Wednesday, February 07, 2007


He was born the same year as my mother in March of 1913 and bar none, the late great Frankie Laine will always be remembered by the heart of me. What an incredible voice this man had-- and one of the nicest people you could ever meet. The cause of his demise was cardiovascular disease just like my dad's own cause of death. Mr. Laine died at Scripps Mercy Hospital, where he had been admitted for a hip replacement. He had lived in San Diego since 1968. Frankie's voice was electric, direct and clear. He took a lusty, rough-edged approach to his music, even with the sweetest ballads, saying he was inspired to do so by listening to Louis Armstrong play the trumpet. “I use my voice like a horn,” he told The Saturday Evening Post in 1954. That voice was seemingly heard everywhere in Mr. Laine’s heyday, not just on radios and jukeboxes, but also on the soundtracks of movies and television shows. His was the voice that sang of the American West in “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957), “3:10 to Yuma” (1957) and “Man Without a Star” (1955). He starred in more than a half-dozen musicals on film. And on television, he was the host of three different variety shows in the 1950s. He also sang the theme song to the “Rawhide” series, which was broadcast from 1959 to 1966 and starred a young Clint Eastwood. Boy, do i love that song! He made a hit recording of the theme music from “High Noon” (1952), though the voice used in the movie was Tex Ritter’s. Years later, Mr. Laine sang on the soundtrack of the Mel Brooks comedy “Blazing Saddles” (1974). Mel tells the most wonderful story about this. It seems that Frankie wasn't told that this incredibly funny movie was supposed to be a great spoof. He thought it was simply a big screen western like "Rawhide" had been on television. And so he walks into the recording studio and sings this song as a big bravado ballad type thing and Brooks is listening in the other room unseen by Frankie. And he's laughing so hard, he can't stop. And somebody asks Mel "Shall we go in there and tell him" Mel Brooks said "Hell-- No-- that's perfect--nobody's expecting that. And of course, they weren't. Now one of the highlights of watching that classic comedy is Frankie Laine's bravado singing of the title song at it's start! In all, Frankie Laine sold more than 100 million records. He first found success as a jazz singer, performing standards like “Black and Blue” and “West End Blues” on the Mercury label. With Carl Fischer he wrote the standard “We’ll Be Together Again.” But his popularity took off after the impresario Mitch Miller (another great Mitch Miller success story) brought him to the Columbia label and steered him toward songs with a more popular and sometimes western flavor. Mr. Miller liked what he called Mr. Laine’s “blue-collar” voice. Frankie Laine was born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio on March 30, 1913, the eldest of eight children of John LoVecchio, a barber, and his wife, Anna, both of whom had left Palermo, Sicily and settled in the Little Italy section of Chicago. (Al Capone was a customer of Mr. Laine’s father.) As a boy, Frankie joined the choir of the Immaculate Conception Church in Chicago. After just one practice session, he recalled, he knew he wanted to be a singer, and by the time he was in his mid teens, his voice was being heard in clubs and on stages around Chicago. After graduating from a technical high school, Frankie worked in cabarets for 15 years, supplementing his income as a machinist, car salesman and bouncer in a saloon. In the 1930s, he also took up marathon dancing to earn money and once danced for 145 days straight at a club in Atlantic City.
In a 1993 autobiography, “That Lucky Old Son” (written with Joseph F. Laredo), he talked of traveling from city to city, broke, auditioning for jazz clubs and working where he could. He was eventually hired as a $5-a-week sometime singer at the radio station WINS in New York City and dropped the name LoVecchio, replacing it with Laine.The country was awash with great crooners like Russ Columbo and Bing Crosby when Mr. Laine was making his start. He listened closely to Crosby and liked his style but, he said, he had no intention of singing that way himself. Nor did he try to emulate the phrasing of Frank Sinatra another contemporary, as so many other balladeers did.Instead he developed an intense delivery and a quick vibrato, a style that the songwriter Hoagy Carmichael heard one night in Hollywood when he dropped into Billy Berg’s Vine Street club. Hire him, Mr. Carmichael urged Mr. Berg.“What for?” Mr. Berg was quoted as saying in a 1954 Saturday Evening Post article. “He comes in here every night and sings for nothing.”Mr. Carmichael persisted, and Mr. Berg agreed to pay Mr. Laine $75 a week.His salary level jumped exponentially in 1946, after he recorded “That’s My Desire,” which made the charts, as did many of his early recordings. By the late 1940s, Frankie Laine fan clubs had sprung up in cities across the United States and all over the world: in Britain, Australia, Egypt, Malta and Iceland, among other places. With his burly physique and beaklike nose, Mr. Laine hardly had movie-star looks. But in the 1950s, riding his popularity, he was invited to make a handful of films, among them the musicals “When You’re Smiling,” “Rainbow Round My Shoulder,” “Sunny Side of the Street” and “Bring Your Smile Along.” His first marriage, of 40 years, was to Nan Grey, an actress; she died in 1993. He is survived by his wife, the former Marcia Ann Kline, whom he married 1999. Mr. Laine remained an active performer well into old age, though he twice underwent coronary bypass surgery. He said he was afraid to stop working. He wasn’t used to being rich, he said, and feared that if he didn’t work, he might come down “like a cement balloon." I started a new musical at the urging of a friend by the way. I wrote with McLean Witter over twenty three years ago. This one is called "The Runaway Heart" and is based on the story of the girl who ran off from her latest wedding (she had done this four or five times before) and staged her own kidnapping. I'm just doing the lyrics and the book this time-- I'll let McClean do all the hard work. I did an outline and the first scene and sent it to him. He's now living in Kansas. Funny, I started writing about a girl who runs away from Kansas and finds the land of OZ and now I'm writing with a guy who left California and found Kansas. Bizzare-- but then so is the story of that lady astronaut! Go figure!

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