Friday, February 22, 2008


Loving Neil Simon's comedies are one thing. But loving Neil Simon and the characters that he created for the stage because you studied comedy writing with one of those characters makes it quite important and dimensional. On this day back in 1961, Neil Simon's first play "Come Blow Your Horn" opened on Broadway. Alan and Buddy Baker were the characters based on the real life episodes of Neil and his older brother Danny. I am proud to say that I spent four years studying with Danny-- and bar none it was the best money I ever spent in my life. Neil was "Buddy Baker" the kid who wanted to write for the stage and maybe television who moves into the Manhattan apartment of his older brother Alan-- who was of course dear Danny. Danny Simon was one of the funniest and most wonderful characters I have ever met. He was the real life Felix Unger. I treasure those days of his teaching. In the beginning of the play, Alan (Danny Simon) is the typical lady's man, and his younger brother (Neil) is the twenty one year old virgin who has decided to run away from home, and leave the family's waxed fruit business. As the play progresses, Alan finds out that Connie, one of the ladies that he is sleeping with, is "the girl" and without her in his life, he falls apart. Buddy, however has taken his brother's place in life, becoming the ladies man, while his brother sits around and mopes over the loss of Connie, the girl of his dreams. Hal March played the Alan Baker part and Warren Berlinger played the Buddy part. The father was played by the3 one and only Lee J. Cob. The play was made into a movie, with a screenplay by Norman Lear, starring Frank Sinatra, Lee J Cobb, and Barbara Rush. The play had a London production in 1962 at the Prince of Wales Theatre.An offstage character in the play is Felix Ungar, later one of the protagonists of Simon's The Odd Couple. I remember when I first called Danny about his classes and at the end of the phone interview I asked him a bold question: I said "Mr. Simon, did you father really call you a bum"-- Danny's voice on the other end of the phone laughed and laughed-- boy I guess I knew the back story of these guys pretty well. Was Danny as neat as Felix Unger was in the play? The answer is "more so". We writers were invited up to his condo once which we all called "the sanctuary". It had a pure white rug and we each had to take our shoes off. We had to promise before hand to wear "new white socks". I got him twice that evening when I said "Danny, you're the only guy I know whose toaster is cleaner than his toilet!" and later I quipped "Danny, you're the only guy I know whose doilies are breaking in new doilies". Both quips got huge laughs. I met Neil Simon at Danny's class-- what an amazing guy! My sweetest memory of Danny was when I left the last class session when I said "Danny, I want to dedicate a play to you". Now one of the things that Danny harped on all those four years was "Great comedy comes from great conflict and pure honesty" Now most instructors would have answered that dedication remark with a "thank you"-- not Danny. He was using great honesty to get you to remember what fueled it in the first place. So Danny retorted "What if it isn't good enough? One of my dearest ambitions besides winning a Tony on the New York stage would be (after dedicating a comedy play to Danny) would be to tell the audience the story, hold up the Tony and announce: "Danny Simon, wherever you are, I think this makes it good enough!" So today we celebrate forty-seven years of amazing honesty and great comedy!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


John Nugent and I went into Smooth Sounds studios on Sunday, February 17th at noon and amazingly recorded sixteen of the scheduled seventeen songs in a five hour time block. The singers were amazingly prepared. They included Keith Kraft, Thomas Dolan, Tara Hadley, Lori Schroeder, Molly Summer. Karmyn Tyler, and Paul Hovannes. We recorded new songs from the various musicals that John and I are writing including SEVENLY-- our big "Spamalot" type spoof about the Seven Deadly Sins, the romantic fantasy THE RUNAWAY HEART, another Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale THE WILD SWANS and our tribute to the "Great White Way" A LITTLE BIT OF BROADWAY. Robert Roth was our engineer and Jeff Urband was at the piano. We reecorded a wonderful song that we had dedicated to our dear friend Tony Westbrook called "THERE'S A LITTLE BIT OF BROADWAY IN ALL OF US"-- a song that was inspired by a poster that he had seen last year promoting last year's pre- publicity for the 2007 Tony Awards. Our friend Tim Doran was there in spirit-- he was nursing a bad tooth and a failed root canal at home. Old friend Terry Snyder showed up with his young son Vincent and his friend Rodney. Terry wants to sing again and that was very good news indeed. He and Tony recorded some of the best songs in my library. I learned so much from these guys! Everything went very smoothly. This time we had sent the singers the material up to a month before the recording. This makes such an incredible difference. Some of the best songs recorded were "THAT'S THE WAY THE COOKIES CRUMBLE" and "MARRIAGE WAS HIS WAY OF SAYING GOODBYE" -- a song that was a bit biographical in that the subject of the song is a character who is married eight times and fails fidelity once the ring and the ceremony is over. In reality, that song was inspired by the same true life story of librettist and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner who was married an amazing ten times. He could never remain faithful once he had comitted to a woman in a marriage cerenony. The songs that we recorded for SEVENLY were great-- especially finfding the perfect vocalist for Satan, himself in Paul Hovannes. So it was a day blessed by God and John and I are very grateful for His guidance and help and for all of the incredible singers there that day. STRANGE LITTLE TOWN was recorded for the Broadway musical and that was the toughest challenge of all. The President's Day holiday was quiet at the store and our big inventory comes up this weekend. The new car had a major electrical short and had to go in for servicing-- thank God I had purchased a bumper to bumper warranty when I bought the Ford Focus in February 2007. Well, on to the rest of the week!

