Monday, July 29, 2013


The wonderful actor Hans Conried had one of the most unique voices in show business. He also was one of the first performers who realized he had to "invent" himself. He took on the persona of a grand Shakespearean ham, a scholarly sophisticate with a wickedly down to earth cynicism. To listen to him speak, you'd think he was born in England somewhere, or perhaps moved there after being exiled from his royal home in Austria.

Actually, he grew up in Manhattan, having spent his childhood in Baltimore. Like Vincent Price (who grew up in St. Louis) he was pure American even if he seemed to have European manners and sophistication. The family name does come from Vienna…his Jewish father. But perhaps some of the comic haughtiness that Conried brought to his acting work came from his mother, who claimed to trace her ancestry back to the Pilgrims.

Conried found success on radio (and perhaps early lessons on how to carry one's self with grand pretension) via Orson Welles, who ran the Mercury Theatre Company and shocked the world with that "War of the Worlds" broadcast. Conried was soon known as a brilliant voice man, capable of all kinds of accents, and of playing both drama and comedy. Decades later he would apply his talents on made-for-TV cartoons, most notably as Snidely Whiplash and as Uncle Waldo in the Jay Ward "Dudley Do-Right" and "Hoppity Hooper" shorts.

He was enough of a celebrity to be invited onto quiz shows, and that's where, in a kind of despair, he "invented" himself. How could he come out and be funny, urbane, and a deadpan comic realist when he wasn't sure who "Hans Conried" was? So he made Hans Conried into a character, a somewhat pompous intellectual with a comical common touch, not the kindly family man who would be married to the same woman for 40 years and raise 4 children. From the 40's to the 80's, he would get chances to perform in a variety of roles on TV, film and stage.

Some know him as "Uncle Tonoose," the eccentric relative on "The Danny Thomas Show." Film fans of course will point to "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T," "The Twonky," and his cartoon voicework as Captain Hook in "Peter Pan." Some went to see him on the "straw hat circuit," when he was in "The Sunshine Boys" (opposite such veterans as Phil Leeds in a Georgia production and Jerry Hausner in Florida and Washington). Conried's last memorable stage appearances were in 1979, in "Barefoot in the Park" in Canada, "Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in St. Louis with Avery Schreiber, Arte Johnson and John Carradine, and 1981 when he starred in "Never Too Late" in Illinois. His last time on the boards was also in 1981, in a Seattle production of "Barefoot in the Park," which was broadcast by HBO. In 1981 the veteran star filmed his last TV show, an episode of "The Music Shoppe," which was aired posthumously. That year he was also on "Goerge Burns' Early CHristmas Show" special and "through the Magic Pyramid." His last film appearance was very brief, a few minutes in "Oh God Book II" with George Burns in 1980.

The "Hans Conried" character can best be seen on DVD via the 3 disc set of "Fractured Flickers," which may have only lasted one season, but remains a vivid example of his personality. The show also has lots of oddball guests (from Allan Sherman to Rod Serling) interviewed by Conried, who usually casts himself as the low budget hosts who can't, to his chagrin, get more than 3 minutes with his busy celeb guest. Many of the screwed up silent film clips on the show (way before "Mystery Science Theater 3000") are still very funny, including the notorious send-up of Lon Chaney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame," which enraged Chaney Jr.

And below? Mr. Conried grandly soars to the heights of classical music, but plummets back down again because HIS version of "Peter and the Wolf" is being done Dixieland style. As usual, the great character comedian is caught between high art and low humor, between hoping to hear the piece played elegantly, and secretly enjoying the down and dirtier Dixie styling.

There are tons of "Peter and the Wolf" narrators out there, and fairly similar versions of the famous "child's introduction to classical" music that Prokofiev created. Conried's is one of the few comic variations. Others would be Weird Al Yankovic (CBS) backed by the synthesizers of Wendy Carlos, Peter Schickele (Telarc) doing it as a Western, and Allan Sherman's "Peter and the Commissar" (RCA)

The Prokofiev piece is so confined to a kiddie audience, and so well associated with having a star describe the action, that there really are very few recordings that DON'T have a celebrity introducing the various instruments and telling listeners what the music is now representing. If you do want a real orchestra version after the Hans Conried, and not Dixieland, your choices of narrator include:

Boris Karloff (Mercury Childcraft, Vanguard) one of the best of the 50's narrators, although a strong case can be made for the Disneyland version done by flutey-voiced Sterling Holloway. Sean Connery (Decca, London-Phase 4) did it. So did Rob Reiner (Angel), Basil Rathbone (Columbia), Jonathan Winters (EMI), Tony Randall (IBM-cd rom), Captain Kangaroo (Everest, International House of Pancakes promo), Arthur Godfrey (Columbia), Brandon De Wilde (Vox), Garry Moore (Early Years-Record Club of America), Will Geer (Vanguard), Cyril Ritchard (Columbia), Lorne Greene (RCA) Patrick Stewart (ERATO) and David Bowie (RCA). Michael Flanders' version (ANGEL) got some critical flak because he introduced the duck as 'stupid.' Not PC to call a duck stupid!

