Saturday, December 20, 2014

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: THE CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD HOLIDAY SEASON

I love the holiday season with all the sights and sounds of Christmas - especially at this time of the year you actually hear Bing Crosby being played on the radio and in stores. I also love the great old pictures of classic Hollywood stars celebrating the yuletide festivities...

AVA GARDNER

FRED ALLEN and JACK BENNY

JAYNE MANSFIELD

BOB HOPE and DORIS DAY

CAROL LOMBARD

DEAN MARTIN and FRANK SINATRA and family

Thursday, December 18, 2014

HOLLYWOOD URBAN LEGEND: VERA-ELLEN

URBAN LEGEND: Vera-Ellen neck had to be covered at all times in the film White Christmas because her neck was ravaged by the effects of anorexia.

STATUS: I would say false.
Vera-Ellen was a popular musical actress during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. She appeared in such legendary musicals as On The Town (1949) and White Christmas (1954).


As you might notice, Vera-Ellen’s neck is covered in many pictures. In fact, her neck is covered up in the entirety of White Christmas. Vera-Ellen was an extremely thin woman who died in 1980 (at the age of 61). While never officially diagnosed during her lifetime (heck, the term itself was barely around during her lifetime), Vera-Ellen is alleged to have suffered from anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness pertaining to a distorted view of how skinny a person is that results in many different effects in people, most specifically, the physical problems of having their body waste away due to their belief that they are too fat.

Vera-Ellen was an EXTREMELY skinny woman for the rest of her life, and biographers of her have made it pretty clear that she suffered from the disease (it was perhaps exacerbated by studio weight requirements, something that afflicted Judy Garland, as well).

While it has not been proven, I do agree that the circumstantial evidence is probably there enough that I would tend to agree that she had SOME sort of eating disorder.


Bill Dennington, a friend of Vera-Ellen, had the following to say on the matter:
"Vera-Ellen was a friend for 20 years until her death. I was in L.A. and had lunch with her 2 weeks prior to her death. If you’ve read David Soren’s book Vera-Ellen: The Magic and The Mystery you would have seen my personal photographs of Vera-Ellen. The photographs were taken in the 60’s and 70’s and she looked fine. All of her life she wore something around her neck, a necklace,a choker, a scarf, a collar, etc., etc. It was her “trademark” like Van Johnson wore red socks. I saw her neck many times it was lovely…..like Audrey Hepburns. Hate that people think of her as “the dancer with anorexia” and not just the FABULOUS DANCER WHO HAS BEEN SO OVERLOOKED !!!!!!!!!!!!"
In any event, to the matter at hand – the story is that Vera-Ellen’s neck had to be covered up in White Christmas because the costumes were designed to cover her neck, which was aged beyond her years due to her eating disorder. If you search around, you’ll get that basic story in lots of places.

However, while I would agree that it seems to be too much of a coincidence that they happened to cover her neck in EVERY shot in White Christmas, I differ about the reason behind it. It may be none of our business what Vera-Ellen was suffering from, but regardless what is not disputed is that she was a wonderful and talented dancer...


RIP: STUART ERWIN JR

Stuart Philip Erwin Jr., a development executive at Universal Studios, among other companies, who was instrumental in bringing shows including “Hill Street Blues,” “Remington Steele” and “St. Elsewhere” to television, died on November 22 after a brief illness at his home in Solana Beach, Calif. He was 82.

Erwin had a long, successful career in the entertainment industry, beginning
as an assistant director on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in New York City, running the advertising division at Ralston Purina in St. Louis, then moving on to long stints as a development executive at Universal Studios, MTM Enterprises and GTG Entertainment.

Erwin was born in Los Angeles, the son of actors Stuart Erwin (1903-1967) and June Collyer (1906-1968). His parents were married for thirty six years. When his father died of a sudden heart attack in 1967, his mother never recovered, and she died of pneumonia a few months later.

After attending Brown University, Stuart Jr served as a lieutenant in the Navy.

During his retirement he remained very active at Brown University and was always a big supporter of the arts.

Stuart Erwin Jr was married to actress Julie Sommars from 1971-1980.