Friday, February 15, 2008


Today would have been the birthday of one of the greatest composers in the world. His name was Harold Arlen. The titles "Blues In The Night" "Get Happy", "Accentuate the Positive" and of course the absolutely simple and brilliant "Over The Rainbow" rank Arlen as one of the best music composers and songwriters of the 20th Century. In 1929, Arlen composed his first well-known song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler). Throughout the early and mid-1930s, Arlen and Koehler wrote shows for the Cotton Club, a popular Harlem night club, as well as Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. Harold also continued to perform with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra.
Arlen's compositions have always been popular with jazz musicians because of his facility at incorporating a blues feeling into conventional American popular songs.
Arlen and Koehler wrote several hit songs during the early and mid-1930s. In the mid-1930s, the gifted composer spent increasingly more time in California, writing for movie musicals. It was at this time that he began working with lyricist Yip Harburg. In 1938, the team was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz. The most famous of these is the song "Over the Rainbow" for which they won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. They also wrote "Down with Love", a song later featured in the 2003 movie with the same title. Now here's something I really did not know Harold Arlen was a longtime friend and former roommate of actor Ray Bolger who would star in The Wizard of Oz. In the 1940s, Arlen teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer and continued to write hit songs like "Blues in the Night" ("My Mama Done Tol' Me") and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive". I learned that Mr. Arlen was at Schwab's Drug Store when he was inspired to write the music for "Over The Rainbow". Well another day for colder weather and eagerly awaiting our recording session on Sunday. My store's first big inventory comes up on Saturday, February 23rd-- so it looks like I won't be missing the Oscars as I had supposed because it was originally scheduled for Sunday, Fenruary 24th. Our store will have its brand new lab soon and I am very happy about that! Wel until mext time. Hope you all had a great Valentine's day. John and I went out to a great Italian restaraunt called Bucca's at Universal City Walk -- (the best Lasagne ever-- nine layers-- yum!) and we went to see the amazing film "The Spiderwick Chronicles" in IMAX-- I really loved this film. Young star Freddie Highmore plays the part of both twin boys in the film: Jareds and Simon. Go see this movie-- it's breathtaking and scary and entertaining all in one movie!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Yes indeed, today is Valentine's Day-- the great day of love!Although it is celebrated as a lovers' holiday today, with the giving of candy, flowers, or other gifts between couples in love, it originated in 5th Century Rome as a tribute to St. Valentine, a Catholic bishop.
For eight hundred years prior to the establishment of Valentine's Day, the Romans had practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating young men's rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The celebration featured a lottery in which young men would draw the names of teenage girls from a box. The girl assigned to each young man in that manner would be his sexual companion during the remaining year. In an effort to do away with the pagan festival, Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in the lottery. Instead of the names of young women the box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women were allowed to draw from the box, and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint they drew during the rest of the year. Needless to say, many of the young Roman men were not too pleased with the rule changes. Instead of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church looked for a suitable patron saint of love to take his place. They found an appropriate choice in Valentine, who, in AD 270 had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius. Bow dear old Claudius had determined that married men made poor soldiers. So he banned marriage from his empire. But Valentine would secretly marry young men that came to him. When Claudius found out about Valentine, he first tried to convert him to paganism. But Valentine reversed the strategy, trying instead to convert Claudius. When hefailed, he was stoned and beheaded. During the days that Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. His love for her, and his great faith, managed to miraculously heal her from her blindness before his death. Before he was taken to his death, he signed a farewell message to her, "From your Valentine." The phrase has been used on his day ever since. Now if this isn't a great idea for a Broadway musical I don't know what is!! Oh by the way, although the lottery for women had been banned by the church, the mid-February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine was still used by Roman men to seek the affection of women. It became a tradition for the men to give the ones they admired handwritten messages of affection, containing Valentine's name. The first Valentine card grew out of this practice. The first true Valentine card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time. Cupid, another symbol of the
holiday, became associated with it because he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty. Cupid often appears on Valentine cards. John and will be going into the recording studio to record some new tunes from our latest musicals including SEVENLY (our great spoof) plus THE RUNAWAY HEART and LITTLE BIT OF BROADWAY and THE WILD SWANS, a new musical from yet another Hans Christian Andersen classic story. The song "THERE'S A LITTLE BIT OF BROADWAY IN ALL OF US" will finally get recorded by a wonderful new singer. The song is forever dedicated to my dear friend TONY WESTBROOK. Tony sang and recorded so many of my songs. I truly miss him. And speaking of an old asociation I talked with TERRY SNYDER the other day who told me that he missed singing and that he would drop by to visit us on our recording session on Sunday. I haven't seen TERRY in over three years. He is going to bring along his adopted son VINCENT and I will finally be able to meet him. Today is also the birthday of dear old JACK BENNY who was born in 1899. I still laugh at al of the old Benny material. What an incredible legend of comedy. And speaking of comedy, I tweaked the lyric to "Bit of Broadway" changing "There's a little "Felix Unger" deep inside " to "There's a Neil and Danny Simon in us all"-- a bit more universal.

