Tuesday, February 20, 2018

BUNNY BERIGAN: TRAGEDY ON THE TRUMPET

Every musical field has their share of talent and genius that burn out way too quickly. In the world of jazz, there are a lot of greats that just self destructed even though the talents they had should have outweighed their inner demons. One such great was Bunny Berigan. Like so many before him and after him, Bunny died too early.

Berigan was born in Hilbert, Wisconsin in 1908, the son of William Patrick Berigan and Mary Catherine (Mayme) Schlitzberg, and raised in Fox Lake. Having learned the violin and trumpet by 14, Berigan played in local orchestras by his mid-teens. He attended the University of Wisconsin, teaching trumpet and playing in dance bands after school hours before joining the successful Hal Kemp orchestra in 1930. His first recorded trumpet solos came with it, which toured England and a few other European countries later that year. He also appeared as featured soloist with bands fronted by Rudy Vallee, Tommy Dorsey, Abe Lyman, Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman.

Shortly after the Kemp unit returned to the U.S. in late 1930, Berigan, like fellow trumpeter Manny Klein, the Dorsey Brothers and Artie Shaw, became a sought-after studio musician in New York. Fred Rich, Freddy Martin and Ben Selvin were just some conductors who sought his services for record dates. He joined the staff of CBS radio network musicians in early 1931. Berigan recorded his first vocal, "At Your Command", with Rich that year. From late 1932 through early 1934, Berigan was a member of Paul Whiteman's orchestra, before playing with Abe Lyman's band briefly in 1934.


He returned to freelancing in the New York recording studios and working on staff at CBS radio in 1934. He recorded as a sideman on hundreds of commercial records, most notably with the Dorsey Brothers and on Glenn Miller's earliest recording date as a leader in 1935, playing on "Solo Hop". At the same time, however, Berigan made an association that began his ascent to fame in his own right: he joined Benny Goodman's Swing band. Legendary jazz talent scout and producer John H. Hammond, who also became Goodman's brother-in-law in due course, later wrote that he helped persuade Gene Krupa to re-join Goodman, with whom he had had an earlier falling-out, by mentioning that Berigan, whom Krupa admired, was already committed to the new ensemble. With Berigan and Krupa both on board, the Goodman band made the legendary, often disheartening tour that ended with their unexpectedly headline-making stand at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, the stand often credited with the "formal" launch of the swing era. Berigan recorded a number of classic solos while with Goodman, including on "King Porter Stomp", "Sometimes I'm Happy", and "Blue Skies".

 In 1937, Berigan assembled a band to record and tour under his name, picking the then-little known Ira Gershwin/Vernon Duke composition, "I Can't Get Started" as his theme song. He made three attempts to organize a band of his own, his last try meeting success, playing trumpet in nearly every number while directing the band. Berigan's bravura trumpet work and curiously attractive vocal made his recorded performance of it for Victor the biggest hit of his career. Berigan modeled his trumpet style in part on Louis Armstrong's, and often acknowledged Armstrong as his idol. Still, his trumpet sound and jazz ideas were unique, earning Armstrong's praise both before and after Berigan's death.


Berigan got the itch to lead his own band full-time and did so from early 1937 until June 1942, with one six-month hiatus in 1940, when he became a sideman in Tommy Dorsey's band. Some of the records he made with his own bands were equal in quality to the sides he cut with Goodman and Dorsey. But a series of misfortunes as well as Berigan's alcoholism worked against his financial success as a bandleader. Bunny also began a torrid affair with singer Lee Wiley in 1936, which lasted into 1940. The various stresses of bandleading drove Berigan to drink even more heavily. Nevertheless, musicians considered him an excellent bandleader.

Berigan's business troubles drove him to declare bankruptcy in 1939, and shortly after to join Tommy Dorsey as a featured jazz soloist. By September 1940, Berigan briefly led a new small group, but soon reorganized a touring big band. Berigan led moderately successful big bands from the fall of 1940 into early 1942, and was on the comeback trail when his health declined alarmingly. On April 20, 1942, while on tour, Berigan was hospitalized with pneumonia in Allegheny General Hospital Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until May 8. But his doctors discovered worse news: that cirrhosis had severely damaged his liver. He was advised to stop drinking and stop playing the trumpet for an undetermined length of time. Berigan couldn't do either. 


