Wednesday, October 1, 2014


For her first studio album in eight years, Bette Midler is revisiting some of the vocalists who shaped her the most -- girl groups -- on It’s The Girls, due Nov. 4 via Warner Bros. Records (Nov. 17 in the UK via East West Records/Warner Music UK.)
The album spans seven decades of famous girl groups, from ‘30s trios The Boswell Sisters (the title track) and The Andrews Sisters (“Bei Mir Bist Du Schön”) to ‘90s R&B legends TLC (wait til you hear Midler’s cabaret take on “Waterfalls.”)
Midler’s longtime collaborator Marc Shaiman (Hairspray) handles production.
“I have loved the sound of females harmonizing since I was a kid; I always sang along. Didn't we all?” Midler tells Billboard. “I think the idea that you could become part of the group was the thing that endeared me to the girl groups. You weren't just singing along, you were THERE!”
As fashions in music have changed, Midler says, some of the songs had to evolve -- hence the country-fied take on The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” that appears on It’s The Girls. “Since this is a kind of overview of girl groups, I wanted to re-arrange some of the really popular songs and put a new spin on them; 'Can't Hurry Love" being the most extreme example,” Midler says.
“The Boswell Sisters was the first girl group record I ever owned,” she continues. “A friend of my parents gave it to them, and I played it to death. They killed. They are nearly forgotten today. The '60s were the height of girl-group frenzy, so there were a lot of songs to chose from, but from the '90s on, my favorites were TLC and Destiny's Child. ‘Waterfalls’ was a heartbreaker, especially if you were a mom, and it had a big effect on me. I never thought I would have the nerve to sing it, but we had an idea for it that works, and I am so glad I took the chance.”
Though she’s teased retirement from the road over the years, a new tour is in the works, too, a spokeswoman for Midler teases.
Adds Midler of revisiting the many eras of girl groups, “All in all, there is such a rich and emotional history to this music, it's a joy to dust it off and take another listen...So Bette Midler!”
It’s The Girls Track List: 
Originally performed by The Ronettes
Originally performed by The Chiffons
Originally performed by The Andrews Sisters
All Vocals by Bette Midler
Originally performed by The Shirelles
All Vocals by Bette Midler
Originally performed by The Exciters
6. HE'S SURE THE BOY I LOVE (duet with Darlene Love)
Originally performed by The Crystals
Originally performed by The Chordettes
Originally performed by Martha & The Vandellas
Originally performed by The Marvelettes
Originally performed by The DeCastro Sisters
Originally performed by TLC
Originally performed by The Supremes
Originally performed by The Shangri-Las
Originally performed by The Shirelles
Originally performed by The Boswell Sisters
All Vocals by Bette Midler
The Andrews Sisters

Monday, September 29, 2014


“It’s a nice feeling to know so many people still want to come and see this old Jew on stage.” Jerry Lewis says.

We didn’t really think the King of Comedy would go gently into the night, did we? That the Nutty Professor would just fade away after 83 years of making us laugh?

Forget it. This is Jerry Lewis we’re talking about. He started working at 5 and hasn’t stopped since. There’s no quit in this guy.

Next month, the 88-year-old comedian will be coming to L.A. to appear at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills (the old Wilshire Theatre) for a 2½-hour show that may last all night. It all depends on the audience, Lewis says. When they run out of questions for him, he’ll go home.

“I’m sitting here preparing for the show like it’s a 15-week engagement,” he quips last week from his office in his 10,000-square-foot home just off the Las Vegas strip — a six minute drive to the nearest black jack and craps table.

“I love to gamble,” says the man whose whole life has been one big gamble.

The word is Lewis is a tough interview. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly. His record for the shortest sit-down with a reporter is under one minute. An out-of-town entertainment writer asked him what he was doing in Vegas?

Lewis shot back, “I’ve lived here for 36 years, schmuck.” End of interview. Next time do your homework, pal.

People are going to be paying good money to sit in that theater, and I’m going to be perfect,” he says, opening a red, loose-leaf binder of old film clips from his days with Dean Martin, along with jokes, songs, and skits he’ll be performing.

“I’m too old for pratfalls anymore but I promise the audience will be absolutely enthralled at how quietly I sit,” he jokes.

