Saturday, July 29, 2017

JUNE DIES IN JULY - the Queen of Voices, June Foray

Sometimes, June Foray would autograph this image for fans...a collage featuring SOME of her many voices. She nearly reached her 100th birthday in September, but fell a few months short. 

She could be called on for just ONE word. As "Midnight the Cat," for "Smilin' Ed's Gang" and later the TV version, "Andy's Gang," all she had to say was..."Nice!" Some fans of that show might remember the old "Buster Brown Comic Books" that were hawked on the show and given away by the sponsor with each pair of shoes. The artist for the comic books was Hobart Donovan, who also wrote many of the radio scripts for the adventures on the show. She and June were married. He died in 1976.

Foray's most rigorous assignment was probably on the iconic "Bullwinkle Show," where she would routinely switch between chipper heroic Rocky the Flying Squirrel, and the lower, hoarser voice of villainess Natasha Fatale. 

Little girls who grew up playing with one of the first "talking dolls," the Chatty Cathy, were hearing June's voice. In a sinister twist of fate, a "Twilight Zone" episode about an evil talking doll had...yes...June Foray voicing it. 

By the time people began to realize the genius satire behind "Rocky and Bullwinkle," my hero Paul Frees was long gone. June Foray, and for a long time Bill "Bullwinkle" Scott did the interviews, attended the memorabilia show events and delighted fans with a wave, a smile or an autograph. June was well aware of the adulation, which may have been a bore at times. It led to the somewhat tart title of her autobiography, "“Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?” She also penned a pretty amusing book of satiric poems, that some would say recalls the style of Dorothy Parker.

The book traced her life from her beginnings as June Lucille Forer in Springfield, Mass., to her very busy radio career which included "The Jimmy Durante Show," Steve Allen's early "Smile Time" series, and "The Stan Freberg Show" during the waning days of radio. Yes, June supplied the female voices for Stan's Capitol singles including "St. George and the Dragonet." 

Meanwhile, in films, she worked with Disney (Lucifer the Cat in "Cinderella" among others) and for Looney Tunes ("Witch Hazel" and "Granny"). She had fans for her role as Cindy Lou Who in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Mrs. Caudron" on "The Garfield Show."

She was still active in 2013, voicing "Rocky" for an animated short. "My body is old," she said, "but I think the same as I did when I was 20 years old.”

June's range was just about limitless. She often did a "Marjorie Main" type of coarse harridan, but was more often asked to voice sweet little old ladies or stereotypical witches. No question, the two most unique voices were Rocky and Natasha, and you'll hear them below on "The No-Goodnik Song," which is mostly a duet involving Natasha and Boris Badenov (Frees). She was a legend in her own time.

June Foray
  The No-Goodnik Song with Paul Frees   Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart passwords, malware or spyware anywhere.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Broadway Babe Who Died Young: JUDY TYLER

Judy Tyler is gone, but not forgotten. She has a deep cult following.

Baby Boomers remember the lady born Judith Mae Hess (October 9, 1932) as the Princess on the "Howdy Doody" television show.

Hardly content with Doody, Judy moved on to bigger things, like Broadway.

She was memorable in "Pipe Dreams." While the musical based on Steinbeck's "Cannery Row" didn't last, critics were clamoring to see her again soon. A song from the show, which gives you an idea of how derivative and uninteresting the production was, is below. You can't fault Judy, who sings it well.

Broadway fans hoping Judy would star in another traditional Broadway musical were denied; Judy starred in the peculiar film "Bop Girl Goes Calypso,"  and the same year, 1957, co-starred with Elvis Presley in "Jailhouse Rock."

Things could not have been going better for Judy. When filming wrapped in Hollywood, she and her husband decided to take a scenic drive back home to New York. Their sight-seeing took them into Wyoming. From the tire marks, and the testimony of witnesses, Judy's husband swerved on Route 287 to avoid a car that was towing a big trailer. He crashed into another vehicle, and both he and Judy were killed. Judy was just 24.

Newspapers reported that Elvis was, well, all shook up. To this day, Elvis and Judy fans remain tearful about that sad day, July 3rd, 1957, 60 years ago. An irony was that Judy also guest-starred in an episode of "Perry Mason," which finally aired a few days after Christmas, 1957. Many viewers probably had no idea that the guest star of that episode had died.

