John And Marsha are back!
The comedic genius that is Stan Freberg was a major recording artist on Capitol Records beginning in the 1950’s. His satirical comedy routines naturally led him into the world of advertising and the TV commercials that he produced are still recognized as classics to this day. Last week, in the 4th season premiere of AMC’s hit series “Mad Men”, two of the characters (including one of the show’s stars, Elisabeth Moss) began mimicking Stan’s breakthrough routine “John And Marsha” in which two lovers repeatedly exchange only their names but in ever-changing, melodramatic fashion. Stan’s routine was in fact a marvelous send-up of soap operas which he had initially demoed on a private tape; he played it to Capitol’s Cliffie Stone and the label immediately signed him up. Supported by Cliffie Stone & His Orchestra with the accompanying melody arranged by Billy Leibert and with Ken Nelson producing, Stan recorded the studio version of “John And Marsha” on November 7, 1950. The single was released on February 8, ’51 and it not only launched Stan’s career but created a virtual firestorm in the media because of its originality and the fact that it became a talking point craze around many water coolers!
Since coming to Hollywood in 1976, I have always been fascinated to discover buildings and places that have links with movieland history. For instance, there’s a house in a neighborhood not too far from where we live that was the home of actor Craig Stevens (the star of TV’s “Peter Gunn”) and his wife Alexis Smith, the Warner Bros. contract star of the 1940’s who years later co-starred in the Broadway musical “Follies” and appeared for a season as Barbara Bel Geddes’ crazed sister on the TV series “Dallas”. My wife and I occasionally saw Craig Stevens dining in Schwabs during his later years. The Stevens’ house had originally been owned by actress Loretta Young and her producer/husband Tom Lewis who at one time had lived in the building next door.
I remember briefly meeting two veteran members of the Hollywood community, almost by accident. One day in the early 80’s when I was walking our dog along Marmont Avenue, I came across a bunch of keys lying on the footpath directly in front of a house. I picked up the keys, walked up the steps and rang the doorbell and it was answered by a beautiful lady in her 70’s ; it was the veteran singer Peg LaCentra. I showed her the keys but she couldn’t identify them but she turned to her husband who was by then standing behind her and I immediately recognized him as the great actor Paul Stewart. As you can see from the illustration above, Peg sang with Artie Shaw & His Orchestra in the 1930’s; she was also an important ‘ghost’ singer in Hollywood, providing the vocals for Ida Lupino in “The Man I Love” (Warner Bros: 1947) and for Susan Hayward in “Smash-Up: The Story Of A Woman” released by Universal that same year. My favorite performance of hers was a brief on-screen appearance as the singer/pianist in a poignant barroom sequence in the 1946 Warner Bros. romantic drama “Humoresque”; ; the scene opened with Peg singing two lines from Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me”. Sitting at a side table, wealthy socialite Joan Crawford argues with violinist John Garfield and then smashes a glass against the wall; the two of them leave the room after which the camera moves back over to Peg who appropriately sings the first two lines of Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love”.
Paul Stewart had been a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre company and was a leading member of the cast of Welles’ masterpiece “Citizen Kane” (RKO: 1941). In later years, he was an extremely busy actor in both movies and television. Paul died in 1986 and Peg passed away ten years later.
Vintage Hollywood Snapshot:
Back in the 1950’s long before swanky Hollywood nightspot Ciro’s was turned into what we now know as The Comedy Store, headliner Peggy Lee was pictured outside the club when she was appearing there. What the workmen were doing is anyone’s guess!
I’ve always been an avid collector of music and movie-related books and one of the hardest decisions these days is what to keep and what to discard. My wife is particularly concerned that we have acquired and kept far too many possessions whether they be books, CD’s, records, videos, DVD’s and reference files that have at times seemingly come close to devouring us! She is regularly and systematically attacking our vast library so that we can review what we have and decide what we can live without. This past weekend, she found some books and magazines which were hidden behind the flatscreen TV in the bedroom; we discovered some hidden gems but for the most part they were items that we really don’t need to keep forever. Among them are some early issues of a very fine British movie magazine created by Peter Cowie & Allen Eyles titled “Focus On Film” which was launched back in 1970. Trouble is that when you come across treasures like this, the first instinct is to sit down and read them all, cover to cover! Alright – you’re probably right – I won’t read every word but as I glance at the covers, I think I just have to read the ‘Interview with James Mason’ and an account of ‘Robert Wise at RKO’ is far too fascinating a proposition not to immediately examine in depth!
Question of the week
Just a personal thought…but unless the new movie , “The Kids Are All Right” is about political leanings of the kids in question, shouldn’t the title be spelled “The Kids Are Alright” ????
You’ve heard that song before
The old-time Hollywood film studios very often re-used musical themes (of which they owned the copyrights) in movies long after the film for which they were written had come and gone. Here’s one of my favorite examples: The song “The First Time I Saw You” (Nathaniel Shilkret/Allie Wrubel) was introduced – as the illustrated sheet music indicates – in the 1937 RKO post-Civil War drama “The Toast Of New York”; it was actually sung on-screen in that picture by Frances Farmer. Then in 1947, RKO re-worked the melody as the recurring theme in their film noir classic “Out Of The Past”
Classic Rock Songs
“After Midnight” (J.J. Cale)
Originally recorded by J.J. Cale on a Snuff Garrett-produced Liberty single in 1967, it was later successfully covered by Eric Clapton on a session produced by Delaney Bramlett. J.J. re-cut the song himself for Leon Russell & Denny Cordell’s Shelter label. Clapton himself re-recorded “After Midnight” in 1988 for a TV beer commercial for Michelob.
Eric Clapton (Atco: 1970) US Pop hit
J.J. Cale (Shelter: 1972 re-recording) US Pop hit
Other versions include: Chet Atkins (RCA), Maggie Bell (Atlantic), Jerry Garcia (Arista), Merl Saunders (Fantasy)
(Updated entry from my book “Who Sang What In Rock ‘n’ Roll” published by Blandford/Cassell, London in 1990)
Movie Quote of yesteryear:
“I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few days while you loved me”
Spoken by Humphrey Bogart as a Hollywood screenwriter reading dialog from a potential script in the suspense drama “In A Lonely Place” (Columbia: 1950)
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