Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Buddy Moreno has died at the age of 103. Mr. Moreno was a guitarist and the lead singer with The Dick Jurgens Orchestra when he made One Dozen Roses the number one hit in the nation in 1942.

Two other bandleaders – Hal Kemp and Eddy Duchin – were vying for Mr. Moreno’s talents when he chose Jurgens.

“Dick was playing the kind of music that I liked,” Mr. Moreno said in a 2012 interview with Yesteryear Radio (WYYR.com) on his 100th birthday. “And they were all young and so was I. It was a great band.”

It was also a big step in his long career, which began when he was 17. By 21, he was the lead singer for the Griff Williams Orchestra. His next stop was with Jurgens, then on to work with Harry James, a bandleader known as much for his marital status as his trumpet: James’ wife was movie queen Betty Grable. Mr. Moreno replaced Dick Haymes, who had replaced Frank Sinatra, in the James band.

In 1947, Mr. Moreno formed his own band, which made its debut in St. Louis at the Casa Loma Ballroom. He later became a renowned radio personality.

Mr. Moreno died Sunday (Nov. 29) at Delmar Gardens North. His services will be at Lupton Chapel on Friday.

Before moving to Delmar Gardens about a decade ago, Mr. Moreno had lived in the ranch house in Florissant that he and his late wife, Perri, a singer, had decided to make home shortly after he was enticed to become the bandleader at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis in the 1950s.

Griff Williams formed a band in 1933 and agreed to put Mr. Moreno in it if he learned to play guitar. So he did. Their first booking was Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel. Their next engagement was an extended booking at the luxurious Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, where the band was based.

Having proved himself an outstanding lead singer as well as a capable guitarist, Mr. Moreno was courted by some of the leading bands of the time. He joined the popular Dick Jurgens Band and was the featured vocalist on numerous recordings at Okeh Records in the early ’40s.

“We glommed onto Buddy Moreno,” said Dick Jurgens in a recorded clip played during Mr. Moreno’s 100th birthday interview. “Boy, a great guy, a fine voice, played guitar; he was certainly a personable guy to have with us.”

Shortly after One Dozen Roses reached number one in the summer of 1942, Mr. Moreno joined the Harry James Orchestra. He recorded widely with James and was featured in the band’s radio shows and in Metro-Goldwin-Mayer films.

In 1944, he appeared in two musical comedies with the band: Bathing Beauty, starring Esther Williams and Red Skelton and Two Girls and a Sailor, with June Allyson and Van Johnson. He even got in a few dance routines in Bathing Beauty.

His sweet tenor was often heard on Chesterfield cigarette commercials for CBS-sponsored shows, and his Hollywood good looks put Mr. Moreno in the cigarette’s print advertisements.

He was drafted into the Army in World War II, short-circuiting his acting career.

The services were still segregated, but Mr. Moreno performed with an all-black Army band at Camp Shanks, N.Y. In 1996, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he “kind of violated some of the rules and managed to get through to their area. I knew some of the guys … like Buck Clayton, the trumpet player."

Upon discharge, Mr. Moreno returned to Chicago, where he’d gotten his professional start, and formed his own 12-piece dance band. When he put out the word that he needed a female vocalist, his agent recommended a young woman who had sang with Harry James after Mr. Moreno left. Her name was Perri Mitchell.

“She was just exactly what I wanted: blond, pretty and sang great,” Mr. Moreno recalled. “We wound up getting married.”
In the '50s, the owner of the Chase, Harold Koplar, offered Mr. Moreno and his wife steady work. Now with two children, they agreed it might be time to leave the road. Mr. Moreno became the director of the house band for the old Chase Club, playing with the likes of Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Sophie Tucker.

He had a musical variety program, The Buddy Moreno Show, on KMOX-TV. As the big band era waned, Mr. Moreno, who was nearing the age when most people consider retirement, switched careers. He became a radio announcer, always keeping a hand on the big band-turntable. He worked first for WHHM in Memphis. After a year, he returned to St. Louis and worked for several stations, including WIL, KWK, WEW, where he was program director for 23 years, and WSIE, the public radio station at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. He began hosting a weekly big band program on at WSIE at the tender age of 84 and continued until he was 93.

Carlos Jesus “Buddy” Moreno was born July 14, 1912, in Los Angeles and grew up in San Francisco. He was the only child of Charles and Dorothy Moreno. He began singing professionally with a vocal group for $5 a night while still in high school. He married Audrey Perry, known professionally as Perri Mitchell, in June of 1950. She died in 1998.

