Sunday, February 15, 2009




Today would have been Harold Arlen's birthday. Mr. "Stormy Weather" himself wrote over four hundred songs including the immortal "Over The Rainbow" which has been voted as the very best song of all time. The second picture on the page shows Harold playing the piano with such notables as a grown up Judy Garland.
In 1929 Harold Arlen composed his first well-known song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler). I love that song. Judy garland made it her own. Throughout the early and mid-1930s, Arlen and Koehler wrote shows for the Cotton Club, a popular Harlem night club, as well as for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. Arlen and Koehler's partnership resulted in a number of hit songs, including the familiar standards "Let's Fall in Love" and "Stormy Weather." Who hasn't sung that tune by a grand piano.? One of the great old standards! Harold continued to perform as a pianist and vocalist with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra. His compositions have always been popular with jazz musicians because of his facility at incorporating a blues feeling into the idiom of the conventional American popular song. In the mid-1930s, Arlen married, and spent increasing time in California, writing for movie musicals. It was at this time that he began working with lyricist E.Y. "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 Down with Love. Now a fact that I never knew and was just told about was the fact that Harold Arlen was a longtime friend and former roommate of actor Ray Bolger who would star in The Wizard of Oz, the film for which "Over the Rainbow" was written. In the 1940s, he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer, and continued to write hit songs like "Blues in the Night", "That Old Black Magic," "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," (which was thought of while they were driving together in traffic one day-- Arlen complaining about all the bad drivers on the road and Mercer, the ever optimist saying "look on the bright side" which ultimately became "accentuate the positive" Together these two also wrote "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and the Frank Sinatra standard bearer "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" .Frank sang this time almost as often as he did "My Way" By the way, Harold Arlen was responsible for composing the two defining tunes which bookend Judy Garland's musical persona: as a yearning, innocent girl in "Over the Rainbow" and a world-weary, "chic chanteuse" with "The Man that Got Away". When a songwriter's talents can become the bookends of a singing legend that isn't too bad of an accomplishment. After Harold's wife died in a sanitarium, Arlen stopped writing songs much as Irving Berlin did when his second Broadway musical in a row flopped. How sad! Happy Birthday great song man. We will sing your songs forever!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY




Today is indeed Valentine's Day--the day for lovers. My John surprised me with a singing plush dog singing a rock tune and a big box of sugar free chocolate (as a diabetic) I can't have the regular stuff. The plush is adorable. It rocks and moves and its ears go up and down in time to the music. I gave John some beautiful Pavarotti long stem roses. This is our ninth Valentine's day together and our ten year anniversary comes yp on April 11th. Today would have been John Barrymore's birthday and it also the day that dear old Jack Benny was born Walkgigan, Illinois. Jack Benny had to be one of the funniest men who ever lived. I still laugh at his old re-runs. Most people don't know that Jack Benny in real life was a very kind and generous man unlike his on screen image of being a world penny pincher. Two of my favorite Benny moments was the time that a robber approaches him with a gun and says "Your money or your life. There is a huge pregnant pause that you could drive a truck through and the robber says in a much louder voice "I said your money or your life!"--to which the tightwad Benny says "I'm thinking it over!" The second episode is when the IRS comes to visit Jack and is escorted down in the crocodile infested basement to see where Jack keeps all of his money. Guarding Benny's huge stash of money is a guard in a Revolutionary War outfit named Ed. Benny says hello and Ed quips: "Is Mr. Washington, still president up there, Mr. Benny?" Funny! Funny! Funny! The honesty of the moment wins again. Speaking of Valentine's Day This day was originally a pagan festival that was renamed after two Early Christian martyrs named Valentine. The day became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. Of course we all know that the day is most closely associated with the mutual exchange of love notes in the form of "valentines". Modern Valentine symbols include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards. The sending of Valentines was a fashion in nineteenth-century Great Britain, and, in 1847, Esther Howland developed a successful business in her Worcester, Massachusetts home with hand-made Valentine cards based on British models. The popularity of Valentine cards in 19th century America was a harbinger of the future commercialization of holidays in the United States.
Amazingly, The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas. The association estimates that, in the US, men spend on average twice as much money as women. There is one more noyable event. On this day in 1995 Terrence Mcnally's Love! Honor! Compassion!" opened on Broadway directed by Jope Mantello-- yes, the same fellow responsible for a little mega hit a few years later called THE WICKED. Lots of letter and promo packages are going out this weekend to about seventeen Broadway producers. We will raise the flag and see who the hell salutes

Thursday, February 12, 2009




Today is indeed Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Abe was bar none the most honest politician this weary old country has ever known. I have always been absolutely fascinated by the life and times extraordinary gentleman from Illinois. We have a current president that used his bible for swearing in to be our current Chief Executive. The pictures you see here are all of statues and attractions that can be found in Lincoln's home town of Springfield. The Disney Company is going to release a DVD of the original "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" which was presented as the Illinois Pavilion there in 1964- 1965. Too bad, poor "Mr. Lincoln" is still put away in a box at Disneyland. That sure wouldn't have happened if Walt were still alive. John Nugent and I had an idea for a comedy in which a great president is put away in a box at a Disneyland like attraction and is rescued by the ghost of the real president. Somehow the two have a conversation and that could be one very funny premise. Today also marks the day that the first prisoners of war of the Vietnam War were released and it is also the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Sadly, it is also the tenth anniversary of the conclusion of the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Monica Lewinksi is now living and working in London and Linda Hunt her betrayer is running a Christmas gift shop in Virginia after getting a major face lift and getting married. And for those who criticize the mother of those octuplets: allow me to remind you: (1) If those babies were not willed to come into this world by Almighty God-- they wouldn't be here and (2) Judge and you shall not be judged. The same cookie cutter judgement that you pass on another is going to be applied to you in the final judgement -- and you divided into eight sections is not going to be pretty. Give this woman and these children a chance. And to that grandmother-- you had better get on your knees and thank God for those grandchildren instead of making life hell for your only daughter and those children. Who needs eight more people in therapy?

