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