John Wilson, Conductor, “Stereophonic Sound” by Cole Porter, and Going Hollywood

john wilson no macfarlane

It actually would hurt me, John 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.) I’m less ironical and more earnest than one would assume at first. Not exactly an asset in this town.

On another note:

“Stereophonic Sound”
Silk Stockings, MGM 1957
Janis Paige, Fred Astaire
Rouben Mamoulian, Director

Silk Stockings was the last movie my old boss 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.

Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Applause, Starring Helen Morgan, Paramount 1929

Legendary torch singer Helen Morgan (she was the original mulatto Julie in Jerome Kern’s Showboat) was only 28 when she played the washed-up headliner mother of a chorus girl in this early, early talkie (19-freakin-29!!!) which benefits from an excellent sound recording. Filmed over at the Astoria Studio in Queens. Note Mamoulian’s penchant for symbolism: Morgan’s poster like the Holy Madonna hovering over her daughter and daughter’s sweetheart; the rolled-up curtain on the bannister posing as Death. When I saw this shot it hit me what a genius The Old Man actually really was, and it got me steamed over his treatment by later generations…and particularly by the typically English supercilousness displayed toward him by my beloved John Wilson re the original production of Oklahoma!, right before John conducted his own semi-staged version at the 2017 Proms. More on that later.

Applause can be viewed here in its entirety.

Applause Ending

Conductor John Wilson’s Reading List, My Old Boss Rouben Mamoulian, and Oklahoma!

Well Liberace, flame of my heart, if there’s one thing that can absolutely be said about our relationship at this point, it’s that you know how to spell my name correctly.

John Wilson Wanted.jpgYou block me for an offense equivalent to a friendly panty raid…?

Ecoute: I know you’ve known about my blog for a few months now although you haven’t really read any of it, opting instead to let your friends/fans/acquaintances describe it to you in an offhanded way as thoughtfully or not as they care to, giving you all something to genteelly snigger at on a Sunday…and that’s cool by me, I can’t stop you. You’ve got your mates. (Know what my mates call you? “Some English guy who does that thing over there.”)

Anyway, for a few weeks after I fell in love with you, this would have been until July of last year, I had been quite content to simply go on slavering after you adolescently but unobtrusively in that old Tiger Beat way—you know, “Win a Dream Date With Conductor John Wilson!!!” etc etc—but when I finally caught up with your 2017 video clips all that changed, because you put Mamoulian back in my head, thank you very much.

Don’t get me wrong, I was always intending to talk about The Old Man one of these days, in my own time. But you kind of forced my hand when in interviews you started to blather a lot of malarkey about the original 1943 production of Oklahoma!. Now, there were productions of his Mamoulian liked to talk about, CarouselPorgy and BessThe Song of SongsQueen Christinabut the one he talked about the most to me personally was Oklahoma!. We’ll go into that in an upcoming post, which I think I will call “John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma! at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, Part 2“. (Part 1 here.)

John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, Part 2

John my bonny, if we ever sit down someday and have a natter like two old friends I’d tell you how in many ways you’re like The Old Man, which you’d better take as a compliment, because Rouben Mamoulian was a freakin genius. I didn’t think so when I worked for him, but then I was only twenty-three and he was eighty-one, and the only movie I knew of his—besides the one with Tyrone Power which I watched on TV when I was a kid—was Queen Christina, the result of cinema art-house hopping in New York in the mid-70s, and which had a special place in my half-lesbian heart on account of The Divine Garbo.

CXG Oklahoma
The most subtle reference ever to Agnes De Mille that was clearly about Agnes De Mille without having to mention her name was on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, season 4 episode 2: “So now they’re randomly doing ballet?” “I guess so, it’s hard to follow.” (Hip-hop follows.) “That’s not even the correct dance language for this piece.” Bay Area-born Vincent Rodriguez III is the hunk in the red neckerchief who plays Josh Chan, heroine Rebecca Bunch’s pinoy love interest.

But like I said earlier, I’d known coming in that he had directed Carousel and Oklahoma on Broadway because Filipinos damn well know Rodgers & Hammerstein. There are a lot of parts for pinoys in R&H musicals, ever stop to think about that? I’ll bet you never, my Tyneside lad.

So when he finally started to open up to me, after a few weeks of my just coming in every weekday morning and answering his phone, opening his mail—unpaid bills, media people from all over wanting interviews, a few lines from old friends like Armina Marshall…Paul Horgan…Pamela Mason…Ray Bradbury—balancing his checkbook, reassuring Zayde on the intercom over and over that Henry their handyman hadn’t gone home yet etc etc, and basically fooling around during the many dull spots (which is how I ended up playing the Waltz from Carousel on the actual legendary Richard Rodgers piano) it was easy to follow The Old Man’s train of thought because I already knew a lot about the original production of Oklahoma.

“You know, Agnes…” he started right off the bat one day, and we both immediately understood who he was referring to: Agnes De Mille, the choreographer for the original 1943 production.

I sat up attentively, pen in hand, ready to take dictation. My main duty for Mamoulian was supposed to have been as amanuensis for his memoirs, after all. At least that’s what the temp agency had told me. Although they didn’t say amanuensis.

“No, put your pen down and listen!” he ordered. He was, in the weeks and months to come, going to say that a lot.

So I did.

[more later]

Part One here.

Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: “Isn’t It Romantic?” by Rodgers & Hart, Ultimately Sung by Jeanette MacDonald in Love Me Tonight, Paramount 1932

The most audacious musical film sequence ever directed. If I had seen Love Me Tonight (here available in its entirety) before I went to work for The Old Man I would’ve been more patient with him.

Isn’t it romantic
Music in the night, a dream that can be heard
Isn’t it romantic
Moving shadows write the oldest magic word

Love Me Tonight.jpgAnd dig that not-too-obvious Eros aiming his love arrow at Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier.

Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Marlene Dietrich Sings “Happy Birthday, Johnny” from The Song of Songs, Paramount 1933, Just for My Bonny John Wilson, Conductor

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.”

 

“Ask Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse If Their Mailbox is All Right”

Silk Stockings.jpg
Fred Astaire was 58 when he made this movie. Mamoulian was 60. Cyd Charisse was ageless.

“Red Blues,” choreographed by Balanchine-trained Eugene Loring (who also choreographed the ballet Billy the Kid, with music by Aaron Copland) from the 1957 MGM musical Silk Stockings, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, 1957. Mamoulian hadn’t directed a picture since 1946; after the Cleopatra debacle in the early 1960s, Silk Stockings turned out to be his last completed work in Hollywood.

In winter 1979, Charisse and her husband, singer Tony Martin (“Temptation“) lived in a house up the hill from The Old Man on Schuyler Road in Beverly Hills in tranquil retirement. However, at the top of the hill also lived the Shah of Iran’s 86 year-old mother, and came the revolution Iranian students from all over the Southland marched up Schuyler Road to demonstrate outside her house, indulging in a little vandalism on the way. Mamoulian was, of course, furious, and his lovely wife Zayde, who never left her bedroom, buzzed me on the intercom to fume over the “criminals” (her word) who toppled their sovereign letter receptacle. The Old Man’s second concern—after his own mailbox, of course—was the mailbox of his good friend and former leading lady, and I was dispatched to phone them at once. Happily, the protesters had missed theirs.