Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: The Room at the Inn Scene in Queen Christina (MGM, 1933) Just for My Beloved Conductor, John Wilson

“I have been memorizing this room. In the future, in my memory, I shall live a great deal in this room.”

Garbo ChristinaFind this scene on my YT channel here and apologies for the quality of the vid but it was the best available. Underscoring is by the esteemed 1st music director at MGM, Herbert Stothart. Stothart’s adorable “Donkey Serenade” is featured in The MGM Jubilee Overture, written in 1954 by 2nd music director Johnny Green and restored to the repertoire by my bonny. I’m moving to your rhythm, John.



[all tags]

Going Hollywood, Grieving for a Lost Star, “Stereophonic Sound” by Cole Porter, and Two Degrees of Separation from My Beloved English Conductor, John Wilson

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 his gig rather than as who you are, which is to say John Wilson. 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.

John WIlson with MacFarlane

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 Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces.

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, truly stunned for a moment, and turned human, while MacFarlane drawled almost offhandedly, “We-ell, this is disconcerting…” And at that moment I started to genuinely dislike the calculating little creep. MacFarlane’s an almost supernaturally gifted dealmaker, Stewie’s a pretty inspired animated character, and the guy seems to have a genuine fondness for the old styles…but that just isn’t enough for my scorecard. If you could say that there’s such a thing as a Seth MacFarlane Tolerance Level, mine’s pretty low I guess.

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 around here.

On another note:

“Stereophonic Sound”
Silk Stockings, MGM 1957
Janis Paige, Fred Astaire
Rouben Mamoulian, director
Andre Previn, music director

As I said in an earlier post, I’m three degrees away from my beloved John Wilson with one particular MGM musical, Give a Girl a Break, as the bridge. But! I’m only TWO degrees away from the man I love with this MGM musical, Silk Stockings—from me to Rouben Mamoulian to Andre Previn to John.

Silk Stockings was adapted from the 1955 stage musical of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the film Ninotchka (MGM, 1939). It was directed by my old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, produced by Arthur Freed, and stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (who wound up as Mamoulian’s neighbor on Schuyler Road). Musical director was Andre Previn. It was the last movie Mamoulian, aka The Old Man, ever did (at 60—he died at 90), and “Stereophonic Sound” is one of the numbers on John Wilson+Orchestra’s 2014 Cole Porter album. But watch the clip instead. Janis Paige is the focus in this number but Fred Astaire at 58 is still a joy.


[all tags]

John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms, the Royal Albert Hall, 26 August 2013: The Complete Concert of Hollywood Rhapsody Including “Casablanca”

Disappointing to hear that John won’t be doing Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall in London this month. So, to cheer everybody up, here’s the full 2-hour program of my John and The John Wilson Orchestra at the Proms, 2013. That’s Jane Monheit, John, and Matt Ford below.


DAMN! UPDATE 16 JAN 21: Both DailyMotion and BiliBili have DELETED this video of the complete 2013 BBC concert! If I find it again I’ll reinstate the link. (Links to selections available on YT are in red.)


As a compensation, here are ALL the other, complete JOHN WILSON AT THE BBC PROMS available on my blog:


John Wilson Orchestra BBC Proms 2011 (Monheit, Ford)

The full program of 2013 (with remarks as they come to me):


[all tags]

At the End of the Year 2019: Conductor John Wilson, Eugene O’Neill, and My Old Boss, Classic Film/Stage Director Rouben Mamoulian, 3

John Wilson, light of my life, fire of my loins. You’re a true musician, you command the finest magical mechanism Western Civilization has ever achieved, the symphony orchestra, and you do this for a living. All life is asking you to do is be cool with it, and the fact that I’ll be continuing to make love to you long distance indefinitely.

Now, there are more compelling subjects in the world of music appreciation (like was Mozart poisoned, or who was Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, or should Concert A be tuned to 432MHz instead of 440MHz) than ranting about the inane and vaguely insulting blatherings on the podium of a popular, middle-ranking English conductor. But I happen to have fallen in love with that conductor. And so it’s probably the case that I listen to that conductor’s pronouncements a little more acutely, a little more discerningly than I would, say, Michael Tilson Thomas’s or Maestro Mauceri’s. It’s just that you reveal more about yourself in your out-loud asides than I think you’d prefer, John.