He is survived by his 3rd wife, Diane; his five children; and his six grandchildren. He is also survived by a younger sister Judy Erwin...



Monday, December 15, 2014

70 YEARS AGO: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GLENN MILLER

It was a cold day on December 15, 1944, when Major Glenn Miller boarded a Noorduyn 'Norseman' C-64 aeroplane. Since joining the war, the great American bandleader's Army Air Force Band had been performing for Allied troops all over England; now he was flying to Paris to make final arrangements to bring his musicians in for a Christmas concert for the Allied troops there.

Glenn Miller was a national darling. The famous Glenn Miller Orchestra, formed in 1938, had soared out of nowhere to incredible success, creating over 70 top ten records in four years, selling over a million records, and dominating the American airwaves. When America was dragged into the war at the end of 1941, Miller decided that he would best serve his country by being in uniform and promptly enlisted. There he was transferred to the Army Air Corps, promoted to the rank of captain1, and given free rein to set up his own wartime band.

Miller's Army Air Force Band would prove to be every bit as successful as his civilian one, despite all the close shaves that had almost wiped them out of air force history. Now that Christmas was approaching and the Allied troops needed every morale boost they could get, Miller was preparing a concert for them at the Olympia.

The original plan was for manager Don Haynes to fly with Miller to Paris; however, fate interceded and sent a Lt Col Norman Baessell his way. Miller had bumped into him at an officers' mess at Milton East near Northampton on 14 December and had struck up a conversation with the officer. Baessell happened to mention that he would be departing for Paris the next day from an RAF airfield at Twinwood Farm2, and upon hearing of Miller's plans, offered him a seat on the plane. Miller gladly accepted, and whiled away the night eating dinner and playing poker with Haynes and Baessell.


The morning of  December 15th found Bedford heavily fogged in. A concerned Haynes called up Baessell to find out if the flight was still on; Baessell assured him that by the time they took off after lunch the fog would be gone.

It was bitterly cold outside when Baessell contacted pilot John Morgan, who confirmed that he would be arriving soon. Miller, who had been waiting in the car with Haynes, quipped that Morgan would fail to locate the field as it was 24° F and 'even the birds were grounded'; he was forced to eat his words minutes later when an aircraft appeared through the dense fog and landed on the airstrip.

The trio left the control tower and drove to the Noordwyn Norseman C-64 on the tarmac where Morgan, waiting for them, apologised for being late. Miller must have had some last minute doubts about flying into the fog in the single-engine plane when he muttered: 'Where the hell are the parachutes?' In a twist of irony Baessell replied: 'What's a matter with you Miller, do you want to live forever?' Charles Lindbergh had made it across the whole Atlantic on one engine; their C-64 would only be going as far as Paris. Miller made no further comment.

Don Haynes watched as the Norseman sped down the runway and took to flight. He was the last person to see them alive.


What had exactly happened to the passengers of the Norseman has been the subject of much speculation for the past half a century. The official report was that the Norseman aircraft had crashed into the channel due to either iced-over wings or engine failure; however, this explanation would prove unsatisfactory for the majority of the populace, thus causing multiple theories and speculations to mushroom over the years.

In 1985 British diver Clive Ward found what seemed to be the remains of the ill-fated Norseman off the coast of France. Aside from the ordinary corrosive effects of the sea, Ward found no damage to the plane and, more interestingly, no signs of the plane's registration number or human remains. This inevitably led to unanswered questions regarding the fates of Miller and the two other officers, and encouraging even more speculation to spread.
Theories have be raised for the last 70 years with everything from Miller dying in a bordello to him dying in a hospital of lung cancer. Even his brother Herb Miller (1912-1987) claimed in 1983 that Miller did not die in a plane crash but of lung cancer in 1945. Herb says Glenn created the story of the plane crash himself because Miller wanted to die a hero and not dying in a bed. While romantic speculations of Miller having been the unfortunate victim of a vicious conspiracy may be appealing to those with rose-tinted glasses, the fact is that his death is far more likely attributed to a series of unfortunate accidents than it is to him having been silenced or the government having covered up an embarrassing situation.


