Sunday, June 29, 2008
The IRON LUNG of RONNIE DEAUVILLE
He had a golden voice. Then he needed an iron lung.
The words "crooner" and "gutsy" rarely cross, but they do in the case of star-crossed Ronnie Deauville. Ronnie's "Smoke Dreams" album has one of the most iconic images in the world of "lounge erotic" album covers, but almost nobody who treasures that cover knows that after its release, Deauville actually standing and singing was a dream, not reality. He actually sang from a wheelchair.
He was born Henry Deauville (August 28, 1925). His mother Marie was an actress and his sister Sheryl had some minor success (notably a hooker role in "Irma La Douce") but he became the star of the family. After Marine Air Corps service in World War 2, and now re-named Ronnie, he became the big band singer for orchestras led by Glenn Gray, Tex Beneke and ultimately Ray Anthony. “Sentimental Me” was a hit in 1950 and “Be My Love” made the charts in 1951. The Ray Anthony "Capitol Collectors Series" CD features him on "Nevertheless," "Can Anyone Explain," and "Autumn Leaves."
Ronnie had assembled a pretty impressive number of singles and was ready for his first long-play album. 1956 was the year "Smoke Dreams" came out. But it was also the year that his dreams went up in smoke. In September of 1956 he got into a collision with a car that had veered into his path, and the impact threw him out of his vehicle and into the street. How could it get worse? While recuperating in the hospital, he was diagnosed with polio. Doctors weren't sure exactly how this happened...if it was somehow triggered by the accident, if his immune system was weakened...but the result was that the smooth-voiced crooner spent a year in an iron lung.
Paralyzed from the neck down, he fought back, and miraculously regained enough breath control to sing again. An ordinary chair could be substituted for his wheelchair, as in an artfully done TV rendition of "Aoha 'oe," where romantic Ronnie is viewed in a sailor cap, seemingly in a cabin on board a boat, sitting at the port hole, dreaming of Hawaiian dancers (double-exposed as nostalgic visions in his mind). Check YOUTUBE for that one.
On November 6, 1957 Ralph Edwards told his story on "This Is Your Life." Era issued several singles, as Steve Allen, Jerry Lewis, Jack Paar and others helped him get continued TV exposure. The Era "Smoke Dreams" album preserved the fantasy of the handsome singer being able to stand. Ronnie's inspirational story led to another record contract, which featured a big close-up of the handsome star on the cover.
Ronnie's 1959 album for Imperial was his second, and last. "Romance with Ronnie" offered such songs as "Tormented," "Blame Your Eyes," "Dream Girl," and a smooth cover of "Unchained Melody," where he was able to hit the challenging high notes with ease. The liner notes referenced his car accident and comeback, but did not mention his chair-bound condition.
A combination of factors...limited breathing ability, the difficulty of attracting female fans to a handicapped male singer, the physical problems of getting around to clubs or TV dates...led Ronnie to move behind the scenes, doing song-dubbing for less talented movie stars. He eventually retired to Florida with his wife and children, and passed away from cancer on Christmas Eve, 1990.
Your download? His single of "Laura," one of his most effective performances, along with the title cut from the "Smoke Dreams" album.
Laura-Smoke Dreams Instant download or listen on line. No code words, porn ads or pop-ups.