Thursday, October 18, 2012


So I was kind of needing to hear a little music. Dave was doing his reggae show on the community radio station I help to run, but it just wasn't what I was looking for. While idly drifting along in the web, I looked in on the blog and this morning's post, which I finished just in time to head out to work. I ended up watching and listening to all the songs again. God but I loved those songs back then. I still love them now. Momma Cass sends me, what can I say? Love the voice and the persona. Watching and listening to her makes me happy.

Okay, here comes the confession. I was a Righteous Brothers fan. I have more than one of their 45s. As a teenager I was a huge fan of those bombastic Phil Spector wall of sound productions that played like mini rock and roll operas. I wrapped myself in them as I embraced my loneliness. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' was great. But there was one other song that was just mournful teenage superb. It was sung as a solo by Bobby Hatfield. I was 14 when it was a hit, I loved it then and I cherish it now. Here's a clip I found on YouTube of Hatfield singing it on the old Shindig show. Hatfield sings and moves like a cross between Sam Cooke and Johnnie Ray. This clip is before the image makers took over and cleaned up the 'Brothers' look and movements into a more homogenized product. If you look for the version of this recorded one year later in color, you'll see what I mean. Here it is the way I remember it, and the way I prefer to remember it, and them.

Her own kind of music

My gosh, but the birthdays this month.... Today there are a number of people to celebrate whom I've admired, who have given me pleasure, or who have influenced my life in one way or another. But one name on the list today stands out for her songs, which were popular as I was growing up. Cynthia Weil trained as an actress and dancer, but discovered that she had talent as a songwriter. While working at the office of Don Kirshner's and Al Nevin's Aldon Music Co., she met and married songwriter Barry Mann, who had written and performed the hit song "Who Put the Bomp". Together they became major players at the Brill Building, the 1960's incarnation of Tin Pan Alley, writing many of the top pop hits of the day. Young Stevil loved many of their songs. Last year, the couple was awarded the Johnny Mercer Prize, the highest and most prestigious award which can be given a songwriter.

Many of the Weil-Mann collaborations expressed a social consciousness unusual for their day. One, "Only in America" was written for the Drifters but was reworked into an uncontroversial song by Leiber and Stoller for Jay and the Americans. I first heard the Drifter's version, and like it better.


A few other favorites include:


The following song was one that I often played on the jukebox at a favorite Boardwalk diner in Ocean City, NJ. There is a lip synch video of it which is staged on a beach that I would have put here but it sounds like it was recorded underwater, so I'm using a different version with less visual quality. No matter, it still expresses my teenage angst. Hell, it expresses my adult angst for that matter.


There are so many other songs that anyone my age would recognize instantly, But finally, I have to post this one. As of 2010, it was the most popular song ever to appear on radio with over 14 million plays. And yes, I have the 45rpm record.


So Happy Birthday Cynthia Weil - and Thank You for so much wonderful music!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A moody, sensitive young man

Marilyn Monroe called him, "The only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am." He was nominated for three Best Actor Academy Awards and one for Best Supporting Actor. He was James Dean's idol - Dean used to call him just to hear his voice. The Clash recorded a song about his sad later years. He was stunningly handsome. The New York Times noted that he was known for his portrayals of "moody, sensitive young men". His mother raised him as though he were an aristocrat, partially home schooled, and educated in French, German and Italian. Today is the birthday of another Stevil fave, Montgomery Clift. His is a hell of a story.

One of the foremost actors of his day, with a penchant for re-writing the scripts of movies in which he appeared, Clift was disfigured in an horrible automobile accident. He was patched back together, but he never really recovered. His health suffered, and he became addicted to pain killers and alcohol. During his last years people thought he was often drunk or drugged, but an autopsy showed that he had a thyroid condition which would make him appear so while cold sober. He was only 45 years old when he died. But he lives on as George Eastman in A Place in the Sun, as Morris Townsend in The Heiress, as Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt in From Here to Eternity, and in roles in projects as diverse as The Search, Red River, The Misfits, and Judgement at Nuremberg among others. His performances have given me a great deal of pleasure over the years, and I just want to wish him a Happy Birthday.

From the opening sequence of A Place in the Sun
With Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun

Both of them were just so damned beautiful to look at (sigh).

Near the beginning of his film career, in Red River
After the accident, in The Misfits

Happy Birthday, Monty.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Uncle Oscar

Today is the birthday of our dear Uncle Oscar.

Oscar was brilliant, but had a bit of unpleasantness in his life after he became involved with a member of the Douglas family. Everyone knew the Douglas clan was a bit well, off-kilter. I mean really, the young man in question, 21 at the time he met Uncle Oscar, was nicknamed "Bosie" by his own mother! Bosie's father was pugilistically inclined and often threatened to beat people with a horse whip (and probably did), his Uncle was in love with his twin sister and after she married someone else kidnapped a young woman, another aunt was a suffragette, oh, the things that went on in that family!

At any rate, his relationship with Bosie proved to be Uncle Oscar's undoing. Uncle was packed off for two years of hard labor which basically destroyed him. Just three years after his time away, Uncle Oscar died in Paris, destitute, at the age of 46.

It was all so sad, Uncle had been such a brave man - he was the only well known author to sign George Bernard Shaw's petition to pardon the anarchists who had been arrested and were being being blamed for a riot in Chicago's Haymarket Square (they were later executed).

In his day, he was a well known author, playwright, poet, and lecturer (according to reports, he was particularly well received by cowboys in the old American West!)