There are versions from Sophia Loren (Pentatone), Hermloine Gingold (DG), Jacqueline du Pre (DG), Mia Farrow (Angel), Carol Channing (Caedmon), Beatrice Lillie (Decca, London-Jubilee), Eleanor Roosevelt (RCA Victor 10 inch), Alastair Smythe (Fairyland/Corona), Jack Lemmon (Laserlight), Sir Alec Guinness (RCA), Sir John Gielgud (Virgin), Paul Daneman (Music for Pleasure), Oleg Prokofiev (Hyperion), Frank Phillips (Decca), Paul Hogan (EMI), James Pease (Rocking Horse/Diplomat), Alec McCowen (Philips), Alec Clunes (DG), Sting (DG), Peter Ustinov (Angel), Yadu (Magic Maestro), Richard Baker (Classics for Pleasure), Frank Milano (Golden), Jose Ferrer (Kapp), William F. Buckley Jr. (Proarte), Richard Hale (RCA), Christopher Lee (Nimbus), Dudley Moore (Philips), Itzhak Perlman (EMI), George Raft (London), Tom Seaver (MMG) and a host of others. Conductor Andre Previn, who recorded a version with Mia Farrow, also narrated it himself (Telarc), and with his ego, it's no surprise that Leonard Bernstein did as well (Columbia). Rock fans will already be way ahead of me in adding that stupid rock version with the "all star" cast that included the lead singer from Procol Harum…whatever his name is. Oh, and I had Dame Edna Everage autograph my CD (Naxos) of her version of it…although she was dressed in Barry Humphries drag at the time.

Now here's Hans Conried using his comically sour Shakespearean ham-voice to contrast the earthy instrumentals of his Dixieland pals. It's not only one of the most unusual versions, it's probably the least likely to ever get a CD release….



She was best known for 30 seconds. A coffee commercial.

Page Morton (Oct. 27, 1915-July 21, 2013) was one of many 50's nightclub singers. At a time when restaurants and even banks routinely had a live pianist performing to draw customers and add class, it wasn't too difficult for a fairly attractive if long-faced woman with a decent voice to sing standards in one of New York's plentiful hotel venues. She made it to 5th Avenue's Sherry-Netherland, and the equally posh Pierre with its views of Central Park. On September 26 and 27th 1961, she was in the studio with veteran arranger Leo Addeo to record her debut album for MGM. It would be her only vinyl long-player. Maybe because as a singer she was truly in the middle of the road, not enticingly in any particular direction. Or maybe because...

She married the owner of Chock Full o'Nuts in 1962. The old guy began the company back in the 20's and his luncheonettes actually did sell nuts. In fact they turned up in the ethnic sandwich specialty, cream cheese on raisin bread. The gooey white stuff filling was festooned with bits of pistachio. The accompanying java became so popular it was eventually canned and sold directly to customers…and became a national brand. A perk of Page's coffee-stained marriage was that her version of the company's commercial jingle replaced the one sung by Geanne Martin…her husband's previous wife. Her husband's name was William Black, by the way. But "Black Coffee" was already taken.

The "Chock Full o'Nuts" easy-going dirge-waltz about that "heavenly coffee" merely switched a few lines from "That Heavenly Feeling," a tune popularized by The McGuire Sisters and written by the team of Wayne and Silbert. It became one of many examples of a commercial lyric eclipsing the original…which had to be OK with the authors when the royalty checks came in. Morton only recorded one album (for MGM) but her "hit" commercial was on the air for decades, comfortable, familiar, and one of the more pleasant jingles on the air.

80 year-old William Black died in 1983. He was remembered for his charity work and for "reverse racism." Mr. Black hired a lot of black workers at his urban luncheonettes and some white union employees grumbled about this. Also unusual was Mr. Black's policy of allowing employees to invest in his company via discounted stock purchases. His company made $115.8 million in 1983, most of it from national sales of the coffee. In 1984, "That Heavenly Feeling" re-worded as "The Chock Full o'Nuts" jingle, underwent a final, bizarre lyric change. Henry Jerome turned it into "I Want to Know," and Page Morton Black went into the studio with horrid MOR backing singers and a creepy bass-baritone…and released the single via Atlantic. Ahmet Ertegun must've been in quite a Black mood to do that!

The single went nowhere, and the "Chock Full o'Nuts" chain of 25 stores mostly in Manhattan and Brooklyn was eclipsed in the late 80's and early 90's by fast food joints, the same ones that doomed Horn and Hardart's automat, Prexy's ("the hamburger with the college education") and even Schrafft's and the lunch counter at Woolworths. The jingle wasn't that relevant for selling cans of coffee. Back when a cup was a dime, the last line resonated: "better coffee a millionaire's money can't buy." But in the 80's and 90's the average slob chugged down some inky brown shit from Dunkin' Donuts or Burger King and that was good enough.