Like Luba Lisa (below), fans wishing to pay their respects need to come to New York to do it. But they won't get too close. Judy Tyler's cremated remains are in a private mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery. That's where, until a recent move by her estate, Judy Garland's ashes were resting in peace.

Judy Tyler
  EVERYBODY’S GOT A HOME BUT ME   Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart password games

Broadway Babe Who Died Young: LUBA LISA

Most agree that the lone musical highlight in Buddy Hackett's Broadway musical "I Had a Ball" was a vamping number by rising starlet Luba Lisa. In the tradition of Gwen "Whatever Lola Wants" Verdon, Luba wiggled, strutted and sang "Addie's At It Again" with a cheerful brand of heat. She got a Tony award nomination for her role. Seven years later, she was dead, age 31.

Born in Brooklyn (March 10, 1941), Luba Lisa Gootnick's Dad was a mathematician. Her brother became a doctor. Her pert good looks had people figuring she could make it on stage. 20 years later, she was in "Carnival," and followed it with "I Can Get It For You Wholesale." She could take the subway to work, as she was living at 33-44 91st Street, in Jackson Heights, Queens. She appeared in the film "Pepe," dancing with Maurice Chevalier. The movie was supposed to springboard Mexican comedy star Cantinflas to greatness, but it was a box-office bomb. Lisa went back to Broadway. When she played Addie, the "girl of easy virtue," her dynamic personality inspired the producers to craft that special production number which wasn't in the original script.

From there, Luba Lisa had so many opportunities, and so many people thinking of ways her beauty and comedy could be used on stage, screen or TV. What next?

"I'm a fatalist," she told a reporter, "and just wouldn't know what is going to happen. This doesn't mean I think you should just sit back and wait. I have a very important objective, but I can't share what it is with anyone right now. It's not that I'm superstitious, I just won't talk about it."

The secret died with her. It was a cold, snowy night, December 15th, 1972. Just a few weeks before Christmas, she was flying into Vermont via a small plane. There were two other passengers with her, and the pilot. They were all killed. Her body was returned to New York, and buried out at Mount Ararat Jewish Cemetery.

The most easily accessible item on Luba Lisa is the one you'll find below; the tantalizing audio of what had to be a memorably bombastic performance of joyful sexuality. You can play it over a few times, and each time..."Addie's At It Again."

  ADDIE’S AT IT AGAIN   Instant download or listen on line. No malware or spyware anywhere.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Larry Vincent - What Rhymes with SHIT? "Sweet Violets"

    A cousin to the famous Benny Bell song “Shaving Cream,” here’s Larry Vincent singing “Sweet Violets.” A gag that never seems to get old, you still smile when, instead of the expected dirty-word get a chiding chorus oh-so-innocently offering a sweet, incongruous refrain.

 Among people who care about novelty songs…almost nobody really gives a pile of SWEET VIOLETS or SHAVING CREAM over whether Larry stole from Benny Bell, or the reverse. Most likely Benny Bell was the original, but the idea of an innocent word substituting for a nasty one goes back a lot earlier. Benny's "Shaving Cream" arrived in 1946, Larry's "Sweet Violets" in 1949.  

Born in San Jose, California (January 13, 1901) Vincent began touring in the 1920's. During a stay in Chicago he recorded his lone early single, “She’s a Great, Great Girl.” Singing straight material, he tried his hand at songwriting, coming up with “If I Had My Life to Live Over,” a co-write with the more established Jewish songwriters Moe Jaffe and Henry Tobias. Larry recorded it himself on the “20th Century Records” label, credit to “Larry Vincent and [the] Feilden Foursome.” The flip, a co-write with Haven Gillespie, is “Stay as Long as You Like.”