Monday, February 09, 2009

BANANAS WERE HER BUSINESS


If you are an old Hollywood fan as I am and always will be, you might find it interesting that today would have been the one hundreth birthday of Brazillian super star Carmen Miranda. This was one amzing entertainer. This amsazing lady was making more money ($200,00 a year) in 1945 than any other woman in the entertainment industry. That beats even Bette Davis and joan Crawford. Literally "bananas were her business". Who could forget those amazing dances she performed on film. Dear Carmen made a total of fourteen Hollywood films between 1940 and 1953 and was dubbed "The Brazilian Bombshell". Her Hollywood image was one of a generic Latinness that blurred the distinctions between Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico as well as between samba, tango and habanera. Her act was carefully stylized and outlandishly flamboyant. She was often shown wearing platform sandals and towering headdresses made of fruit, becoming famous as "the lady in the tutti-frutti hat." However there were times that Carmen performed barefoot on stage due to the fact she could move more easily in bare feet than the towering platform sandals.During a visit to Brazil in 1940, Miranda was heavily criticized for giving in to American commercialism and projecting a false image of Brazil. She responded with the Portuguese language song "They Say I've Come Back Americanized." Her motto "Bananas is My Business," was based on a line in one of her movies and directly addressed her image. She was greatly upset by the criticism and did not return to Brazil again for fourteen years.
After returning to the United States, Miranda made her final film appearance in the 1953 film Scared Stiff with Martin and Lewis/ In the later years of her life, Miranda, began taking amphetamines and barbiturates all of which took a toll on her body. That happened not only to Ms. Miranda, but to many other stars of the day like Judy Garland. On August 4, 1955, Carmen Miranda suffered a heart attack during a segment of the live The Jimmy Durante Show, although she did not realize it at the time. After completing a dance number on the live telecast, she unknowingly suffered a mild heart attack, and nearly collapsed. She quickly pulled herself together and finished the show. At the end of the broadcast, she smiled and waved and exited the stage. She died later that night after suffering a second heart attack at her home.In accordance with her wishes, Miranda's body was flown back to Brazil where the Brazilian government declared a period of national mourning. Despite the controversy surrounding her career in her native Brazil, more than a million Brazilians stood on the funeral procession's route to mourn her death.She is buried in in Rio de Janeiro. Her funeral cort├Ęge, en route to the cemetery, was accompanied by about half a million people.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Carmen Miranda has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6262 Hollywood Boulevard.Helena Solberg made a documentary of her life, Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business in 1995.
Miranda's enormous, fruit-laden hats are iconic visuals recognized around the world. These costumes lead to Saks Fifth Avenue developing a line of turbans and jewelry inspired by Carmen Miranda in 1939. Many costume jewelry designers made fruit jewelry also inspired by Carmen Miranda which is still highly valued and collectible by vintage and antique costume jewelry collectors. Fruit jewelry is still popular in jewelry design today. Much of the fruit jewelry seen today is often still fondly called "Carmen Miranda jewelry" because of this. Her image was much satirized and taken up as camp, and today, the "Carmen Miranda" persona is popular among female impersonators and drag performers. Today is also the birthday of dear Ronald Coleman for whom I do a nifty impression of and actress Peggy Wood who was the Mother Abbess in 1965's "The Sound Of Music". Alas, i discover that Peggy Wood did not actually sing the song in that movie-- it was dubbed. Today we celebrate Lincoln's Birthday on this date although it actually doesn't arrive until February 12th when dear old Honest Abe" will turn two hundred years old. John Nugent and I ran an ad for singers in Backstage West last week and so far we have received twenty-one applications of some of the most amazing singers I have ever heard. I have extended another invitation for Terry Snyder to join us. As I told him in my e mail letter that if it were not for the genius of he and dear Tony Westbrook, (accompanied by the amazing Tim Doran) I simply wouldn't be doing the writing I am doing. Those wonderful days will not be forgotten by me. The studio where we recorded many of Tony's songs for "Highway To A Dream" in Glendale doesn't even exist any more. Thank goodness for Smooth Sound studios. Now John Nugent and I are using full orchestrations created by Finale 2009. It's a God-send. Weather wise: We've had three days of rain here and we are all pretty tired of it-- oh well. Well off to more writing!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Today is Groundhog's day!



Today(a beautiful sunny day in California) indeed is Groundhog's day and unfortunately, the report is not good: Good old "Phil" has seen his shadow and that means (according to tradition) that there will be another six weeks of winter. Of course, In California, we just about laugh at that one, but for my dear friend Tony Westbrook in NYC that bad news might be a little more disconcerting. I'm sure he misses the weather here if nothing else. Groundhog Day --which in French is Jour de la marmotte) is an annual holiday celebrated on February 2 in the United States and Canada on which if a groundhog emerges from its burrow and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks. The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas. It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic year, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication.Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow. In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g'spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table.The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as high as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886. Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryville in Lancaster County,he Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County,the Sinnamahoning Valleyand Bucks County.
Groundhog Day received worldwide attention as a result of the 1993 film of the same name, Groundhog Day, which was set in Punxsutawney and featured Punxsutawney Phil. Today is also the feast of Saint Blaze: the patron saint of singers and speakers. When I was a kid, we used to go to mass and afterwards there was a ceremony in which two candles were placed on either sides of our throat and a blessing on our throats were made. I still remember that. And to think just how many singers I deal with every day. John Nugent is busy orchestrating all the dongs from "The Runaway Heart" and "Broadway Angels:--it's quite a project!