Of course it’s not Bella Seaton (Jean Heywood) speaking that line, it’s her daughter, schoolteacher Jessie, pleading the case of an artistic young pupil doomed to work down the coal pit in Gallowshields, a post-WWI fictional town—a composite, I believe, of all the little towns along the River Tyne in the north near Newcastle (you know, that place in the phrase “Selling coals to Newcastle is like selling ice to Eskimos”) including the town where my beloved John Wilson was born, Gateshead*. Bella is the strong-willed matriarch, as we Yanks would say, of the Seaton family, so she gets a lot of scenes, which is great because I pick up the Geordie accent from Northumberland-born Heywood more easily than from anyone else in the show.
As I might have mentioned a few postings ago I did three of my flicks speaking in a foreign accent: one in French, one in Cuban, and one in Malaysian, which I actually did in Filipino but no one could tell the difference. I like to practice the Geordie accent during off moments, you know, because it reminds me of John, and so it gives me pleasure.
Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, I don’t care whether some guy at Warners made you up because he had to optimize the assets in his department, you’re real enough to me. And it doesn’t matter a damn bit how you got the gig. What matters is you did the work.
“The Trolley Song” from Meet Me In St Louis (MGM, 1944) orchestrated by Conrad Salinger reconstructed by John Wilson played by The John Wilson Orchestra conducted by John Wilson from the album That’s Entertainment! A Celebration of MGM Musicals Kim Criswell, vocalist Warner Classics, 2012
Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, it makes me happy to be in your audience and I don’t require you at all to be in mine—mostly because, as Mister Grumble just pointed out, my flicks would probably give you a heart attack. And hand to God, I do not want to add to your anxieties in this, your time of transitioning.
It also makes me doubly happy that you’re going to be concentrating more on The Classic Repertoire this season, although it means leaving your faithful John Wilson Orchestra fans for a time. (I’m in your fan club because Claire’s a nice lady and she asked me twice, so I’m there up close noting people’s disappointment that you and your orchestra won’t be touring your native country this year.) Because when you’re not touring with American film music on the program, you’re not on the podium making the kind of quasi-witty comments that would make even me wince, and I used to be Arthur Godfrey’s gag man back in the fifties.
Now, Voyager (1942): Bette Davis as brave Charlotte Vale and Paul Henreid as her handsome weenie of a lover in this BBC Saturday rainy day movie I’ll bet John saw when he was a kid and couldn’t make head nor tail of—except for the music. That’s Charles Gerhardt conducting the Max Steiner score, including the Warners Bros studio theme, which Steiner also wrote.
On that note, I just want to let all of you know that I realize that it’s not hard to find me. Really. I’m in the freakin IMDb. I don’t even have to fill you in on what my screen name is because IMDb seems to have switched pretty much every one of my credits back to my legal name anyway, so it would be kind of pointless… All right. It’s Simona Wing. My castmates in my first movie, Dork & Sindy aka Playthings, gave it to me, and I consider it quite a lagniappe. Mister Grumble used it for my character’s name in his first novel (Tales from the Last Resort, Brave New Books, 2002) and no one has been able to get better use out of it since.
I have pleasant memories of that shoot. For one thing, it was shot in Marin County. In Sausalito! In a house overlooking the Bay. Do you see in that pic those houses up in the hills? The white house above the red roof, that’s where we shot.
For another thing, Craft Services was fantastic. You could graze all day.
And it was a friendly, clean shoot. Does anyone here who saw the flick remember what I was wearing before the guy in sunglasses stripped me naked, threw me into the hot tub and started chewing on my behind? That white blouse, that long black skirt, those pumps? That was my secretarial outfit, the one I wore a few months earlier when I worked for Rouben Mamoulian. Practically every freakin day, I was that poor (took Sunset bus to foot of Schuyler Road, got off, wearing sneakers climbed hill, at Mamoulian’s door removed sneakers, put on pumps which I carried in my handbag). I remember I had one line which has since been coming back to me regularly, because whenever I run into an occasional fan, he (and it’s always a he) tends to quote it to me:
“Marin County been bery, bery good to me.”
