Tuesday, January 24

No Sale: Boy Singers with Brief Movie Careers

Earlier we did a piece on girl singers, four of them, with brief movie careers, and it's only fitting that we do the same for the boys. So here are four of them as well.  Let's see who they are. 

Eddie Fisher will unfortunately be most remembered as a lousy husband and father, the centerpiece of one of Hollywood's most famous scandals, the Debbie/Eddie/Liz mashup of the late 1950s.  But there was a time he was outrageously popular as a singer with monster hits.  In the day, I loved this man's voice.

The son of Russian-born immigrant Jewish parents, he was the fourth of seven kids born in Philadelphia in 1928.  That glorious voice was obvious in childhood and his mother schlepped him all over the countryside, entering singing contests which he almost always won.  While he performed early on with a couple of big bands and on the radio, it is generally considered that comedian Eddie Cantor discovered him performing in the Catskills.  By 1953 he had his own TV show, a 15-minute gig called Coke Time.   It meant Coca-Cola but in all due time it would mean something entirely different for the kid who went bonkers with fame.

As a teen idol, he had such hits as Anytime, Lady of Spain, Oh My Papa, Downhearted, Cindy Oh Cindy and I'm Walking Behind You. He became tabloid fodder when he started dating MGM darling Debbie Reynolds and one never ever stopped reading about their (often fictionalized) exploits.  They seemed like the cutest couple ever and when they married in 1955, the wholesomeness was overwhelming and apparently he thought so, too.  She is responsible for getting him his first movie role opposite her in 1956s Bundle of Joy and giving him top-billing to boot. A tepid remake of Ginger Rogers' Bachelor Mother, it was as cloying as Fisher was wooden.

He always claimed the marriage was not only never what people thought it was but asserted that he never really loved Reynolds.  It's likely it was more about hopping aboard the gravy train.  He was crazy jealous of her having a popular recording of Tammy.  Hey, who's the singer in this family? Guess the same thinking didn't apply to his acting.  He had secretly been in love with Elizabeth Taylor long before their brief marriage.  Reynolds herself admitted the bedroom was not her area of achievement as it always was for Fisher and Taylor as well.

While married to Taylor, he appeared in a supporting role opposite her in his second and final film, 1960s Butterfield 8, although Laurence Harvey was the romantic lead. Fisher very much wanted this role and although still woefully wooden, I actually thought it worked.  After their divorce, Taylor grew to hate him with a passion that seemed to outmaneuver Reynolds' hatred of him.

A marriage to singer-actress Connie Stevens didn't last long nor did one after that.  What did last was a drug habit that by most standards was gargantuan. He wrote two biographies, the first rather bitter and the second, likely done because he needed the cash, was little more than a listing of his sexual conquests. His career had petered out since no one wanted to hear him, with his unsavory track record, sing love songs. A fifth marriage to an apparently lovely lady lasted for eight years, his longest time up to bat.  He died in 2001, virtually unknown to younger generations. 

Steve Lawrence, always affable and with that ever-present full smile, began life in 1935 Brooklyn, the son of a couple who ran their own bakery. His father was also a cantor and Lawrence, then Sidney Liebowitz, first sang at synagogue.  He gave up singing for a time as he was working through puberty but filled the time studying music and learning to play the piano and saxophone. He began writing and arranging his own songs which led to his pounding the streets of Manhattan in search of publishers.

In 1951 he tried out for the then-popular Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and wound up winning first prize.  At age 16 he was signed by King Records and soon had his first album in the stores.  In 1953 he appeared on Steve Allen's weekly show, Tonight, and when it went to a nightly format, Lawrence was a semi-regular.  It was on this show that his personal and professional life changed forever more when he met and married singer Eydie Gorme.

They worked together and separately, performing in supper clubs, Vegas and television.  He tried out Broadway with What Makes Sammy Run? in 1964 and with Gorme in Golden Rainbow, 1968. Over the years Lawrence had hit recordings with such songs as Poinciana, The Banana Boat Song, Pretty Blue Eyes, Portrait of My Love, Go Away Little Girl, I Will Wait for You, More and I Gotta Be Me.  With Gorme, they recorded Through the Years, Sunrise Sunset, True Love, This Could Be the Start of Something Big and We Can Make It Together, among others.  To their immense credit, they enjoyed long singing careers because they changed with the times and musical tastes.

While he appeared in a number of television shows in acting gigs, his movie career was very limited.  His biggest role was surely in the worst film he ever made, 1972s feminist comedy, Stand Up and Be Counted.  He was one of those folks Jacqueline Bisset was attempting to stand up to.  It was pretty lame and would be altogether forgotten were it not for the introduction of Helen Reddy's feminist anthem, I Am Woman.

From 1980 to 2009 Lawrence would drop into some films in a cameo or a very small role.  The Blues Brothers and its sequel, Blues Brothers 2000 are two of those films, along with The Lonely Guy, The Contract, The Yards, Ocean's 11 and Phillips.  For certain this immensely charming and personable man never made it as a movie actor.

Eydie Gorme died in 2013 and I am not aware of anything Lawrence has done publicly since.  