His voice is strong, his patented funny faces still get a laugh, and his jokes are timeless. The only concession to age is a pair of earphones he wears during the interview to amplify sound.
“I did a concert three weeks ago, and a woman gets up and says ‘what do you say to the fact that I want to just hug you and rub you all over me?’

“I said ‘I’m in room 713.’ ” Bada-boom. 

He still feels deep regrets about never finishing the job he had for 61 years hosting the MDA telethon and raising more than $2.6 billion to find a cure for muscular dystrophy. He wants to do a 21-hour telethon for the Wounded Warriors program, and Lewis claims he has big name stars like George Clooney and Billy Crystal ready to help. Also, Lewis is currently writing a one-man show that he hopes to take to Broadway.

As always, he’ll be nervous standing in the wings before the show at the Saban on Oct. 10, but the minute he walks on stage and hears that applause the nerves are gone.

“My dad used to say if you don’t get nervous, you don’t care,” Lewis says. “When I hear that first applause, my heart spreads across my chest, and I’m as happy as a pig in s..t!

We didn’t really think the King of Comedy would go gently into the night, did we?


Friday, September 26, 2014


One of the great forgotten gems of the cinema was 1962's Gigot. The film starred Jackie Gleason, and it was not successful during it's theatre release. However, in recent years the film has gotten a cult following. Here is the original review by Bosley Crowther. It appeared in the NY Times on September 28, 1962...

THERE'S a vast lot of Jackie Gleason to pour out the pathos, when he does — and he does, to a point of saturation, in "Gigot" (pronounced "Gee-go"), which came to the Music Hall yesterday. Playing a huge, shabby Parisian who lives alone in a basement in Montmartre and communicates with his taunting neighbors in clumsy pantomime because he is mute, Mr. Gleason fairly opens the faucets that are connected to the mammoth reservoir of his own simple sentimentality and lets the syrup gush. Grubby, dirty and unshaven, he wallows around in this film, a well set-up prey for practical jokers, who treat him like the village idiot. His small eyes blink in solemn sadness, his pudgy hands fumble helplessly and his great, baggy frame droops resignedly when the cruel people make fun of him. His only true companion is a voracious cat that visits his hovel every morning and gets a dish of milk from him.

Then one night he finds, out in a rainstorm, a fallen woman and a soggy little girl. He takes them home to his dismal basement and generously takes care of them. Well, you can imagine what this leads to. The woman scorns and badgers him, but the little girl comes to love him, after he has won her with a lot of show-off stunts. And this leads to his wanting to keep them so intensely and desperately that he steals money to buy them fine dresses and to wine and dine them at the local bistro.

Is this beginning to sound a little like an old Charlie Chaplin film? If it is, we strongly imagine that's exactly what Mr. Gleason would have it do. For it is evident that his characterization of a lonely, unspeaking vagabond, who hungers for social acceptance and the warmth of somebody's love, is modeled after Chaplin, and the script that John Patrick has prepared (from a story provided by Mr. Gleason) is cut precisely to the pattern of a Chaplin film. But, unfortunately, Mr. Gleason, for all his recognized comic skill when it comes to cutting broad and grotesque capers, as he does now and then, does not have the power of expression or the subtleties of physical attitude to convey the poignant implications of such a difficult, delicate role.

His man is a ponderous, steamy figure whose maunderings are soggy and gross—and made only more so in the close-ups that Gene Kelly, who directed, has generously employed. (Remember, Chaplin was slight and graceful and always had a dauntless, dapper air.) His pantomimic exhibitions have little variety. His ways of looking pathetic are blunt and monotonous. What's more, there is too much of him. Mr. Gleason is virtually the whole show. Katherine Kath as the woman he shelters and Diane Gardner as her little girl are apt but confined in their performing. Their roles are stereotypes. (It is remarkable how much the youngster looks like Jackie Coogan in Chaplin's "The Kid.") Jacques Marin as a practical joker and Gabrielle Dorziat as the tenant of the house in which Mr. Gleason has his hovel are most expressive as real Parisians. True, there is a fast burst of morbid humor and sweet sentiment at the end, but it is awfully late in coming. A lot of moisture has by now gone down the drain...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


 You may or may not recognize Johnny Mercer’s name, but you almost certainly recognize his songs.

