Tag Archives: Cole Porter

No Last Names needed: Sweet black & white glimpses of times spent with three glorious gals — and the guy who made sure I got to know them

Woke up today thinking about three glorious songbirds — Ella, Lena, Peggy.

Remarkable, I think, that you already know who I’m talking about. I don’t have to mention their last names. And Gino was devoted to all three of them.

LENA: MGM publicity shot circa 1948

Okay, his last name I will mention. Gino Empry was a great publicist in the true, old-fashioned sense of that job description. At one point he was King of the Hill in Toronto because he had three of the biggest clients in the country: Ed Mirvish’s lovingly-restored Royal Alexandra Theatre; the fabled Royal York   supper club, the Imperial Room; and the star-laden Grandstand shows at the CNE.

At one time or another Gino also represented Ella, Lena and Peggy. As a newspaper columnist I enjoyed the privilege of sometimes interviewing and sometimes just hanging out with all three powerhouse ladies. And I enjoyed that privilege immensely. But the reason I got to enjoy it in the first place was because all three of them knew I had earned Gino’s stamp of approval.

LENA & TONY: all sold out

I met Lena when she and Tony Bennett were sharing the stage of the 3,250-seat O’Keefe Centre, in a weeklong series of concerts that were completely sold out by opening night. I already knew Tony — by that time I think Gino was also his manager — but I was a great fan of Lena’s, and already owned at least a dozen of her albums — okay, maybe two dozen — so I was a bit shy about meeting her. But then I think most men were. Lena was a revelation. She was one of a rare breed, one of those breathtakingly beautiful women who have no idea how truly stunning they are.

GINO & LENA

Backstage in her dressing room she asked me where I’d heard one particular song I’d mentioned (I think the song was Polka Dots And Moonbeams.) “It’s on your Songs by Burke And Van Heusen album,” I said. Her eyes lit up and we were soon gossiping like old friends. We had lots of time, too, because she did the first act in a dazzling evening gown, then changed into a comfy bathrobe while Tony did the second act, and then changed into a second glamorous gown to join Tony onstage for their duet finale. (Is it any wonder the whole week was sold out?)

Lena had an amazing history. She had gone from The Cotton Club in Harlem to MGM, where she appeared in all-star musicals like Words And Music, giving show-stopping performances of such American pop classics as The Lady Is

LENA: no songs for the south

A Tramp and Where Or When, sharing the screen with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and  June Allyson some of the studio’s most celebrated players. Ironically she never got to perform with any of them. The studio shot her as a solo performer because her numbers were inevitably cut for audiences in the south. Her fans expected that MGM would cast her as Julie in the screen version of Show Boat; she’d already performed one of the songs in another all-star musical, Till The Clouds Roll By.  But it was only the ‘50s, and America was not nearly as enlightened as we like to think it was. Only a few years earlier, Judy and Mickey and Betty Grable and Dan Dailey had all donned blackface in some of their biggest production numbers. At MGM, after Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were cast as Magnolia and Gaylord Ravenal, studio screen siren Ava Gardner said she thought her friend Lena Horne was perfect for the role of Julie. But the studio was afraid that casting Lena would kill box office receipts in the south, so it was Ava who ended up playing Julie.

LENNIE & LENA: MGM marriage

Although the Harold Arlen tune became her signature song, Lena’s private life had more than its share of storms. Her first marriage at 19 had left her with two children. When she married again she married a white man, in Paris, in secret – and not just any white man. MGM had several brilliant musical arrangers on staff, including André Previn, who was also a gifted young pianist, and Lennie Hayton, who was as comfortable conducting a symphony orchestra as he was a jazz quintet. It was Lennie who Lena married, and it was Lennie who came up with the innovative musical twists that would keep her at the top of her game. When Rosalind Russell opened on Broadway in Wonderful Town, a young soprano named Edith Adams (yes, the future Edie) got to sing Leonard Bernstein’s lilting ballad, It’s Love — but it was Lennie who slowed it down to a finger-snapping beat for Lena. When Can-Can opened on Broadway, Cole Porter unveiled not one but two strong ballads: I Love Paris and It’s All Right With Me. Lennie took the second ballad and electrified it for Lena. He created her classic Rodgers & Hammerstein rhythm medley, forever changing our concept of that surrey with the fringe on top. And when John Denver wrote his lyrical, folk-y monster hit Sunshine On My Shoulders, it was Lennie who translated it into a jazz waltz. Years after he died, Lena was still adamant about giving Lennie the credit he deserved.