He returned to his band on tour, and played for a few weeks before he returned to the Van Cortlandt Hotel where he made his home in New York City and suffered a massive hemorrhage on May 31, 1942. He died two days later in Polyclinic Hospital, New York, at age 33. He was survived by his wife, Donna, and his two young daughters, Patricia, 10, and Joyce, 6. Funeral services were conducted Jun 3 at St. Malachy's Church, New York. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery south of Fox Lake.

In compliance with Berigan's wish, the band was kept intact under his name. Mrs. Donna Berigan, his widow, maintained his financial interest in it. Tenor sax player Vido Musso became the leader. The world lost quite a talent when Bunny died in 1942. He never found the happiness in his own life despite bringing happiness to millions of fans...


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

MORE HARASSMENT IN CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

In a story I posted last month, I took a look at the harassment that Judy Garland had to face at the hands of MGM head Louis B. Mayer. Judy Garland was not the only starlet that faced harrassment at the hands of powerful men. Judy was not the first and unfortunately she will not be the last.


In her memoir Child Star, actress Shirley Temple claimed that an MGM producer known to have an 'adventuresome casting couch' unzipped his trousers and exposed himself to her during their first meeting in 1940. She was 12. Being innocent of male anatomy, she responded with nervous laughter and he threw her out of his office. Fortunately, she had already signed her contract with MGM.

Joan Collins says she lost out on the lead role in Cleopatra because she wouldn't sleep with the studio head. 'I had tested for 'Cleopatra' twice and was the front-runner. He took me into his office and said, "You really want this part?" And I said, "Yes. I really do." "Well," he said, "then all you have to do is be nice to me." It was a wonderful euphemism in the Sixties for you know what. But I couldn't do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office.' The role went to Elizabeth Taylor.


Marilyn Monroe was no stranger to lecherous studio chiefs and filmmakers, and in her memoir, My Story, she didn't hold back: 'I met them all. Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes - an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.'

Hedren, one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite leading ladies, came forward with sexual assault allegations against the famed director in October 2016, after keeping silent for over 50 years.

In her latest memoir, Hedren says Hitchcock assaulted her on multiple occasions, the first of which took place when they were working together on his 1963 film The Birds. According to Hedren, Hitchcock "threw himself" on top of her while they were in the back of a limo and attempted to kiss her. 


Later, on the set of 1964's Marnie, Hitchcock allegedly assaulted Hedren again, when she was alone in her dressing room. Hedren said she tried to fight him off, but he only became "more aggressive" and threatened to ruin her career. Afterward, Hedren said, Hitchcock refused to talk to her, even though they had to continue production on the film.

Hedren said her experiences with Hitchcock—and other men in Hollywood—came rushing back after the landslide of allegations against Weinstein.

"This is nothing new, nor is it limited to the entertainment industry," Hedren wrote in an October tweet. "I dealt with sexual harassment all the time, during my modeling and film career. Hitchcock wasn't the first."

Monday, February 12, 2018

RIP: VIC DAMONE

Vic Damone, whose mellow baritone once earned praise from Frank Sinatra as "the best pipes in the business," has died in Florida at the age of 89, his daughter said.

Victoria Damone told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday that her father died Sunday at a Miami Beach hospital from complications of a respiratory illness. Damone retired from performing back in 2002 after a  stroke, but he did perform one more time in 2011 at the Kravis Performing Arts Center in Palm Beach. He reportedly did it to show himself and his grandchildren that he still had it.

Damone's easy-listening romantic ballads brought him million-selling records and sustained a half-century career in recordings, movies and nightclub, concert and television appearances.

Damone's career began climbing in the 1940s after he won a tie on the radio show "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Hunt." His hit singles included "Again," ''You're Breaking My Heart," ''My Heart Cries for You," ''On the Street Where You Live" and, in 1957, the title song of the Cary Grant film An Affair To Remember (1957).

Damone's style as a lounge singer remained constant through the years: straightforward, concentrated on melody and lyrics without resorting to vocal gimmicks. Like many young singers of his era, he idolized Sinatra.

"I tried to mimic him," Damone said in a 1992 interview with Newsday. "I decided that if I could sound like Frank maybe I did have a chance. I was singing his words, breathing his breaths, (doing) his interpretation, with the high notes, the synergy."


Sinatra and Damone, along with Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Dean Martin and others, formed a group of Italian Americans who dominated the postwar pop music field. And far from resenting the mimicry, Sinatra praised Damone's singing ability.

