Monday, July 29, 2013


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



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