Mercer was the lyricist for more than 1,500 popular songs. His music spans five decades, from the 1920s through the 1960s. He wrote the lyrics to such classics as “Blues in the Night,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Satin Doll,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Autumn Leaves,” “I Wanna Be Around,” “One More for My Baby,” “Skylark,” “Moon River” and “Emily” — to name only a few.

He composed lyrics to melodies written by Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen and Henry Mancini. Along the way, he co-founded Capitol Records, won four Academy Awards, was Bing Crosby’s drinking buddy and had a love affair with Judy Garland.

“Spotlight on Johnny Mercer!” is Camelot Theatre Company’s tribute to America’s greatest lyricist and his incredible life. The production previews Thursday, Sept. 25, opens Friday, Sept. 26, and runs through Oct. 5, at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $20 for the preview and $24 for all other performances, with reserved seating available for an additional $2 per ticket. They can be purchased at the box office, online at or by calling 541-535-5250.

“Spotlight on Johnny Mercer!” stars Laura Derocher, David King-Gabriel and Jade Chavis Watt. Backing them on stage is Steve Fain (bass), Randy Margulies (tenor sax, clarinet and flute), Brent Olstad (keyboard), Randy Scherer (trumpet), Steve Sutfin (percussion) and Michael Vannice (alto sax, alto flute and bass clarinet).

Presila Quinby directs. Charles Cherry wrote the script, music direction is by Olstad, with arrangements by Vannice.

The production features 22 of Mercer’s songs, covering his entire career, with narration connecting them to important events in Mercer’s life. There are well known songs — “the songs that have to be included,” says Quinby — but also some less familiar ones that mark milestones.

“For example, Mercer wrote ‘I Remember You’ for Judy Garland,” Quinby says. “They had an off-and-on romance for years. She was the secret love of his life.”

Quinby says she knew the performers she wanted when “Spotlight on Johnny Mercer!” was chosen for Camelot's 2014 season.

“The singers and musicians were already familiar with Mercer’s music,” Quinby says. “They knew the American Songbook — the musical standards of the '30s, '40s and '50s — and they also knew how to tell a story with a song.”

Over his career, Mercer was nominated for 19 Academy Awards and won four. His first win was for “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” in 1946, written for “The Harvey Girls” starring Judy Garland. His next was in 1951, for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” written with Hoagy Carmichael. Mercer then won two more Oscars collaborating with Henry Mancini, in 1961 for “Moon River” followed by “Days of Wine and Roses” in 1962.

Mercer was born and raised in Savannah, Ga. He grew up familiar with a wide range of music, from classical to popular to African-American gospels and jazz. He started writing for Tin Pan Alley in the '20s, then for Broadway musicals, and moved to Hollywood in 1935. In the '40s, Mercer had a dozen hit records, singing his own songs. Cherry describes his style as similar to Bing Crosby but with more swing.

“He was sort of a combination of Crosby and Louis Armstrong.”

Cherry says he has wanted to do a show about Mercer for a long time because he feels we don’t honor lyricists the way we do composers or poets. He thinks that when poetry and music are combined, they become an art form that touches us more deeply.

“When Mercer writes about love, he is writing more than a love song,” Cherry says. “He is often writing about that place where love might be waiting for all of us.”

