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.”

 

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

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, 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 sucker 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 the first time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, but it wouldn’t be the last)…

[to be continued, fixing dinner now]

*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.

Letter to Leonard Bernstein from Felicia Montealegre, Late 1951

Newlywed Felicia Bernstein’s words moved me so much I have to share them with you. This was written around the time she had just married Bernstein and was still working in television:

Lenny and Felicia

Darling,

If I seemed sad as you drove away today it was not because I felt in any way deserted but because I was left alone to face myself and this whole bloody mess which is our “connubial” life. I’ve done a lot of thinking and have decided that it’s not such a mess after all.

First: we are not committed to a life sentence—nothing is really irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so).

Second: you are a homosexual and may never change—you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?

Third: I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar. (I happen to love you very much—this may be a disease and if it is what better cure?) It may be difficult but no more so than the “status quo” which exists now—at the moment you are not yourself and this produces painful barriers and tensions for both of us—let’s try and see what happens if you are free to do as you like, but without guilt and confession, please!

As for me—once you are rid of tensions I’m sure my own will disappear. A companionship will grow which probably no one else may be able to offer you. The feelings you have for me will be clearer and easier to express—our marriage is not based on passion but on tenderness and mutual respect. Why not have them?

I know now too that I need to work. It is a very important part of me and I feel incomplete without it. I may want to do something about it soon. I am used to an active life, and then there is that old ego problem.

We may have gotten married too soon and yet we needed to get married and we’ve not made a mistake. It is good for us even if we suffer now and make each other miserable—we will both grow up some day and be strong and unafraid either together or apart—after all we are both more important as individuals that a “marriage” is.

In any case my dearest darling ape, let’s give it a whirl. There’ll be crisis (?) from time to time but that doesn’t scare me any more. And let’s relax in the knowledge that neither of us is perfect and forget about being HUSBAND AND WIFE in such strained capital letters, it’s not that awful!

There’s a lot else I’ve got to say but the pill has overpowered me. I’ll write again soon. My wish for the week is that you come back guiltless and happy.

F

from The Leonard Bernstein Letters
edited by Nigel Simeone
Yale University Press, 2013

Sid Ramin and Red Ginzler’s Overture to Gypsy: John Wilson Conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms 2012

The indication “burlesque strip stylewas actually written on the music right around 4:00. Both Ramin and Ginzler cut their teeth writing swing arrangements; lead trumpet in the original Gypsy pit was Dick Perry, late of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Solo trumpet Mike Lovatt here lays it down fine. Some people obviously know something about burlycue. Composer Jule Styne was pleased with this orchestration. Once again, the BBC Proms program The Broadway Sound, 2012.

John Wilson Gypsy Overture
Also at 4:00 John Wilson shimmying like a brazen hussy. This is the moment one year ago today when I fell in love with you my bonny, that lovely luscious moment when I stumbled onto this old clip and caught a glimpse of your hidden fires…