Thursday, May 17, 2018

FORGOTTEN ONES: JOHNNY "SCAT" DAVIS

I knew the name Johnnie Scat Davis from his introduction of the song "Hooray For Hollywood" but I didn't know much else about him. I don't think many people do in general. Born  John Gustave Davis in Brazil, Indiana, into a family of musicians on April 11, 1910, Davis developed an interest in music during his childhood. He learned to play the trumpet and by the age of 13 was performing with his grandfather's band. After graduating from high school he worked as a musician for several orchestras, including theater orchestras in nearby Terre Haute, Indiana such as Paul Johnson's orchestra and the Leo Baxter Orchestra. Art Davis, his younger brother, also worked for Leo Baxter. Davis himself learned to play the trumpet at an early age and joined his grandfather's band when he was only 13.

In 1925 he went to work for Jack O'Grady's Varsity Entertainers at the Grand Opera House in Terre Haute, arranging high school classes around the band's schedule. For the next couple of years Davis worked for various local orchestras, including those of Paul Johnson and Leo Baxter. He counted among his friends future bandleader Claude Thornhill. After graduating from high school in 1928 Davis worked in Jimmy Joy's Louisville-based orchestra then spent time with Sammy Watkins in Cleveland before joining Austin Wylie in New York, where he reunited with Thornhill. In 1933 he went to work for Red Nichols at the Park Central Hotel. He also led his own trio during this period and recorded several numbers. From the mid-1930s he worked with Fred Waring as a musician and vocalist, and his success during this time led him to Hollywood.


He appeared in his first film in 1937, and the same year appeared in the film Hollywood Hotel, where he introduced the Johnny Mercer song "Hooray for Hollywood". His lively rendition became popular and became closely associated with the film industry. He appeared in fifteen films including Campus Cinderella (1938), Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938), Brother Rat (1938), Mr Chump (1938), A Child Is Born (1939) and Sarong Girl (1943).


Davis continued to work in the music industry throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and spent several years in Detroit, Michigan where he was a popular television performer. In 1959 a King LP was issued by Johnnie called "Here's Lookin' Atcha.These" sides probably come from the Universal sessions. The album is a real mixed bag, part dixieland, part swing, part R&B. It even has some organ on some sides, a nice touch. Johnnie's horn is featured very nicely on most selections. (The album is instrumental.) Despite the odd mixture of tunes, the album shows Johnnie's abilities as a jazzman and leader. The dixie tunes have a unique front line of trumpet, clarinet and baritone sax. This album is well worth seeking out on Ebay or in second hand shops. 

In the 60's Johnnie settled in Arlington,Texas with his wife Martha and daughters, Nancy and Judy. He played local dates and took bands to Vegas, Reno and Tahoe for regular appearances. John was playing mostly bass trumpet. He was having some chop trouble, but he sounds good on Basin St. and So Long Dearie. His singing is delightful and he is a fine emcee.He eventually settled in Texas, and died in Pecos from a heart attack during a hunting trip on October 28, 1983. Do yourself a favor and dig out a recording by Johnny Davis, you will be amazed and realize that he should not be forgotten...


Monday, May 14, 2018

RIP: MARGOT KIDDER

Margot Kidder, who famously played Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve in 1978's "Superman," died on Sunday at the age of 69.

The actress passed away at her home in Montana, a spokesperson at Franzen-Davis funeral home in Livingston, Montana, confirmed  on Monday. Her cause of death is unknown at this point.

Kidder went on to portray her iconic character in the film's three sequels "Superman II," "Superman III" and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" and continued acting in the decades since her breakout role.

The Canadian actress also appeared in "The Amityville Horror," "Black Christmas" and TV series "Boston Common." 


Kidder suffered a widely-publicized manic breakdown in April of 1996, which led to her being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After a computer virus caused her to permanently lose years worth of drafts of her autobiography, Kidder disappeared for days before being found in a distressed state after reportedly being raped. She was placed in psychiatric care and later said in 2007 that she hadn't had a serious manic episode in over a decade.

The actress was married and divorced three times and shared her only daughter, Maggie McGaune, with first husband, novelist Thomas McGuane. She was also romantically connected with Steven Spielberg, former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau (father to current PM Justin Trudeau) and Richard Pryor.