This didn't turn Page, who was more than a millionaire. The retired chanteuse was popular in society circles and was a philanthropist working with the National Parkinson Diseases Foundation. She also raised three daughters. Like another grand dame of the circuit, Kitty Carlyle, she was sometimes urged to perform again, or at least sing her jingle and a few standards at some party or event.

In 1996 she released a CD, "Page One," which reprised "May You Always" and "Don't Blame Me" from her first album, and included covers of other classics including "That Old Feeling" and "As Time Goes By." The producer she hired chose fox-trot clip-clop arrangements which led some "reviewer" at Amazon to complain that not only couldn't the old lady sing, but it was ludicrous to do "reggae." Awww. Judge for yourself, but judge her not too harshly, via the sample track, "You Better Go Now."

Page's last dramatic moment…too dramatic…came in 2008. Her home in Mamaroneck caught fire, and she was trapped on an upstairs balcony, the elderly lady saved by the timely arrival of the fire department. Happily there was no burnt Page, and few have a memory of getting burned by a bad cup of Chock Full o'Nuts. She had a long life. As she lays freshly in the ground, in her heavenly coffin, we remember Page Morton as the nice lady who sang one of radio and TV'S least annoying singing commercials.

From Page's MGM album, not a really interesting version of TILL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG

PAGE sings the 30 second Chock Full o'Nuts theme, followed by her 1984 new-lyric single "I Want To Know" Chock Full o'Nuts/I WANT TO KNOW







Nevermind. Let's cover WHO'S YEHUDI, having started in with it via the Jerry Colonna post back on the 9th. And no, Yehudi isn't the former leader of the Blowfish.

Yehudi was of course Yehudi Menuhin. The name Yehudi, along with Yehuda, is a variation on Judah, fourth son of Jacob and Leah in the Old Testament. But…

While the comic question from Colonna had to do with the violinist, the musical question doesn't.

"Who's Yehudi" was asked by songwriters Bill Seckler and Matt Dennis in 1940. The answer? Nobody's quite sure! Lots of clues were given when Martha Tilton sang the number in that year's film "Varsity Vanities." Perhaps to avoid offending Mr. Menuhin, the shellac version, also from 1940 via Cab Calloway, spelled the name "Yahoodi," which was more of a hoot.

There are two theories of how the catch-phrase began. The first one seems a bit of a myth. Supposedly Yehudi Menuhin was announced as a guest on Bob Hope's Pepsodent-sponsored radio show, and sidekick Colonna piped up with "Who's Yehudi?" And kept saying it as long as the audience laughed. Kinda unlikely, huh? Author David Goodman in his book "Radio's Civic Ambition," backs this theory by reporting there was "a guest appearance from celebrity violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1939." However no collector of OTR (Old Time Radio) has that episode of Bob Hope's show and I haven't found any radio listings on microfilm from any newspaper that list Menuhin as a guest. If he was a guest in 1939, it could only have been some time between October and December of 1939, as the acetates or masters from those broadcasts are the only ones that are still lost.

Author John Dunning, in his book "On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio," has a more plausible theory, and it has to do with Bob Hope's announcer Bill Goodwin: "the Yehudi gag grew out of a contest, begun on The Pepsodent Show, to help name Bill Goodwin's new baby. Colonna suggested Yehudi in response to the rise of the Russian-American concert violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The name got laughs from people who had never heard of Yehudi…and the gag was off and running." This version is repeated by Lawrence J. Quirk ("Bob Hope: The Road Well Traveled"). He writes: "When the wife of the show's announcer, Bill Goodwin, gave birth, a contest was held to name the baby. At that time Yehudi Menuhin, the classical violin prodigy, was attracting wide attention (among a completely different class of people from those who listened to Hope, of course) and Colonna suggested "Yehudi!" Before long, the name caught on and came up again and again in sketches and gags until Yehudi became a character _ a mythical person the cast kept searching for— in its own right. "Who's Yehudi?" became a national catch phrase….The Great Menuhin himself was apprised of its use as a gimmick on the Hope show and thought it "vulgar but harmless."

IT'S A HOOT: Who's Yahoodi - Cab Calloway

TILTON'S TOPS: Martha's film soundtrack version

Friday, July 19, 2013


Sometimes, somebody says something to you, and it stays with you. It might not be a profound remark, it might even be something others have said, but it's the way he said it. Or the circumstances. Or both.

I was asking Peppi Marchello how he and his Good Rats were doing. He said, "Keeping the price up."

