Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Linda Ronstadt

A friend and I were talking about Linda Ronstadt and how underrated we think she is.  Her voice is golden and bold, a very nice combo.  In the next few days I get the 92Y catalog and there it is on September 18th, a conversation with Linda.  I buy ticket the next day.  Two days later, the news comes that she has Parkinsons and can't sing anymore.  It's a total tragedy for our ears, but worse for her being.  As of my post, there are still tickets available. 

I'm looking forward to what she has to say and I'm sure it's a lot. Her autobiography Simple Dreams comes out in September.  The New Yorker has a nice piece on the power of Linda. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

C'mon She's Happy

Happy – This is something Shirley Jones seems to have remained for her entire life, even while married to the scoundrel (I use that word based on her writings), Jack Cassidy.

Shirley Jones: A Memoir is another autobiography that starts off promising.  Tales of her childhood in Pennsylvania are charming. Her grandfather founded The Jones Brewery Co that produced Stoney’s Beer.  Legend has it the name came from a dog that Shirley’s grandfather loved. When the dog died, he took the nickname Stoney.  She was a troublemaker, lover of the outdoors and animals.  She thought she would be a veterinarian. She took singing lessons.  She was Miss Pittsburgh in 1952 and received a two years scholarship to drama school.  She never made it to college. 

On a trip to New York with her parents, she called an old friend who told her about a Rodgers and Hammerstein casting director holding an open audition at the St James Theatre that same day.   With no Broadway experience, she auditioned.  That casting director, John Fearnley was so impressed that he had Richard Rodgers come to hear her.  “I cringe with embarrassment at how quickly and easily everything unfolded for me.  It was as if a magician had waved his wand and effortlessly raised the curtain on my career.”  In that first audition Rodgers said to her “Miss Jones, we would like to make you an offer.”  It was for a spot in the chorus of South Pacific.  A year later she’s Laurey Williams in the film version of Oklahoma.

She becomes a Hollywood darling, who enjoyed playing against typecast, taking on a sultry role when offered.  While on a European tour of Oklahoma, she meets her Waterloo (her words), Jack Cassidy.  She’s warned about his philandering, but can’t resist his charm. He’s still married to Evelyn Ward (David Cassidy’s mother), but that ends and Shirley and Jack tie the knot. She achieves fame and her story starts to reveal itself in print, like way too many others.  If it's not drugs (and in her case it isn't), it's trivial gossip.  She offers a little too much information: sex, more sex and the size of her husband and stepson’s anatomy.  David’s brothers nicknamed him donkey.  Did we need to know that? Why am I repeating it? Unfortunately, this will remain in my brain until I die. 

Shirley and David
The touching and revealing parts of the book surprisingly belong to her relationship with David Cassidy.  When she first married Jack, she stayed out of his relationship (or lack of) with his son.  David slowly warmed to her and she fondly refers to him as her son.  Shirley loved working with him on the Partridge Family.  She took the role after turning down the part of Carol on the Brady Bunch. She wanted to do more than pull a roast out of the oven.  Shirley Partridge was a working mom. 

This book would have been a gem if she delved into her craft and how she developed it with virtually no acting experience. She was the only person under personal contract with Rodgers and Hammerstein.  When she talks about life on the set of the Partridge Family, it’s interesting.  I got bored very quickly with stories of Jack’s infidelity.  (She finally leaves Jack, when she thinks he is a danger to their sons.)  I’m sure publishers are keen on getting the gossip.  I’m not sure if it still sells books to tell all and then some.  One thing that is almost absent from this book is drug/alcohol abuse.  Jack was an alcoholic and that’s basically what cause his death, but she wasn’t and it was refreshing not to be belabored with those tales.  

At 79, Shirley still continuously works. I loved her on Drew Carey’s show.  She looks fantastic and has a successful marriage to the irrepressible comedian Marty Ingles.  Staying sane in Hollywood is not easy.  C’mon get happy:  Shirley’s there. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Ava Gardner Conversations

Bastards are always the best survivors. -On why Frank Sinatra would outlive her. 

I could never take Surrealism seriously after that.  -Said after her crazy meeting with Salvador Dali in Spain. 

Tough, beautiful, self-depreciating, loving a good joke and manipulator, this is how I see Ava Gardner after reading Ava Gardner:  The Secret Conversations. 

What was suppose to be her tell all book, turned into a post mortem collection of conversations for both Ava Gardner and the author Peter Evans.  Rumor has it that she canned the idea of this book after telling Frank Sinatra about it.  He supposedly asked her what the publisher was paying her for the book.  He sent her a check for that amount not put it out. In 1990 she released Ava:  My Story without the participation of Peter Evans. 
 The kernel of the book began in January 1988 when Ava approached Evans about ghost writing her memoirs.  Subsequently, they had many conversations; about half of them took place in the wee hours of the morning.  Ava died two years after their initial conversation took place.  In 2009, Evans decided to put his research into a book.  I was not aware that the author had died of a heart attack before finishing The Secret Conversations. 
Ava married Mickey Rooney when she was 19.

This book can easily be skimmed. There is repetition, especially when it comes to Ava pondering whether to actually release this book or not.  She gives you a glimpse into Hollywood of the 1940’s and 1950’s (It was either a blast or debauchery depending on how you look at it) and I do mean a glimpse.  If you are interested in hearing about her films, try another source.  I would have loved to hear the story behind working with her idol Clark Gable on Mogambo. 

The most poignant insight into Ava’s last years comes from the meeting at her place in London with the head of Simon & Schuster, who wishes to publish her book.  Ava was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. She prided herself on swimming and playing tennis in her 60’s.  She probably thought these activities would counter her chain smoking and drinking.  She suffers a stroke that leaves half her face paralyzed and a limp left arm. 

Here comes her modified Sunset Blvd moment.  When Evans sets up the meeting she immediately tells him "Call Jack Cardiff.  Tell him I desperately need him."  Jack is one of the top cinematographers.  He rearranges the lamps in Ava’s drawing room to make her look her best. Jack tells Peter, "It’s the best I can do discreetly.  Remember, it’s always the cameraman, never the star.  Tell her she looks good even if she doesn’t believe you.  It’s a tribute you must always pay to great beauties when they grow old."

People really had an affectionate and realistic take on Ava. They played her game, which she played truthfully and no one was fooling the other.