However, we may never know for sure what happened in the final minutes of Miller's life. All we know is that he and his companions had boarded a plane, never to be seen again, and the world of swing music is a much poorer place for his passing…


Saturday, December 13, 2014

TELEVISION REVIEW: BING CROSBY REDISCOVERED

I was born in 1974, so my life was decades after the Great Depression and World War II. However, I learned to appreciate the music of that generation due to a close friendship I had with my Grandfather. He instilled in me a love of great music and more importantly a love of Bing Crosby. Young people today do not really know who Bing Crosby is. People in my generation barely know who he is.

Thankfully PBS television on their "American Masters" program presented a great documentary on Bing called Bing Crosby Rediscovered. The documentary debuted on December 2nd, but it did not air in the Pittsburgh area until December 10th.

Of course the documentary presented the facts that Bing's fans have known for years: Bing Crosby was much more than the White Christmas crooner. Crosby established his name on radio and stage throughout the 1920s. By the early 1930s, he had become a superstar. For more than two decades, his name was at or near the top of record charts, radio ratings and the movie box office. He won an Academy Award as best actor for his performance inGoing My Way (1944). He received an honorary Grammy in 1963. His later career included a series of highly rated TV specials, a format he helped to pioneer.

Half way through the documentary, it gets very interesting as Bing's private life is examined. As the documentary tells it, Crosby and his wife, actress Dixie Lee, were alcoholics, and, although he managed the disease, she did not. She died at age 40 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Crosby wasn’t around much for his family because of work, but when he was present, he was a strict father. Six years after Crosby’s death, son Gary Crosby published the memoir Going My Own Way, which claimed that Bing beat his kids severely. It is a claim that Gary later recanted on his deathbed.

For fans of Bing, the music is all familiar, but what is even more fascinating is some of the photos of Bing Crosby that I have never seen before. Even my wife was amazed at how Bing looked without his toupee. There are even sad pictures of Bing at the funeral of his wife Dixie Lee, deep in mourning. I believe the death of Dixie was a turning point for Bing, both personally and professionally.


The documentary lets viewers draw their own conclusions about Bing Crosby’s personal life.

But the film’s perspective on his professional legacy is clear: He was a landmark entertainer, a technological maverick, a colleague who stood up for pals in need. He came to the aid of such fellow performers as Judy Garland and Mildred Bailey. Back to his sons, there is also audio showing how concerned Bing was with his boys, and how they were basically out of control.

Does Bing Crosby need rediscovered? He certainly does. Without Bing Crosby even many of these so-called singers would not be around today. Bing Crosby may have been the most widely recorded human voice in the history of mankind! The statistics are mind boggling, and although it is hard to cover Bing's career in a 90 minute documentary, Bing Crosby Remembered definitely does Bing justice...

MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SINGER SPOTLIGHT: HARRY BABBITT

 
Here is another wonderful article from The Geezer Music Club. This one is on vocalist Harry Babbitt. I had the pleasure of seeing Babbitt in concert in 1988. He was a wonderful entertainer even then. For more great articles from The Geezer Music Club, please see SOURCE

From Crooning To Cartoons – ‘Handsome’ Harry Babbitt Although our mental image of a big band era crooner is of a suave, velvet-voiced charmer who could purr into the microphone while the ladies swooned, it wasn’t always like that. Harry Babbitt, who could certainly fill the bill as a traditional crooner – his boss, bandleader Kay Kyser, usually introduced him as ‘Handsome Harry’ – was sometimes called upon for something a little different. Like doing Woody Woodpecker’s maniacal laugh.Kyser’s outfit could generate some solid music but it was also known for novelties, so when a special new song came along in the late 1940s Babbitt was enlisted to help. The St. Louis native had been with the band for a decade by then (minus a couple of years of WWII military service) and was an important part of the popular band’s many activities, including its numerous movie appearances.

