martin represented an earlier fantasy, stemming from the 19th-century European operettas and musicals, that of the impossibly elegant troubadour warbling to equally elegant (and mythical) audiences at nightclubs and balls. In the 1940s Mr. Martin was to popular song what Fred Astaire was to dance."


Thursday, April 21, 2016

RIP: PRINCE


He is not really someone in the era of classic Hollywood that I usually spotlight, but his music was a big part of my childhood growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. I never really collected Prince's music but he was a pop icon. Prince, who pioneered "the Minneapolis sound" and took on the music industry in his fight for creative freedom, died Thursday at age 57.

"It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning at the age of 57," said his publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure.

Earlier Thursday, police said they were investigating a death at the Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

A massive outpouring of grief followed on social media. Some are saying the icon's death "is what it sounds like when doves cry," a reference to his monster hit from 1984.

The singer's fame never waned through the decades, but he was considered synonymous with the 1980s. His fame reached a fever pitch with the 1984 film "Purple Rain," about an aspiring musician, his troubled home life and a budding romance.


Just this month, Prince made news, but it wasn't for his music. He said he wasn't feeling well, according toThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and canceled a concert date in that city. Some days later, he took the stage in Atlanta to perform. After that concert on April 14, the singer's plane made an emergency landing, Noel-Schure told CNN. At the time she said, "He is fine and at home."
Prince won seven Grammy Awards and earned 30 nominations. Five of his singles topped the charts and 14 other songs hit the Top 10. He won an Oscar for best original song score for "Purple Rain."

The singer's predilection for lavishly kinky story-songs earned him the nickname, His Royal Badness. He was also known as the "Purple One" because of his colorful fashions.


His sound was as unique and transfixing as he was. He created what became known as Minneapolis sound, which was a funky blend of pop, synth and new wave.

Prince left his imprint on so many aspects of popular culture from movies to sports to politics. As the Minnesota Vikings prepped to take on the New Orleans Saints in the 2010 NFC championship game, Prince wrote a fight song, "Purple and Gold," to inspire his home team. The Vikings lost. He was the halftime performer at the Super Bowl in 2007.

Last year, while addressing the unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Prince released the song "Baltimore." He performed at a benefit concert in the city and gave a portion of the proceeds to youth groups there...


Monday, April 18, 2016

RIP: DORIS ROBERTS

Doris Roberts, famed for her portrayal of a loving but intrusive mother on  TV's Everybody Loves Raymond, died Sunday.

Roberts' son, Michael Cannata, confirmed the news of his mother's death in a statement issued Monday.

The 90-year-old actress, whose celebrated career spanned six decades, won four Emmys for her portrayal of Marie Barone on the popular CBS comedy series which ran for 9 seasons (1996-2005). She won an Emmy earlier in her career for supporting actress for her role on the drama St. Elsewhere.

Raymond star Ray Romano, who played Raymond, remembered the actress who played his character's mother in a statement: "Doris Roberts had an energy and a spirit that amazed me. She never stopped. Whether working professionally or with her many charities, or just nurturing and mentoring a young, green comic trying to make it as an actor, she did it all with such a grand love for life and people and I will miss her dearly."

On Raymond, Roberts' Marie was a loving, sometimes smothering and often all-knowing (at least in her own mind) presence in the home of Raymond and his wife, Debra (Patricia Heaton), who did not always appreciate Marie's intrusion into family affairs.

The late Peter Boyle played Marie's husband, Frank, and Brad Garrett played Robert Barone, Raymond's brother who felt like Marie's other son compared to the coddled Raymond.


Roberts, who was born in St. Louis, was a veteran of Broadway before starring in various TV series over a career that spanned more than 60 years and includes some yet-to-be-released projects. Her stage credits include The Desk Set, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and Bad Habits, for which she won an Outer Critics Circle Award.

Besides Raymond, Roberts had memorable roles in other TV series, including Remington Steele and Angie. Early in Roberts' career, she appeared on such classic shows as The Naked City and Ben Casey and later she was featured in shows Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and The Middle, which stars Heaton.

