AGE WISE

For the benefit of my fellow geezers out there who may not be aware of it, May is OLDER AMERICANS MONTH (not to be confused with NATIONAL SENIOR CENTER MONTH (September) or NATIONAL ACCORDION MONTH (June). Accordionly, May you and I bask in the recognition which is due us for living long enough to pass along our well-earned wisdom to those who don’t want to hear it.

To be sure, there is also a slight  drawback about old age: there’s not much future in it….but otherwise, it’s not a bad time to be alive. At any rate, it beats the alternative — or so they say (as if “they” have experienced said alternative).  On the flip side, there are many timely quotes on the age-old subject of age, so let’s put on our reading glasses and see if we can make heads or tails of some of them:

If  I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. –Anonymous

An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have: the older she gets, the more interested he is in her. –Agatha Christie

Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone. –Jim Fiebig

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. –Susan Ertz

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. –Golda Meir

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. –Chili Davis

You’re only as old as the girl that you feel. –Groucho Marx

Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician. –Anonymous

If you worry, you die. If you don’t worry, you also die. So why worry? –Mike Horn

I was going to use that last quote to close with the song DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY, but on the occasion of the birthday (May 10, 1899) of the never-grows-old Fred Astaire, this song and dance make me happy to change my tune:

 

 

 

THIS POST IS FOR THE BURNS

My last post was published on the birthday (Jan. 20, 1896) of GEORGE BURNS. This post is being published on the birthday (Jan. 25, 1759) of ROBERT BURNS. The former lived to the ripe old age of 100, the latter to age 37; a punster might say (0f the disparity) that they Burns the candle at both ends (of course, I would never say such a thing).

Some of you no doubt remember George Burns as God in the 1977 hit film OH, GOD!, and as the Academy Award winning Best Supporting Actor in THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975), but we geezers best recall him as straight man to wife Gracie Allen in the comedy team of BURNS AND ALLEN. After she died in 1964, he immersed himself in work, remaining active for another three decades in TV, movies, and as author of ten books.

Here are Burns & Allen with Fred Astaire in two fun scenes from DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1937):

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/374102/Damsel-In-Distress-A-Movie-Clip-Stiff-Upper-Lip.html

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

Many of you probably do not remember ROBERT BURNS (aka RABBIE BURNS). Even I, ancient as I am, do not recall him. But history tells us he was known as the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire (Scotland), and as a pioneer of the Romantic movement. Regarded as the National Poet of Scotland, in 2009 the Scottish public voted him the Greatest Scot, evidently as a belated promotion from Great Scot! Among his best known poems are “Auld Lang Syne,” “A Red, Red Rose” and “To A Mouse” (said to have been written when he accidently destroyed a mouse nest while plowing a field). I suspect the mouse would have preferred if Burns had restored the nest, but nonetheless, the poem was a mice gesture.

In closing, it might be nice to see what the Burns boys had to say in their own words (George’s quotes are in italics, followed by Robert’s in what I take to be post-Old English):

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

Nice to be here? At my age, it’s nice to be anywhere. (Tell me about it!)

First you forget names, then you forget faces. Next you forget to pull your zipper up, and finally, you forget to pull it down. (Don’t tell me about it.)

When I was a boy, the Dead Sea was only sick.

It takes only one drink to get me drunk. Trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the 13th or 14th.

Oh wad some power the giftie gie us / To see ourselves as others see us!

Gie me ae spark o’ Nature’s fire, / That’s a’ the learning I desire.

An’ there began a lang digression / About the lords o’ the creation.

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, / O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

The best laid plans o’ mice and men Gang aft a-gley.

A MAN AND HIS ‘DOGS’

dogs, Slang. The feet: My dogs are killing me!  fantasy, n.  A play of the mind; imagination; fancy; a picture existing only in the mind. –World Book Dictionary

A footnote to the World Book definition of fantasy: it is personified, in my view, by one man — fittingly so, because beyond his pictures he still dances in the mind, as timeless as imagination….no less real than the Hollywood from which such flights of fancy emanated and stars were born. That ethe-real man is Fred Astaire, the pictures were his movies, and this day is his birthday (May 10, 1899).