He’d also sung on many of the hits, like “Who Wouldn’t Love You,” but he was just as good with whimsical songs like “Three Little Fishies.” So when “The Woody Woodpecker Song” came along he was ready to tackle it. Songstress Gloria Wood actually did most of the conventional singing in the song, but it was Babbitt’s crazy-sounding woodpecker laugh that sold it. The record became a best-seller for the band and led to the song’s use in later cartoons, which made it a part of every kid’s memories of those days. (Including mine.) As for Babbitt, he eventually built up quite a list of hit records with the band, with songs like “I’ll Get By,” and “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” among his best. But he also had a lot of fun with other novelty pieces like his best-seller “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” (Another record I remember being around our house.) By the 1960s he was ready for something else, and he spent a couple of decades in private business. However, when Kyser died in 1985 Babbitt bought the rights to his musical legacy and for many years led a reconstituted outfit on tour. He eventually retired for good and died at age 90 in 2004...



Sunday, December 7, 2014

AL JOLSON AND WORLD WAR II

Al Jolson was one of the greatest entertainers for the good part of two decades. However, by 1940 he was a faded star. Audiences swooned singers such as Bing Crosby and newcomer Frank Sinatra. Even though he was forgotten, Jolson lobbied to entertain the troops overseas and in June of 1942 arrangements were made to send him to Alaska, via Seattle and Washington. As Al reported in a dispatch to Variety: “We arrived in Anchorage at 9:10 p.m., Anchorage time, and stayed at the Westward Hotel. When they told me to observe the blackout regulations and put my lights out I had to laugh, for in this part of Alaska at midnight you can thread a needle on Main Street. We gave two performances in Anchorage, each for an audience of 1,500 soldiers. Each show lasted an hour and I almost wore out the knees of my pants singing ‘Mammy’.

Al didn’t mention that rumours had swept the camp at Anchorage that Lana Turner was coming. “No she wasn’t - it was Dorothy Lamour,” some one else had said. When Jolson arrived on stage the soldiers’ disappointment expressed itself in the silence.

“Hello boys - I’m Al Jolson. You’ll see my name in the history books.” One soldier laughed, then another. Al told a joke, and another, and the laughter grew. He chatted about home, told them what he thought of Hitler and Hirohito and the laughter spread all round. Someone called for a song. Al gave them what they asked for and he was swamped by whistling applause. Al Jolson had found a new audience; and the soldiers had discovered Al Jolson.

Jolson: “Don’t you feel well, son?”
Soldier: “Oh, yessuh, Mista Jolson. It was on’y when you got to singin’ about Dixie. Well, Mista Jolson, it jest kinda got me - thass all . . . You know Mista Jolson, dis heah Arctic Ocean is an awful long way f’m tu-tty miles t’other side of Bummin’ham, Alabama.”

“Until now,” Al reported to Variety, “the transporting of our small piano had been an overture to an aspirin tablet, but from here on in it became a major headache. In order to entertain all the boys detailed in the vicinity of Anchorage, it became necessary to give shows in foxholes, gun emplacements, dugouts, to construction groups on military roads, in fact, any place where two or more soldiers were gathered together, it automatically became a Winter Garden for me and I gave a show. Imagine carting the piano to these locations. Sometimes it was by truck, once on a side car and once on a mule pack.”



It was during the Alaskan tour that one young soldier called out: “Kiss my wife for me when you get back to New York, will yer Al?”

“I’ll do better than that,” Al called back. “I’ll take her out to dinner. What’s her name?”

After writing her name down with her telephone number, he called out: “Any more?”

Everyone shouted at once and Al wrote down as many names as he could.

“I’ll call them all when I get back,” he said. And he did, informing mothers, wives and girlfriends that their loved ones were in fine shape. Jolson spent time talking to the servicemen, establishing a relationship, till his arrival in a jeep was always met by a collective: “Hiya, Al!”

Stopping soldiers in the street, Jolson would say: “My name’s Jolson. Do you wanna hear me sing?”

‘Next Town Reilly’ was a one man Department of Morale Boosting. “Those guys wouldn’t exactly be immune to a shapely dish once in a while, too,” Al told the USO, “whether she could sing or not.”

Jolson: “We woulda brought Lana Turner but she’s busy with the Second Front.”