Peggy, like Lena, was a true original, a musician’s musician with the face of an angel and a voice to match.  I loved my visits to her exquisite home in Bel Air. One night I noticed that the peach-coloured guest towels in her powder room were all meticulously rolled, one on top of another, into a perfect pyramid. When I commented on the presentation of her guest towels, she beamed, both pleased and impressed that I had noticed, and I wondered aloud where her housekeeper had learned such artistic dexterity.

PEGGY: towel-folding in Bel-Air

“Would you like her to show you?” she replied, her eyes twinkling mischievously.  She led me back to the powder room and demonstrated how Miss Lee, not Miss Lee’s housekeeper, had personally acquired the art of towel-rolling during her visits to Japan.

Peggy was about to do a Broadway show, Peg, a musical autobiography of her life. An accomplished composer, she was still writing the score for the show, and I think it was that same night she asked me if I would like to hear a few of the songs she had written so far.

“I’d love to!” I said. “I didn’t know you had already recorded them,” I added, secretly hoping she might give me a copy.

GINO & PEGGY

“Oh, I haven’t,” she said with a shrug. “Not yet.”

Blissfully oblivious to the puzzled look on my face, she turned on a nearby tape recorder. As the sweet sound of piano and strings filled the room, she picked up a portable microphone, and sang three or four songs she had written for the show to an enthralled audience of one:  Me. Lucky, lucky me.

Gino admired Lena, and he loved Peggy, but he adored Ella. And Ella loved the way Gino treated her, the way he consulted her, the way he looked out for her. To Ella, Gino was Toronto. She understood that he was hired by the Royal York to make sure her Imperial Room gigs were well documented in the media, but they became fast friends, and in time she came to regard him as both her personal publicist and, at times, her personal property.

ELLA: the one, the only

One of my favourite Gino Empry stories occurred long after he and Ella had become bosom buddies. Ella’s agent accepted a lucrative booking at a major Toronto concert hall, so Ella flew in from Beverly Hills, where she lived, and after arriving at Pearson she was greeted by the concert hall publicist, who presented her with a beautiful bouquet of roses.

“Thank you!” she said, accepting the flowers with a shy smile. She looked around. “Where’s Gino?”

The concert hall publicist explained that Gino Empry did not represent the concert hall, and thus was not involved in this particular engagement.

“I see,” said Ella, who had stopped smiling. She glanced at her dainty diamond wristwatch. “So when is he coming?”

Gino was in his office, meeting with a prospective client, when he got a call from the concert hall publicist. “I’m at the airport with Miss Fitzgerald,” he said, panic rising in his voice. “She refuses to budge until you get here.”

GINO & ELLA

Gino had a heavy foot on a gas pedal at the best of times, so it didn’t take him very long to get to the airport. He raced towards the Arrivals, turned a corner, and there sat Ella, impatiently tapping one foot.

“Gino, do you know how long I’ve been waiting here?” she said, fuming.

“I’m so sorry, Ella,” he began. “I just – “

“This is very unprofessional!” snapped Ella, interrupting him.

“It was my sister,” he lied. “I had to rush home, because of my sister.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She fainted,” he said, further embellishing the lie. “But she’s all right now.”

GINO EMPRY: the one, the only

Ella slowly nodded her head. “Well, I’m glad she’s all right.” She adjusted her glasses. “You should have phoned, to say you were going to be late,” she added, scolding him gently.

“I’m so sorry, Ella,” said Gino sheepishly.

She patted him on the shoulder. “Never mind,” she said. “You’re a good brother.”

He stayed by her side the rest of the day and night, and waved her goodbye as she boarded her Air Canada flight back to Los Angeles. And then he went back to his office to work.

Ella, Peggy, Lena. Sweet memories of another time, another place.

Thank you, Gino.

See? I haven’t forgotten.

*     *     *

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Get out your calendars and make a date (or six)

FRESH-AIR FILM FESTIVAL: Yonge-Dundas Square’s weekly line-up this summer features a Tuesday night outdoor film series of heist movies, Safecracker Cinema,

OCEAN'S 11: The original

presented by Cineplex Entertainment.  And yes, we’re talking about Free outdoor heist film screenings. “At this price, it’s a steal!” The new series starts June 30, and highlights include special back-to-back screenings of both the original and re-make versions of Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Italian Job. Other titles include Grand Slam (1967, The Hot Rock (1972), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Out of Sight (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002) and Inside Man (2006) … and good news for Toronto filmfest fans: TiFF types have confirmed that the upcoming 35th (!!!) festival will once again feature a full day of public screenings on the final Sunday September 19.

