“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” –Gloria Swanson (as Norma Desmond)
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How many of these former “big” names do you recognize?
TEXAS GUINAN (1933)
GEORGE M. COHAN (1942)
ART TATUM (1956)
JOHNNY HORTON (1960)
MACK SENNETT (1960)
WARD BOND (1960)
GUY LOMBARDO (1977)
FRED MacMURRAY (1991)
If you’re not into the movies and music of the past, you may remember few, if any, of the foregoing (year 0f death follows their names). Because time drives a hard bargain with fame, they’ve faded away in the rearview mirror….but on this day, we back up to see them BIG again — or as big as such look-backs provide. Why on this particular day? As it happens, the above have one thing in common: they lived but five days into the last November of their lives.
TEXAS GUINAN, born Waco, TX, 1884. Flamboyant, brassy “Queen of the Night Clubs” in NYC during the Roaring Twenties. Started in vaudeville, sang, and was in silent movies before becoming hostess of Texas Guinan Club and other NYC speakeasies during Prohibition. Famous trademark greeting to incoming customers: “Hello, suckers!” She bade them goodbye November 5, 1933.
GEORGE M. COHAN, born Providence, RI, 1878. One of the early greats of the Broadway stage as an actor, composer, lyricist, librettist, director and producer. Wrote primarily nostalgic and patriotic songs, including the WWI hit Over There. James Cagney won Academy Award for his portrayal of Cohan in the 1942 film YANKEE DOODLE DANDY:
ART TATUM, born Toledo, OH, 1910. All-time great jazz pianist, despite being blind in one eye and almost blind in the other. Described by some critics as given to over-embellishment in later career (“played too many notes”), but he wasn’t one to not change with the times (for better or worse).
JOHNNY HORTON, born Los Angeles, 1925. Popular country music and rockabilly singer known for his “saga songs” such as 1959 hit The Battle of New Orleans. Killed in crash by drunk driver Nov. 5, 1960. Here he sings the title song from my favorite John Wayne film:
MACK SENNETT, born Quebec, Canada, 1880. Pioneer in the field of slapstick comedy, famed creator of Keystone Kops in early silent film era. Among famous actors who got their start with Sennett were Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, W. C. Fields and the aforementioned Gloria Swanson. They don’t make ’em like this anymore!
WARD BOND, born Bendelman, NE, 1903. One of Hollywood’s most iconic character actors, particularly in films directed by John Ford. Bond and John Wayne were members of the USC football team when they were picked by Ford as extras for the film Salute in 1928. The three became lifelong friends and made many pictures together, including The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache and The Quiet Man.
GUY LOMBARDO, born Ontario, Canada, 1902. Leader of the most commercially successful and long-lasting “sweet” (some might say “Mickey Mouse”) dance band of all time. Theme song Auld Lang Syne was a New Year’s Eve staple for decades. Slogan: “The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven” (I don’t know what kind of music’s on the other side, but when it’s time to go, I may chance the long way around).
FRED MacMURRAY, born Kankakee, IL, 1908. Last but least-long deceased (Nov. 5, 1991) of those listed; many of us remember this versatile actor from his roles in such great films as Double Indemnity and The Apartment over the course of a near-50 year career….but I suspect few are aware that he started out as a saxophone player and band vocalist in the early 1930s. Here he is with the Gus Arnheim band in 1930:
That’s a wrap until November 10. Take five.