John Raitt not only had one of those booming baritone voices, more than ideal for the stage, but he single-handedly brought sexy masculinity to the arena of male singers.  Brawny and confident, he commanded a stage with a mixture of both undeniable power and tenderness.  I wish I had seen him on Broadway or even in his one starring movie role, but I never did.  I was lucky enough to hear him sing at the Hollywood Bowl and on television.  What a voice. What a presence.

Mostly identified with his work on New York stages, he was a California boy all the way... born there in 1917 and died there in 2006. He began singing and acting while in high school but also was quite the jock, especially in track and field.  He graduated from the University of Redlands where he majored in physical education but dabbled in the school's theater program as well.  He also began performing in legitimate theater around L.A. beginning with turns with the Civic Light Opera.  MGM took notice and signed him to a contract but never knew what to do with him.  They did manage to put him in eight films but he was uncredited in them as the roles were of the blink-and-you-miss-him variety.  He stayed busy performing in various live operettas.

In 1944 he got a big break when he was assigned to play Curly, the cowboy lead, in a touring company of Oklahoma. He dazzled audiences and Rodgers and Hammerstein alike, the latter so much so that they signed him to create the tragic Billy Bigelow in Carousel (1945).  The role was tailored to fit Raitt specifically including the powerful seven-minute Soliloquy.

He continued working on Broadway but his next several musicals didn't fare so well although he personally received good notices.  In 1955 he walked into Pajama Game, creating another sensation, so much so that Warner Brothers signed him to recreate his role in the film version alongside Doris Day.  It did well but unfortunately for Raitt's movie career it came toward the end of movie musicals and he never made another film.  One wonders whether he had been at all considered to repeat his work in the movie versions of Oklahoma and Carousel. We all know both parts went to Gordon MacRae, no slouch himself in the singing department although he did not have Raitt's butch assurance.

He continued working on Broadway and added supper clubs, summer stock and television to his itinerary. A measure of the man's kindness occurred in 1979 when a hurricane cancelled a Massachusetts performance of The Man of La Mancha and he sang The Impossible Dream to three busloads of disappointed theatergoers so they wouldn't leave empty-handed.

He continued singing into his eighties, the pipes as strong as ever. The hair had turned silver but he never lost that intoxicating air of masculinity.  While women particularly always responded to his powerful voice, he acquired a whole new fan base as the father of singer Bonnie Raitt and though their musical tastes were entirely different, they frequently performed together.

Andy Williams certainly gets my nod for being one of the most popular singers of popular songs in my lifetime.  Whether he was a favorite of yours or not, I think one's ear should say this man knew his way around a lyric.  It's all there... a successful brother act, live performances, interpreter of easy-going music, frequent singer of movie theme songs, hit television variety show, host of numerous, home-spun Christmas shows, winner of 18 gold and three platinum albums.  

He was born in some Iowa berg in 1927, the youngest of four brothers... Bob, Dick and Don being the others.  Everyone knew those boys could harmonize like nobody's business.  People said they'd make it one day and they thought so too.  After singing around the house, performing for applauding family, they became part of a children's church choir.  Soon it was radio and then the family moved to L.A.  The brothers sang backup on a Bing Crosby recording and MGM came a-calling.  They appeared in brief specialty numbers in four films and would go on to sing on soundtracks for some films. The brothers teamed up with Kay Thompson and became the highest-paid nightclub act in the world.

After the brothers decided to go their separate ways (they would reunite over the years on the TV shows and specials), the young one would hit it big as a singer.  It would make my fingers bleed to pound out the titles of his many hits but you older folks particularly likely heard him warble Canadian Sunset, Can't Get Used to Losing You, The Shadow of Your Smile, Dear Heart, The Days of Wine and Roses, Lonely Street, Are You Sincere and one would be remiss to not mention or remember The Hawaiian Wedding Song. But there was one song that became Andy Williams' signature piece, and that would be, of course, Moon River.  When it was nominated for best song at the Academy Awards, Williams sang it and owned it forever more. Among even more connections is that it was the theme song on his TV show and later in life he named his Branson, Missouri, dinner theater the Moon River Theater.

It seemed that whenever one heard of Andy Williams outside of his musical box, it involved a woman.  Marriage to French chanteuse, Claudine Longet, brought about a lot of press, which increased by leaps and bounds when she, by now an ex-wife, was accused of murdering her ski instructor boyfriend.  Though a Republican Williams seemed to court Democrat attention and was often the escort of Ethel Kennedy at various affairs.  

Most everything he touched seemed to turn to gold (or platinum) but one misstep was certainly as an actor.  He wanted to be a movie actor but it never took off for him.  A 1964 pairing opposite Sandra Dee in I'd Rather Be Rich, one of her frequently banal romantic comedies, showed he must have studied at the Eddie Fisher School of Acting. It was ol' Andy's one and only authentic movie role.

By the 1970s he was a little too vanilla for some although I doubt that his hordes of fans ever turned their backs on him.  He still recorded but one didn't hear a lot from him for a number of years. In the early 90s he had his Moon River Theater built to the tune of 12 million and he was off and running again.  By the busloads they poured into Branson to hear those familiar strains.  The great crooner died there in 2012 of bladder cancer.

If you missed that posting on the girl singers, you can catch up here.

Next posting:
A brief visit across the pond

No comments:

Post a Comment