CALENDAR JOTTINGS: In aid of using music to help street kids change their tune, John McDermott, Jean Stilwell, the Paul Hoffert Jazz Trio and Moshe Hammer and his Hammer Band are set to headline the May 19 fundraiser From Violence To Violins

STILLWELL: pro-Violins

at Integral House … DanceWorks presents the world premiere of Isolated Incidents, a full-length solo work choreographed and performed by Nova Bhattacharya, tomorrow through Saturday at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre. Also coming to the Enwave: Gregory Hoskins performing covers of Paul Simon, Nick Cave, Gordon Lightfoot, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Jane Siberry, Cole Porter, Tom Waits, Radiohead and Leonard Cohen, re-imagined for the Art of Time Ensemble on May 25 & 26 …  with ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano disrupting airline schedules in Europe once again, the North American premiere of The Volcano that Stopped the World couldn’t  be much  more timely. The special report airs on CBC”s Passionate Eye on this coming Sunday .., Cuban jazz impresarios the Hilario Duran Trio will kick off Esprit Orchestra‘s May 27 Bene Fête (love it!) at the Gardiner Museumand dance Immersion celebrates its 16th anniversary with a Showcase Presentation of up-and-coming dancers of African descent May 27- 29 at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre.

FALLON: hosting

FUTURE SHOCKS: My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Sex and the City — with a masala twist!” Okay, not your average tag line.  Fenulla Jiwani’s crowd-pleasing comedy 30 Dates returns to T.O. for a limited run June 2-12 at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs … no host announced so far, but expect a lot of star power on stage for the 2010 Tony Awards on June 13 at Radio City Music Hall … it’s official — Sting is set to serenade Torontonians July 23 at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre … the 11th annual Scotiabank BuskerFest, North America’s largest busker festival and one of Ontario’s Top 100 Festivals, is set to fill our city with street performers August 26-29 …  Jimmy Fallon hosts the 2010 Emmy Awards on Sunday Aug. 29 … and talk about advance magazine deadlines:  The Walrus publisher Shelley Ambrose and editor John Macfarlane confirm that the award-garnering monthly’s 3rd annual Walrus Foundation Gala is now set for January 19, 2011.

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OMG it’s Fabian!! … plus Katie & the Kennedys, Hoffert’s next gig, Spielberg’s next flick and Harrington’s nuptials

SHARPS ‘N’ FLATS: Veteran crowd-pleasers Fabian and Bobby Vee headline the Original Stars From American Bandstand show at Fallsview Casino July 1&2 … Irish

FABIAN: taking the Falls

sensations Celtic Women are set to make their only area appearance July 16 at Casino Rama. Apparenty they couldn’t find a big enough venue in T.O. …  gardenia-voiced thrush Judy Marshak is set to headline the Friday night Jazz Vocalist Series at The Old Mill this week with Bruce Harvey on piano and George Kozub on bass. M’lady’s repertoire will include some favourite standards by Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Dave Frishberg, Blossom Dearie and Cole Porter. For more info, just click here … and magical media music man Paul Hoffert was in Singapore last month, teaching a course on how to compose music for videogames, websites, iPads, & such, using his own textbook, Music For New Media. When he’s not on stage celebrating the current revival of his superBand Lighthouse

HARRINGTON: engagement(s)

he’s on stage playing jazz, either as part of the Paul Hoffert Trio or the Jim Gelcer Trio, and admits he’s already having far too much fun. Next gig for Hoffert and his trio is a stint this weekend, also at the Old Mill. Hmmmm ….

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS DEPT. I: What do Girl Guides Of Canada and the Art Gallery Of Ontario have in common?  Next week’s official launch of Canadian Girls Say, the photography exhibition opening Wednesday in Walker Court.

