Saturday, November 17, 2012

HELEN FORREST AND HER SAD RESTING PLACE

My grandfather introduced me to the big bands at a young age, and to this day I can lose myself for hours listening to the great recordings and arrangements. One of my favorite vocalists was the great Helen Forrest. She made a ton of recordings with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James in the 1930s and 1940s and continued to perform well into the 1980s. Forrest died on died on July 11, 1999 at the age of 81. You would think that a singer with the talent of Forrest would have a proper resting place. However, that is not the case.

In 1934, at seventeen years of age, Forrest got her first job at WNEW, New York, singing commercials. During this time, she sang under anonymous names such as Helen, Hilee, Madlene, and Arlene. When she sang for WCBS, she became “Bonnie Blue” and “The Blue Lady of Song.” When her brother Ed, whose band was playing in Washington, D.C., called her to let her know that there was an opening for a vocalist in the Washington Madrillon Club, Forrest auditioned and soon after began singing in the popular supper club.

While performing at the Madrillon, she gained a reputation for her singing, and bandleader Artie Shaw came to see her. Shaw’s singer Billie Holiday was planning to leave the band, and in 1958 Shaw asked Forrest to go on tour. During the fifteen months she sang with Artie Shaw, his band recorded forty-one sides for RCA Victor’s Bluebird record label. In 1939, while still on the road with Artie Shaw’s band, Forrest married drummer Al Spieldock in Baltimore. Her husband remained in Baltimore, and Forrest resumed her tour. When Shaw dissolved his band, she went back to Baltimore but was soon asked to join Benny Goodman’s band. During her two-year tenure with Goodman, she recorded fifty-three sides. In 1941, she joined the Harry James band. The musical alliance of featuring Forrest’s vocals with the band as accompaniment proved very successful.

Traveling with the band, Forrest was the only woman among eighteen or more band members. She fell in love with Harry James, maintaining a sporadic love affair until James married actor Betty Grable. In 1943, a few months after James’s marriage, Forrest left the band and appeared in clubs around the country. Her husband divorced her about the same time. Forrest’s agent teamed her up with vocalist Dick Haymes, and together they appeared on their own very popular radio program, running from 1944 to 1947.


Around 1945, Forrest met Paul Hogan, an aspiring actor, at a party. The two began living together and married in 1947. They later separated and divorced in 1956. In the late 1950s, she met businessman Charlie Feinman and married him in 1959. The couple had a son, Michael, in 1960, but the marriage was dissolved in 1961. She continued to perform in major supper clubs around the country, sometimes singing for movie sound tracks as well as performing in “big band nostalgia” tours. She continued to record, achieving several hits as a soloist and several hits singing duets with Dick Haymes. Forrest recorded approximately seventy-four songs as a solo vocalist—twenty-two for Decca Records, forty for MGM, and twelve for Bell Records. In addition, she recorded for Capitol in 1955–1956, singing the hits she had sung with Harry James. From 1969 to 1974, she rerecorded some of her hits for Reader’s Digest and Time-Life as well. During various periods of “big band nostalgia,” radio broadcasts and shorts were rereleased of Helen Forrest with Artie Shaw’s band, Benny Goodman’s band, Harry James’s band, and Dick Haymes.

After Forrest's death, her only survivor was her son Michael Forrest Feinman. Feinman contacted many fans of Helen Forrest and fans of her peer Dick Haymes personally to ask them for money in exchange for momentos from Helen's private collection. Many people sent Michael money to have nothing sent back. Sadly the lack of money has resulted in no headstone for Helen Forrest. It is now over well over ten years after her death, and still nothing. I am not blaming her son, but how can an icon of the big band era not have a proper resting place is beyond me. I have tried to get in touch again with Michael Feinman, but I have had no luck.


However, Michael did address this on a another website on September 10, 2010:

"Hello all, My name is Michael Forrest Feinman, and I am the son of Helen Forrest. There is a very good reason why there is NO marker on my mothers grave. That reason is that Mt. Sinai where she is buried, played a horrible trick on me and gave me false and erroneous information. I was beside myself when my mother passed. She had been very sick for many years, and only 5 hours after her passing I had the misfortune of having a sales rep at Mt.Sinai tell me that I should start a fund for my mother who had passed. Well having no experience with this type of issue I made the horrible mistake of listening to John Freare who is a sales rep and he gave me legal advise, which unfortuately I listened to. Well to make a long story short, because of my deep grief at that time and not thinking clearly I was slaughtered in the community and with all of her friends and anyone who was close to her. It is a long story but it has been a very long fight to have Mt. Sinai do the right thing after over 11 years."


I am not sure what Michael Feinman does for a living, but I know that if my mother did not have a headstone after ten years I would make sure she had something. I have talked with people in the Helen Forrest community, and they are unsure of Michael's story. I am not coming down hard on him because I have not heard his side of the story, but it is a crime and shame that a talent of the caliber of Helen Forrest is not remembered and respected more after her death. She deserves better...