So as much as I’d relish taking the time to dress you down for the impudent and ultimately self-revealing remarks you made about Mmes Bernstein and Coates, I really should finally get down to the one single thing (aside, of course, from your tearass tempi, your overuse of percussion, your rushing of singers, your astonishing lack of color in certain critical pieces) that has bugged me since the day I first encountered it: your juvenile dismissal of my old boss, film/stage director Rouben Mamoulian, and his creative contribution to the original 1943 production of Oklahoma! Now, I know you were only riffing off info you got from some book or Andre Previn, who probably socialized with The Old Man when they were both at MGM. But, like I mentioned in an old posting, of all his stage and screen work The Old Man liked to talk about, the one he liked to talk about the most was Oklahoma! And I turned out to be his perfect audience, because early on I’d confessed to him that I was a big Rodgers & Hammerstein fan. (Filipinos are big Rodgers & Hammerstein fans, for obvious reasons.)

But before I say another word about Oklahoma! I have to tell you all now a side story about Mamoulian and Eugene O’Neill. It’s a doozy and it has everything to do with the point of this posting.

John and Mamoulian 2Rouben Mamoulian and John Wilson at around the same age, 80 years apart.

MAMOULIAN’S AND MY EUGENE O’NEILL STORY

This is the second story Mamoulian, The Old Man, ever told me, which he told me in a way that was flattering as hell, which was he didn’t ask if I knew who Eugene O’Neill was, although I did say “Wow” at the mention of the name, so he might have sized up my interest that way, and just went right into the story. Seems that when he was living an emigre’s life in New York, trying to make a go of it in stage work, he scored his greatest career triumph to date: The Theater Guild wanted him to direct a play by Eugene O’Neill. Now, O’Neill had already won the Pulitzer and he’d already had several successes, not to mention his other new play, Strange Interlude, was already generating a lot of pre-opening night buzz, so we’re talking King of 1928 Broadway here. O’Neill agrees to meet Mamoulian in his hotel room (that is to say, O’Neill’s hotel room. It seems like the best stories about O’Neill take place in hotel rooms) to talk over any directorial concerns O’Neill, the playwright, might have, and if he has any advice to give this youngster concerning his play.

“Actually, Mr O’Neill,” says Mamoulian, trying to sound like himself at thirty, you know, the brash but confident whiz-kid, “I know exactly how to fix your play.”

“You will change not a word. Not a word!” says O’Neill. And here The Old Man doesn’t bother to actually imitate O’Neill, although in time I heard him do some good impressions of other people, mostly actors.

“Look here, Mr O’Neill,” says young Mamoulian, opening the bound script of Marco Millions that he brought with him. “I can show you exactly where the speeches slow the play down, and where we can achieve the same ends using action. Here—” And here The Old Man imitates taking a blue pencil and boldly slashing a diagonal line across a rejected page like editors do— “—and here—” He goes on to recreate his turning the pages of the script one at a time— “and here—here—here—” with a slash! slash! slash! And all the time I’m thinking with a kind of growing horror: You CUT Eugene O’Neill!!!?

“But in the end,” Mamoulian assures me, “he saw that I was right, and we got along splendidly.”

But that’s not the end of the story. About a year after Mamoulian and I go our separate ways, I get a chance to attend opening night of Marco Millions at Berkeley Stage Company up in the Bay Area, as the plus-one of some guy I was seeing. This was around the time BSC was on its “classics” kick, making it clear in news and ads and publicity sheets that this wasn’t just any old O’Neill revival, this was an extra-special homage to the master playwright of our great theatrical heritage. Scenes cut from the 1928 production had been restored in order that this fruit of O’Neill’s genius be presented intact and full; Mamoulian’s name was hardly mentioned.

Well, I watch this big lumbering thing, right through the parts that dragged on and on with their interminable speeches about the redistribution of wealth and so on, and I’m thinking, this must be where he cut, here— Then here— And here  And almost like he’s whispering in my ear “See? See?” I realize that The Old Man was right to make the cuts, and that Marco Millions probably could have been a fine piece of theater if they’d stuck to the original opening night version.

But I swear, it was not on my mind to argue this during lobby talk after the curtain. The big thing on my mind was that I had the perfect story to share at this particular time, in this particular space, and yeah, I wanted to share it. I was with the guy who brought me, a cokehead freelance lighting designer who was always hitting up people for jobs. Together we went up to the artistic directors, a married couple, my date immediately starting in with the whole buttering up thing, you know, You look fabulous what have you been doing to yourself, etc etc etc.