BALLET HIGH: National Ballet of Canada stars Guillaume Côté and Zdenek Konvalina will dance their new creative collaboration Impermanence when it premieres later this month at the 73rd annual Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence … ballet icon Rex Harrington and fiancé Robert Hope, who have been together for six years, got officially engaged in March – in France, no less — and will wed next summer. Meanwhile, much to the delight of his fans, Harrington will return to the stage in the

KINNEAR: JFK?

role of Prince Gremin in the newly designed Onegin, June 19 – 25 at the Four Seasons Centre … and speaking of Onegin, the National Ballet website currently features two dazzling behind-the-scenes videos of the remaking, restoring and refurbishing of Santo Loquasto’s spectacular designs for this extravagant Russian melodrama. To see them, just click here.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS DEPT. II: What do Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes have in common? The Kennedy dynasty, apparently. Kinnear will play the USA’s most admired commander in chief, with Holmes as the future Jackie O., in a big-budget mini-series shooting here in June. Barry Pepper is set to play Robert Kennedy, Kenneth Welsh will play J. Edgar Hoover and Tom Wilkinson will play poppa Joe Kennedy Sr.  Who will play Marilyn? Not Lindsay Lohan — she’s already committed to bringing Linda Lovelace‘s sad story to the screen. But wouldn’t she be terrific in the role? (I’m just sayin’ … )

FLICKERS: Director David Frankel, now shooting the screen version of The Big Year, is juggling a wonderfully eclectic cast including Anthony Anderson, Jack Black, Brian Dennehy, Anjelica Huston, Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest, Owen Wilson and JoBeth Williams … this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival was the most successful TJFF ever. Which is why they’ve already set the dates for next year’s movie marathon: May 7-15, 2011. Now that’s planning ahead  … and Steven Spielberg will direct the film version of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, the saga of a friendship between a boy and a horse whose fates continue to intertwine over the course of World War I. The stage version is currently a major crowd-pleaser at the National Theatre in London.

TOMORROW:

Peter Appleyard, Natalie Cole, Sean Cullen,

Hugh Hefner & Doris Day (yes, Doris Day!)


Cynthia goes back to school, Chris makes Captain, and all aboard an elegant fundraiser for Stratford aficionados

NO BIZ LIKE SHOW BIZ: Add Chris Evans the growing list of actors eager to play comic book heroes. Evans is now set to play Captain America Avatar hero Sam Worthington,

DALE: master class-y

about to open in the epic CGI remake of Clash Of The Titans, will follow up with a thriller called The Fields … perhaps inspired by their colleague Al Pacino’s upcoming turn as suicide doctor Jack Kervorkian, Kevin Kline and Dustin Hoffman have both committed to upcoming HBO dramas … and Cynthia Dale, who guest stars as a drama teacher in upcoming episodes of Baxter, will go back to school next month to give the first Master Class to the Film, Musical Theatre and Drama students at the Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA.), The school’s new Master Class program is part of a brand new film major program funded by Christina Jennings’ Shaftesbury Films.

WILDER: new book

NO PEOPLE LIKE SHOW PEOPLE: What becomes a legend most? A permanent gig in Vegas, apparently.  Barry Manilow’s new 90-minute show, staged by director Jeffrey Hornaday, has opened to rave reviews at the Paris hotel, where Manilow will play selected weekend engagements for the next two years. Hey, blame Céline, she started it. Next spring she’s set to return to the Colosseum — the massive theatre she built at Caesars Palace — for a new three-year (!!!) stint … Gene Wilder and his wife Karen are set to launch their new book What is This Thing Called Love? next week. And ex-Regis and current Today Show sparkler Kathie Lee Gifford has published a book for children, Party Animals (insert your own SNL joke here) …  coming soon to an HMV near you: the new Original Broadway Cast version of A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury … and says Red Green (aka erudite funnyman Steve Smith🙂 “Get this, my wife just mentioned, and I quote, ‘All you remember from any conversation is what YOU said.’ At least I think that’s what she said.”

Is it any wonder that Red is the new Twitter toast of Facebook?

ANOTHER OPENING, ANOTHER SHOW: Looking for a reason to don your black tie finery on a Saturday afternoon in June? Nah, me neither. But here’s one Gala fund-raiser that might change your mind. It’s the Stratford Express, and it sounds like a great party to me.