Important. Something to remember. And I have. You can go through many hills and valleys in your career...but you must retain your dignity. No pay to play gigs. No selling t-shirts if you don't want to, especially not below cost. No compromise if it in any way affects integrity. Even when his band's "Tasty" album was more a cult remembrance than a best-seller, and there were empty weeks on the touring calendar, Peppi was "keeping the price up." No half-empty local bar. Full house or nothing. An indie label that will at least do it right or stay out of the studio. The Good Rats played B.B. King's in 2008 and yes, that place does have a meaningful cover and minimum. And yes, there were enough of Peppi's fans willing to pay up to get in.

Peppi died July 10th, age 68, due to heart surgery complications. Most who remember The Good Rats mourn the end of "the greatest bar band" they ever saw. (Ironically today's set of postings includes another band that could be candidates for that honor, Dr. Hook….one of the truly great "good time" bands to enjoy with a few beers).

At this peculiar blog, The Good Rats became a fave not because they were a good bar band. Their first album (1969) was impressive. The highlight was a gruesome song called "For the Sake of Anyone." You can hear it below. It's way ahead of its time, opening with the same foreboding of a Shangri-La's single. Then, with Vanilla Fudge organ spitting along, Peppi jumps in with a pre-Alice Cooper, strained, snarly growl of great intensity. And just to fuck with you a little more, the five-minute track wanders into some Sgt. Pepper violins and Peppi ends up doing some mental-hospital moaning as solemn brass chimes in. But that's not all. There has to be the confrontation finale, Mom and Son. And WHO produced this? Ron Haffkine, who would later find fame and fortune behind the controls for...Dr. Hook! The other cuts on the album (except perhaps for the Three Stooges "Hello Hello Hello" humor in the opening "We Are the Good Rats" tune) are all seething, like the fantastic "Gotta Get Back."

I remember mentioning to Peppi, the letter to the editor I saw in a 1972 issue of Creem. Quote:

"Since you guys like to keep track of so called "killer" groups, I'd like to know if you know what ever happened to a group called The Good Rats? I picked up their album, which I vaguely remember being released around early 1969, in a 59 cents bargain bin the other day, and it like to blew my head off. They make the Stooges and MC5 sound like Donovan. The lead singer whoever he is, or was, sounds like his balls are caught in a garbage disposal. All the songs are written by Peppi Marchello, but I've never heard of him either. I'm curious because I've never heard of these guys since, and wonder if they have any other recordings available. They seemed too good to be a one-shot wonder…Andy Lee, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla."

I had to admit that I'd gotten that album from a bargain bin as well…for 47 cents. "That much," Peppi noted, drolly. Creem, by the way, didn't have an answer to the letter. Two years after it was published, in 1974, the group was signed to Alice Cooper's record label for "Tasty." Me...I was still tasting that first one. During my disc jockey time I preferred to play an old Kapp cut like "Gotta Get Back" alongside a Cooper track like "Under My Wheels." That was because "Tasty" was, well, a little too tasteful!

Rolling Stone (you remember them, they used to review records) loved the new album, declaring "the revamped Good Rats have discarded the droning heavy-metal slag that marred their first effort in favor of some fresh, tight, jazz-tinged rock…John Gatto in particular is an exceptionally nimble guitarist, stylistically based in rock though owing much to the jazz idiom. Tempering adroit solos with equally adept fills, he is a welcome change from the distortion-freak guitar bangers currently in vogue…Marchello…sporting a piercing, gravelly voice…Stewart and Cocker first come to mind as he shares elements of both but copies neither. What Marchello lacks in smoothness and texture, though, is more than made up for in his mannerisms and controlled presentation…"

"Tasty" was a critical hit but didn't exactly sell a lot of copies. It was long out of print by the time I first caught up to Peppi. Not that he was that crushed about it, he was bragging that it was going for "$25 a pop," if not more in Greenwich Village record shops. THAT was an example of keeping the price up!

Rolling Stone even praised Peppi's lyrics ("in a time when non-musicians (the Dolls et al) are thought of as brilliant") and ended by declaring, "If it gets the recognition it deserves "Tasty" will establish the Rats as the best thing to come out of Long Island since the Vanilla Fudge." Except it didn't get that recognition. The Good Rats sporadically made their various new and indie albums in the late 70's and 80's, and veered far from "For the Sake of Anyone" and "Tasty" both. Critics didn't exactly find the new bar-band type albums "Tasty," but Peppi and his group did become known for their live shows, and fans stayed loyal. Into the late 90's and the 21st Century, gigs may have been fewer, but when they played, they rocked.

From their first album, "For the Sake of Anyone," and "Gotta Get Back."



The COVER of the ROLLING STONE - (Give 'em the HOOK)

Remember when being on the cover of Rolling Stone was cool?

Gravel-voiced Shel Silverstein wrote a song about it, and like many he wrote for his "cover band" Dr. Hook ("Sylvia's Mother" the first) those guys were able to make it a hit. The magazine even put Dr. Hook on the cover!