Kidder appeared on Broadway in The Vagina Monologues in December 2002, and toured with the show for two years. After this, she appeared on Robson Arms, a Canadian sitcom set in an apartment block in Vancouver's west end. She played a quirky neighbor of the main cast members. She also had a cameo in Rich Hall's Election Special on BBC Four. In 2006, Kidder played Jenny Schecter's mother Sandy Ziskin on The L Word, a repressed Jewish woman coming to terms with her daughter's sexuality. In 2007, Kidder began appearing on the television series Brothers and Sisters, playing Emily Craft. In 2004, Kidder briefly returned to the Superman franchise in two episodes of the television series Smallville, as Bridgette Crosby, an emissary of Dr. Swann (played by her Superman co-star, Christopher Reeve).

She portrayed an embattled guidance counselor in the 2008 gay-themed mystery film On the Other Hand, Death, as well as a supporting role as Laurie Strode's therapist, in Rob Zombie's Halloween II (2009). In 2015 Kidder won an Emmy award for Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming for her performance in R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour. Kidder's last movie appearance was in last year's The Neighborhood, a Canadian drama film...




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

PAST OBITS: LAVERNE ANDREWS

In my opinion the Andrews Sisters were the greatest singing trio of all-time. Laverne Andrews was the most quiet of the sisters, but I believe she was the most beautiful. Here is her sad obituary from the Desert Sun of May 9, 1967. It's hard to be it was 41 years ago...

Laverne Andrews Dies After Lengthy Illness

HOLLYWOOD (UPI)- Death! | broke up the Andrews Sisters! for the last time Monday.

Laverne, 51, died, apparently of cancer complicated by pneumonia. Louis A. Rogers, her husband of 19 years, was at her bedside in their West Los Angeles home when death claimed the eldest member of the renowned vocal trio. Patti and Maxene interrupted their Lake Tahoe engagement to fly home for the funeral which was being arranged today. 

Laverne’s illness forced her out of the trio about a year ago. The career of the Andrews Sisters was long and stormy. The trio got its first professional booking in the late 1920s in a Chicago vaudeville show. They rose to the top of the music world with a succession of hits during the 1930s and 1940s but their business harmony was out of tune much of the time. The sisters formed a corporation from which they drew equal salaries but after several sisterly squabbles they dissolved the corporation and broke up the act several times. But each time they patched things up and began singing again. Their first hit record was “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.” Other popular favorites among the 900 records that sold fiO million copies were “Rum and , Coca Cola,” “Beer Barrel ; Polka,” “Patience and Forti tude,” “Don’t Sit Under the  Apple Tree.” “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” and “Pennsylvania i Polka.” The Andrews Sisters appeared  in 17 motion pictures, including!; “Buck Privates,” “In the : Navy,” “Swingtime Johnny,” : and “Follow the Boys.” 


 The act broke up in 1953 over money and other causes; Patti complained that Maxene and Laverne treated her like a baby. They feuded among (themselves for two and one-half years, then announced in 1955 the Andrews Sisters were back in business. They cut new albums of some of their old hits and some new songs.)

They made several television appearances, one of the most memorable of which featured the Andrews Sisters singing the hits of The Supremes and the modern trio returning the compliment by vocalizing in their own rock style the standards of Patti, Maxene and Laverne. “It wasn’t just wanting to sing together again,” Laverne said in explaining the reuniting of the trio again, “the public never wanted us to break up.” She said they received 2.000 letters after one of their television appearances. Patti, Maxene and Laverne had come a long way from Minneapolis, where they were born...


Thursday, May 3, 2018

GUEST REVIEW: RHYTHM ON THE RIVER









Today would have been Bing Crosby's 115th birthday, so I wanted to take a look at a Bing film. Guest reviewer Bruce Kogan is back to take a look at the forgotten 1940 musical gem - Rhythm On The River..

Poor Basil Rathbone, an egotistical composer who's lost his muse. He's been faking it for some time, buying his lyrics and his music from various sources. Trouble is that two of the sources (Bing Crosby music) and (Mary Martin words) happen to meet and fall in love. And then they discover what they've been doing. Complications ensue, but all is righted at the end.

Crosby and Martin sing terrifically. Mary had signed a Paramount contract and also at the same time doubled as a regular on Crosby's Kraft Music Hall Radio Show. For reasons I don't understand, movie audiences didn't take to her, so she went back to Broadway and did One Touch of Venus in 1944 and stayed there.