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at


Monday, September 22, 2014


I first noticed a goofball type of clown on one of Jackie Gleason's old variety shows. He talked and looked crazy. He was hilarious, and then one day I was at the flea market and I found an LP featuring this clown singing beautifully and I could not believe it. The clown as well as the wonderful singer was the forgotten Frank Fontaine. Born on April 19, 1920 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he is best known for his appearances on television shows of the 1950s and 1960s, including The Jackie Gleason Show, The Jack Benny Show, and The Tonight Show.
 One of his earliest appearances was on the radio show, The Jack Benny Program. During an episode which aired on April 9, 1950, Fontaine played a bum (named "John L. C. Silvoney") who asked Benny for a dime for a cup of coffee. The smallest coin Benny had to offer was a fifty-cent piece, so he gave it to him. The story Benny told about this event became a running gag during later shows. Fontaine's goofy laugh and other voice mannerisms made a hit with the audience, and Benny brought him back for several more radio shows between 1950 and 1952. He also later appeared in several of Benny's television shows. On The Jackie Gleason Show, he played the character Crazy Guggenheim during Gleason's "Joe The Bartender" skits. His trademark was a bug-eyed grin and the same silly laugh he had done on Jack Benny's radio show. At the end of his Guggenheim sketch, he would usually sing a song, demonstrating a surprisingly good singing voice In 1963, he released the album Songs I Sing on the Jackie Gleason Show, which collected some of these songs and reached number one on Billboard magazine's Top LP's chart in 1963. Despite the comparisons with Gleason and Red Skelton, Fontaine never accomplished what they did and made a career of hosting a variety show doing a multitude of characters of his own creation. People only wanted one—the one with the wheezy laugh he developed as a teenager during the Depression. Being boxed in must have grated on him after awhile. He expanded a bit on the Gleason show by interrupting his Crazy schtick for a song in a straight baritone, popular (if not schmaltzy) with some, but oddly jarring to others. Frank seems to have worked steadily but ran into money troubles. In 1971, he filed for bankruptcy and his 12-room house was put up for auction to pay an almost half-million-dollar tax bill. He was $850,000 in debt. Frank Sinatra and others came to his rescue with a benefit show. His health wasn’t good. He had been hospitalised in 1970 after collapsing following a lengthy performance on the Jerry Lewis telethon. In 1977, he lay unconscious in hospital after what may have been a heart attack. And then the following August, he had just finished his fourth encore before a crowd of 3,000 in Spokane and had accepted a $25,000 cheque to be donated to heart research when he dropped to the boards backstage. He died there of a heart attack on August 4, 1978...

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Polly Bergen, an actress, singer and businesswoman who won an Emmy in 1957 for her portrayal of the alcoholic torch singer Helen Morgan and was nominated for another 50 years later for her role on the television show “Desperate Housewives,” died on Saturday at her home in Southbury, Conn. She was 84.

Her publicist, Judy Katz, confirmed her death, but did not specify a cause.

Ms. Bergen’s career highlights included a chilling turn as the menaced wife of a lawyer (Gregory Peck) stalked by a psychopathic convict (Robert Mitchum) in the 1962 film “Cape Fear,” five years as a panelist on the CBS game show “To Tell the Truth” and a Tony-nominated performance as a gritty former showgirl in the 2001 revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Follies.”

The song Ms. Bergen performed in that show, “I’m Still Here,” could well have served as her own defiant anthem.

As a teenager, she began her career singing hillbilly songs on the radio and quickly found roles in movies. Her early credits include the 1949 western “Across the Rio Grande,” in which she played a saloon singer, and three films in which she appeared with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

She made her Broadway debut in the 1953 revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac” in a cast that also featured Hermione Gingold, Billy De Wolfe and Harry Belafonte. Determined to make an impression as a vocalist, Ms. Bergen overexerted herself, injured her throat and had to leave the show and undergo surgery.

She was less than thrilled with the quality of the movies she was offered as a contract player in Hollywood, although there were a few exceptions, including “Cape Fear” and “The Caretakers” (1963), in which she convincingly played an inmate in a mental institution ruled by a dictatorial nurse played by Joan Crawford. She also had roles in several light comedies, including “Move Over, Darling” (1963), with Doris Day and James Garner, and “Kisses for My President” (1964), in which she starred as the nation’s first female president.

Ms. Bergen made a number of popular recordings, beginning with “Little Girl Blue” in 1955, and was a familiar presence on television. She was on “To Tell the Truth” from 1956 to 1961, and she hosted her own variety series on NBC in the late 1950s.

In the mid-1960s, she began selling a line of Polly Bergen Cosmetics, which she eventually sold to Fabergé, and followed that with Polly Bergen Jewelry and Polly Bergen Shoes. She soon became a successful entrepreneur as well as the author of three advice books: “Fashion and Charm” (1960), “Polly’s Principles” (1974) and “I’d Love to, But What Will I Wear?” (1977). She was also an advocate for women, especially on the subject of reproductive rights.

Ms. Bergen was plagued by physical problems that kept her from singing for more than 30 years. In 2000, she began a cautious return. When she appeared in New York at Feinstein’s at the Regency, Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that her performance “was, in a word, great.” She returned to Broadway the following year in “Follies.” In an interview with The Times before the show opened, she expressed her delight at once again being able to do “that which gives me so much joy.”