SOURCE

28 comments:

  1. Her son sounds like an ass. She deserves better.

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    1. This is her son the ass here Michael, and unfortunately there is a long story to all this mud slinging and I would be more than happy to clear the air.

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    2. Seems like any child born late in the life of his mother. He was her son of a fourth marriage, so I would imagine he has formed some ideas of his mom past. It is not like he was spending ten thousand dollars on her head stone. Sounds to me like he sold he mementos pocketed the money and said good by. May he have the same fate.

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  2. This is appalling, but thanks for making Helen's fans aware of it. If someone (not her son) were to create a fund for a headstone, I'd be happy to contribute. Please let us know of any new developments.

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  3. A couple of years ago, I picked up two terrific Helen Forrest cds -- "Help Yourself to my Heart" on Sepia Records (link http://www.sepiarecords.com/sepia1025.html )and "I Wanna be Loved" on Hindsight Records (link http://hindsightrecords.com/search.aspx?find=helen+forrest ) Both cds are amongst my favourites -- Helen is a totally awesome singer, but it's too bad her life wasn't happier. I can't imagine why someone (or a group) hasn't raised a few thousand dollars for a headstone for Helen -- she DEFINITELY deserves better considering all of the incredibly beautiful music she's given to the world! All in all, this is a pretty sad story. THANK YOU for bringing it to our attention! Dave in British Columbia

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  4. Oh and by the way Dick Haymes passed away sadly in 1980 long before my mother Helen Forrest did in 1999. So just another lie in the long stream of lies encumbering my mother's death. I guess to correct the incorrect info, Dick died long before my mother did so it would be impossible for me to ask him for money.

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    1. I am very sorry about all this mess, whatever the circumstances, but I'd at least like to let you know that not only have I adored your mother's work most of my adult life, but I have also taught my two daughters to adore it as well. They'll certainly pass it on to their own children. Remembrance can take other forms besides stone.

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  5. Hi Michael,

    Although I do not agree with the one reader calling you an "ass" and not even knowing you, it does appear to the Helen Forrest fan that not much has been done on your part. As for the correction, the story was supposed to read fans of Dick Haymes were contacted and not Dick Haymes himself.

    I would welcome you to tell your side of the story. If you want to write your account of everything and email it to me, I promise I will publish it word for word. You deserve to have your side heard at least. If you have any pictures you'd like to share of you and your mom I would include that in the story as well.

    If lies and fabrications are being spread, I would like to correct them for you. Helen Forrest was one of the greatest singers of all time, and I hope she is never forgotten.

    My email is dlobo74@gmail.com.

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  6. UPDATE: A granite marker HAS been placed at her site according to the office at Mt. Sinai. 1/27/15. Check out http://www.fb.com/siriusxm40son4 and watch for an updated photo to be posted there soon.

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  7. Helen's son, Michael Forrest Feinman, died on May 1, 2014. Fittingly, he lies in an unmarked grave.

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  8. Upon further research, it is apparent that Helen's son was a very dysfunctional and troubled man. Unable to hold gainful employment or adequately provide for his immediate family in life or following his death, it is now clear that the management of Mt. Sinai had little, if anything, to do with the circumstances that prevented the installation of a proper memorial at his mother's gravesite (as if that wasn't already obvious after reading the rather nonsensical excuses provided by Mr. Feinman here and elsewhere). Sadly, the fault lies solely in the irresponsibility of an uncaring son.

    Now Mr. Feinman's widow and two young children are forced to live on the dole or rely upon the charity of others to keep their heads above water. A rambling and rather disjointed and bizarre plea by his widow provides an insight into the man that was Michael Forrest Feinman. One can only speculate upon the level of disappointment that his man registered with his mother.

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    1. Have you been in touch with Mr. Feinman's widow. I'd love to look into it further.

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  9. Having known Michael Forrest in grade school, I know that he adored his mother. I also know dysfunction begins in childhood. Mike had a difficult childhood. Being a bit nerdy, he never fit in; he was often picked on and humiliated. With his mother on the road most of the time, he spent his youth in boarding schools. The short time she came each year to perform at the Safari Resort in Scottsdale Arizona, was precious to him. As adults, we take responsibility for our lives. However, we can only do so with the tools we have. Depression saps our strength, exhausts our minds and leaves us unable to cope. I can only imagine how the death of his mother must have devastated Mike. May God forgive me for any pain I may have caused him; may he only remember the friendship we shared. May he be free of the pain.

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  10. I am an ex of Michael's we were together from 1981 to 1990 so I knew him and his mother well. He did live his mother very much. Taking care if her is way we went our separate ways. He always had trouble finding work. He was a great sells person so I don't believe a sells man got one over on him but that's besides the point. Helen never taught him to manage money or take care of himself. He relied on her financially. He should have gotten a head stone for her he knew better. If I had know I would have help. We didn't have any contact but I thought of him and Helen often. I very much enjoyed hearing her sing and organizing her music and memorabilia. She would be mortified that this happen. Please try to remember her beautiful voice.