Basil Rathbone in one of the few times he played comedy does it very well. His ego is constantly being deflated by sidekick Oscar Levant and again I'm surprised they didn't do more films together.

As in most of Crosby's Paramount vehicles, no big production numbers, but the title tune being done as an impromptu jam session in a pawn shop is cinematic gold. It shows what great rhythm Bing had. Good job by all.

Billy Wilder is co-credited for the story, and his unsentimental touch is noticeable in this quite original tale of ghostwriting songwriters who both work for burnt-out music legend Oliver Courtney. The obvious misunderstandings are gotten out of the way quite quickly, thank heaven, and what remains is a witty and breezy concoction with some fine songs (and some more forgettable ones).



Crosby at his most charming, a great turn by Broadway legend Mary Martin and Basil Rathbone and Oscar Levant providing most of the cynical barbs (Levant is in rare form and his quips haven't dated at all). Martin's singing gives hope and question to the ironic fact that she never scored in movies, given four years to try and make it at Paramount before giving up and returning to Broadway where she had greater luck. Crosby is his easy going self as usual, dropping deadpan lines like a dog with a bone after realizing that nothing else remained to gnaw on. A delightful surprise, and recommended for all fans of the genre.

A surprisingly original plot and great entertainment...

BRUCE'S RATING: 9 OUT OF 10
MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10



Thursday, April 26, 2018

GUMMO MARX: THE FORGOTTEN MARX BROTHER

Often referred to as the "forgotten" Marx brother, Gummo Marx was the first to leave the act to enlist in World War I and become a businessman.
Synopsis

Often referred to as the "forgotten" Marx brother, Gummo Marx played the role of straight man in the famous comedy troupe until he left the act to serve in World War I. The youngest of the Mark Brothers, Zeppo, took his place. Gummo went on to become a businessman, agent and inventor, and parhaps the most beloved sibling of all.

Everyone thinks of Harpo as the silent one (not with that horn!), but Gummo Marx was actually the quiet one. Born Milton Marx on October 21, 1892, in New York City, Gummo, like his brothers, was a first-generation American, the fifth of six boys born to Sam and Minnie Marx, who left Europe and met in New York. The first of their six sons, Manfred, died in infancy.

There are related versions as to how Gummo acquired his nickname, all revolving around shoes: Legend has it that he was stealthy backstage, sneaking up on people like a gumshoe (detective), so monologist Art Fisher dubbed him Gummo. However, it has also been reported that Gummo actually wore rubber-soled shoes because frequent illnesses required that his feet be protected from damp.


Gummo was actually the first Marx brother on stage, appearing early on in his Uncle Julius's ventriloquism act. Then, Minnie Marx organized a vaudeville singing troupe called the Three Nightingales in 1909, with Groucho, Gummo and singer Mabel O'Donell, to tour the circuit. When Harpo was brought in, they became the Four Nightingales, and Minnie occasionally joined in the act along with the boys' aunt, Hannah Schickler, making them the Six Mascots. When Chico joined the act, they became the Four Marx Brothers.
WWI, Talent Agent and Inventor

When Gummo left the brother act to join the war effort in 1917, youngest brother Zeppo took over his role as straight man.

Gummo's military service in the U.S. Army didn't require him to go overseas, but he didn't return to the stage after World War I, deciding to start a raincoat business instead. He later became a successful talent agent, especially after Zeppo joined him in the business when he, too, left the act.


Gummo ended up representing brother Groucho as well as other top talent of the time, including Glenn Ford, and helped develop the television series Life of Riley. He also held a patent for a packing rack he'd invented.
Personal Life and Legacy

Gummo married Helen von Tilzer in 1929 and their son, Robert, was born the following year.

Gummo Marx died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 21, 1977, at his home in Palm Springs, California. He is buried next to wife Helen at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. His three grandsons all went into show business.

In The Marx Brothers Scrapbook, Groucho expressed his affection for Gummo, with some unkind words for Zeppo. But Zeppo, too, felt closest to Gummo. In his last interview, Zeppo told the BBC, "Gummo was a love. He didn't like show business but I think he felt, same as I did, that he was inadequate, that he wasn't doing his share. I miss Gummo very much...