 If you don't want to know more about Moe Jaffe and Henry Tobias, skip this paragraph. Tobias, a cousin of Eddie Cantor’s, wrote the melody for “And Away We Go” recorded by Jackie Gleason. Henry wrote a book, “Music In My Heart and Borscht in my Blood.” He worked with several different people, including his brothers. Among his hits were “Miss You,” recorded by Jaye P. Morgan, Bing Crosby and others, “Cooking Breakfast For the One I Love” (Fanny Brice), “Easter Sunday With You’ (Perry Como) and “May I Have the Next Dream with You” (Jerry Vale). Moe Jaffe co-wrote “I Don’t Know from Nuthin’” with Henry Tobias, but worked with many others as well. Moe’s co-writes include “The Gypsy in My Soul” (with Clay Boland) “Oh You Sweet One” (with Paul Kapp), and “Bell Bottom Trousers,” which was a bawdy ballad he cleaned up (sort of the way Cy Coben cleaned up "Sweet Violets") “Collegiate” (a co-write with the oddly-named Nat Bonx) was recorded by quite a few people including Fred Waring, and turns up via Chico Marx in The Marx Brothers’ college comedy “Horse Feathers.” The versatile Moe could even knock off gospel titles, such as “Get Together with the Lord,” a co-write with Bickley Reichner that was recorded by Andy Kirk’s Orchestra.

Larry Vincent kicked around various peculiarly named nightclubs, from Benny the Bum’s in Philadelphia to The Lookout House in Covington, Kentucky, where he stayed for many years. Not quite as obscure as it might seem, Covington wasn’t too far from Cincinnati, Ohio. Go check a map. It was in the unlikely town of Covington that Larry and Moe Jaffe formed the Pearl Records label. Like Benny Bell recording for Bell Records, Vincent hired himself to record everything on his label.  He tried “legit” novelty songs (“I Grow Gooey Over Chop Suey”)  but ended up pandering to the “party song” crowd.

Larry’s popular numbers, including “Sweet Violets,” “Yas Yas Yas,” “The Smell Song (Fish Fish Fish),” “Sarah Sittin’ in a Shoe Shine Shop” and “I Used to Work in Chicago” were usually credited to  “Larry Vincent and the Pearl Boys,” or “The Pearl Boys,” “The Pearl Trio” or “The Pearl Five” etc. etc. With a nod to his hangout at The Lookout House, a number of his 78’s were also credited to “Larry Vincent and his Lookout Boys.” He had a certain wiseguy-charm that made his risque tunes more amusing than annoying, more light-hearted than smarmy. Most of his 78’s were released between 1946 and 1949, the date for "Sweet Violets."

As the long-play era started in the 50's Larry compiled some of his old tunes, including  “She Had to Lose It as the Astor,” “The Kanaka Song,” “Buster Astor,” “Get Off the Table Mabel” and various “butt” pun songs like “I Kissed Her But I Never Will Again” and “She Has Freckles On her But She is Nice,” (aka The Freckle Song). The albums include “Listen and Laugh” and “Laugh Provoking Ditties for the Party.”   

Still hoping for a legit hit, in the mid-50’s Larry recorded “The Whole Town’s Batty About Cincinnati” and lastly, the 1954 single “Let’s Bowl (The Bowling Song”) b/w “I Cried For You.”

Larry's risque rival Benny Bell didn't stay in the risque novelty genre in the late 50's or 60's. By then, silly double entendre stuff was passe, and instead of discs by those guys, or contemporaries Dwight Fiske and Ruth Wallis,  Lenny Bruce records were hot. Benny's "hot" tunes had also turned up the heat on him, as many Jews in his Brooklyn neighborhood frowned on such frivolity. Benny sang many straight novelty numbers in Yiddish and authored "freilachs" (dance instrumentals) that were played at weddings. The Jewish stores that sold this kind of thing (along with menorahs, prayer shawls and Molly Picon 78's) threatened not to carry Benny's material if he didn't clean up his act.

Benny did clean up his act, and when he composed novelty songs, they were aimed (not too successfully) in the direction of past (Mickey Katz) and current (Allan Sherman) Jewish novelty singers. For example, he hoped for a knock-off on Chubby Checker via "The Kosher Twist." Benny was pleasantly surprised when people old enough to be his grandson discovered and delighted in his old risque tunes. ‘Shaving Cream” was re-issued and became a surprise hit, landing in the Billboard Top 40 in 1975. Larry? He passed on, January 5, 1977.

Larry Vincent  
Sweet Violets   Instant download or listen on line. 