KISS ME, KATE: Broadway brawlers

It starts at 3 pm on Saturday June 5 with a champagne reception at Union Station. At 4 pm your Private Train departs for Stratford, with cocktails and a gourmet served on board. At 7 pm, following a Welcome reception at the Festival Theatre, the curtain rises on an exclusive performance of Kiss Me, Kate, the big, bawdy Cole Porter musical about battling Broadway stars, with the killer score to match (Too Darn Hot, Always True To You In My Fashion, Brush Up Your Shakespeare, So In Love, etc. etc.) After the curtain calls you are magically transported, once again, to the Stratford Express for your return trip home, complete with cocktails, refreshments and entertainment. And yes, you can still order tickets! For more info, call Mary-Ann Reid at 1.800.561.1223, ext. 2425, or email her at mreid@stratfordshakespearefestival.com. And good luck!
TOMORROW:

All about Alice.
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Lily conquers Vegas, Bette plans a Showgirl exit, and meet the new Susan Boyle (he’s a guy!)

LOVIN’ LAS VEGAS: Don’t know why I thought that Lily Tomlin and Sin City were not a natural fit. Turns out they are. La Tomlin premiered her new

TOMLIN & WAGNER: Viva Las Vegas

one-woman show, Not Playing With A Full Deck, at the MGM Grand, and reportedly loves Las Vegas! Lily’s partner and personal muse, the unabashedly brilliant humourist Jane Wagner, is the mighty pen behind her new show as well as such previous Tomlin megahits as The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe and Appearing Nitely. Lily’s new show is a mix of Greatest Hits – the characters her fans still can’t get enough of, like Ernestine and Edith Ann – and new characters, and

SHORT: Damages control

new technology. Tomlin’s new show ‘try-out’ played in MGM’s Hollywood Theater, which seats about 2,000 people at each performance. And when Tomlin isn’t hanging out with her Big Business co-star and Caesars Palace headliner Bette Midler (The Showgirl Must Go On) or trying to coax Jane (“it’s come down to begging, really,”) into writing a new Broadway show for her, she’s commuting to New York to shoot her scenes in the new season of Damages with Glenn Close. In it she plays the matriarch of a powerful family determined to destroy shady legal eagle Close. Assisting Lily in this mission are Martin Short as her high-powered attorney and Campbell Scott as her son. And yes, she confesses, she and Marty did misbehave one day on the set, when

MIDLER: The show must go ... off

she read her lines as Ernestine and he did his as Ed Grimley. “But never when the cameras are rolling!”

THE SHOWGIRL MUST GO OFF: P.S. for Vegas-bound Bette Midler fans: Your heroine ends her two-year residency at The Colloseum – aka The House That Céline Built – on January 31. Says Bette: “These legs have had such a great run in the desert, it may be time to haul them to places with more humidity and fewer slot machines.”

GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS: Yes, it’s true, the latest YouTube sensation is a recent audition for Simon Cowell’s British talent show The X Factor. The singer is a 40-year-old cabinet-maker named Daryl Markham. Markham has his own website now, and is now a household

MARKHAM: YouTube sensation

name for millions of people all over the world. But can he sing? You be the judge. To see his now-historic audition, just click here.

NO BIZ LKE SHOW BIZ: Leave it to Reg Hartt to find a copy of the sumptuous MGM musical Kiss Me Kate, with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and young hoofers Bob Fosse & Tommy Rall competing for Ann Miller’s machine-gun taps., in — wait for it — 3D, its screen original format. Cineaste extraordinare Hartt unspools the classic Cole Porter musical this Sunday and next at 5 pm at his Cineforum HQ at Bathurst & College. Adds Reg: “Bring your own popcorn and we will zap it for you.”

WILLIAMS: ReelWorld decade

Hmmmm, wonder if Stratford’s Kiss Me Kate star Juan Chiorian, now on stage at the Factory Theatre in The Madonna Painter, has ever seen this version? … fan faves Colin Mochrie & Deb McGrath guest with Ron James tonight at 8 pm on CBC Television …  the Kate Rogers Band performs live tomorrow morning on CBC Radio One’s GO! Show. “Tickets are free and everyone is welcome!” sez Ms Rogers … speaking of tickets, you can still snag some for this weekend’s performances of the National Ballet’s spectacular Sleeping Beauty revival before it closes Sunday .. and can you believe that Tonya Lee Williams’ ReelWorld Film Festival, the little movie marathon that grew, celebrates its 10th anniversary next spring? Ms Williams, of course, is currently stationed in Washington, D.C. — on screen, at least — in The Border. And BTW, the ReelWorld call for submissions has already started. So if you have a feature, documentary, short, music video or animation from the Aboriginal, Asian, Black, Latino, Middle Eastern, South Asian or other multi-racial community, click here and fill out the submissions form.

Happy weekend!

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http://reelworld.ca/