Sammy Davis Jr. testifies for the Church of the Rhythm of Life with a little help from Shirley MacLaine, George Peppard, Neil Simon, Cy Coleman, and Dorothy Fields, Bob Fosse in SWEET CHARITY (1969). Special nod on the beat to Frederico Fellini and Giullietta Masina and the cast of NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (1957).
On August 25th, 1988, there was a Bernstein@70 concert in honor of composer, pianist, conductor Leonard Bernstein. Among the many show biz and musical elites performing significant pieces from his career from WEST SIDE STORY to excerpts from his symphonic works to pieces from classical composers that Bernstein had conducted, there was this little ditty.
It’s Lauren Bacall singing “The Saga of Lenny,” a parody of Kurt Weil’s and Ira Gershwin’s “The Saga of Jenny,” with new lyrics by some kid named Stephen Sondheim.
Leonard Bernstein died two years later. If you want to learn more about his career at the Leonard Bernstein office web site by clicking here.
One of the intriguing “what could have been?” scenarios of sixties pop culture was a project that teamed Ernie Kovacs and Buster Keaton. Unfortunately, Kovacs died in car accident before the two started work.
I’ve shared Keaton videos here before, but this skit is one of my Kovacs favorites. Kovacs staged this many times with various performers in the monkey suits. According to Kovacs Corner, a YouTube Ernie Kovacs channel, this was from an ABC Network broadcast on January 23rd, 1962 — ten days after Kovacs died. Kovacs played the ape conductor in the center, Jolene Brand was the pianist, and the conductor’s percussive nemesis could be Bobby Lauher.
Let me lay on you, the one… the only… The Nairobi Trio!
And here’s Edie Adams telling how singer Peter Hanley played a 45 record of Robert Maxwell’s Solfeggio back when he was part of the ensemble on “The Ernie Kovacs Show” on the Dumont Network in 1954 and how it swiftly inspired Kovacs to create the Nairobi Trio skit.
We lost William Hurt this week. During his long career, Hurt acted in a number of good, near-great, and great films, I think my favorite role of his is writer Paul Benjamin in SMOKE, written by Paul Auster and directed by William Wang.
It’s great film with a fantastic cast and centers on the lives of people who frequent a Brooklyn smoke shop run by Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel). In this scene, Paul Benjamin drops in for some smokes and tells Auggie and the others in the shop the tale of how Sir Walter Raleigh figured out a way to weigh… smoke.
This is just one of the stories that Hurt’s character tells in the course of the film, and I marvel at how spellbinding Hurt could be just using his voice and low-key understating acting. It’s scenes like this one, Paul’s growing friendship with Auggie, and all the unlikely connections the characters make with each other in spIte Of Themselves That Make Smoke A Great Film. He Will Be Missed.
At the end of some work weeks, you want to close with a little classic jazz. Other weeks, you need a cartoon. This week, we can have both.
From 1987, here’s jazz standard “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Gus Kahn, clay animation provided by Aardmans Animation to a track of my absolute favorite cover of the song by the late great Nina Simone, who provided both the vocals and piano in the non-animated real world.
Two new Buster Keaton books and a 100 year-old classic silent film
I’ve been a Buster Keaton fan since forever, and one of the better things to happen in early 2022 is that two Buster Keaton books have published. Both of them are excellent while taking different approaches to Keaton’s live.
CAMERA MAN: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century by Dana Stevens is more of a cultural history than a comprehensive biography. Stevens gives Keaton’s life a context by placing different events of his life and examining the historical events and cultural forces at play at the same time as those events. It’s a fascinating Buster Keaton as both a man of his times and an artist who transcend his times. You can find out more and order the book here.
BUSTER KEATON: A Filmmaker’s Life by James Curtis is a more traditional biography, but that doesn’t diminish its glory. I’ve read dozens of books on Buster Keaton and I’m currently only partway through this one, but so far it seems the best researched of the lot. Of course, the shape and trajectory remains the same, but Curtis has uncovered facts and events that I’ve never seen before and he shows admirable restraint in not leaping to conclusions about Keaton and his friends and family that the way that some other writers have. Visit the book’s page here for more information and links where you can make a purchase.
And here’s COPS, the first Buster Keaton film I ever saw on the family 26-inch television, way back in those far-flung days when cable television in the Los Angeles market meant you were watching SelecTV. I’ve seen this on the big screen a few times since, and even a couple time with live musical accompaniment, but the first time I saw this was exhilarating and dizzying. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the years.
I’ve got a friend who loves-loves-loves the Oscars with a passion not seen since Pickford fell for Fairbanks, but when I see something like this, I immediately want to sit behind a card table at the local supermarket with a “Defund The Oscars” petition.
Here’s a colorized video from more than twelve decades ago. It’s five minutes of film featuring the activities swirling around the impending departure of the R.M.S. Lucania.
I don’t expect you to watch it all unless you’re a fan of vintage luxury liners or an oddball like myself and also enthralled by these brief glimpses into the lives of people from long ago.
Even if you are neither, I’d like to call your attention to a gentleman standing next to the gangplank next to a young boy during the first minute of the video (0:05-0:59).
This isn’t even a minute of this man’s life we’re witnessing, but I can’t help but feel a sympathetic kinship. I think he’s there with the boy, and sometimes the boy is speaking to him, but there’s no way to be certain.
The man is obviously perturbed and anxious and scans around through the bustling crowd for someone. Who was it? The boy’s mother? A parent or other family member? Someone who promised the man money he was owed if he’d meet them before departure.
We’ll never know. We won’t even know if he does find that person because the film cuts to another shot, leaving this poor man waiting forever for a person who hasn’t arrived.