Monday, March 19, 2012

GOING CRAZY FOR BEN CASEY


March 11th 1996 will live as a day of medical infamy. Ben Casey died that day of pancreatic cancer.

He was better known as Vince Edwards.

Once upon a time, when the ideal was to marry a doctor, and Ideal was a big toy company, stores were full of merchandise about "Ben Casey" (Vince Edwards) and his cutie-pie rival "Dr. Kildare" (Richard Chamberlain). On the radio, it was hard to avoid hearing Chamberlain's annoying croon of "Three Stars Will Shine Tonight," and hard to avoid the 45 rpm novelty numbers such as "Ben Crazy" aimed at black-haired, black-mood "Ben Casey," who deserved it because he frowned so much and took himself SO seriously.

"Ben Crazy" was what the yocksters called him. I think the parody singles did better than anything Vince put on vinyl, that's for sure. One reason is that Edwards (born Vincent Edward Zoino in 1928) was older than Chamberlain, and more interested in singing standards he remembered from growing up, such as "As Time Goes By" and "Unchained Melody." Especially after he went nowhere with a contemporary single "Why Did You Leave Me?" which survives today because of the wonderfully insane "Squeelin' Parrot Twist" on the B-side. It was released in 1962 before the fever for "Ben Casey" heated up. Once it did, Edwards' new record label instantly pointed him toward serious covers of 40's and 50's romantic songs to loosen the purse strings of older female fans, leaving the 45's to Chamberlain teeny-boppers.

Ironically the weaker-voiced Chamberlain would go on to successes touring in Broadway musicals, and would later get critical praise as a versatile and serious dramatic actor. For Vince Edwards, it was pretty much of a flat-line after "Ben Casey," as he went off the charts in music and had a kind of journeyman's career in guest roles on TV and in films. Anyone remember that he briefly starred in another series in 1970 called "Matt Lincoln," playing a doctor? Another failed series called "Our Family Honor" in 1985? That he tried a made-for-TV "Return of Ben Casey" in 1988? That he was in only ONE episode of that refuge for older former stars, "Murder She Wrote?"

Your doctor's bag contains two samples of Vince vocals. First off, "Squeelin' Parrot (Twist)" on the indie Russ-Fi label, which gets any laughs via the idiot bird joyfully mocking the lead singer.

Next, more typical of Vince, a medley of three middle-of-the-road numbers from his debut album, all nicely sliding off the tonsils: a swingy "As Time Goes By," a croony "And Now," and a very credible take on the tricky big ballad "Unchained Melody."

The parodies: "Ben Crazy" from the break-in master and suicidal novelty genius Dickie Goodman, "Dr. Ben Basey" from Mickey Schorr, one of the many who tried to cash-in on break-in master Dickie Goodman by stealing his break-in formula, and "Callin' Dr. Casey" a rockabilly malted from John D. Loudermilk. The big repeated joke is that when John calls out for the doctor, the doctor gives an indulgently prolonged, "Yeessssss?" in the catch-phrase style of character actor Frank Nelson, who used it playing unctuously helpful store clerks on Jack Benny's show.

Five tracks in all. And can you name the FIVE symbols used when Dr. Zorba (Sam Jaffe) went to the chalkboard for the opening of the "Ben Casey" show each week? The first two were MAN and WOMAN. The last three sum up succinctly what happened to Vince Edwards (you have so far been spared the last two).

4 Novelty Tracks. "Squeelin' Parrot" and BEN CASEY knock-offs and cash-ins

Vince Edwards sings 3 classic songs incl. Unchained Melody. For the whole album, give a break to some poor bugger who owns a record store, thrift shop, or is selling on eBay.

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4 comments:

bostongirl said...

Thanks for remembering Vince Edwards. I have been trying for years to get his series Matt Lincoln released on dvd. ABC aired at in 1970 at 7:30. Of course it missed its target audience completely. It was never given a chance in another timeslot, just cancelled. There are 16 episodes plus the pilot film Dial Hot Line. this aired as an ABC tv movie of the week, and remains one of the highest rated. Our Family Honor was NOT a Vince Edwards series. He made a three guest appearances. I have searched for 10 years for Dial Hot Line and the individual episodes of Matt Lincoln. Maybe someday i will finally get them. Vince had a beautiful voice. I recommend seeing his appearance on the Hollywood Palace with Liza Minnelli. He sings "Maria" from West Side Story, among other songs.

Ill Folks said...

Vince had a lot of charisma. Funny, for a very obscure show, "Matt Lincoln" did get two tie-in paperbacks. Both have Vince on the cover.

1970...that's pre-VCR and a show that indeed wasn't given a chance. Each "Matt Lincoln" show had a one-word title. A bootlegger on ioffer.com has two episodes, "Lia" and "Adam" that apparently were combined as a "Made for TV" movie called "Remember." There's a start. It might be floating around free in a torrent or forum as well. Maybe with the need for "streaming content" at Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, shows like "Matt Lincoln" will finally be freed from the stuffy vaults and aired out again.

Ben Casey definitely beats Kildare as a singer!

Tor Hershman said...

If this B so (under-appreciated unusual, unique, sick or strange Singers, Songwriters and Songs) U R just a-gonna LOVE moi's feces.

SOGS,
Tor

Anonymous said...

Having witnessed "Dr. Kildare" as "Captain von Trapp" on stage in "The Sound of Music" (due to a gift of free tickets), I can assure you that Chamberlain was no Christopher Plummer either. (Recently Plummer was asked by Scott Simon if he still sings "Edelweiss" on occasion, he asked,"Of course not. Are you mad?" However, I now discover that Plummer, in fact, did not sing Edelweiss, but was dubbed over by Bill Lee. I guess Plummer was no Bill Lee, or Theodore Bikel (who played the captain on stage before "that film", as Plummer likes to refer to it.)