Born Vito Farinola in Brooklyn, New York, on June 12, 1928 to immigrants from Bari, Italy, Damone dropped out of high school after his father, an electrician, was injured on the job.

Damone adopted his mother's maiden name when he began his career, after catching an early break while working as an usher at the Paramount Theater in New York City, according to a family statement.

Damone still drew crowds in nightclubs and concerts into his 70s, before illness prompted his retirement to Palm Beach with his fifth wife, fashion designer Rena Rowan.


Damone appeared in several MGM musicals and he was originally cast in "The Godfather," but the role of a budding singer seeking mob help in a Hollywood career eventually went to Al Martino.

In 1954, Damone married the Italian actress Pier Angeli, after her mother refused to allow her to marry James Dean. The couple had a son and named him Perry before divorcing in 1959.

Marriages to actress Judy Rawlins, with whom he had three daughters, and Houston socialite Becky Ann Jones also ended in divorce. In 1987, Damone and actress-singer Diahann Carroll married after a long romance, and they paired for night club and concert tours. They divorced in 1996.

Rowan died in November 2016.

Damone is survived by two sisters, his three daughters and six grandchildren...


Monday, February 5, 2018

RIP: JOHN MAHONEY

John Mahoney, who was best known as Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce's irascible dad Martin Crane on Frasier, has died. He was 77. Mahoney died Sunday in Chicago, publicist Paul Martino told The Hollywood Reporter. As a curmudgeonly retired cop, Mahoney received two supporting actor Emmy nominations for his work on the 1993-2004 NBC hit.

A former Midwestern medical-magazine editor who quit his day job at nearly 40 to study acting in Chicago, Mahoney had taught English at Western Illinois University in the early 1970s. He became a fixture at Chicago's fabled Steppenwolf Theater and soon ventured to the New York stage. He distinguished himself in an off-Broadway production of Orphans, for which he received a Theatre World Award. Mahoney won a Tony Award in 1986 for his performance in a revival of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves. The production was videotaped for PBS' Theatre in America series.


In 2007, he was back on Broadway in a revival of Prelude to a Kiss.

In movies, Mahoney garnered recognition in Barry Levinson's Tin Men (1987), playing Richard Dreyfuss' business partner. The same year, he was memorable in Moonstruck as a depressed college professor who regularly had affairs with his students.

His other film credits include a performance as a trial judge in Suspect (1987), the manager of the White Sox in Eight Men Out (1988) and a protective father beleaguered by John Cusak's interest in his daughter in Say Anything (1989).

Although he was offered numerous series after Frasier, Mahoney moved back to Illinois in 2003 and began acting again with the Steppenwolf company, first starring as Tom Garrison in I Never Sang for My Father. The following year, he played Sir in The Dresser.

His dulcet warble was recognizable in voice work on such animated films as Antz (1998), The Iron Giant (1999) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001).


John Mahoney was born June 20, 1940, in Blackpool, England, where his family had been evacuated following a Nazi bombing of Manchester. He developed an early interest in acting, joining the Stretford Youth Theatre.

After World War II, he ventured to Illinois, where his older sister lived as a war bride. He studied at Quincy University and, to speed up his citizenship application, enlisted in the U.S. Army and, not surprisingly, lost his British accent.

(He could readily call up the accent, though, as when he tweaked Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves), his English therapist and housekeeper, on Frasier.)


In Chicago, Mahoney quickly distinguished himself, winning roles in such works as The Misanthrope, The Price, What the Butler Saw and The Water Engine. In 1977, he met actor John Malkovich, a founder of the Steppenwolf theater, and was invited by him to join the troupe.

At Steppenwolf, Mahoney thrived, performing in such productions as The Hothouse, And a Nightingale Sang, Loose Ends, Of Mice and Men, Balm in Gilead and Death of a Salesman.

Fittingly, one of Mahoney's first TV credit was for a role on NBC's Chicago Story in 1982. More recently, he had a recurring role as Betty White's love interest on Hot in Cleveland. It was his last role in 2014...


FIVE THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT LESLEY GORE

Lesley Gore was one of my Father's favorite singers. (As a coincidence, my Father would have turned 72 today) He constantly would play me the 45rpm of It's My Party. Gore died suddenly of lung cancer in 2015, but a new generation is be introduced to her. My five year old daughter knows every word to You Don't Own Me. Here are som facts about the singing legend that you might not know...