Despite being a star in his own right, Mr. Moreno idolized his show business contemporaries with the fervor of a star-struck teenager.

A room in his home was filled with autographed photographs of everybody who was anybody during the golden age of big bands and Hollywood. Mr. Moreno is in most of the pictures, including the one of Harry James and Betty Grable. His photo of June Allyson is inscribed: "For Buddy, my most favorite singer, with my best wishes for your success, fondly, June."

“The names he knew,” said Cindy Vantine, a longtime friend. “(He’d talk about) the times he spent with Rosemary Clooney or at the mention of Lawrence Welk he’d say, ‘Larry? He was a good guy.’”

He counted many of Hollywood’s best-known names among his friends, including Ozzie Nelson, Bob Hope and Ricky Ricardo, after whom he named his son.

When interviewed for the St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church newsletter in yet another celebration of his 100th birthday, he was asked what legacy he hoped to leave.

“If I have given (people) pleasure with my music,” Mr. Moreno said, “then what better legacy can I leave?”


Most people remember actress Mary Martin as the queen of Broadway and rightfully so. She was one of the most talented performers Hollywood has ever known, but in my opinion some of the records she made for Decca in the 1930s and 1940s are among my favorite records. I am happy to celebrate Mary Martin's birthday today. She was born on this day in 1912.

Martin was born in Weatherford, Texas. Her life as a child, as she describes it in her autobiography My Heart Belongs, was secure and happy. She had close relationships with both her mother and father, as well as her siblings. Her autobiography details how the young actress had an instinctive ear for recreating musical sounds. Martin's father, Preston Martin, was a lawyer, and her mother, Juanita Presley, was a violin teacher. Although the doctors told Juanita that she would risk her life if she attempted to have another baby, she was determined to have a boy. Instead, she had Mary, who became quite a tomboy. Her birth was an event as all of the neighbors gathered around Juanita's bedroom window, waiting for the raising of a curtain to signal the baby’s arrival.

During high school, Martin dated Benjamin Hagman, before she was packed off to finishing school at Ward-Belmont in Nashville, Tennessee. During that time, she enjoyed imitating Fanny Brice at singing gigs, but she found school dull and felt confined by its strict rules. She was homesick for Weatherford, her family, and Hagman. During a visit, Mary and Benjamin persuaded Mary's mother to allow them to marry. They did, and by the age of 17, Martin was legally married, pregnant with her first child (Larry Hagman) and forced to leave Ward-Belmont. She was, however, happy to begin her new life. But she soon learned that this life, as she would later say, was nothing but “role playing".

Wanting to learn more moves, Martin went to California to attend the dance school at the Franchon and Marco School of the Theatre, and opened her own dance studio in Mineral Wells, Texas. She was given a ballroom studio with the premise that she would sing in the lobby every Saturday. There, she learned how to sing into a microphone and how to phrase blues songs. One day at work, she accidentally walked into the wrong room where auditions were being held. They asked her what key she’d like to sing “So Red Rose”. Having absolutely no idea what her key was, she sang regardless and got the job. She was hired to sing “So Red Rose” at the Fox Theater in San Francisco, followed by the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles. There would be one catch—she had to sing in the wings. She scored her first professional gig, unaware that she would soon be center stage.
Soon after, Martin learned that her studio had been burnt down by a man who thought dancing was a sin. She began to express her unhappiness. Her father gave her advice, saying that she was too young to be married. Martin left everything behind, including her young son, Larry, and went to Hollywood while her father handled the divorce for her.

In Hollywood, Martin plunged herself into auditions—so many that she became known as “Audition Mary”. Her first professional audition and job was on a national radio network. Among Martin's first auditions in Hollywood, Martin sang, 'Indian Love Call'". After singing the song, “a tall, craggly man who looked like a mountain” told Martin that he thought she had something special. It was Oscar Hammerstein II (pp. 58–59). This marked the start of her career.

Mary Martin struggled for nearly two years to break into show business. As a struggling young actress, Martin endured humorous and sometimes frightful luck trying to make it in the world, from car crashes leading to vocal instruction, unknowingly singing in front of Oscar Hammerstein II, to her final break on Broadway granted by the very prominent producer, Lawrence Schwab.Using her maiden name, Mary Martin began pursuing a performing career singing on radio in Dallas and in nightclubs in Los Angeles. Her performance at one club impressed a theatrical producer, and he cast her in a play in New York, but that production did not open.