Roberts' feature film roles include Barefoot in the Park, The Heartbreak Kid (1972) andThe Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Madea's Witness Protection.

Roberts' passion for cooking was reflected in her 2005 book, Are You Hungry, Dear? Life, Laughs and Lasagna, which she co-wrote with Danielle Morton...


Friday, April 15, 2016

GINGER MERCER: THE WOMAN BEHIND THE LYRICS


Ginger Mercer was born Elizabeth Meltzer on June 25, 1909 in Brooklyn, New York, one of three daughters born to Anna and Joseph Meltzer. Specially gifted from childhood, Ginger studied piano and dance and made her stage debut at age 16 under the stage name “Ginger Meehan.” From the mid-1920s through approximately 1930 Ginger appeared as a dancer in numerous shows, including Honeymoon Lane (1926), in which Kate Smith made her debut, and the 1930 production of Ruth Selwyn’s Nine-Fifteen Review.

While a member of the cast of the Garrick Gaieties of 1930 Ginger met an aspiring actor named Johnny Mercer, who had moved to New York from Savannah, Georgia to try his hand at a show business career. Mercer had hoped to win a role in the Gaieties, but instead placed one of his songs in the show and met Ginger, his future wife. Their courtship continued throughout 1930 and 1931, complicated by the separations they endured as each of their shows toured from city to city, and the two were finally married in New York City on June 8, 1931. They raised two children, Georgia Amanda (known as “Mandy,” the inspiration for the Mercer song “Mandy is Two”) and John Jefferson (known as “Jeff”), during a marriage that lasted 45 years, until Johnny’s death.

Their marriage was not always a happy one. Johnny Mercer had a scandalous affair with a young rising super star in 1940. That superstar was Judy Garland. To the astonishment and dismay of his friends, he decided (as he wrote in That Old Black Magic) that she was "the lover I have waited for/The mate that fate had me created for." Ever after, he called her his one great love, "the one who made my dreams come true," as he wrote of her in I Remember You. Even Hollywood considered their affair scandalous. Mercer was married and Garland had played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz only a year before; she was scarcely out of childhood. Friends demanded they end their relationship, which may be why One for My Baby suggests that the episode is finished. In fact, they remained on-and-off lovers for decades. For the rest of her days she wouldn't allow a mention of either Garland or I Remember You in her presence. She pointedly omitted I Remember You from Our Huckleberry Friend: The Life, Times, and Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, which she and Bob Bach edited in 1982.


Johnny Mercer began to suffer from severe headaches and had some serious falls when he was in his 60s. After six neurosurgeons refused to operate, he was admitted to Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena. His surgeon, Dr. Theodore Kurze, found and removed a malignant tumor. The operation left Mercer paralyzed and mute.

Ginger installed her comatose husband in his studio at the back of the property. He died June 25, 1976, and his ashes are buried in Savannah's Bonaventure Cemetery, close to his parents and many of his ancestral relatives. The cemetery is close to what used to be called Back River, renamed Moon River.


In his last year, Mercer became fond of pop singer Barry Manilow, in part because Manilow's first hit record was of a song titled "Mandy", which was also the name of Mercer's daughter Amanda. After Mercer's death in 1976 from a brain tumor, his widow, Ginger Mehan Mercer, arranged to give some unfinished lyrics he had written to Manilow to possibly develop into complete songs. Among these was a piece titled "When October Goes", a melancholy remembrance of lost love. Manilow applied his own melody to the lyric and issued it as a single in 1984, when it became a top 10 Adult Contemporary hit in the United States. The song has since become a jazz standard, with notable recordings by Rosemary Clooney and Nancy Wilson, among other performers.

Following her husband’s death, Ginger traveled widely and spent much of her time promoting her husband’s legacy. In 1982, she founded the Johnny Mercer Foundation, a charitable foundation that awards grants to songwriters and contributes funds to charities and non-profit organizations in the arts, to selected medical sciences, and to projects commemorating Johnny Mercer.

Ginger Mercer died at the age of 85 on October 21,1994...