Friday, April 20, 2018

HOLLYWOOD LOVE: SAMMY DAVIS JR AND KIM NOVAK

In 1957, Sammy Davis Jr. was a rising star. He’d just completed an acclaimed performance in Mr. Wonderful on Broadway and had a popular nightclub act with his father and uncle called the Will Mastin Trio. It was a strong comeback from a car accident three years earlier, when a pipe went through Davis’s eye, permanently blinding him. For the rest of his life, he would wear a glass eye.

The accident, however did nothing to curtail Davis’s charisma and sex appeal. Hollywood starlet Kim Novak certainly noticed him. She was about to film Hitchcock’s Vertigo when she saw Davis perform in a Chicago nightclub. Though they didn’t speak much at the time, Davis wanted to get to know the actress. His friends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh obliged by inviting both of them to a party at their house. Soon afterward, there was a blind item in a gossip column: “Which top female movie star (K.N.) is seriously dating which big-name entertainer (S.D.)?”


This bit of idle gossip was far from harmless. An affair between Novak and Davis had the potential to destroy both of their careers. In 1957, interracial marriage was illegal in half the states. Most Americans were against it. A Gallup poll from 1958 showed that only 4 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage. On top of that, the United States Supreme Court had only recently ordered the desegregation of public schools, and the showdown in Little Rock, Arkansas, over the integration of the city’s Central High School would occur the following year. The national atmosphere was fraught with racial tension.

As a black man, Davis had been stopped from dating white women before, but this time was different. Novak was a movie star. That year, newspapers were calling her “the hottest female draw at the box office” thanks to films like The Man with the Golden Arm and Pal Joey. Columbia Pictures was grooming her to replace Rita Hayworth, who studio head Harry Cohn disliked. As the latest Hollywood sex goddess, Novak was potentially worth millions.

When he saw the gossip item, Davis called Novak to apologize for putting her in an awkward position with the studio. According to his autobiography Sammy, Novak replied, “The studio doesn’t own me!” and invited him over for spaghetti and meatballs. Soon after, they were dating.


Their affair continued for most of 1957. Davis and Novak were aware of the risks they were taking, but that, it seems, made the relationship more exciting. “She hadn’t thought about me anymore than I had thought about her—until it was forbidden,” Davis wrote in his autobiography. “Then we became conspirators, drawn together by the single thing we had in common: defiance.”

Arthur Silber, a close friend and companion of Davis, often chauffeured the couple to a rented beach house in Malibu. They went to great length to hide their relationship—Davis would sometimes lie on the floor of the car under a blanket to avoid being seen with Novak.

“It was like we were in the FBI or something,” Silber says in an interview. “I would drop him off in front of her house in Beverly Hills and we would set up a time or a day for me to pick him up.” Davis also had a private phone line installed at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas where he worked so he could talk to Novak without the hotel switchboard listening in.

In December, Novak went home to Chicago for the holidays while Davis stayed in Las Vegas. He missed Novak so much that he found a replacement for his act and flew overnight to see her and meet her parents.


Irv Kupcinet of the Chicago Sun-Times heard about the visit and mentioned it in his column. Gossip heated up. There was a rumor Davis and Novak had taken out a marriage license. “Kim Novak is about to become engaged to Sammy Davis Jr. and Hollywood is aghast,” reported The London Daily Mirror. When Columbia Studio head Harry Cohn found out, he became enraged that his star—who he regarded as property he’d invested in—was dating a black man.The next morning, while flying to Los Angeles, he had the first of several heart attacks that would soon kill him.

By all accounts, Cohn was a ruthless studio chief who admired Benito Mussolini and had ties to the Chicago mob. He even wore matching ruby “friendship rings” with gangster Johnny Roselli. There are various accounts of what happened next, but what’s clear is that Cohn took out a mob hit on Davis. Gangster Mickey Cohen found Davis’s father and passed on the threat. Silber was there when Davis received the phone call, and he begged Davis to break up with Kim Novak. Sadly, Sammy called Kim Novak, and they both agreed to end the relationship. It was a sad end to a beautiful romance and another example of how racism destroyed lives and relationships...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

THE LAST DAYS OF JOAN CRAWFORD

When screen legend Joan Crawford died in 1977, the obits of Joan Crawford chronicled her tough, traumatic youth, her 81 movies and her driving second career as a director of the Pepsi-Cola Company. But there was no accounting for the eerie last 18 months of her 70-odd years. One of the few who knew was showbiz correspondent Doris Lilly, a close confidante and neighbor in the Manhattan apartment building where Crawford lived since 1967.