Now, you have to be a real Saturday Night Live geek to recognize that line, and I’m not going to decipher it for you. But I suppose this showed people I could do voices, because I got a lot of work from this film, almost all of it involving fakey foreign-sounding accents. Like Fatima, woman of Borneo, in the hardcore version of Sadie Thompson (aka Somerset Maugham’s short story, “Rain”). I’m not kidding.
Most people* seem to discount the idea that Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho is actually a near-perfect work for strings (given that it was written exclusively for strings anyway) and that, given the right setting, is a very listenable chamber piece that doesn’t need to reference the film. Here’s the Tippett Quartet performing this arrangement by Richard Birchall at Kings Place, 2011.
John Mills, Jeremy Isaac, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, and Bozidar Vukotic: the London-based Tippett Quartet.
* Like Mister Grumble. This is the secondmost heated debate** between us: whether or not movie music (for narrative films not musicals) can be considered truly concert-worthy.
** (The most heated debate between us is whether Oswald did it or not. This one gets us both really het up, as one of us has a slight connection with the actual case.)
PS—Because I just noticed that the leader of the Tippitt Quartet (circa 2011), John Mills, is also the leader of the John Wilson Orchestra to date, I’m giving this posting a john-wilson tag.
If you could, my bonny John Wilson, imagine me wearing a Maria Clara (like great-grandmother Aberin below) and you wearing a barong, I’d be singing you this song:
Verse: Sa buhay ko’y labis Ang hirap at pasakit, ng pusong umiibig Mandi’y wala ng langit At ng lumigaya, hinango mo sa dusa Tanging ikaw sinta, ang aking pag-asa.
Refrain: Dahil sa iyo, nais kong mabuhay Dahil sa iyo, hanggang mamatay Dapat mong tantuin, wala ng ibang giliw Puso ko’y tanungin, ikaw at ikaw rin
Dahil sa iyo, ako’y lumigaya Pagmamahal, ay alayan ka Kung tunay man ako, ay alipinin mo Ang lahat sa buhay ko, dahil sa iyo
“Dahil Sa Iyo” Mike Velarde Jr music (1938), Tom Spinoza, lyrics Cora and Santos Beloy, vocalists Tri-World Records (1964)
My mother’s lola, my great-grandmother, the spitting image of my mother the way Georgiana Drew is the spitting image of Drew Barrymore. I have no documentation for my assertion—my family’s house and possessions were completely destroyed during the Japanese Occupation. But whenever we came across this picture in the media—in an article in Time, for example—my mom would always point her out and tell me the story of how my great-grandfather came over from Ireland and, upon discovering he was meeting fellow Catholics in a sea of Asians, stayed, changed his name from O’Brien to Aberin, and married the local beauty. How the Dutch photographer found her is anybody’s guess.
I was a fan of Korngold ever since I played violin in The Snowman in the orchestra in junior high (reduced score of course; here’s the full score of the Entr’acte), then as a solfeggist at ASCAP in NY around the time RCA was coming out with Charles Gerhardt’s definitive recordings of Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Robin Hood, etc. But then years later in San Francisco I inherited a friend’s collection of Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, which included Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, and all smiles stopped together.
Maybe it was from associating the Previn recording with my friend’s death, but I grew to detest the sound of late Korngold. He began to sound false to me—the result, I reasoned, of all those corrupting years in Hollywood. And Previn was his perfect interpreter, of course. Two Hollywood minds as one… I mean, dig that first movement, doesn’t that sound like a medley of The Ten Best TV Cop Show Themes and Their Underscorings? And then the ringer in the Adagio: The Private Life of Elizabeth and Essex! I recognize those coupla bars from the movie!
Bette Davis portrays Queen Elizabeth, Errol Flynn her faithful but ambitious lover in this sumptuous costume drama. In Technicolor for the Eyes. Warner Bros, 1939.
See, Hollywood lets go of no one.