She was then cast in Cole Porter's Leave It to Me!, making her Broadway debut in November 1938. In that production, she became popular on Broadway and received attention in the national media singing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy". With that one song in the second act, she became a star 'overnight'. This would leave to records, movies, and her reign as the queen of Broadway...

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I have to admit I have never seen the 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life. I have seen parts of it, but not the whole movie. I vow I will try to remedy that this year! In the meantime here is what the New York Times thought of the film when it published this review on December 23, 1946...

The late and beloved Dexter Fellows, who was a circus press agent for many years, had an interesting theory on the theatre which suited his stimulating trade. He held that the final curtain of every drama, no matter what, should benignly fall upon the whole cast sitting down to a turkey dinner and feeling fine. Mr. Fellows should be among us to see Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," which opened on Saturday at the Globe Theatre He would find it very much to his taste.

For a turkey dinner, with Christmas trimmings, is precisely what's cooking at the end of this quaint and engaging modern parable on virtue being its own reward. And a whole slew of cozy small-town characters who have gone through a lot in the past two hours are waiting around to eat it—or, at least, to watch James Stewart gobble it up. For it is really Mr. Stewart, who does most of the heavy suffering in this film, and it is he who, in the end, is most deserving of the white meat and the stuffing.

That is because Mr. Capra, back from the war, has resumed with a will his previously manifest penchant for portraying folks of simple, homely worth. And in this picture about a young fellow who wants to break away from his small-town life and responsibilities but is never able to do so because slowly they close in upon him, Mr. Capra has gone all out to show that it is really a family, friends and honest toil that make the "wonderful life."

His hero is a personable fellow who wants to travel and do big things but ultimately finds himself running a building-and-loan association in a one-horse town, married and locked in constant struggle with the greedy old banker of the town. And when it finally looks as though the banker is about to drive him to ruin, he makes what appears a brash endeavor to take his own baffled life. Whereupon a heavenly messenger providentially intercedes and shows him, in fanciful fashion, what the town would have been like without him. The vision is so distressing that he returns to his lot with boundless joy — and is saved, also providentialy, by the financial assistance of his friends.

In composing this moralistic fable, Mr. Capra and his writers have tossed in a great abundance of colloquial incidents and emotional tangles of a mistful, humorous sort. The boyhood of his hero, the frolic at a high school dance, the clumsy pursuit of a courtship—all are shown in an entertaining way, despite the too frequent inclinations of every one to act juvenile and coy. And the heavier sections of the drama are managed in a tense, precipitate style.

As the hero, Mr. Stewart does a warmly appealing job, indicating that he has grown in spiritual stature as well as in talent during the years he was in the war. And Donna Reed is remarkably poised and gracious as his adoring sweet-heart and wife. Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, H. B. Warner and Samuel S. Hinds stand out among the group of assorted small-town characters who give the picture variety and verve. But Lionel Barrymore's banker is almost a caricature of Scrooge, and Henry Travers' "heavenly messenger" is a little too sticky for our taste.

Indeed, the weakness of this picture, from this reviewer's point of view, is the sentimentality of it—its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra's nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities. And Mr. Capra's "turkey dinners" philosophy, while emotionally gratifying, doesn't fill the hungry paunch...

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Classic movies are filled with talented African-American actors and actresses that unfortunately were only in minor roles such as butlers, servants, and porters. However an actress like Louise Beavers rose above the roles. Even though she is largely forgotten now, the appearances she made in moves are lasting reminders of the talented African-Americans whom were a part of classic Hollywood.

Louise Ellen Beavers was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 8, 1902, to school teacher Ernestine Monroe Beavers and William M. Beavers, who was originally from Georgia. Due to her mother's illness, Louise and her parents moved to Pasadena, California. In Pasadena, she attended school and engaged in several after school activities, such as basketball and church choir. Her mother also worked as a voice teacher and taught Louise how to sing for concerts. In June 1920, she graduated from Pasadena High School and “worked as a dressing room attendant for a photographer and served as a personal maid to white film star Leatrice Joy”.

There is some controversy as to how Beavers began her acting career. She was in a group called the Lady Minstrels who were "a group of young women who staged amateur productions and appeared on stage at the Loews State Theatre". It was either her performance in this group or in a contest at the Philharmonic Auditorium, which occurred later. Charles Butler from the Central Casting Bureau, who was known for being an agent for African American actors, saw the performance and recommended that Louise try out for a role for a movie.” At first she was hesitant to try out for movies because of how African Americans were portrayed in movies and how Hollywood encouraged these roles. She once said, “In all the pictures I had seen… they never used colored people for anything except savages.” Despite this, she tried out for a role in the film Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1927 and landed the part.