SWEET VIOLETS - anticipation comedy from HOMER & JETHRO

    “Anticipation comedy” is a very simple way of getting a laugh. In fact in our 21st Century, it’s considered too simple. But for quite a while, the formula worked. 

    I remember “us kids” singing the “Lulu” song. We thought it was so clever: 

    “Lulu had a steamboat. The steamboat had a bell. Lulu went to heaven, the steamboat went to —
    Hello Operator, give me Mr. Glass. If you can not find him. I’ll paddle your —
    Behind the fridgerator…” 

    And on and on. 

    (Parenthetically, another form of “Anticipation comedy” was perfected by Mantan Moreland, using a variety of vaudeville partners. Instead of relying on actual jokes and complicated mis-hearings, like “Who’s on First,” the routine simply involved cutting off the sentences like a know-it-all. “Mantan, what’s your brother doin’ now?” “He’s working down here for a man. They payin’ him a salary—“ “He can live that cheap??” “You got him wrong. He gonna get married.” “To whom?” “He’s gonna marry the daughter of —“ “She’s a nice girl. Well…” “You got some dirt?” “One time I —“ “That was her sister.”) 

    Along with “Shaving Cream,” the notorious version of “Sweet Violets” got the laughs by NOT rhyming the expected word: SHIT. You anticipated it, and got the laugh-producing surprise of a silly chorus instead.   

    Could the radio play that kind of thing in the 40’s? Definitely not. But “Sweet Violets” DID get played in a different version. 

    And so it was that later, as the dj spun his disc, that his face, it just stayed ghostly, ‘cause the disc was not a risk. Cy Coben (who worked quite a bit with Homer and Jethro) created the acceptable version, partnered with Charles Grean. Homer and Jethro’s version starts out with the familiar, if not downright annoying “Sweet Violets” chorus: 

    “Sweet violets, sweeter than the roses,  Covered all over from head to toe. Covered all over with sweet violets,” a bit of crummy schmaltz that goes back to 1882 and the forotten Joseph Emmet. From there, it’s time for anticipation and denial: 

    “There one was a guy who invited his pals out to a burlesque show to
    LOOK at the scenery for it would be well worth the trip, when a gal came on stage and she started to
    CRY, ‘cause a clown with big putty nose walked out on the stage and said “Peel off your
    GLASSES but…” 

Now, the rude version of “Sweet Violets” was well known, and the Cy Coben version, less so. So you can imagine, in 1951, how surprised disc jockeys were when they received copies of the new Dinah Shore single from RCA, and it was, yep, “Sweet Violets.” 

Her version, which made it to #3 on the charts, is pretty similar to the Homer and Jethro version. But let’s give it to our boys Homer and Jethro, since they are STILL under-appreciated and STILL haven’t gotten that Bear Family boxed set of all their RCA Victor sides, which they deserve.

Homer and Jethro 
Sweet Violets   Instant download or listen on line. 


According to the esteemed and pressed Wikipedia, (yes, I credit the pun to Spike Milligan), if you remember Michele Lee, it’s because of TV. She played “Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie on the 1980s prime-time soap opera “Knots Landing.” That’s their opinion.

Over here, Michele will always be the cutie who pouted about wanting  “L. David Sloane” to leave her alone. Which you’ll find elsewhere on the blog. I thought she should get another entry. What, you were expecting me to post an entire Beach Boys or Jethro Tull discography instead? That’s not a reason for blogging. Really. But I digress.

“You’ll Remember Me” seems like an attempt to go beyond being mildly victimized by a love-hate for Mr. Sloane, to really take the spotlight.

It’s a song that could’ve been handed to Liza, or Eydie. If you listen to it long enough, you can see how it could have been a hit. Except in 1969 the beat was a bit too cha-cha and not Memphis soul, as Dusty Springfield might’ve recorded it? Does the production let Lee down? Or is it that Michele didn’t go overboard in that Shirley Bassey ear-catching kind of way? 

I think one can admit that back then, there was a bit of an enigma with Lee’s persona. You’re supposed to instantly “get it,” but Lee was not the outrageous show gal like Liza or Bassey, nor the total cutie pie like Judy Carne, and didn’t sing songs that were overtly sexual and venomous (Nancy Sinatra and her “Boots”). She was, what, Petula Clark without the adorable British accent?