After “Follies,” Ms. Bergen appeared in an Off Broadway revival of “Cabaret” in 2002; in the short-lived two-character drama “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” on Broadway in 2003, with Mark Hamill as her co-star; and in a number of television shows, including ABC’s “Commander in Chief” and “Desperate Housewives.” Her work on the latter earned her a nomination as outstanding guest actress in a comedy series. She also appeared in an episode of “The Sopranos” as the mistress of Tony Soprano’s late father.

Ms. Bergen is survived by two daughters, Kathy Lander and Pamela Fields; a son, Peter Fields; and three grandchildren...

Friday, September 19, 2014


I had a great friend from Devon, England - Frank Gill (1920-2006) who introduced me to the British Dance Bands. He opened a whole new world to me full of great music and different sounds. In some ways, the British Dance Bands were ahead of their counterparts. I learned a lot about the bands of Ambrose, Ray Noble, and Roy Fox, but one of the last bands I was introduced to was the band of Jack Jackson. Jackson is not as famous as Ambrose is, but he had a wonderful sound. He also was a very interesting personality.  Jack Jackson was born on February 20, 1906 in Belvedere, Kent, the son of a brass band player and conductor, and began playing cornet at the age of 11 before playing violin and cello in dance bands. He learnt to play trumpet and worked in swing bands in circuses, revues, ballrooms and ocean liners before joining Jack Hylton's band in 1927. He left Hylton in 1929 and freelanced for a while. Jackson joined Jack Payne and the BBC Dance Orchestra in 1931. On August 1st 1933, Jack Jackson opened at the Dorchester Hotel with his own band. With him were some old friends from the Hylton days, Poggy Pogson and Chappie D'Amato, along with a host of other top flight musicians including multi-instrumentalist and ace arranger Stanley Andrews. He became immensely popular with the smart set at the Dorchester and the band always set a good dancing tempo as may be heard on his recordings. His signature tune was Make Those People Sway, and his regular closing theme tune was Dancing in the Dark. By 1939 he had a regular radio show on Radio Luxembourg. In December 1939 his moved to Rector's Club, then to the May Fair Hotel in March 1940.
During the war he spent some years at the Ministry of Information drawing cartoons and he also worked as a band booker at Foster's Agency. He wasn't cut out to work behind a desk, it seems, and he made a comeback with a new band at Churchill's in February 1947, opposite Edmundo Ross. He followed this with some theatre work and a spell at the Potomac in October 1947, after which he gave up bandleading to compere a BBC big-band series called "Band Parade". The following year he was given his own late-night record show called "Record Round Up". This was in June 1948 and it ran for over 20 years making him a household name all over again with a new generation and an audience of 12 million.He also broadcast regularly for Decca on Radio Luxembourg and made many TV appearances, and hosted his own chat-show on ITV in September 1955. In between times he compered band shows at theatres and even appeared as a solo variety act. He emigrated to Teneriffe in 1962, building himself an elaborate recording studio where he recorded his radio shows, flying them to London by jet-plane every week. His methods of presentation included punctuating records with surreal comedy clips, and using quick cutting of pre-recorded tapes to humorous effect. This was a major influence on later British DJs such as Kenny Everett and Noel Edmonds. In 1973, aged 67, he became seriously ill with a bronchial complaint associated with playing the trumpet, which was aggravated by the climate in the Canary Islands. He returned to Rickmansworth, where his 2 sons ran their own recording studio in an historic mansion which used to belong to Jack. He had apparently aged tremendously, all his energy sapped by the emphysema. He made a remarkable recovery, however, and presented a new radio program in 1975, "The Jack Jackson Show", although he had to rely a lot on the use of an electrical air-compressor for his breathing. For two years he was back on top, but then his health deteriorated. He was affectionately known as the 'daddy of all disc jockeys' during his brief spell (9 months) on Radio 1. His humour survived, however. When Melody Maker journalist Chris Hayes wrote to him in 1977 asking for an interview, he replied "Sorry, I'm unable to give you an interview as my respiratory organs are not blowing too well of late. It's alright as long as I don't breathe; in fact, I'm thinking of giving it up altogether, but the appalling funeral expenses put me off". Jack died in 1978 at Rickmansworth, just short of his 72nd birthday...