In 1934, Beavers played Delilah in Imitation of Life, a leading role that was not overshadowed by a white lead actor or actress. Her character again plays a black maid, but instead of the usual stereotype of subservience, Delilah's role in the story line is equivalent to the white lead. The public reacted positively to Beavers' performance. It was not only a breakthrough for Beavers, but was also “the first time in American cinema history that a black woman's problems were given major emotional weight in a major Hollywood motion picture”. Some in the media recognized the unfairness of Hollywood's double standard regarding race. For example, California Graphic Magazine wrote, “the Academy could not recognize Miss Beavers. She is black!”

Beavers, who was raised in the North and in California, had to learn to speak the southern “Negro” dialect. As Beavers' career grew, some criticized her for the roles she accepted, alleging that such roles institutionalized the view that blacks were subservient to whites. Beavers dismissed the criticism. She acknowledged the limited opportunities available, but said: "I am only playing the parts. I don't live them.” As she became more famous, Beavers began to speak out against Hollywood's portrayal and treatment of black Americans, both during production and after promoting the films.

Beavers was one of four actresses (including Hattie McDaniel, Ethel Waters, and Amanda Randolph) to portray housekeeper Beulah on the Beulah television show. That show was the first television sitcom to star a black person. She also played a maid, Louise, for the first two seasons of The Danny Thomas Show (1953–1955).

Later in her career, Beavers became active in public life, seeking to help support African Americans. She endorsed Robert S. Abbott, the editor of the Chicago Defender, who fought for black Americans' civil rights. She supported Richard Nixon, whom she believed would help black Americans in the United States in the civil rights battle.

In later life, the actress was plagued by health issues, including diabetes. She died on October 26, 1962, at the age of 60, following a heart attack, at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles; it was the 10th anniversary of the death of Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to win an Academy Award...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Just in time for Thanksgiving, here is a great receipe from actor Burgess Meredith (1907-1997). I did not know he could cook, but this dessert sounds really tasty...

Burgess Meredith's Grand Marinier Souffle

Place half of Vanilla Souffle mixture, as below, into a greased mold. Cut a layer of spongecake slices, dipping them into Grand Marinier liqueur. Line mold with slices, and cover with remaining half of Souffle. Bake in 325 degree oven for one hour. When serving, stir some whipped cream into a vanilla custard, and arrange on top. Add more Grand Marinier.

Vanilla Souffle:

1/3 cup flour
7 tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 eggs, separated

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in saucepan. Pour milk in gradually, stirring briskly. Cook over low heat until smooth and thick. Add beaten egg yolks. Cool. Whip egg whites until frothy. Sprinkle with cream of tartar and continue whipping until whites are stiff. Add vanilla, and combine with first mixture.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


It all started on a Saturday afternoon in the early 1940s when my friend Betty and I went to a Baltimore theater to see The Singing Marine, starring Dick Powell. His good looks and romantic songs were more than I could resist!

Before the end of the movie, I was head over heels in love. I even saw the movie again—something I’d always considered a waste of money. Soon I found myself buying movie magazines and cutting out photos of Dick Powell, filling page after page in my scrapbook.

In the midst of this craze, Betty and I were invited to the home of a friend, Doris, for a picnic and swim. Her Uncle Leo from California was there for a visit, and I was surprised to learn that he was the producer of the Hopalong Cassidy serials.

“Do you know Dick Powell?” I blurted out.

“Sure,” Leo said.

“Can you get me an autographed photo?”

“Of course,” Leo assured. “And if you’re ever in Hollywood, give me a call and I’ll arrange a lunch date with Dick.” I nearly swooned at the thought.

A couple of years later, while attending the University of Maryland, I was lucky enough to be chosen as our sorority’s delegate to a convention in Pasadena. Taking advantage of the situation, I decided to stay the summer. I got a job at a department store at Hollywood and Vine and eventually moved in with the mother of one of my friends, a wonderful woman named Harriet.

I told Harriet about Leo, and she encouraged me to call him. When I did, Leo asked if I still wanted that lunch date with Dick Powell!

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Terrific!”

Harriet was thrilled, but I was scared to death! And of all places, we were going to the Brown Derby, where the movie stars hung out.

On the big day, Leo drove up in a snazzy Cadillac. As he opened the rear door for me, I could see the other man in the front seat was not Dick Powell.