Monday, February 04, 2008


On this date in 1983--Twenty-Five years ago we lost the amazing and truly gifted Karen Carpenter. Her lyrical voice, her amazing voice made every song she sang an incredible and wonderful experience. She sang every song from the heart and you can tell that she knew every part of that lyric and melody. Who can forget "Close To You" "We've Only Just Begun" and "Sing". What we know about Anorexia Nervosa now might just prevent another gifted star from losing their lives too early. God keep you, Karen, wherever you may be in eternity. As for dear Liberace who died on this date at the age of sixty-seven-- what a showman. I got to see him once on stage in Las Vegas and it was the most exhilerating experience. He was found of saying and making famous the catch phrase "I cried all the way to the bank" and later in his career he would say "You know that bank that I used to cry all the way to-- I bought it!Liberace, known as “Lee” to his friends, was born in West Allis, Wisconsin to Frances Zuchowski, a Polish American, and Salvatore ("Sam") Liberace, an immigrant from Formia, Italy[1] He grew up in a musical family. He had a twin who died at birth. He was classically trained as a pianist and gained wide experience playing popular music. Liberace followed the advice of famous Polish pianist and family friend Paderewski and billed himself under his last name only.As his classical career developed, he found that his whimsical encores, in which he played pop songs and marches, went over better with audiences than his renditions of classical pieces, so he changed his act to "pop with a bit of classics". At other times, he referred to his act as "classical music with the boring parts left out". During the mid- and late 1940s, he performed in dinner clubs and night clubs in major cities around the United States.
In his early career days he used the stage name Walter Busterkeys.In 1943, he appeared in a couple of Soundies (the 1940s precursor to music videos). He re-created two flashy numbers from his nightclub act, "Tiger Rag and "Twelfth Street Rag". In these films he was billed as Walter Liberace. Both Soundies were later released to the home-movie market by Castle Films.He had a network television program, The Liberace Show, beginning on July 1, 1952. Producer Duke Goldstone mounted a filmed version for syndication in 1955, and sold it to scores of local stations. The widespread exposure of the syndicated Liberace series made the pianist more popular and prosperous than ever. His brother George often appeared as guest violinist. Liberace signed off each broadcast with the song "I'll Be Seeing You". This show was also one of the first to be shown on UK commercial television in the 1950s where it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons by Lew Grades ATV company. This exposure gave Liberace a dedicated following in the UK.Liberace became known for his extravagant costumes, personal charm, and self-deprecating wit. His public image became linked with one ever-present stage prop, a silver candelabrum perched on his piano. By 1955 he was making $50,000 per week at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and had over 160 official fan clubs with a quarter of a million member fans (who throughout his career were mostly middle-aged women). He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 for his contributions to the television industry

