HIGH FIVE FOR FIVE STARS

Each of the five days since my last post was the birthday of at least one iconic figure in music or film who left lasting memories for those who appreciate legacies in artistry. I could easily go overboard writing in depth about any of these mid-May arrivals, but maybe it’s best to lessen my losses by not overly testing readers’ patience (O me of little faith!):

May 11 — IRVING BERLIN (1888-1989). Perhaps the most prolific composer in American history, with an estimated 1,500 songs to his credit, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films (three of which were Astaire-Rogers musicals). Writing both words and music (relatively rare for his era), his hits include seasonal evergreens White Christmas and Easter Parade, as well as the red, white and blue God Bless America. His lyrics may lack the wit and sophistication of Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart, but there’s no denying the emotional appeal of such songs as….

May 12 — KATHERINE HEPBURN (1907-2003). In the Golden Era of Hollywood, was there ever a more successful, fiercely independent woman than Katherine Hepburn?  Successful? It’s hard to argue against receiving a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress, and being named the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute. Independent? Her own words say it all:

“I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.” (Hard as it may be to imagine the Bryn Mawr-educated Hepburn uttering “ain’t,” I ain’t about to correct her quote.)

“We are taught you must …. never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change, you’re the one who has got to change.”

“As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”

“Life gets harder the smarter you get, the more you know.”

“Politicians remain professional because the voters remain amateur.”

NOTE: For my ode to another May 12 bundle of joy, see my post of May 12, 2015.

May 13 — ARTHUR SULLIVAN (1842-1900). Can’t place the name? How about Arthur Sullivan of GILBERT AND SULLIVAN fame? Who doesn’t enjoy their great comic operas such as THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, THE MIKADO and H.M.S. PINAFORE — the latter of which I have loved since When I was a Lad:

May 14 — SIDNEY BECHET (1897-1959). This is a name you almost certainly can’t place unless you’re a classic jazz fan….but if you are such a fan, you know him as a major figure in jazz annals since his recording debut in 1923. New Orleans born, he spent the last decade of his life in France, where he died on the same day — May 14 — that he was born. Here he is on soprano sax in a 1950s recording from the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s magical MIDNIGHT IN PARIS:

May 15 — JOSEPH COTTON (1905-1994). I have previously mentioned Joseph Cotton in regard to his co-starring role (with Orson Welles and Alida Valli) in one of my favorite films, THE THIRD MAN. He first met Welles in 1934, beginning a life-long friendship and on-and-off association with Welles in numerous plays, radio dramas and films, as well as co-starring with Katherine Hepburn in the 1939 Broadway play THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. But it is in his role as Holly Martens in THE THIRD MAN that he stands alone (literally so, in the end), and I can think of no more fitting way to end this post than with that indelible closing scene from the film (to the tune of Anton Karas’ Third Man Theme):

COLE IN ONE (PART TWO)

One year ago today, on the 50th anniversary of the death of Cole Porter, I published a post titled COLE IN ONE. Porter was one of the two preeminent composer-lyricists  (the other being Irving Berlin) of his day, a time in the history of popular music when most songs were written by a team of one (or more) composer(s) and one (or more) lyricist(s)….think George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, for examples.

What made Porter one of a kind was a combination of the unique quality of his melodies and the wit and urbane sophistication of his lyrics, for which he was unrivaled (excepting Lorenz Hart, who wrote lyrics only). This made such a big impression on me when I was young that I “fell in love” with witty, amusing and sometimes poignant rhyme — the kind exemplified non-musically by light verse master Ogden Nash….and even Nash could team up on occasion to write a great song, such as Speak Low (When You Speak Love) with composer Kurt Weill for the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus.

For this post, I have taken the liberty of taking Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love for a re-write, interposing my interpretation of the well-known refrain onto Porter’s as-written (but seldom-heard) verse which precedes it. You might call it COLE PORTER A LA MUSE:

I was a humdrum person,
Leading a life apart,
When love flew in through my window wide
And quickened my humdrum heart.
Love flew in through my window,
I was so happy then.
But after love had stayed a little while,
Love flew out again.

What is this thing
Called love of light verse?
This funny thing
I love, called light verse.

Just who can solve
Its mystery.
Why should it make
A muse of me?

I saw humor there
One wonderful day;
Youth took my heart
And threw it away.

That’s why I ask the Lord
In light of this curse
What is this thing
Called love of light verse?

In case you’ve forgotten how the real refrain goes, here is the song sung as originally written:

SOUNDS OF THE TIMES

You’ve got to hand it to Cole Porter. He’s a rich boy who made good. 
–Oscar Levant (said jokingly of his born-into-wealth friend)

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

If you, like me, are a child of parents born in the first decade of the 20th Century, you no doubt have at least a second-hand feel (if not first-hand familiarity) for that time in America known as “The Roaring Twenties” (AKA “The Jazz Age”) and “The Great Depression” (the 1930s). I was born too late in the Depression to recall what I saw then, but what I heard transcends the times. It’s the music, Cupid. Not that it was entirely romantic.

You remember music (take that however you wish). In the words of Lorenz Hart: It’s Easy To Remember (but so hard to forget)….or, put another – Irving Berlin’s – way: The Song Is Ended (but the melody lingers on). Today, however, we celebrate a master songwriter of those times whose music is Easy To Love: Cole Porter, born June 9, 1892.

To that end, I quote Fred Lounsberry, Editor of “103 lyrics of Cole Porter” (Random House):
Mixing of opposites, wide knowledge, spunk, individuality, realism, restraint, rascality, maturity. This is a pretty complete list of what makes Cole Porter’s lyrics delightfully different, but the really primary strength of his lyrics is intelligence, putting all his facts, facilities and philosophies into the right balance to make good entertainment.

So, without further ado, Let’s Do It — let’s do a few of those 1920s & 30s Cole Porter songs that are as likely to parody romantic bliss as to evoke it (including two versions of Let’s Misbehave):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iqqAIZpp2c

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ceMwgadNFM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2AiQgnylrE

There, now — that wasn’t so bad, was it?