1. Quincy Jones and Lesley Gore made each other stars

Demos recorded by Gore's vocal coach when she had just turned 16 reached Jones while he was an A&R man on the rise at Mercury Records. He called her up, and at the end of March, they entered a studio together, and by June 1 It's My Party had topped the American charts. Within the year, Quincy Jones had become the first African American vice-president of Mercury Records. Gore and Jones went on to release a handful of Top 10 songs together, four of which (It's My Party, Judy's Turn to Cry, She's a Fool and You Don't Own Me) went on to sell more than a million copies a piece.


2. It's My Party went on the 'maybe pile'

Gore, still in junior high when she recorded the Grammy-nominated hit, wasn't convinced when she first heard the John Gluck, Wally Gold and Herb Weiner-written song. Reportedly, she said: "That's not half bad. I like it. Good melody. Let's put it on the maybe pile". But it was the best of a bad bunch, and due to being the only demo Jones and Gore agreed on, they recorded it.


3. She released a feminist anthem at 17

Gore's last top 10 single was also her most politically important. You Don't Own Me was written by John Madara and David White and recorded by Gore in 1963. Although she remembers at the time thinking that "it had an important humanist quality", its lyrics ("And don't tell me what to do / And don't tell me what to say") were picked up by the second wave feminist movement and still had resonance five decades later, when celebrities including Tavi Gevison, songwriter SIA and actress and director Lena Dunham mimed to it in a campaign video against Mitt Romney's family planning policies. In 2010, Gore said of the song: "I don’t care what age you are — whether you’re 16 or 116 — there’s nothing more wonderful than standing on the stage and shaking your finger and singing, ‘Don’t tell me what to do."



4. She played Catwoman's sidekick

Gore made a foray into acting in 1967, when she guest-starred as Pussycat, Catwoman's musical minion, and mimed to California Nights and Scat! Darn Catwoman.


5. Gore was openly gay

Her third album may have been called Boys, Boys, Boys, but in 2004 Gore hosted LGBT news show In the Life. She revealed the next year that she was lesbian, and had been living with her long-term partner, jewellry designer Lois Sasson for 23 years. As for why she hadn't come out "on the record" earlier, Gore explained: "I just never found it was necessary because I really never kept my life private. Those who knew me, those who worked with me were well aware."




Saturday, February 3, 2018

WHAT CHRISTOPHER WALKEN KNOWS

When news broke recently that Robert Wagner is officially a “person of interest” in the 1981 death of Natalie Wood, actor Christopher Walken — one of the last people to see Wood alive — didn’t make a statement. But don’t expect him to say much on the topic — ever.

Walken was one of the three people on Wood and Wagner’s boat, the Splendour, when she was found dead, floating in the water off California’s Catalina Island, on Nov. 29, 1981. The third person was Dennis Davern, the boat’s captain. While Wagner wrote about the tragedy in his 2009 memoir, Pieces of My Heart: A Life, and Davern has given interviews to the likes of Today and TMZ, Walken has rarely commented.

He gave a curt quote to People magazine about Wood’s death in 1986: “I don’t know what happened,” Walken said. “She slipped and fell in the water. I was in bed then. It was a terrible thing. Look, we’re in a conversation I won’t have. It’s a f***ing bore.” The magazine noted that Walken “snapped” his response and that his eyes were “icy.”


However, Walken opened up more in a 1997 interview with Playboy, theorizing how Wood ended up in the water.

“Anybody there saw the logistics — of the boat, the night, where we were, that it was raining — and would know exactly what happened,” Walken told the magazine (and recently referenced in the Hollywood Reporter). “You hear about things happening to people — they slip in the bathtub, fall down the stairs, step off the curb in London because they think that the cars come the other way — and they die. You feel you want to die making an effort at something; you don’t want to die in some unnecessary way.”

Walken had accompanied Wood, his co-star in the 1983 thriller Brainstorm, and her famous husband on their Thanksgiving weekend trip.

“What happened that night only she knows, because she was alone,” Walken said. “She had gone to bed before us, and her room was at the back. A dinghy was bouncing against the side of the boat, and I think she went out to move it. There was a ski ramp that was partially in the water. It was slippery — I had walked on it myself. She had told me she couldn’t swim; in fact, they had to cut a swimming scene from [Brainstorm]. She was probably half asleep, and she was wearing a coat.”

Walken suspected that Wood also might have hit her head before falling into the water....