Did Joan Crawford take her own life? As an experienced reporter and Joan’s friend, Lilly said that she can only conclude that she did. She was cremated, according to her wishes, and no autopsy was performed to see if she might have taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Yet there is much evidence that she was preparing to die.

Among the many “coincidences”: Her death occurred on May 10, the 22nd anniversary of her marriage to her fourth and last husband, the late Pepsi chairman Alfred Steele—the only man, she said, she really loved. (Years after his death in 1959, she still set a place for him at the dinner table.) Starting in February, she began “cleaning out,” sending Dorsi and a few other friends household items that she said she would no longer need. Just two days prior to her death, on Mother’s Day, she told Doris she spent the day alone; none of her four adopted children came to call. The next day Joan sent her beloved pet Shih Tzu, Princess, away to be taken care of by friends in the country. In fact, Princess had not been outside the building for over a year, much less separated from her adoring mistress.


The coroner’s office said this great star died of heart failure, and in a way they were right. Her heart had been broken, and she died from a lethal dose of loneliness—and fear. Unbeknownst to even some of her closest friends, Joan had received an anonymous phone call in the winter of 1975. “I will kill you,” the caller said. “You won’t know where or when, but I will get you.” Terrified, she called in the police and the FBI. For months her 22nd-floor five-room apartment was under guard. A variety of exotic locks, latches and alarms were installed. For the last 18 months she had refused to set foot outside her apartment. To reach her, friends were given a number to call, leave a message and wait for her to call back. When she slept, it was behind bolts in her bedroom, with a pale pink night-light burning.

During those months of self-imposed exile, Doris saw a great deal of Joan Crawford. Along with her psychiatrist and perhaps a half dozen others, she was one of the few. Joan had her meals delivered in and busied herself writing thousands of notes, for which she had become famous over the years.


But what she loved most was cleaning. “There’s a little bit of Harriet Craig in all of us,” she once told friends, referring to the meticulous housecleaner she portrayed in one of her films. A visit to Joan’s apartment was like a visit to a hospital operating room. A house-boy waxed the parquet floors every other day. “I gave up carpets years ago,” she explained, “when I realized I couldn’t keep them clean all the time.” The draperies were cleaned once a month; plastic liners were installed on the window sills. Some live by the sword, but Joan Crawford lived by the mop. The maid, Frieda, was always scouring in the kitchen, and Joan would often join in. Just three weeks before her death she had strained her back scrubbing the floor.

Each and every piece of furniture—and the walls—had been treated with a vinylizing process that could not be penetrated by dirt. There were no fresh flowers or plants. In the film Harriet Craig, Harriet finally loses her crackerjack maid by demanding that the tree outside the back window be washed and waxed. Joan, too, filled her apartment with yellow wax flowers and plastic plants—ones that could be swabbed with soap and water.

Although there have been stories that this once great beauty had gone to ruin, nothing could have been further from the truth. There was a time when she carried a flask of 100-proof vodka to parties, but that was long ago. She stopped drinking completely six months before she died and quit chain-smoking cold turkey. Her figure was slim and taut, and she let her hair go salt-and-pepper gray. She didn’t wear or need makeup. Thanks to expert plastic surgery and a superb bone structure, she could have passed for 55.



Still, Joan was desperately unhappy. After the death of Alfred Steele, she played a major role as Pepsi’s spokeswoman for more than a decade. But PepsiCo’s current chairman, Donald Kendall, had frozen her out completely over the past two years. She still wanted to act, but now the scripts weren’t coming in. Last March 21 the American Film Institute honored her archrival Bette Davis with a nationally televised tribute. No one approached Joan, and it hurt. Nonetheless, Joan, an avid TV watcher, told Doris that she thought the event was a glorious tribute to a great star. For this performance alone, Joan Crawford could have earned another Oscar.

There has been a lot of renewed interest in Joan Crawford, since the docudrama of her life on FX in 2017. While Bette Davis was the bigger star, and probably was the better actress, Crawford has the sadder life. Joan knew that her daughter Christina was writing a sordid biography of her, and like many of her friends said, Joan was disguarded by the Hollywood that she built. Whether or not Joan committed suicide or not, the fact was her last years were very sad and lonely for her...