I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” –Gloria Swanson (as Norma Desmond)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How many of these former “big” names do you recognize?

ART TATUM (1956)
WARD BOND (1960)

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.






  1. Don Frankel says:

    Never heard of Texas Guinan but I knew everyone else which means… I’m old.

    Ah ha so you’re favorite John Wayne movie is North to Alaska and I didn’t have to google it either. “North to Alaska, North to Russia’s home.” Great comedy with Stewart Granger who was born James Stewart, the absolutely beautiful Capucine, and one of those boy idols of the time I think it was Fabian. Also in it was Ernie Kovacks as the evil, claim jumper.

    Funny how both of our favorite John Wayne movies are ones where he’s not the usual John Wayne character. Your’s a comedy and mine The Searchers where he’s actually the bad guy.

    Oh well I’ll have to go to google now for the song…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mistermuse says:

    Don, a great song, and a great rendition of it, bear repeating any day, so I listened to it again (you apparently didn’t realize that Horton sings it on the North to Alaska clip in my post)! As for the movie, I remember how odd some of the casting seemed at the time (Fabian and Ernie Kovacs in particular), but somehow it worked and the movie is terrific.


  3. arekhill1 says:

    Four. Does that mean I’m still middle-aged?


  4. mistermuse says:

    I’d say that depends on which four you got. If Guy Lombardo was one of them, you’re definitely on the cusp of old fartdom, as you so elegantly described it (in your own blogpost today). On the other hand, if you recognized Art Tatum, you’re a cool cat with most of your nine lives still ahead of you. If you got both, I don’t know where you’re at, but it sounds like the middle of something – maybe age.


  5. Joseph Nebus says:

    I was able to identify seven, although I couldn’t tell you why I remembered Art Tatum’s name. Texas Guinan once you described I think I remember now from TravSD’s outstanding book No Applause, Please, Just Throw Money and his blog about vaudeville and performing history.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mistermuse says:

    I haven’t read the book you describe, but I do own GANGSTERS AND GOLD DIGGERS, a book about old New York during the Jazz Age, by Jerome Charyn. It tells of Texas Guinan (backed by gangsters Owen Madden and Larry Fey) opening in 1924 the El Fey, one of the first Manhattan nightclubs, “where café society is born, that curious mingling of high and low — sophomores from Yale, chorus girls, crime and sports reporters, impresarios, white jazz singers, bootleggers, millionaires, movie stars, playboys, heiresses, gamblers, politicians, composers, and playwrights. At the El Fey one could find Fanny Brice, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, George Gershwin, Gloria Swanson, Mae West, Damon Runyon, Walter Winchell, [etc.]. She would arrive at two in the morning, a bleached blonde wearing diamonds and a salmon-colored dress, climb on a chair, blow a police whistle, shout “Hello, suckers!” and the fun would begin.”


  7. literaryeyes says:

    I read about Tex Guinan and the nightclubs of Broadway recently in a book called New York Confidential! Those were roaring times. Of the others I didn’t know Art Tatum.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. mistermuse says:

    I’ve found that few non-jazz lovers are familiar with even the greatest names in jazz history (unless they were also big names beyond jazz, such as Louis Armstrong)….so I’m not surprised that you didn’t know Art Tatum. Hey, I know very few names in contemporary pop music, but somehow I manage to have a very fulfilling life! 🙂


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