Becky Sharp, Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian, 1935

More of a filmed stage play, Mamoulian’s Becky Sharp does benefit from The Old Man’s knack for pacing and for grouping people. It also gave Miriam Hopkins her best role.

Becky Sharp (1935)Miriam Hopkins is Becky Sharp and Frances Dee is Amelia Sedley in a full Technicolor film (the first 3-strip Technicolor film ever released, in fact) from RKO based on WM Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

Becky Sharp is available in its entirety here.

On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and the First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 1

Just so you don’t go on thinking this is some kind of fanblog (it’s not, because I’m not a fan*, just crazy in love with the bloke) I thought I’d spend a posting to tell you all how I got my first gig in pictures…

John Wilson.jpegImmaculate white full dress shirt with detachable wing collar, white dickey, white bow tie, white waistcoat, studs, cufflinks, striped trousers, and a spare tailcoat in the dressing room—my bonny lad is set

This happened in San Francisco—in the 70s a paradise for the sexually adventurous—and coming after the time I worked as Rouben Mamoulian‘s amanuensis, which was after the time I posed nude for a blind sculptor in St-Paul-de-Vence, which was after the time I danced topless in a mob-run bar in Red Hook, which was after the time I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP

So anyway. One lovely summer evening about six weeks after I hit the city I went with a (legit) actress friend to a house party up on Potrero Hill, mostly because she enticed me with the information that the party would be featuring a hot tub. (Am such a pushover for hot tubs.) Well, at the party there was this cute but obvious older guy from London (trimmed ginger beard, open shirt, bead bracelet—no one goes California like the English) named Peter, who owned the house and who invited me seulement for a session of coke+quaaludes and a nice soak later, after all the other guests have left. Then he gave me his card. (This was only the second time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, and it wouldn’t be the last)…

Part 2 here.

*No, really, I’m in love with John but he plows through Gershwin like a bull moose and treats Bernstein like Bernstein’s Saruman and he’s Frodo. How could any red-blooded American woman countenance such effrontery to her national pride?**

**He does, however, conduct Elgar and Vaughan Williams like an angel.

My Bonny John Wilson and His Eponymous Orchestra Present The Warner Bros Story at the BBC Proms, 9 August 2019

From The JWO website: “John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra present The Warner Bros Story, an evening of sumptuous Technicoloured scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. Friday 9 August 2019 3.00pm & 7.30pm at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Tickets go on sale at 9am for Prom 29 and 30 on Saturday 11 May. Royal Albert Hall Box Office: 020 7589 8212. The evening show will be live on BBC Radio 3 and recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 2.”

Claire of the John Wilson Fan Club says for me to tell you all that reserved tickets for both shows are still available as of 16 Jun 2019. (Bloomsday! That’s luck.)

Bugs as Leopold.jpgLeopold! Leopold!

But “Technicolored”—sheesh. (Do you write your own copy, John my love? I truly hope you don’t.) At any rate, here are the numbers culled from the BBC site and John’s management’s website [updated 16 June 2019]:

  • The Sea Hawk (suite?; from the 1940 film) / Erich Korngold
  • “We’re In the Money” (from Gold Diggers of 1933 / Harry Warren, Al Dubin
  • “The Desert Song” (from the 1953 film) / Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (excerpts; from the 1948 film) / Max Steiner
  • “The Old Man and the Sea” (suite?; from the 1958 film) / Dmitri Tiomkin
  • “Seventy-Six Trombones” (from The Music Man (1962)  / Meredith Willson
  • “Blues in the Night” (from Blues In the Night, 1941) / Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer
  • My Fair Lady (songs from the 1964 film) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
  • Now, Voyager(!!!) (suite?; from the 1942 film) / Max Steiner
  • The Deadwood Stage(!!)” (from Calamity Jane, 1953) / Sammy Fain, Paul Webster [as a tribute to Doris Day]
  • “It’s Magic” (from Romance on the High Seas, 1948) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn* [the BBC doesn’t say so, but probably ditto for this tune as well, since Doris did sing this in the picture, to a goofy grinning Jack Carson as I remember]
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (excerpts; 1951) / Alex North
  • Camelot (songs from the 1967 film) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
  • “Days of Wine and Roses” (from Days of Wine and Roses, 1962) / Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer
  • The Constant Nymph (excerpts [says the BBC, but I bet it’s a suite]; from the 1943 film) / Erich Korngold

Additionally, the Irish News announced the addition of

  • “Born In a Trunk” (from A Star is Born, 1954) / Roger Edens, Leonard Gershe [in a nod to the movie’s latest remake]

*Ah, Sammy Cahn, that altekocker. I rode up in an elevator with him and Warner Bros cartoonist Robert Clampett once and had nothing to say to him; at the time Cahn was siding with management against us ASCAP solfeggists when we tried to unionize. So I just stood there quietly, listening to the both of them natter on to each other about their respective accomplishments. “And I wrote that Jackie Gleason song!” exclaimed Cahn, while Clampett was adamantly proud of Tweety Bird, and rightly so.

Stephen Sondheim, Earl Wrightson, and Irwin Kostal On American Musical Theatre, WCBS, 15 October 1961

In an episode of this television series, originally broadcast exclusively in New York City, Sondheim speaks before a workshop of NYC high school students, discussing the genesis of such songs as “Small World”, “I Feel Pretty”, and “One Hand, One Heart,” which are performed by Martha Wright and Ralph Curtis.