Lead singers Ray and Dennis were the first rockers I interviewed. It was a great way to start. They were, as they admitted, "goofballs" who just "stumbled out on stage" to have a good time. How could I not feel at ease talking to such unpretentious guys?? I had a great time talking with them, the start of "dreams coming true," and not only meeting most of my favorite stars but doing it professionally, with mutual respect and benefit. I was glad to have other chances to talk to Ray and Dennis and to write about them as they piled up more hits. What times.

Times have changed. A band putting out albums full of oldies, swamp rock, novelty, and C&W tear jerkers? Does that happen now? Does any band put out a collection of songs you could sing along to? As for the cover of the Rolling Stone, well, I haven't written in to cancel my subscription, but that mag has been trying my patience by devoting space, and often the cover, to talentless assholes (Kid Rock, Jay-Z, Kanye etc.) And the cutie-pie shot of adorable "Jahar" on the cover IS a gaffe.

They should admit it instead of being snotty with excuses. Associate editor Simon Vozick-Levonson tweeted: "Should journalists not write about people who commit awful crimes?" The answer is, YOU slanted the photo to make him the love-puppy, the one that has girls screaming "Free him, Free him" on Facebook because he's SO cute. YOU could've added a few sobering images on that cover to contrast his looks with his actions. A caption calling him a baby-faced monster would've also helped make your point clearer.

Then there was the Tweet (quickly deleted) from senior editor Christian Hoard (yes, that's his name) saying: "I guess we should have drawn a dick on Dzhokhar's face or something?" Well, Christian, in this case, I can't say you were really any more of a journalist than Perez Hilton.

I've been a magazine editor several times, and I've chosen what goes on a cover, by myself or along with my art department and publisher and staff, with 100,000 to 500,000 readers waiting. I would not have chosen such a cover. I've made some mistakes now and then (a mis-labeled caption, a photo of a rocker with a half-naked groupie which got the mag pulled from distribution in one particular country) but nothing like this.

And so Rolling Stone will lose a lot of money on returns of the issue. I'm not for censorship, or Paula Deen-type bullying where people use economic sanctions to force their view on someone else, but…I ain't exactly crying for millionaire publisher Jann Wenner…who probably was licking his lips at that picture of the curly-haired cutie who went wrong. As wrong as his editorial staff.

Turning away from two murderous brothers, let's go back and hear my friends Ray and Dennis. Ray (eye patch) is still touring here and there as Dr. Hook (with no mention allowed of Dennis) and Dennis lives in England, makes an album now and then…and always has a good audience for his live shows, which are a lot more mature than the old days…but still a lot of fun.

Back when it meant something to be on the... COVER OF THE ROLLING STONE


ROLLING STONE doesn't think pretty-boy-Muslim-maniac on the cover will hurt them financially.

The mag's circulation is 95% subscription (1.4 million copies).


Your download below is a peculiar musical moment from an exhibit at the World's Fair of 1964.

Held in Queens, New York, which at the time was a calm, spacious middle-class "suburb" of Manhattan, the '64 Fair was on enough acreage to make for a full weekend of activity. Just walking around the grounds, looking at the Unisphere, the futuristic buildings and the plentiful park areas would take hours. Being a "world" fair meant that you could wander along and pass mini-versions of exotic countries and other tourist locales. The Hawaii exhibit had open-air exhibits of exotic flora and fauna and some very live hula girls.

The corporate exhibits and "World of Tomorrow" type buildings, and Disney "automatronic" historical displays were a mixed bag, some charging admission, some free and designed as thinly veiled promotion. Some of the entertainment was set up just to give families a place to sit and watch a movie or a show, and one of those was Sid and Marty Krofts'"Les Poupées de Paris." One number in the show featured musical puppet versions of Lugosi's Dracula and Karloff's Frankenstein singing a song.

The "Poupees" flashed back to mind when, a few nights ago, I grabbed the easy-read of James Bacon's "Hollywood is a Four Letter Town," to put myself to sleep. I figured I'd read a random bunch of the late gossip columnist's anecdotes about the great stars he knew. Or did he? On page 241:

"When Bela Lugosi died, I met Peter Lorre for a few drinks before going to the funeral. At the funeral we met Boris Karloff. At the conclusion of the services, the mourners were invited to view the body of Count Dracula. Boris, Peter and I were together in the line. As I watched Boris and Peter looking down on Bela's remains - and what a picture that would have made - I heard Peter say, "Come now, Bela, quit putting us on."

A lie. NONE of them were at the funeral. (In some versions, Vincent Price is with Lorre, not Karloff. In most tellings, Karloff gives the unlikely hipster punchline.) The guest-book for Bela's funeral still exists:

Various writers have interviewed the mourners and all confirmed that the only "celebrities" there were Tor Johnson (who played "Lobo" in "Bride of the Monster" and a cop in "Plan 9") and the director of those two Lugosi films, Ed Wood.

