Friday, September 23, 2011
THE LAST DAYS OF GLENN MILLER
Legendary bandleader Glenn Miller spent his last night alive at Milton Ernest Hall, on the outskirts of Bedford, Bedfordshire. On December 15, 1944, Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers there. His plane (a single-engined UC-64 Norseman, USAAF serial 44-70285) departed from RAF Twinwood Farm in Clapham, Bedfordshire and disappeared while flying over the English Channel. No trace of the aircrew, passengers or plane has ever been found. Miller's status is missing in action.
There are three main theories about what happened to Miller's plane, including the suggestion that he might have been hit by Royal Air Force bombs after an abortive raid on Siegen, Germany. One hundred and thirty-eight Lancaster bombers, short on fuel, jettisoned approximately 100,000 incendiaries in a designated area before landing. The logbooks of Royal Air Force navigator Fred Shaw recorded that he saw a small, single-engined monoplane spiraling out of control and crashing into the water. However, a second source, while acknowledging the possibility, cites other RAF crew members flying the same mission who stated that the drop area was in the North Sea.
Further research by British scholars also seems to indicate that this is the most likely probability, making Miller's death a "friendly fire" incident. In his 2006 self-published book, Clarence B. Wolfe — a gunner with Battery D, 134th AAA Battalion, in Folkestone, England — claims that his battery shot down Miller's plane. Another book by Lt. Col. Huton Downs, a former member of Dwight D. Eisenhower's personal staff, argues that the U.S. government covered up Miller's death. Downs suggested that Miller, who spoke German, had been enlisted by Eisenhower to covertly attempt to convince some German officers to end the war early. The book goes on to suggest that Miller was captured and killed in a Paris brothel, and his death covered up to save the government embarrassment. However the Publishers' Weekly review talks of "breathlessly written suppositions."
When Glenn Miller disappeared, he left behind his wife, the former Helen Burger, originally from Boulder, Colorado, and the two children they adopted in 1943 and 1944, Steven and Jonnie. Helen Miller accepted the Bronze Star medal for Glenn Miller in February 1945.
The Miller estate authorized an official Glenn Miller "ghost band" in 1946. This band was led by Tex Beneke, former lead saxophonist and a singer for the civilian band. It had a make up similar to the Army Air Force Band: it had a large string section. The orchestra's official public début was at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway where it opened for a three week engagement on January 24, 1946. Future television and film composer Henry Mancini was the band's pianist and one of the arrangers. This ghost band played to very large audiences all across the United States, including a few dates at the Hollywood Palladium in 1947, where the original Miller band played in 1941. In a website concerning the history of the Hollywood Palladium, it is noted "[e]ven as the big band era faded, the Tex Beneke and Glenn Miller Orchestra concert at the Palladium resulted in a record-breaking crowd of 6,750 dancers." By 1949, economics dictated that the string section be dropped.
This band recorded for RCA Victor, just as the original Miller band did Beneke was struggling with how to expand the Miller sound and also how to achieve success under his own name. What began as the "Glenn Miller Orchestra Under the Direction of Tex Beneke" finally became "The Tex Beneke Orchestra". By 1950, Beneke and the Miller estate parted ways. The break was acrimonious and Beneke is not currently listed by the Miller estate as a former leader of the Glenn Miller orchestra.
When Glenn Miller was alive, various bandleaders like Bob Chester imitated his style. By the early 1950s, various bands were again copying the Miller style of clarinet-led reeds and muted trumpets, notably Ralph Flanagan Jerry Gray,and Ray Anthony. This, coupled with the success of The Glenn Miller Story (1953),led the Miller estate to ask Ray McKinley to lead a new ghost band. This 1956 band is the original version of the current ghost band that still tours the United States today. The official Glenn Miller orchestra for the United States is currently under the direction of Gary Tole. The officially sanctioned Glenn Miller Orchestra for the United Kingdom has toured and recorded with great success under the leadership of Ray McVay. The official Glenn Miller Orchestra for Europe has been led by Wil Salden since 1990.
Glenn Miller's widow, Helen, died in 1966. Herb Miller, Glenn Miller's brother, led his own band in the United States and England until the late 1980s. Herb's son, John continues the tradition leading a band playing mainly Glenn Miller style music. In 1989, Glenn Miller's daughter Jonnie purchased her father's house where he was born. The Glenn Miller Foundation was created to oversee the subsequent restoration.
The years that Glenn Miller had a hit band was not even a decade, and yet he left a lasting imprint into big band, popular, and jazz music. Sixty seven years after Miller's disappearance his final resting spot is still not known. However, his music lives in...