I've collected just a few of my favorites of Uncle Oscar's comments as my way of remembering him today. Sadly, I've no time to do this right as I must go off to toil in the fields of Mammon.

It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one's back that are absolutely and entirely true.
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

People who count their chickens before they are hatched, act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately.
-- Letter from Paris, dated May 1900

The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.
-- “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime”

Young men want to be faithful and are not; old men want to be faithless and cannot.
-- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.
--  "An Ideal husband"

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
-- "Lady Windermere's Fan"

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

I can resist anything but temptation.

America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up.

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.

Biography lends to death a new terror.

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

I am not young enough to know everything.

I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.

One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.

Uncle's friend Bosie

Illusion is the first of all pleasures.

A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.

To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.

Wisdom comes with winters.

Happy Birthday, Unc !

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lucious Lucius

As I started to read the news via the internet this morning, my wandering eye first caught the story of a bartender at the Playboy Club in London who had created a cocktail costing $8,824.00. My first thought was that it must have a 150 year old absinthe in it. As it turns out, I had guessed partly right - it is made of a 1778 Clos de Griffier vieux cognac, a 1770 Kummel liqueur, a circa 1860 Dubb orange Curacao and two dashes of Angostura bitters dating from around 1900. Now personally, I think wealth is great (although the wealthy should damn well pay an equitable share of taxes). Even at my age, I still have aspirations, although no expectations - if you know what I mean. But a cocktail whose cost is more than half a year of my current income? Before taxes? Even when I wasn't working poverty level jobs, that one drink would have cost close to a third of my yearly salary. This is truly disgusting and outrageous ostentatiousness. It is the kind of thing which would have been appreciated - and roundly skewered - by once noted and now sadly forgotten, bon vivant and writer Lucius Beebe. It was Beebe who, when confronted by a table of rare wines which had been festooned with orchids, cried out, ""Throw wide the windows! Air the rooms! Is the bouquet of my wines to have to conflict with these stinking flowers?"

Somewhere, if I haven't sold it to make ends meet, I may still have my copy Beebe's wonderful tome, "The Big Spenders - The Epic Story of the Rich Rich, the Grandees of America and the Magnificoes, and How They Spent Their Fortunes". It tells the story of a time before income tax, when the rich freely spent their wealth - occasionally in grand gestures of public good. A copy of it on Amazon will run you $125.00. I got it through the Book of the Month Club, to which I belonged when I was 15.

Charles Clegg

Much of Beebe's affectionate skewering of the wealthy was co-authored and illustrated with photographs taken by Beebe's long time partner Charles Clegg. Beebe was open about his relationship with Clegg in a time before it was acceptable. They were both from wealthy New England families. The rich, after all, have always enjoyed a morality not permitted to the poor, the middle classes, or to those who are merely well-off.

Beebe's first photographer/partner (during the 1930's) was Jerome Zerbe (also wealthy), one of the inventors of what became the genre of celebrity and society photography (now relegated to the paparazzi - although Zerbe would have been horrified at the ambush tactics so popular today). Zerbe is also credited with the invention of the vodka martini. It was Zerbe who, being a friendly insider, was was allowed to take photographs of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott during their years together.

above, and on the right,
"Cary and Randy" at home
from a series of photographs taken for
"Modern Screen" magazine in 1933.

Beebe and his two partners chronicled "cafe society" (a term invented by Beebe) for New York City newspapers from the early 1930's through the 1940's. Of those days, Beebe remarked, "I considered my function that of a connoisseur of the preposterous... I did have a fabulous time. I did drink more champagne and get to more dinner parties and general jollification than I would have in almost any other profession."It was Beebe who wrote one of my favorite descriptions of New York City as "Babylon-on-the-Hudson, sinful, extravagant, full of the nervous hilarity of the doomed".

Walter Winchell, a rival society columnist, often snippily called him "Luscious Lucius". During their time together Beebe made so many flattering remarks about Zerbe in his column that Winchell wrote that Zerbe should change his name to "Jerome Never Looked Lovelier."

When it was  noted that the possible election to the presidency of Republican Thomas Dewey would set the country back 50 years, Beebe immediately replied, "And what was wrong with 1898?"

In 1950, Beebe and Clegg set out for the once grand mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, where they renovated an old mansion, resurrected a once famous newspaper that had given early employment to Mark Twain, and began restoring old railroad cars. For one, the "Virginia City", Beebe brought in a friend who was a Hollywood set decorator to redesign the car in what he called "Venetian Renaissance Baroque". They used it for their travels.

Clegg and Beebe in their private railroad car, the "Virginia City".
Beebe and Clegg eventually retired to the San Francisco area. As he aged, Beebe wrote, "High blood pressure, cheeriness at breakfast, a mellowing political philosophy, and an inability to drink more than half a bottle of proof spirits at cocktail time without falling over the fire irons all suggest dark wings hovering overhead and the impending midnight croak of the raven." Beebe passed away in 1966 at the age of 63. Clegg committed suicide in 1979, on the day he reached the age at which Beebe had died.

Beebe once wrote, "If anything is worth doing it is worth doing in style, and on your own terms, and nobody's Goddamned else's!". He and his era are gone, and I often think that we are the poorer for it. There are still a few people around with style - but almost none of them seem to be rich folk. The rich of our day are of a different coarser breed. $8,824.00 for a cocktail is practically an obscenity. Lucius Beebe would have had a good comment about it.

"All I want is the best of everything and there's very little of that left"
                                                                              -attributed to Lucius Beebe