The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St Louis (MGM, 1944). Divided into a series of seasonal vignettes starting with summer, 1903, the movie relates the story of a year in the life of the Smith family in St Louis, Missouri, leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (more commonly referred to as the World’s Fair) in the spring of 1904. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien.
For more Judy, Conrad Salinger and bonny John, go to my post below on “The Trolley Song”.
Three years after Man of La Mancha was a major hit on Broadway, Belgian music legend Jacques Brel licensed the staging rights, adapted the book, translated the lyrics, directed the production, and starred as Don Quixote with the original Dulcinea herself, Joan Diener.
Telle est ma quête
Peu m’importent mes chances
Peu m’importe le temps
Reading about the revival of Man of La Mancha at the London Palladium next year brought back fond memories of the music, especially Joan Diener’s songs. Here’s my favorite one that just tears my heart out, courtesy of lyricist Joe Darion and Hindemith-trained composer Mitch Leigh:
First on CBS (Carol’s network) 12 November 1963, now available in its entirety here. Saw this when I was eight—and note the date: This was 10 days before President Kennedy was assassinated. Some bleak Thanksgiving weekend was to follow.
Carol duos “Secret Love” with big handsome Art Lund starting at 1:22:30. Lund had a swoony hit a few years earlier with Leroy Anderson’s “Serenata” (which I heard in my bassinette and still adore); and people forget Carol Burnett started as a legit Broadway singer with an invigorating presence and great legs. A surprising amount of sexual energy makes it to the small screen here.
Webster and Fain rearranged the music from the Doris Day MGM musical for this stage version and a new book was brought in so it sounds nothing like the film version which—of course, my bonny John Wilson being involved—gave the Proms its version.
Between 2000 and 2005 John recorded 8 albums for the venerable jazz/swing/dance band label Vocalion. Whereas four months ago I had none, I now have 6 of them. I have that awful Orchestral Jazz he did with Richard Rodney Bennett; his 2 albums of Angela Morley’s work; his Paul Weston and his Geraldo (see “Geraldo Among the Filipinos, 1963” below); and I just ordered Dance Date.
There are two more albums I haven’t gotten yet: One is with a pleasant but unimaginative crooner named Gary Williams (who I suspect was the guy who enabled John to increase the size of his orchestra—“He just turned up one day at my door with a pot of money and said, ‘Will you put together a great big orchestra for me to sing to?’ And that was the start of it,” said my blinky winsome John in a 2011 interview—and somebody, bear me out on this story) but it doesn’t sound interesting enough to drop fifteen bucks on.
But this one, Lessons In Love, sounds perfectly gorgeous, the little I heard—it’s classic Songbook stuff—and I’m dying to have it. It’s Lance Ellington’s strong clear vocals and fundamental John Wilson Orchestra through and through. Trouble is, it apparently went through a limited pressing so available copies run from 115 American bucks upward. How can a record only 13 years old be a collector’s item already??
Lance Ellington is the son of English bandleader/singer Ray Ellington, who I know only as that weird singer on The Goon Show who mangled my favorite Charles Trenet song, “Boum”, even though I yelled at him not to do it through my computer screen. Lance is great, though. He teamed up with John and Orchestra for their 2014 Cole Porter album doing the song “Now You Has Jazz” and that album won the Echo Klassik Music Without Borders Prize. (John’s big smile at 4:23.)
…which we know, of course, as “If You Are But a Dream” (1942, Moe Jaffe, Jack Fulton and Nat Bonx, composers, “from Rubenstein’s Romance“).
Could you say no to this boy?
From legendary San Francisco journalist Herb Caen‘s column, 1995:
Fast forward through World War II to Al Williams’ Papagayo Room in the Fairmont Hotel. It’s 2 a.m. Al’s place is the hangout on the late shift. Mexican food in the middle of the night? We were young and indestructible. Frank was on his own now and headlining at (again) the Golden Gate. The critics weren’t impressed with “Frankie,” as they called him, to his disgust, but the schoolgirls were cutting classes to catch his shows and I was giving him sincere plugs. At the Papagayo Room on his closing night, a burly broken-nosed guy in a polo coat came to my table and said, “You Caen?” When I nodded warily, he slipped me a small package, said, “Frank says t’anks” and disappeared. The package contained a solid gold Dunhill lighter. It was the first but not the last time I would be reminded of Sinatra’s penchant for extravagant gifts…
I’m a pot of joy for a hungry boy,
Baby, I’m cookin’ with gas.
Oh, I’m a gumdrop,
A sweet lollipop,
A brook trout right out of the brook,
And what’s more, baby, I can cook!
The Queen of Broadway Bernadette Peters entices conductor John Mauceri with her many, many assets, courtesy of Leonard Bernstein and the great lyric team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden. “I Can Cook, Too” from On the Town. Fun starts here at 4:45.
Not my favorite version of all the R&H Cinderellas (this is my favorite version—I mean come on, it’s Julie Andrews) but this one boasts, as I mentioned, the gorgeous Paolo Montalban as well as the Queen of Broadway, Bernadette Peters, singing great another interpolated Rodgers song, “Falling in Love with Love“. Exceptional orchestration by Doug Besterman.