I break in with something like, “You know, I have a great story about this play I got straight from (and here I made sure to stress the second syllable like he preferred) Rouben Mamoulian and how he worked with—”

And here the guy, my date, takes me aside and mutters as urgently but tenderly as is possible for him, “Sweetheart, would you please shut up while I’m talking business.”

Reader, I did.

So everyone, this is the first time—the very first time—in forty-one years I’m telling this story.

And you, Tom Stocker. Just for that, I regret having given you the most explosive blowjob of your life, the one that made you howl like a wolf.

Part 1 “The Rodgers Piano” here.
Part 2 “Agnes De Mille” here.


[all tags]

Things I Did for Love of Geordie John Wilson, 1: Watched Get Carter (British MGM 1971, Mike Hodges Director) and Sarah Millican; and Listened to, But Didn’t Watch, The Orville

This is all bound up with my beloved John Wilson, Conductor being from Gateshead, of course. Even that Seth MacFarlane show.

Sarah Millican first. I swear, I tried listening to this fast-talking comedienne from nearby South Shields the middle of last year but could not keep up with her pace or her accent. Later I started watching old episodes of Auf Wiedersehn Pet, The Likely Lads, Byker Grove, Our Friends In the North etc etc but they’re just so…masculine, you know? Which I suspect probably pretty much characterizes Geordie culture anyway… So I started alternating watching that show with When the Boat Comes In, which was more successful for me, as the estimable Northumbria-born actress Jean Heywood provided a good model of what a feminine northeast accent sounds like. After her it was a snap to follow Millican.

Second, The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek-like TV series. Like the 70s folksinger says, “I’m a stoner, I’m a trekker, I’m a young sky walker…” So yeh, I’d be interested in watching this show just to see if it measures up to the standards of my youth. Unfortunately, none of MacFarlane’s projects (except for pre-2013 Family Guy) ever sound interesting enough for me to overcome my intense personal dislike for him. So…maybe later. I did, however, listen to the show’s theme music, which was written by Andrew Cottee, the same young man who wrote some arrangements for The John Wilson Orchestra over in England. The theme does everything expected of it.

Third, Get Carter, 1971, starring Michael Caine and the City of Newcastle. Made this movie last on my list because it deserves two paragraphs, being the British noir classic that it is…

Sidebar: As we all now know from film school, existentialism is the engine of noir, which means that petty details like Michael Caine speaking in a thick Cockney accent* when his character’s supposed to be from Newcastle-upon-Tyne oughtn’t to matter to the sophisticated auditor. But I had a problem. I’m sorry. A year and a half ago I wouldn’t have cared, one Brit being the same as any other. Then I fell in love with John, Low Fell lad, and individuality suddenly became a very important thing to me.

The Movie Overall: Not quite sure why the filmmakers transplanted novelist Ted Lewis’s story from his original setting in Lincolnshire (Lewis’s birthplace), to Tyneside, but since it’s the classic story of the Anti-Hero’s Revenge, which works anytime, anyplace, it does fine here. Michael Caine’s a little podgy but quick with his reflexes and still a treat for the ladies. Lots of sex and violence, lots of local atmosphere, local faces, and landmarks like Tyne Bridge, the Newcastle Racecourse and, of course, the carpark across the Tyne River.

The Carpark in Gateshead Scene: By a stroke of luck Get Carter was just streamed on Criterion so I watched the entire movie, then to make sure, watched the carpark scene twice more in order to understand why it so sticks in the mind. Because it does, you know, even though I’m not a fan of movies like this. I guess it’s because there’s rather a high elegance to this scene that contrasts with all the mundaneness and phony poshness around it… Very arty, but a genuine statement. Or maybe it’s just because I like watching Michael Caine get all riled up.

Get-Carter-1971-Behind-The-Scenes-Michael-Caine-Brian-Mosely-Trinity-Square-Car-Park-Gateshead-2The now torn-down carpark at Trinity Square in Gateshead in this famous scene was a dreary piece of English Brutalist architecture that, according to its creator Rodney Gordon, was never meant to stand the test of time anyway. That’s the theme to The Orville above.


*I understand that a stage version of Get Carter was recently performed in Newcastle, with Carter’s accent spoken correctly.