And so I was content to continue in this apprehension, until Chandos came out last week with a new recording of Korngold’s symphony, played by the newly re-formed Sinfonia of London and conducted by—wait for it—John Wilson. By now, I think I’ve made my feelings clear about John just a little. Whenever he gets really irritating though there’s one thing that I do: I make myself remember the times my bonny lad has absolutely astonished me. The first time was fourteen, fifteen years ago in a screening room in LA when the band from nowhere just ripped into that hack hit “Beyond the Sea” and made it truly soar. The second time was a few years later when I heard the sound, THE EXACT SOUND!!!, of that ultra-Judy number from Meet Me In St Louis, “The Trolley Song”, only bigger, more vibrant, more—present.
This is the third time.
Who would have thought that a smaller, tighter orchestra, conducted by someone coming in without preconceptions but with a determination to follow through with the composer’s intent, could make a composition sound like an entirely different composition? John said somewhere once that he endeavors to give each musical piece he “takes on board” its correct coloring (which I might believe if he weren’t so maddeningly inconsistent) but here he does the remarkable: Where Previn colors all over the place, trying to make the music into something it’s not, John colors very little. Rather it sounds like, as I say, he actually worked out the composer’s intent to carry him through, and it’s pretty clear that Korngold meant for Symphony in F-sharp to take its rightful place in the Great Central European Repertoire, with its traditional wealth of tonal expressiveness.
So why oh why do some people insist this piece is movie trash? Is it because of that handful of notes from E+E? I swear to God I didn’t hear any other filmic callbacks, and I’m pretty good at catching tunes. But so what if there were? Korngold, unlike the majority of movie composers, retained legal possession of his studio work, which gave him the freedom to rework any of his past themes and phrases as he saw fit. He certainly wasn’t thinking of the flicks once he returned to Europe. Maybe his attachment to these notes was purely sentimental. We’ll never know. It’s a mystery, and I choose to believe that John, consummate musician, respects that mystery.
Anyway my love, as you’ve done with so many other composers, thanks for leading me back to Erich Korngold. It’s a wonderful recording, a keeper, now the standard against which I’m judging every Korngold Symphony in F-sharp out there (and there are a lot of them, not just Previn’s, as you know), and I would’ve bought it even if I didn’t know a thing about you.
It actually would hurt me, John Wilson my beloved, if you ever believed I think of you the way MacFarlane thinks of you—as more or less part of the gig rather than as a person. Something I’d like to throttle him for but’ll probably go on watching (the pre-2013) Family Guy anyway. Nothing personal against your chum.
No, I lie, it’s personal.
About ten, no, eleven years ago the best friend of the son of my (now ex-) friend died unexpectedly in New York, and it was a shock to everyone. My own son, who was the same age, was a big, big fan of his—more than a fan, in fact, he practically worshipped this young actor—and was in tears that day. I texted my friend and we shared our shock and grief. Daniel Day-Lewis stopped an interview, sobbing, “I didn’t know him, I have a strong impression I would have liked him very much…and so looked forward to the work he would do in the future.” I’d so like to have witnessed this young man’s progress on screen and stage through the years myself. He was the new Brando—better than Brando, in fact, as he not only acted and directed but wrote as well. And he wasn’t even thirty. He was handsome and vigorous, he had a beautiful speaking voice. He was the most committed actor I’d seen on screen since De Niro in Mean Streets.
So there he was dead in NY. On the streets of Beverly Hills, some roving celebrity reporter from one of the gossip shows was out and about getting sound bits for his show, and came across Rob Lowe and MacFarlane. After some genial exchange of bullshit the rover blurted, Did you hear the news from New York? and without a pause went right into giving them the news. Lowe dropped his mask in a second, truly stunned. MacFarlane drawled almost offhandedly, “We-ell, this is disconcerting…” And at that moment I started to genuinely hate the little creep. That joke song he tried to pull off several years later at the 2013 Oscars, “We Saw Your Boobs”, didn’t help his case either. MacFarlane’s a great dealmaker and Stewie is an outrageous creation…but that just isn’t enough for my scorecard.
Anyway, I’m less ironical and more earnest than one would assume at first. And I tend to take things like that hard. Not exactly an asset in this town.