“Dick couldn’t make it, Jane,” Leo apologized. “But I brought you another good-looking actor. I’m sure you’ve heard of…”

Flustered as I was, I didn’t catch the name! It sounded something like Donna or Andre, but it meant nothing to me. And I didn’t recognize his face.

All through lunch, people kept asking for his autograph. I tried reading the “chicken scratch” of his handwriting but couldn’t make out his name.

Later, when Leo drove me home, I was too embarrassed to ask the star’s name. Leo had done me such a big favor, I couldn’t let on my ignorance.

“Who was your date?” Harriet asked excitedly when I returned.

“I don’t know,” I confessed.

“You don’t know?” she gasped. “Jane, you had lunch with him.”

I explained the problem. With that, Harriet gathered up all her movie magazines for me to look through, but I couldn’t find his picture. It wasn’t until weeks later that I found a magazine with his photo and name.

Now I’ve enjoyed this fine actor’s films for decades. But back then, I have to admit, I wouldn’t have known Dana Andrews if I’d eaten lunch with him!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


The Thanksgiving film is a bit of a tricky wicket, as the Brits like to say. And to be honest I’m not sure why. The points of drama are pretty obvious: who among us, trapped in a car with parents who are starved for our attentions, has not seen the potential for an angsty comedy about the return home? But there aren’t actually that many Thanksgiving films of this kind — I guess they get overwhelmed by the Christmas releases, every year — and the ones that do pop up tend to be small indie efforts like The Myth of Fingerprints (I am always the only person who knows this one, but surely out there is another Noah Wyle completist who hears me). And no, I don’t count Hannah and Her Sisters as a Thanksgiving movie, because the element crucial to the Thanksgiving movie, it seems to me, is that people leave their big city lives behind, not simply transpose the holiday onto their cosmopolitan Upper West Side classic-six existences.

One of those small movies was Jodie Foster’s second directorial effort, Home for the Holidays. It was released in 1995 to little fanfare — the “directorial debut” publicity push having already been expended on Little Man Tate. I think I must have been so enamored of it because, at the time, I was deep in the throes of a Claire Danes obsession; My So-Called Life had recently gone off the air. Unfortunately for teenage me, she was only in the movie for about five minutes. Still, though I hadn’t (until this weekend) seen it since roughly the year 2000, I’ve always referred to it as my “favorite Thanksgiving movie.” I decided to revisit this opinion.

Well, it turns out that Home for the Holidays hasn’t aged well, which perhaps explains why it’s very hard to obtain. (Your intrepid reporter may or may not have watched it on YouTube.) The premise is this: Holly Hunter is an art restorer who has just been fired from her job as she heads home to Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft. Her brother, Robert Downey, Jr., arrives with his friend Dylan McDermott. Robert Downey, Jr., is clearly gay but the family prefers not to discuss it, particularly not sister Cynthia Stevenson, who is a Republican fond of Peter-Pan collared dresses. Dinner gets served, and grease-laden hijinks ensue.

I had somehow forgotten, in the intervening years, that the chief point of crisis in this film comes when Cynthia Stevenson makes a long speech about how disgusting it is that her brother married his lover. And I realize, in 1995, that wasn’t such an odd position for a family member to take. In fact, around that time I had a friend who came out and his terror at the rejection of his family seemed to us not only rational, but logical. Moreover, I’m quite aware that Jodie Foster, who apparently collaborated quite closely with the screenwriter, was not examining this particular kind of conflict from an abstract place. Even if she hadn’t experienced this kind of rejection personally, she was working from a place of knowing people who had.

But watching it now, it feels false, somehow, for the sister to quite literally complain that her brother kissed another man in public, and that she’s disgusted by it. I am fully prepared to own up to the privilege of that. But it’s a film-ruiner all the same.

We tend to think of the best movies as having a timeless quality. That belief is, in fact, pure bullshit; Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and even Casablanca all bear pretty clear timestamps. They rely on time and place to flesh out the attitudes of the characters, and to elicit particular reactions from the audience. So Home for the Holidays is no different in that regard, I guess. It’s just that a Thanksgiving movie can only succeed if it manages, between all the family infighting and turkey throwing, to give you some flavor of just why we all engage in the ritual anyway. We want the sentiment of Thanksgiving — the ideal of the loud, noisy, boisterous-but-still-loving family to come through. And Home for the Holidays lacks it because it lets that one sister’s sourness ruin the whole. I guess that might be the truth, but it certainly doesn’t make me ever want to go home again...