Astaire’s “dogs” may have been what carried him across the dance floor with Ginger Rogers in his arms, but it was his persona that took us with him. I like to think that what Santa Claus embodied for children, Fred Astaire embodied for my parent’s generation as teenagers/young adults, epitomizing easy grace and the allure of dreams more enticing than any toy that Santa could promise.  No other hoofer in film history even comes close to capturing his magic….which is why he survives his and my parent’s generation, just as any great artist lives on in what he or she creates.

In my favorite scene from my favorite Astaire-Rogers film (SWING TIME, 1936), professional dancer Astaire comes to New York and, after a chance street encounter with Rogers doesn’t go well, he follows her to the dance studio where she is an instructor. Pretending to be a novice, he botches the dance lesson. She insults him and is fired. As she is leaving the studio….

Of course, many elements must come together to produce movie magic, and SWING TIME had the good fortune to combine the talents of the stars with those of a great director (George Stevens), a fine supporting cast (including Eric Blore, seen in the above clip), and one of the best composer/lyricist teams of the Golden Age (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields). In addition to the ‘dance lesson’ song PICK YOURSELF UP, their outstanding score includes A FINE ROMANCE, NEVER GONNA DANCE, and this love song:

On this May 10 celebration, let’s end appropriately with this:

 

 

 

 

HIGHER AND HIGHER

This post isn’t about what you may think it’s about (like maybe mountain climbing, drugs or seduction). No, friends — just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge the title of a post by its lover.

And what am I a lover of? Faithful readers know that from time to time, I indulge my love for 1920s-1940s popular music/jazz with a post honoring a songwriting giant of that era (forgotten though he or she may be today). Dec. 10 is the birthday of one such songwriter, and this is such a post (sorry about the letdown).

Lyricist Harold Adamson was born on this date in 1906. He studied law at Harvard, but songwriting had a greater appeal and, as luck (and talent) would have it, his first published song became an all-time standard: Time On My Hands, written for the 1930 stage show SMILES, starring Fred and Adele Astaire….and who better to do it justice than Billie Holiday, backed by Teddy Wilson, Lester Young & other jazz greats:

Working with such composers as Jimmy McHugh, Vincent Youmans, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Vernon Duke and Victor Young, Adamson went on to write lyrics to such hits as Manhattan Serenade, Everything I Have Is Yours, It’s A Wonderful World, It’s A Most Unusual Day and many more. Here, from the 1936 film SUZY starring Jean Harlow and a very young Cary Grant, is one of Adamson’s lesser known songs (and the only time Cary Grant ever sang in a movie):

In 1943 (at the height of WW II), Adamson teamed with McHugh to write the songs for Frank Sinatra’s first starring movie, HIGHER AND HIGHER. Quoting McHugh:

Adamson and I trekked into our office at RKO and found the script glaring coldly at us from the top of the piano. It informed us that there’d be a minor lover’s quarrel in the story, also the need of a big production number. Nothing happened with us that first day, but at 3 a.m. the next morning, Adamson phoned me and said he’d been listening to a musical shortwave program that suddenly had been cut off for a news announcement.
“There’s our title for the production number, Jim,” he said, “The Music Stopped.”
Then I began concentrating on the lovers’ spat and came down with insomnia. As the thousandth  sheep jumped over the fence, both tune and title landed: “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.”

But to my mind, the best of the McHugh-Adamson songs from that film is this one:

Note that the above recording is a V-Disc, which is a story in itself. James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), had called a national ban on recording by its members in 1942, meaning no new recordings could be made by commercial record companies using AFM musicians. To get around this ban, songs were recorded a capella, without instrumental accompaniment. However, there was an exception for records, called V-Discs, made for American troops overseas….thus the orchestral accompaniment for this song from the film’s CBS rehearsal session was recorded as a V-Disc. This, and many other V-Discs, survive to this day because, although such discs were supposed to be off-limits in the U.S., this edict was largely ignored by returning GIs.

I close at the bottom of  this HIGHER AND HIGHER post with the title song from TOP OF THE TOWN, a film with screenplay co-written by humorist Robert Benchley:

 

 

 

 

 

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)