Tuesday, June 19, 2018


    In September of 1933, Hupfeld’s “weirdest music” was accompanied by jungle lyrics about…the Everglades! Huh? There were savages in the Everglades back then? As opposed to idiot meth-addicted lobster-skinned white trash? 

    “There’s a crazy celebration every night…you hear the weirdest music…it really is a fascinating sight…hear that savage serenade down there in the Everglades. Bum-a-diddy-bum bum-a-diddy bum…they play tunes that have no name. All their music sounds the same. Bum-a-diddy Bum-a-diddy  Bum-a-diddy  Bum-a-diddy Bum-a-diddy  Bum-a-diddy bum…” 

    And a moment of truth: “We’re no different, goodness knows, from those dusky belles and beaus…” 

    The hip Hupster sold this novelty song to Earl Carroll for a Broadway extravaganza. Carroll, like Florenz Ziegfeld, was noted for variety shows that featured “scantily clad” dancers whooping it up to hot jazz. Or silly jazz, the kind you’d see in old cartoons where farm animals sway, roll their eyes, and loll their tongues.  

    “Murder at the Vanities” was something new for the duke called Earl. Carroll billed it as a “New Dramatic Mystery Comedy.”   The pimpresario hoped to vary his usual reliance on female flesh and novelty songs bt having an actual story line. Inspector Ellery (not a queen) played by James Rennie periodically stalked around investigating suspects (most of whom paused for a song). One likely criminal was Siebenkase played by Bela Lugosi, who was back on Broadway after filming Tod Browning’s  “Dracula.” Yep, Fred Astaire wasn't the only one who could hum "I'm puttin' on my top hat..." 

    Another suspect: Sonya Sonya, played by Olga Baclanova, who had recently played the evil “Cleopatra” in Tod Browning’s “Freaks.” And yet another suspect: Vila, played by Villi Milli, who may have been the grandmother of one of the guys in Milli Vanilli. Another suspect, Madame Tanqueray was played by Jean Adair, who would turn up as one of the dotty but dangerous Brewster sisters in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” 

    The show opened on September 8th, 1933 at the Majestic Theatre (which really was and IS pretty huge and majestic) and lasted into the following year. The songs were written by a bunch of freelancers.  Lyricist Paul Francis Webster worked with John L. Loeb,  lyricist Ned Washington worked with Victor Young, lyricist Raymond Klages worked with Jesse Greer or Lou Alter,  and our gay mama’s boy from New Jersey created HIS songs all by himself. 

    “Savage Serenade” as unlikely as it may seem, was the bombastic “grand finale” number for the show, performed by the forgotten Una Vilon and a whole lotta chorus girls. Una Vilon, one of many a possible villain in the production, did not appear in any Broadway show before or after “Murder at the Vanities.” The others in the cast were lucky their careers weren’t permanently damaged.

    The New Yorker called the plot “mysterious to the point of being almost unintelligible…even the members of the cast (couldn’t) tell you exactly who killed whom or why.” The critics seemed equally unimpressed with the music, which was why the film version offered seven new songs from the team of Johnston and Coslow, including “Sweet Marihuana” and the enduring “Cocktails for Two.” The result is fondly appreciated. The Leonard Maltin Movie Guide calls it “the smuttiest Hollywood musical ever made…filled with near-nudity and risque dialogue.”  Hotcha! 

       George Olsen's bunch of savage musicians covered "Savage Serenade." It's a shame that no record label preserved Lugosi's singing in this legendary show.

SAVAGE SERENADE - listen or download, no dodgy Iron Curtain company server, NO bratty Paypal TIP JAR requests  

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