Gregory Mank in his book "Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff," even takes pains to list co-stars who were still alive, worked with Bela, but didn't attend what was an obscure and sad affair. The list of actresses, for example, included Julie Bishop, Lucille Lund, Irene Ware, Frances Drake, Josephine Hutchinson, Anne Nagel, Anne Gwynne, Helen Parrish and Rita Corday…'None came to the funeral." The dedicated author also mentions that Carroll Borland, "who did know, failed to come to the funeral, although she later felt compelled to fib that she had attended."

Back to the Bacon fib. He writes he had drinks with Lorre and then went to the funeral? I can't excuse this as the writer having the DT's so bad he was hallucinating. The prick probably heard this jokey anecdote from some fool, and decided to insert himself into the story. What a stupid thing to do. It reduces the credibility of everything else he ever wrote and there was no reason to do it. He legitimately rubbed elbows with enough stars to simply write, "I once heard this great story…." Except, did anyone reviewing his book catch him on it? No. That's what gossip writing has always been about; a momentary chuckle, smirk or lurid gasp, and then it's forgotten. But unfortunately gossip can become part of "Hollywood Babylon" legend and taken as the truth...and some made-up stories are pretty nasty and hurtful. This one is just stupid, and annoying to hear time and time again...usually by somebody doing a horrible impression of Karloff or Lorre.

Don't believe all you read in the papers. Writers routinely make shit up, sometimes even in collusion with a star's publicist. I've had editors pointedly tell me to just make stuff up if it would "help" make the story juicier. "Who cares?" they shrug. When I was a freelance photographer with one of the big photo agencies, I was told, "Be sure to bring in unflattering pictures…like if a celebrity blinks and her eyes are closed..." which could then be sold to a tabloid that needs a picture to go with a fake "star passed out drunk at party" tale. As Lily Tomlin said, no matter how cynical you are, it's hard to keep up.

Who knows how often someone came up to Vincent Price or Karloff laughing about that funny "Bela, quit putting us on," line. Or, in case you heard this one too, Peter Lorre quipping "Why don't we put a stake through his heart to make sure he's dead?"

Quite dead are Poupees parodists Guy Marks (as Karloff) and Joey Forman (as Lugosi). You might remember Guy Marks for his eccentric semi-hit "Loving You Has Made me Bananas," his single doing "Volare" as an Indian chief, or his album where he does impressions of movie stars singing old time tunes. Maybe in the silent film era Joey Forman could've been another Harry Langdon or Larry Semon, with his sad baby face. Sitcom fans might know him from silly roles he played on sitcoms including "Bewitched" and "Get Smart" (on the latter, as Oriental sleuth "Harry Hoo"). Vinyl addicts can find Joey on Bill Dana's "Maharishi" parody album from A&M as well as the UA soundtrack of moments from "Get Smart."

Guy Marks and Joey Forman Let's Be FRANK Mr. FRANKENSTEIN

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Farewell to Cornelius Harp (September 14, 1939-June 4, 2013).

No wisecracks about him playing a harp now…because the news is still a bit too depressing here in Illville. The Marcels were one of my favorites, thanks mainly to their doo-wop hot-wiring of stalled standards "Blue Moon" and "Heartaches."

Too bad The Marcels couldn't be taken seriously after that. Though a brilliant harmonizing doo-wop group before their Top Ten fame, and more than capable of handling the more romantic Platters-type of material, they lost direction (and their Colpix deal) with too many repeat attempts at goosing older songs ("Melancholy Baby"and "Old Black Magic") or veering into Coasters territory ("Friendly Loan"). They issued only one album and a smattering of singles after that.

I have no idea why Cornelius Harp didn't emerge as a solo act, but perhaps he was busy with a day job, and going on the road when The Marcels were able to be part of some package-revue.

It's possible that his main problem was that as lead singer for The Marcels, his talents were overshadowed by the antics of his three doo-wopping harmonizers and most especially, Fred Johnson's cool and hilarious bass nonsense-words. Imagine if Levi Stubbs of The Tour Tops was stinging out the straining paining lyrics to "Heartaches" while a clowny bunch of doo-wop singers were goofing the melody, and a bass man was swooping in with wurps and dips and bing-a-bopes? Nobody would be talking about him, either.

For Stubbs, his vocals were the focus point with The Four Tops. Harp, like Levi Stubbs, had a strong, direct singing style, but so much is going on in those Top 10 Marcels hits that people don't appreciate it. Listen to "Blue Moon" and "Heartaches" and hear how "Uncle Neeny" (as his relatives called him) propels that melody forward. He's almost like a mad father driving 70 mph down the highway with a fat nagging wife (on bass) and a back seat full of idiot brats (doing wah-wah-wah doo-wop chugs). Cornelius sounds determined, like he's got his eyes on the road and his foot on the pedal and nothing will wreck his concentration. It's a mad, mad ride.