“A Young Oldman Raises Music for Witnesses”: Conductor John Wilson Interviewed by Prague Daily, 24 September 2007

The following was translated on Google from the Czech and transcribed by me—except for minor grammatical emendations—verbatim:

PRAGUE DAILY | 24 SEPTEMBER 2007 – John Wilson has brought restored film music to the Prague Autumn and is preparing to pay his respects to John Williams.

From the point of view, conductor John Wilson gives the impression of an intelligent young man. He is one of those rare people who is a joy to meet. In addition, he finished a several-hour rehearsal with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra. He has prepared a concert for the Prague Autumn Festival, called “Famous Film Music from Hollywood”, which will be performed twice due to great interest. At the age of thirty-five, Wilson has gained a recognition that many might envy. Some time ago, for example, he performed at the prestigious BBC Proms music festival, but he still remains modest and immediately attracts listeners with a helpful, understanding speech.

Prague Daily 24 September 2007Photo: Jan Handrejch. Above: John and his O’s MGM Jubilee Overture.

It surprises me that at your age, you are so interested in early film music. One would expect that a witness would be more enthusiastically interested in the archives.

I would like something really valuable to be left behind. That is why I try to concentrate a large part of my energy and diligence on the restoration of old, often non-existent or directly lost sheet music scores. [I do this] most often in collaboration with the Hollywood studios Warner Bros and MGM. In the 1960s, the MGM studio liquidated its entire music library, which was one of the largest and most valuable of its time. At the time, people simply did not think that film music needed to be preserved for future generations. The only thing that has survived are the movies. I’m trying to correct their mistake now.

Musical archeology

This must be extremely challenging.

Yes, it really is. It is necessary to listen to the whole composition from the film second by second and to the smallest detail. I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” at least two hundred times. With all your will and senses, you focus on each and every measure. You must not miss anything if you want to get the most accurate description possible. You spend all day working hard and eventually find that you have two or three seconds of music. You have to be patient, but I think it’s worth it.

Will we hear the result of your efforts at your Prague concert?

Yes. The first in the first part, which will focus mainly on music “for witnesses”, will be heard, for example, the remembered “Wizard of Oz”. In the second half, however, I would like to pay tribute to John Williams. Not only because he is one of the best modern composers of film music, also successful and popular, but also because Williams is more based on  tradition than anyone else. Therefore, I hope that the listeners will notice the context, which I would like to point out non-violently at the concert.

Do you mean, for example, the work of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a Czech native famous during The Golden Age of Hollywood?

Naturally. Williams’s orchestration, for example, is almost identical to his. This is clearly evident in “Star Wars”, which, of course, cannot be missing from the program. You must understand that Williams began as a pianist in Hollywood recording studios in the 1950s and came into direct contact with the generation that laid the foundations of modern film music. In addition to Korngold at the time, Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, who is the composer of perhaps Hollywood’s most famous tune, a fanfare of 20th Century Fox, were still active. At the same time, I hope that the audience will recognize how much Williams still remains himself and in the true sense of the word, an original.

Last of the Mohicans

Are you well acquainted with the past of film music, but how do you look at its future?

You know, Williams is seventy-five years old this year, and even though he’s still active and still composing great music, he won’t be here forever. I don’t think there’s anyone in the current generation who can replace him. That’s why I’m afraid the whole era of film music will leave with John Williams.

But that sounds pretty hopeless.

Maybe a little. On the other hand, I am convinced that the hope of film music can be the current generation of European composers, who come up with cultured, intelligent and imaginative music. In Hollywood, on the other hand, music is basically declining, becoming flatter and flatter by the day. Sure, it helps the film become great, but I prefer music that will stand up on its own. My concert is also trying to point out that. I try to prove that good film music is not lost in concert halls.

At the same time, film music is struggling for recognition, and many musicologists still see it as an indecent, used form.

In the words of a classic: “Who ever built a monument to a critic?” I will not say at all what the critics say. The attitude of such people is not so critical or professional, but rather snobbish. But attitudes and opinions are changing. Constantly. In July, for example, I conducted British film music with great success at the BBC Proms, a large and acclaimed festival. No one would have dreamed of that ten years ago.


[all tags]

“The Trolley Song” in A Celebration of Classic MGM Film Musicals with Conductor John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms, 1 August 2009

This is the song that led me to fall in love with English conductor John Wilson


“The Trolley Song” as performed at A Celebration of MGM Musicals is available here.