Fortunately, there IS “Knots Landing,” which got her an Emmy nomination and kept her busy for nearly 15 years and 344 episodes. There’s also her Tony Award nominations for “Seesaw” in 1974 and “The Tale of the Allerlgist’s Wife” in 2001. I did see her in the latter, where she could still play the sophisticated vampy villain (Valerie Harper was the heroine). Speaking of villainy, Michele played trash author Jacqueline Susann in the TV movie “Scandalous Me,” and a few years ago, Madame Morrible on Broadway in “Wicked.”

“You’ll Remember Me.” Yes, you were right. Michele celebrated her 75th birthday last month, June 24.

Michele Lee
You’ll Remember Me   Instant download or listen on line. No malware or spyware anywhere.


What can I say about Zana Varo. Practically nothing.

While this “blog of less renown” has made a point of shining a light on deserving artists who are unique and under-appreciated in some cases, there’s usually SOMETHING about them SOMEWHERE else. Maybe there’s a YouTube video, or a discography, or at least you can count on seeing something for sale on eBay. 

Zana Varo? Of all the artists covered in all these years, she’s the most elusive. Go ahead and Google her. Check out not only eBay but which is specifically for people within the borders of France. Check everywhere and you’ll find…a mystery. 

Even indie artists have a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Usually a website, too. And if somebody who put out an album or two on a professional label is NOT active, there will be a few forlorn people grumbling “where is she” in some music forum or other. (Folk-rock singer Kathy Smith comes to mind). But Zana? Nada. 

I didn’t realize I’d found such a mystery woman when I picked up her album in Paris. 

Visiting Paris with the one you love is indeed romantic. BUT…it should not mean that a few hours can’t be spent in some cruddy flea market or narrow little music store or thrift shop pawing through vinyl and clattering through CD cases! Especially not 10 years ago, when mp3 files and piracy hadn’t decimated the music retail world and shuttered so many shops. 

I had come prepared, folks. I’d brought along a dozen or more CDs to use as trade barter, figuring that my IMPORTS would be SO rare in Paris, the store owners would gladly give me a good trade for their ordinary titles. So it was, that despite my fairly limited French, I was able to negotiate a very good deal with one store owner, swapping a few CDs I didn’t care about for a half-dozen French CDs that HE didn’t care about. Basically I was looking for anything that looked interesting. A sexy French woman on the cover? Oui. A moderately sexy one who might just be eccentric? Also, OUI. 

I figured that if I really liked a particular obscure French singer, I’d be able to find more. Or at least, more about her. 

Not in THIS case. I suppose a sure sign that I was dealing with someone not at the Mylene Farmer level, was that my copy was autographed. It’s usually the indie artists who’ve only pressed a few copies that happily sign to get a sale, or just sign and give away a copy to a friend or relative. 

I can’t say that Zana Varo caught my ear immediately. She didn’t. Sometimes, you need to hear music over a few times before something clicks and you think, “Hey, that’s GOOD.” I’d gotten some stuff that sounded GOOD right away, too. So I kind of filed Zana, and when it came time to cull the collection, well, she always stayed behind. Autographed, after all. And I’d put on the CD and think, well, ok, this isn’t bad. 

Last time I had some time, I looked her up (still nothing) and played the cut that had the most promising title: “Le Reggae du Cirque.” Hmmm. Not Mr. Kite, but yes. If you play it once, you might like it. Play it a few more times, and you might really like it. A Reggae Circus? As for the other title, talk about obscure, even “Google Translate” won’t touch it. I think you can translate "Peluchez Moi" as “My Plush Toy.” Which would make sense, considering the cover photo! Sapristi!

All that I know for sure, is that her material was written for her by the team of Louise and Jean Louis Richerme, who put out a Swiss album of their own synth pop in 1987. This seems to be the only album by Zana. I do know she made an appearance in concert in 1995. “…and that’s all I know.”

Zana Varo
Le Reggae du Cirque    Instant download or listen on line. No malware or spyware anywhere.

Zana Varo
  PELUCHEZ MOI   Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart pass words or RAR files.