This show also includes question and answer period with Irwin Kostal, arranger and conductor for West Side Story. Hosted by Earl Wrightson. Produced by Ned Cramer. Directed by Neal Finn.

  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses – The CBS Orchestra
  • Small World – Martha Wright
  • Maria – Ralph Curtis
  • I Feel Pretty – Martha Wright
  • Tonight (Balcony Scene) – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • One Hand, One Heart – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • Mambo – The CBS Orchestra
  • Cool (Fugue) – The CBS Orchestra
  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses (reprise) – The CBS Orchestra

Sondheim, Wrightson, KostalLyricist-Composer Stephen Sondheim, Baritone/Host Earl Wrightson, Orchestrator-Conductor Irwin Kostal.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mr Kostal, what is the difference between an orchestrator and an arranger?

It refers specifically to what you find on the music. When a composer composes a piece of music, we hope that it’s a complete piece of music, and when a man like Mr Bernstein composes the music (short laugh) it is. So all you do, you just discuss with him what he’d like to hear, flutes, violins…and you follow exactly what is written on the paper. This is what I call orchestration. Now, I get to do very little of that kind of work…because nowadays composers don’t bother with too much detail…

Steve [Sondheim] here is the kind of man we need because he’s studying music, and believe me that is a rarity on Broadway, because most composers don’t… At one time in history, composers actually did their own orchestration. They had the time in those days…but also, they could do it. For instance, Victor Herbert was a tremendous orchestrator. On one television show I did recently I actually used Mr Herbert’s scores as he wrote them in 1916—I couldn’t do ‘em any better. He knew what he was doing. Kurt Weill was the last one to do this. George Gershwin never did it on Broadway, but he—after he became a successful songwriter—studied music and learned how to orchestrate so that by the time he did Porgy and Bess he was able to do a very good job on the orchestrations.

Now, in arranging—if the composer does not do his job properly, the orchestrator has to come in and finish the job for him. Now, you’d be surprised how many times I do Broadway shows where I get roughly a one-line melody, a lead sheet, and I have to add the bass line, the harmony, the chords, and if it goes on for four minutes or a routine I have to think of things for the flutes to play and the violins to play etcetera, and it becomes a hefty job and I really feel like I am a composer’s partner when I do this*… You know, the more you do of this sort of work, the less the composer likes it. Because he’s kind of mad at you because he didn’t do it himself, I think anyway. And it serves him right. He should do it himself. I think he should go to school himself and learn. We have too many lead sheets—sure, the melody is the most important thing in music, but too many of our composers have decided to write only the melody. They have separated melody from music. Now, the art of melody writing is not a separate art from music, it’s a part of music. And when they have written this top line and leave the rest to me, they’ve got to be dissatisfied because they didn’t do it themselves. Let them get down to their business and go to school and learn to write!

[*I wonder who’s he’s talking about. Shinbone Alley’s George Kleinsinger? Fiorello’s Jerry Bock? Surely not The Music Man’s Meredith Willson—Willson went to Juilliard.]

“Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” by Stephen Sondheim Sung by Carol Burnett and Bronson Pinchot

Sondheim: The use of songs in it I hope will be different than the so-called “integrated musical” where the songs and the story constantly flow in and out of each other. It’d been going on for so many years now, I think a rather tired formula, that

Host: Well, it was a good thing when it happened. I remember all those years in operetta, bursting into song for no reason… But that’s not what you’re going to do with this.

Sondheim: Oh, we might. It’s fun as long as it works.

Stephen Sondheim on
American Musical Theatre (15 October, 1961)
talking about his new show,
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum

Everybody Ought to Have a Maid

Here’s the show’s most lascivious number, cunningly retooled for modern times, from the 1999 Broadway revue highlighting Sondheim’s music, Putting It Together:

Everybody ought to have a maid
Everybody ought to have a working boy
Everybody ought to have a lurking boy
To putter around the house…

Pre-Code Thrillers and the First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 2

I booked my first acting gig as a result of getting into a bondage game with that guy from England with the hot tub. Pe—sorry, think I’ll call him Basingstoke* from now on—and I were fooling around in his sex dungeon when he asked me if the place was giving me any story ideas. This is how movies are born.

I told him it reminded me of one of my favorite flicks from the golden Pre-Code days, The Mask of Fu Manchu (MGM 1932), starring Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu and Myrna Loy as his “ugly and insignificant” daughter, Fah Lo See. With Karen Morley, Charles Starrett, etc etc and a cast of literally hundreds of male extras of various types. Was especially partial to the oiled and muscular mamelukes.

mask of fu manchuFah Lo See watches with lust-crazed eyes as her dad turns the handsome English adventurer into her zombie love slave. She promises to be gentle, John.

Part 1 here.
Part 3 to come…

*All in affection, Peter.

For John Wilson, Conductor: Marlene Dietrich Sings “Happy Birthday, Johnny” from The Song of Songs, Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian (1933)

25 May, 2019. This afternoon someone in Glyndebourne will be cutting my beloved John Wilson’s cake into tiny little slices, and so I wish them all well at the gathering.

The Song of Songs
La Dietrich inspires a handsome young English orchestra conductor to artistic heights with her transfiguring and deeply sexual love in this erotically frank pre-Code movie from Paramount.

If only you understood dirty German, my bonny…

PS—A special shout-out to my old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, who once told me, “Love with style, but also with a little sadness for the suffering involved.”