Perhaps idiot savants, The Marcels, if you want to get a little overboard, were doo-wop masters of Comedy and Tragedy, and to borrow a phrase from Kipling, could "treat those two imposters just the same." While the bass made nonsense fun of the melody, the tenor soared along putting everything he had into those lyrics. Ever cry hot tears of rage only to find that they tickle your face?

For me, that's sort of what The Marcels do. You smile at the goofy Fred Johnson bass, you groove to the three guys harmonizing the fast rhythm, but then there's the seriously powerful tenor of Cornelius Harp.

If you check the rather sparse catalog of Marcels material out there, you'll find that Cornelius Harp had a versatile range, able to handle a Platters-type version of "Summertime," romantic ballads as well as hard-charging soulful R&B. It must be admitted that nobody, not Caruso (the first of the full-tilt tenors to bawl at a microphone) not Levi Stubbs, and not Harp, could get anywhere without good material and a little "magic" in the production. Which is why most people only know Caruso from a few arias, and Stubbs for a "greatest hits" of 60's Four Tops hits (and very little of what he and his group did in the decades after). Cornelius Harp? He only had a few years of prime recording, but he did produce some gems.

For most, the diamond is "Blue Moon," and below, you get five versions.

"ZOOM/Blue Moon" is an acapella demo recording The Marcels sent to record companies. It was such a stand-out among the tracks submitted, that producer Stu Phillips, requested that they actually cover "Blue Moon" during their official Colpix studio session.

"Blue Moon" the hit single. Another favorite of the blog, Murray the K, (Murray Kaufman), was legendarily essential to The Marcels' success. One of the nation's most influential disc jockeys, operating out of New York's WINS radio station, Murray played the hell out of his "Blue Moon" demo to the point where record stores were desperate for copies. Break a song in New York, and it will explode all over the country.

"Blue Moon" by Herb Lance and The Classics. Here's proof The Marcels could not be duplicated. Released on the oddly-named "Promo" label, and produced by Roger Sherman (who had signed The Classics to his Dart label a few years earlier), this was rush-released when demand for The Marcels was at its peak. Why Herb Lance needed to be brought in to front The Classics is anyone's guess. It was unfortunately common back then for people to go to a record store, ask for a song by title, and not get the right artist. There might be a file cabinet or a cubby hole with a half-dozen singers doing "Beyond the Sea" or "Hello Dolly." In this case, store clerks disposed of enough Herb Lance singles for a second printing…you can find both a red label and brown label version of his "Blue Moon."

"Blue Moon" by The Promenade Orchestra and Chorus. Promenade was one of those "six songs for a dollar" companies. Their 45 rpm budget EP's gave you three songs on each side. Unknowns with fake names, or given the catch-all name "Promenade Orchestra and Chorus" would try to imitate the originals. You knew you weren't getting the real star when you bought one of these; you were hoping the imitation wasn't too terrible. No, not TOO terrible here. But nobody sounded like Cornelius, Fred, or the under-appreciated rest of the group.

"Blue Moon" by Glen Gray, recorded back in 1934. Just in case you wanted to hear how the song was "supposed" to sound.


The Marcels underwent changes between their two (and only) Top 10 hits "Blue Moon" and "Heartaches." When they toured the South, audiences were shocked to see that the Pittsburgh group had two white guys mixed in with the coloreds. Integration? Uh, NO. The white guys were replaced by bass man Fred Johnson's brother and a guy named Walt Maddox.

The all-black Marcels did have a hit with "Heartaches," but they floundered with more attempts at that formula and apparently disc jockeys were even more skeptical if they got hold of a single in which the group tried to sing straight doo-wop. Even an appearance in the film "Twist Around the Clock" failed to enhance their status as a group with potential. Amid the failed singles, and who knows what internal bickering, Walt Maddox replaced Cornelius Harp and The Marcels turned into a foursome. And they turned into a part-time touring group on the oldies circuit and have remained that way.

Once in a blue moon there was a new single under The Marcels name. In 1973, "In The Still of the Night"/"High on a Hill" was released but had neither Maddox nor Harp on it. The group name was used because two vintage members were singing: Bingo Mundy and Richard Knauss along with three imposters. Two years later, Cornelius Harp assembled "The Fabulous Marcels" for a single on the obscure St. Clair label: "That Lucky Old Sun"/Peace of Mind."

Walt Maddox put his version of The Marcels on wax again in 1978 with a disco-styled remake of "Blue Moon," and successfully prevented any further confusion by winning complete legal use of The Marcels name. In 1994 he brought in Jules Hopson as lead singer and for nearly 20 years now, Hopson has been the Harp imposter.