It was one evening after dinner a couple of years ago, and I was idly doing what I usually do after the washing up, which is trawl the internet for bits of interesting music. They’d been coming to mind either from the latest endorsements of FB friends, or from my furthest memories… Anyway, this particular evening I was remembering a poor joke (at actress Rosie O’Donnell’s expense!) made on an old, old TV cartoon show that stuck in my mind because the joke relied on the assumption that “The Trolley Song” was corny and/or second-rate.

Only thing, I don’t remember “The Trolley Song” as being corny and/or second-rate. In fact I remember the number in the movie, Meet Me in St Louis, as being rather gorgeous and lush and yummy, and not just because Judy Garland sang it. (Come to think of it, that joke also sounded like a cheap dig at gay culture, which fries me.) I hadn’t in years heard the complete version since it was played on the soundtrack  [more later]

John Wilson Orchestra, Criswell, RLPO 2012 .jpg
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. Above Kim Criswell and John Wilson rehearsing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra: “The Trolley Song” from The Best of The John Wilson Orchestra (Warners 2019). [Photo by Eric the Fish King, 2012]


“The Trolley Song”
from the 1944 MGM film
sung by Judy Garland

“The Trolley Song”
from the 1944 MGM Film
music only track, no vocals
(thanks, Jack Campey!)

Orchestrator for this song—as well as the entire MGM musical Meet Me in St Louis—was Conrad Salinger. “He had a very individual, sophisticated sense of harmony,” said our John in a 2013 interview with the LA-based Film Music Society (of which I am a member). “It’s those very subtle and exclusive touches that he gave to those numbers that set him apart… Little touches of instrumentation, like alto flutes and French horns, that gave those pictures a sound world all their own. His specialty was that high­-class production number, the theatrical presentation of a popular song, or a balletic development of a number. In the hands of Salinger, you could be listening to Debussy or Ravel. He’s never going to be a household name, but that doesn’t diminish his stature.”

“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


[all tags]

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

I booked my first acting gig as a result of getting into a bondage game with that producer from England with the hot tub. Pau—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.


“Torturing Terence” from The Mask of Fu Manchu is available on my YT channel here.


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 “Full Dress” here.
Part 3 “Sausalito Hot Tub” here.
Part 4 “Lovelace” here.

*All in affection, Paul.


[all tags]

“The Bad and the Beautiful” by David Raksin, Arranged by Angela Morley, and Performed by The John Wilson Orchestra Conducted by My Beloved John Wilson

My bonny John was 30 when he recorded, with the orchestra that bears his name, this achingly tender theme.

I saw The Bad and the Beautiful (MGM, 1952) for the first time in New York when I was 20, at one of those great cinema art houses, the Little Carnegie I think. Anyone remember that fabulous nosh pit in the lobby of the Little Carnegie? It was set up to resemble an outdoor Parisian cafe, complete with wrought tables and chairs, painted scenery, etc… Here after the show my date treated me to a glass of cabernet and a flaky meat pasty, the leftovers of which the waiter wrapped up for me in a square of foil he molded into the shape of a swan.

The Bad and the Beautiful 2What do you do when you’re a passionate actress still in love with a wounding bastard who’s a screen genius? You make the damn movie.

As for Bad+Beautiful: Cast headed by Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gilbert Roland, Walter Pigeon. Vincent Minnelli helmed. MGM, 1952 (trailer here). 5 Oscar wins. To feel the full effect, get your heart stomped on by a Hollywood louse before viewing.

The Bad and the Beautiful
Soft Lights and Sweet Music, album
Classic Angela Morley Arrangements
The John Wilson Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
Vocalion, 2002

*Oscar-winning transsexual composer-arranger Angela Morley (1924-2009) has quite a story herself, which maybe I’ll get to in another posting. For now, here’s a 1977 article in the Independent that should whet your interest.


[all tags]

Oscar Levant Plays Gershwin’s Concerto in F, 3rd Movement, Conducted by Oscar Levant, with an Orchestra of Oscar Levants

Author Nora Johnson’s object of teenage lust. From An American in Paris (MGM, 1951). I wonder if he’s shouty scary at rehearsals.

Oscar LevantAbove Oscar: Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Yuja Wang in Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F.


[all tags]