In July 1942 Jolson and Fried toured all the US bases in the Caribbean before the USO flew them, along with actress Merle Oberon and singer Patricia Morison, to England and Northern Ireland. Singing whatever was wanted, wherever he wanted, even to troops on street corners, he enjoyed every round of applause. He told servicemen what he had told their fathers about English beer: “It should have been put back into the horse.”

The troupe had been scheduled to appear at the London Palladium with Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels but Merle Oberon refused to appear. “We are here to entertain the troops, not the general public,” she said. Jolson was furious and announced he was returning to the United States - alone. “I just feel that I could better on my own than I could as a member of a troupe,” Jolson explained to the New York Times. “If I want to crowd in an extra show for defence workers in factories, I’d be able to do it.”

Jolson hadn’t ‘gone over’ as well as he hoped with some of the English audiences and as he sat depressed in the bar of the Savoy Hotel, Ralph Reader walked in whistling ‘Keep Smiling at Trouble’.

“English, English!” he excitedly greeted Ralph and they reminisced about their days at the Winter Garden. “They were great days, English, great days,” he said with a tear in his eye.

New York Times: “There were few jokes in his talk. The comedian was playing a straight part . . . For, like many other comedians, at heart, Jolson is serious and sentimental.”
New Yorker: “We’ve just heard from a soldier who was fortunate enough to be on hand at one of the entertainments presented before the troops in Ireland by Jolson and some of the other performers from the States. Jolson, our soldier reports, concluded the entertainment with what was obviously considered to be the best number in his repertoire. It was ‘Brother Can You Spare a Dime?’ - and Jolson gave it, as the people say, everything. No other happening in recent weeks has given us such a sense of this significant moment in history.”

‘The Colgate Show Starring Al Jolson’, a weekly radio show that CBS signed Jolson to do, ran until June 1943. Usually opening the show with an up-tempo number like ‘The Yankee Doodle Blues’, or “I’m Sitting On Top of the World’, he usually ended with a sentimental ballad like ‘Sonny Boy’. The show’s female vocalist was Jo Stafford and the musical director was Gordon Jenkins.

Gordon Jenkins commenting on Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra: “Neither one, I have to tell you, had the electricity that Al had.”


In July 1943, Al left on an overseas tour to entertain the troops. Since Martin Fried had been drafted, Al needed a pianist to accompany him and asked his friend Harry Akst. At their first stop, Georgetown, British Guiana, Al found he couldn’t reach the high notes at the close of ‘Swanee’. In a panic, he was ready to give up the whole tour. Harry had to convince him that he didn’t have to cash in on high finishes - Crosby didn’t. “They died with vaudeville,” Harry explained.



The new Al Jolson voice was born - not so light and breezy but deeper and more mellow.

Jolson had already cancelled his thirteen Colgate radio shows programmed for the fall when he suddenly began to feel bad. In an emergency flight, Al and Harry flew home to Miami Beach on 21 September 1943. Less than two weeks later while standing in a hotel lobby in New York, Jolson suddenly collapsed. Jolson woke up in a hospital bed to find he had picked up malaria from overseas and it had turned into pneumonia. His temperature reached 105F and doctors had to contact a military hospital for the proper serum before he began to recover. “No more overseas tours for you,” the doctors told him. After recuperating in Miami he went back to work playing himself in a film biography of George Gershwin called Rhapsody in Blue.

In October, Al and Harry began another tour of army hospitals. Winding up in Florida, they then drove up to New York, before driving west playing to a string of hospitals en route to California. By the time they reached Los Angeles, Al was complaining of feeling run down. Suddenly struck down by severe chest pains, Al was rushed into the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. Malaria had struck again and this time with a malignant strain to it.

The Warner brothers, Harry and Jack, were gravely concerned and requested General Arnold, head of the Army Air Services, to fly two of his top physicians to Los Angeles. Because of Al’s tremendous war work the request was granted. The doctors saved his life but had to remove parts of two ribs and cut a malignant slice out of his left lung. Not allowed any visitors for a week, Jolson told his nurse: “I’ll never sing again.” Fortunately for soldiers and the world, Jolson would sing again...