SMACK AND GEORGE

Today I’d like to pay tribute to two giants of jazz and film born on this date: Fletcher Henderson, jazz immortal, born Dec. 18, 1898, and George Stevens, master film director, born Dec. 18, 1904. Though gone from the scene for decades, both have left records of creative achievement in their respective fields which have stood the test of time for mortals who appreciate such things.

FLETCHER HENDERSON, nicknamed “Smack” for his habit of smacking his lips, was a trailblazing jazz arranger and leader of outstanding big bands for two decades. At various times from 1924 to 1935, his band included such jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Sid Catlett and J. C. Higginbotham. In early 1935 he broke up his band and began arranging for the fledgling Benny Goodman Orchestra, launching the new and exciting sound of the swing era which would define American popular music until WWII. Although he put together another band in 1936 and had one hit record, within a few years Henderson had disbanded in the face of heavy competition. Thereafter he worked primarily as an arranger between short stints leading big bands. He suffered a major stroke in 1n 1950 and died Dec. 29, 1952. According to jazz critic Stanley Dance, Henderson’s was the first big jazz band and set the standard for many to come. Here is a typical Fletcher Henderson swinger:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0Ts6vZNyqk

GEORGE STEVENS, though you may not remember his name, directed some of the best movies you have seen, if you are a classic-film fan. These include (in chronological order):

ALICE ADAMS (1935), starring Katherine Hepburn and Fred MacMurray.
SWING TIME (1936), the best (in my opinion) of the Astair-Rogers musicals, with outstanding Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields songs, including the Oscar-winning “The Way You Look Tonight.”
A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1937), the first Astaire musical without Ginger Rogers, nonetheless notable for its George Gershwin score (his last before his premature death that same year). Joan Fontaine co-stars as the English “damsel in distress.”
GUNGA DIN (1939), starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942), starring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in their first picture together. Oscar-winning screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin.
THE TALK OF THE TOWN (1942), starring Cary Grant, Ronald Colman and Jean Arthur.
THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn. Stevens was Academy Award nominee for Best Director.

A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Academy Award winner for Best Director.
SHANE (1953), one of the all-time great Westerns, starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur and Jack Palance.
GIANT (1956), starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. Academy Award winner for Best Director.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1959). Film version of well-known true story of Jewish refugees hiding in WWII Amsterdam. I can especially relate to this film, having actually been decades ago in the building (now a museum) where Anne hid with her family and others and wrote her diary.

Here is a clip from Stevens’ A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS, in which Fred Astaire is doing his best to escape detection behind the chorus during a function at the castle where damsel Joan Fontaine resides:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1C-_Adawq8

THE END of our post (but not of our inheritance)

Advertisements

2 comments on “SMACK AND GEORGE

  1. I was more interested in the movies you selected that were directed by George Stevens than the music, sorry. I have watched each and every one of these films many times and they are some of my favorites, I used to watch a lot of television during my recovery periods after my joint replacements. Of course, I had to go out for the physical therapy but it was a pleasure when my husband set up the old Samsung in my room. I appreciate the Barbra Striesand movies more now although they tend to be more like musicals, Just saw THE WAY WE WERE with Robert Redford last night while I was puttering around. I did not have the opportunity to visit the room where Anne Frank stayed in Amsterdam as you did but I did get a copy of her book from the library. I cried after I finished it.

    Like

  2. mistermuse says:

    I love almost all of the George Stevens’ movies listed in this post, but the one I’ve seen the most and could still see again and again is SWING TIME. I just checked a youtube clip of the “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off” scene where Fred dances Ginger around the dance studio floor to show her boss how much she has taught him – it has had an amazing 5,722,000+ views, so obviously I’m not alone in my admiration. I first saw this about 60 years ago in an “art theater” before it began appearing on TV, and I’ll never forget the audience spontaneously & loudly applauding at the end of that scene — something almost unheard of in those days. .

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s