Fortunately when PBS assembled and televised one of their first fund-raising oldies concerts, and wanted The Marcels, they insisted on the REAL deal. Four of the five were alive and ready to kick, including Fred Johnson on bass, and Cornelius singing lead. That's the picture on this page and you can see that performance of "Blue Moon" on YouTube. A year ago, PBS once again brought in The Marcels for yet another oldies show, but Cornelius was missing. The rest of the surviving originals (including Fred Johnson on bass, his hair now cut short) showed up to augment the Maddox imposters.

The Maddox-managed version of The Marcels is still part of oldies packages, and sometimes they get a chance to turn in an hour or so on their own. It happens once in a blue moon. One of their few scheduled starring performances is next month (Friday, August 30, 2013) at the St. Mary's Ukrainian Festival, Corner of Helen and Ella St., McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.

FIVE versions of BLUE MOON

ILL-USTRATED Songs #25 "EBB TIDE" from Jerry Colonna

It's summer, and humans are at the beach, pulling clams, crabs and lobsters out of their hiding places and into scalding water or onto burning barbecue racks till their shells crack. Mmmm, seafood mama!

Seafood doesn't scream, so let's allow Jerry Colonna (September 17, 1904 – November 21, 1986) to do it for 'em.

A human caricature with pop eyes and a stereotypical Italian mustache, Colonna was a trombone player for various big bands. His strange look and class clown personality made him a stand-out at live gigs, and a natural for handling novelty vocals. He eventually worked with the eccentric orchestra leader and composer Raymond Scott. Jerry worked with a variety of bands and many of them got radio gigs backing the top comics of the day. Comedians always liked to play to the hipster musicians, and often single out a few to ad-lib with. David Letterman with Paul Shafer is the most obvious example now. Going backward, there was Johnny Carson and Doc Severinsen, Merv Griffin and Jack Sheldon, Jackie Gleason and Sammy Spear and Jack Benny with Phil Harris. Colonna caught the eye of most every radio comedian he worked with, from Fred Allen to Bob Hope, who elevated him to second banana.

Colonna was versatile enough to be able to borrow from a variety of other comics of the day. Joe E. Brown was the wide-mouthed comic known for stretching out a yell to comic proportions, and Colonna became another. "The Mad Russian" was a comic who came out with pop eyes and a glazed personality and after a few eccentric words in a strange accent, disappeared again. Colonna did that, too. Like many an inane comedian, such as Joe "Wanna Buy a Duck" Penner, Colonna found a catchphrase that made no sense but was loved by listeners: "Who's Yehudi?" Phil Harris' snappy "Hiya Jackson" to Jack Benny was bettered by Jerry's impudent "Greetings, Gate" to Bob Hope.

Most of all, "One Note" Colonna had the trademark routine of wrecking a song with his corny over-the-top dramatics...always done with a look of lunacy in his eye. "You're My Everything" was sure-fire, the first word of the song starting softly in the back of his throat, gaining speed and volume and becoming an ear-splitting siren. One might not want a whole album of this, or hear this every week, but Colonna's mixed bag of eccentric tricks kept him a welcome co-star with Bob Hope well into the 60's and 70's.



Continuing our sea-side luau, here's one of the few eccentric female vocalists who was working around the same time as Jerry Colonna. Mae Questel was mainly known for voicing cartoon characters in the 30's and 40's; both Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. While she didn't really make a dent on radio or in the movies, she did record many a novelty song (as did Helen Kane, the original boop-a-doop girl.) Some people love the Betty and Olive voices, others find them irritating and tiresome after more than a few minutes. So proceed with caution: "At the Codfish Ball" could make you break out in a rash.

Mae had an enduring career thanks to her vocal talents, coy though they might be. Once she aged into the spitting image of a yenta, and her pudgy face truly matched her naggy voice, she got some of her best paychecks. In 1964 she co-starred on Broadway in the musical "Bajour," playing the trying but lovable mother to Nancy Dussault (and the potential victim of a gypsy con game). A few years later, and she starred on the comedy album "Mrs. Portnoy's Retort," a risque attempt to cash in on Philip Roth's best selling novel of Judaism and jerking off. The album was quite a surprise for her fans and an odd choice for United Artists, a label that almost never issued comedy records (an exception being the two-disc deal they gave Jackie Vernon). Mae then invaded TV homes as "Aunt Bluebelle" in a series of paper towel commercials. As the funny-if-frightening "Jewish Mother in the Sky" her last hurrah was in Woody Allen's segment of "New York Stories" (1989).

"At the Codfish Ball" was a Shirley Temple hit, but covered by quite a few artists…none more precocious than Mae. Just why anyone would want to eat codfish balls is up for grabs, but just for the sake of novelty, here it is…and for the visual, you get to see the rare sight of a nine-tentacled octopus!

Mae Questel At the Codfish Ball