Thursday, July 19, 2018

JEFF CHANDLER - what's a "LOVELY WAY TO SPEND AN EVENING"?


      Above, Jeff Chandler and his lady friend, Esther Williams. It's somewhat of an odd pose, as Esther spent most of her film career in a swim suit, and Jeff liked to crossdress. 

      Like so many Hollywood stars, Jeff was asked to cash in on his screen stardom by putting out a record. It didn't do too well, but it wasn't because he wasn't an adequate singer. There was just so much competition from, oh, guys like Sinatra. It also wasn't because fans were turned off to the rugged 6'4" star because they heard about his "drag" proclivities. That stuff was unknown until Esther published her autobiography in 1999.

      Williams, who once took LSD, said that her book was just another form of "therapy." She said "Cary (Grant) told me LSD was like instant psychiatry, and I was sorry the kids got ahold of it and made it a recreational drug." She was likewise told that writing an autobiography was good therapy, and so she vowed to be honest about her many failed relationships, both with men she married (like Fernando "You look Mahvelous" Lamas) and ones she didn't, like Chandler. Some Chandler fans either didn't believe her anecdotes about him having a huge selection of gowns and accessories, or felt she was destroying his good name just to sell books. As if many people knew who Chandler was in 1999. 

        Chandler is even more forgotten now. HOW forgotten? I was in a boxing forum, and somebody mentioned Jeff Chandler...the obscure (except to fight fans) bantamweight who had a pretty good run (32-2) in the early 80's. I countered with a photo of THE Jeff Chandler, in his iconic role in "Iron Man" (1951) and people were very surprised. They didn't know the film or him. 


    Born Ira Grossell (December 15, 1918 – June 17, 1961) Chandler changed his name to something less Jewish, and won early fame playing Cochise in "Broken Arrow" (1950). He was nominated for an Oscar, and was quickly cast in another quirky film, "Bird of Paradise" as a Polynesian. Then came "Iron Man," and various exotic epics including "Sign of the Pagan." Meanwhile, on radio, where he'd begun his career in both sitcoms and dramas, he turned up as himself, and often sang. In the mid 50's he even played Las Vegas. 

      In the late 50's, he ended his association with Universal by starring in "The Tattered Dress" and "The Man in the Shadow," which Esther Williams may have considered as apt title for a Chandler biography. His cross-dressing didn't seem to have been a factor in his divorce from his first wife, or his brief flings with Gloria De Haven and Ann Sheridan, but back then studios were powerful enough to quash detrimental stories about their stars, and few tabloids would print such things without photographic evidence. After Williams' book appeared, Jane Russell huffed, "I've never heard of such a thing. Cross-dressing is the last thing I would expect of Jeff. He was a sweet guy, definitely all man." Well, that's why there's the phrase "in the closet," even though most cross-dressers are heterosexuals and many look lousy in drag (J. Edgar Hoover anyone??) Williams had grumbled, "You're too big for polka dots," but Jeff countered that he thought he looked quite charming.

       Chandler finished "Merrill's Marauders," another manly exercise, but entered a hospital to take care of a back injury, technically a spinal disc herniation, which was no longer responding to painkillers. As Brother Theodore once said, "the bad hospitals let you die, and the good hospitals kill you." Jeff Chandler went to a good hospital. Complications from the first surgery led to a second operation, which went on for seven hours. A third operation ten days later, and Chandler passed the crisis. He died. His children won a 1.5 million malpractice suit. Jeff was only 42. 

       And what's your lovely way of spending an evening? Take a few minutes to listen to Jeff Chandler sing....

Jeff Chandler - LOVELY WAY TO SPEND AN EVENING - listen online or download from a legit no-spyware server; no Putinville weasel clouds here

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