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  11. I just stumbled upon this website. I am a professional pianist who plays all over the Bay Area presently; mainly at convalescent homes; assisted living; memory care facilities; etc., doing a lot of old memorable big-band and swing pieces - including a number of great Helen Forrest / Harry James songs. Brings tears to the eyes of the many seniors I play for. Love this music and love her! - Michael

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  12. I loved Helen Forrest 's music Helen had so many problems and almost died giving birth to her son Helen had a hard life and Her son loved her very much. May their memories be a Blessing

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  13. I always thought it sad that when Betty Gr able went out with harry some one noticed her saying sorry to helen because she knew he was the love of her life. Helen is reported saying that the best years of her life were the 2 yrs she spent in the war. I wish her grandchildren well.

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  14. I'm new to this. I just love the way Helen enunciated her words, she fondled each letter, with no hint of the New York area accent of her peers. I believe that her born name was Helen Fogel. I will be 65 this fall so I'm way too young to remember the Big Band, yet the 40's channell on SiriusXM is one of my absolute favorites.

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  15. I have just noticed this article on Helen Forrest, who I had the real pleasure of going to see in Manchester (England) in concert with Frank Sinatra Jnr, and the Tommy Dorsey Orch. in fact I treasure the programme that I still have. It was a wonderful concert and I remeber thinking at the time what a thrill it was to see and hear these brilliant musicians. I find it terribly sad to hear about Helen Forrest not having an adequate grave stone and even more upsetting that she was not respected by people left behind ,ie family and friends enough to put this "wrong" right. If I remember, the same thing nearly happened to Billie Holiday, but fans sent monies to put that right, and Billie has a grave in the Bronx and I went to that grave in 2007, which I found a very moving experience. There will never be Singers or musicians of this calibre again, it was an amazing era in music,I just love that I can still hear and appreciate the great legacy that been left in all the recording still available today.

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  16. About 4 years ago, I spent the entire winter in Florida. The car I rented happened to have Sirius Radio, so I explored the options and happened upon the "40's on 4" station that played mostly music from the late 1930's thru the 40's. I ended up never moving the dial again. I'd always liked the music from the era, but hadn't really been exposed to that much. As far as I can recall, this was my first exposure to Helen Forrest, but it didn't take many listens before becoming a bona fide fan. I actually prefer her versions of a couple of songs that were also covered by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald! I'm not suggesting she was a better singer than these giants, but that she at least should be mentioned along with them as among the best vocalists of the era. I wish I had known about her when she was still performing in the twilight of her career, when I was a young man and could have sought her out to listen to her in person (my Mom actually heard her perform when she was a Bobby-Soxer). Sadly, I would imagine that most people today have never heard of her as few pay any attention to music of the past. In any case, that fact that I missed hearing/seeing her in person has fueled a desire to seek out performances of acts that have become a bit long of tooth so that I won't kick myself for having missed my opportunity (e.g., The Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, Leonard Cohen, etc.). Of course, it's no substitute for Helen Forrest, but at least I have her recordings to appreciate.

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  17. Has a headstone been placed at her grave or not??
    If not, let's get busy. Contact me at
    rgm1927@sbcglobal.net

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  18. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6910581

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  19. I posted news of Helen's 100th birthday on Facebook on my page and on some groups I belong to. Helen is fondly remembered by many people who love her music. Her dedication and craft are an inspiration to me.

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  20. Michael Feinman, Helen's son, lived in (ugh!) Palmdale (the Section 8 center of L.A. County).

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  21. The story of the grave stone problem at Mt. Sinai is almost incomprehensible. I never met Helen, but I would have been happy to help pay for the stone myself.

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  22. Michael passed away a few years ago. I know he was trying to go through his mother's things but in poor health. His widow got rid of everything at a yard sale from what I understand

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  23. Clark Gault - trombone/arrangerJuly 8, 2017 at 10:22 PM

    I had the honor of playing lead trombone in a band for six weeks in the eastern part of the U.S. that featured Helen among others. This was in about the middle 70's and she was still singing wonderfully. She was great to talk to off stage and had fantastic stories to tell. We traveling by bus and did six one-nights each week for the six weeks. It was a thrill to be a part of a group that included such a swing band icon.

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  24. I met Helen in Omaha in the late 1980s when she was going to give a concert there. She backed out the night before saying she was sick but I had breakfast with her the next morning and she sang for me a little bit in her room, showed me her arrangements, and we chatted, since I'm also a big band singer. She showed me the ring that Harry gave her and was still wearing it. After she died I tried to contact her son about buying that ring. I left my contact information for him at the motion picture retirement home but he never contacted me back. I wish I had been at that garage sale after her son died. She was the best of the big band singers.

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