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Today is the 35th birthday of my new collaborator John D. Nugent. How do you describe a most amaing gift? What sheer chance the two of us should meet. God indeed "draws straight with crooked lines". No other person that I have ever met or worked with has the singular and amazing drive this young man possesses. We celebrated his birthday at Micelli's last night and he told it was one of the few birthdays he hasn't spent eithier being sick with the flu or alone or both. I can not begin to share with you how dearly I love this kind, endearing and simple man whose amazing heart could confort six states and the District of Columbia. He comes from Erwin, Tennessee, but has also lived in the Virgina's and all over the place. His knowledge and love of musical theatre could very well be the very band-aid the Great White Way requires for future comfort and redemption. We found each other on an ASCAP website that provides a source for possible collaborators. All I had ever gotten before in the search engine here was a host of ego maniacs, demanding artists and prima donnas. But John is a simple and most amazing young artist. After all of these years of working with guys who lost passion and gave up the dream and the talent, here is one good soul who is fueled by it. He lives, breathes and exists on the air and the creative juices of the great masters, the great composers, and the incredible lyricists and librettists of musical theatre history. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner & Lowe, Sondhiem and Cole Porter are revered and adored by this incredible craftsman. His musical talents absolutely blow me away. He supports me, puts up with my emotions, understands the way I think and hasn't a bad ego bone in his body. When he smiles, he makes you happy. When he laughs-- you laugh. When he writes--oh my sweet God how wonderful he writes. I have always been both the music and lyrics and now I do mostly lyrics but keep my hand strongly in the melody enough to be a true collaborator. Finally, there's in someone in my life who is not afriad of writing more than one musical at a time. I say we are working on four shows and he corrects me (in public, no less) and says out loud to the person we are both conversing with "It's seventeen"-- well, after all that's how many ideas we've kicked around since he landed here in September of last year. He gave up everything (including free rent living at home) and moved here to write with me-- how dedicated is that? He has helped me at work in ways never repay him for. And he has been here five months. What we have produced in five short months would absolutely astound you. It has me. And so, on this his thrity-fifth birthday I offer him this salute and my prayer of thanksgiving to God for what I call "The amazing gift" He is brilliant, kind, loving and one of the best friends I have ever had. I love all my collaborators-- most especially dear Tim Doran-- the other amazing gift of my life, but with John I have a true dreamer so much like me, so amazingly talented and some one who carries the dream torch as highly and as tenaciously and as forever as me. He has nothing to lose because he has been quite literally 'the starving artist" He has existed --sometimes for months on 'Top Ramen." He simply shows no fear because he has really truly suffered for his art. He has paid the muses dearly: and muses, dear friends can be very demanding. You want their help? Well, you had better be ready to suffer for the gift. It's not "just given" to anyone. I love music. I love creating it. I think any individual who has the chance to be truly trained in it is so damn lucky. My gift is in my head. I can't play piano or write down complicated notation, but with gifts like my dear Tim (and his amazing faith in me) and now the equally amazing John David Nugent there isn't anything I can't accomplish. Even at age sixty, I now have new ambitions of the highest magnitude. Thank you John and a most happy birthday. Maybe by this time next year we can celibrate in New York. Maybe two or three shows at once. Who knows? We can now take Creative Horizons and market "The Traveling Companion', "Sevenly", "The Runaway Heart", "Edgar, Alan & Poe" "The Wild Swans" and "The Ghost Who Saved Broadway" and even "Young MacDonald" to audiences all over the world. Thank you, God-- thank you for the many gifts-- including Tony westbrook, Terry Snyder, Brian Martin, Randall Louis Ames, Eddy Clement and J. Eric Schmidt, and our engineer at Smooth Sound Studios, Mr. Robert Roth. I bow in hiumble gratitude for them all. Now with John, there is an even bolder chance for it all to come true! He just might be the magic that the old creative garden has always required.