Thursday, July 31, 2008


Bad hair day or hat head? Hat head or bad hair day? I decided on hat head with the tyro wearing of a gift from my mother. A sun hat of neutral shade with a wide visor brim and a discreet bow at the back. Perhaps more suitable for gardening or a day at the seaside than a doctor's appointment, but I'm not spoiled for choice in the chapeau line.

I took a moment before rushing for transit to ascertain the opinion of my teenage daughter, the amazing Janet. She raised an eyebrow (how does she do that?) and responded, "I don't think Jeeves would approve".

Well, I mean to say, since when is Jeeves the last word on ladies hats? The Nolan blood was up and I sallied forth among the public in the benighted bonnet, returning to hearth and home a scant two hours later sans incident.

Maybe the amazing Janet and I will do a little hat shopping next week. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Maria - Solved!


Congratulations to Elicia MacKenzie, the last "Maria" standing in CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?. During Sunday's voting period it dawned on me that the girl from B.C. really had a chance against the deservedly popular Janna Polzin, when I could only place one phone vote due to the constant busy signals.

This is from week one, where I thought to myself: I don't know if she's a "Maria", but if she makes an album, I'm buying it!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jo Stafford

1917 - 2008

Our Jo is gone. Jo Stafford, the supreme vocalist with perfect pitch, who could tear your heart out with a ballad or have you holding your sides in mirth recently passed at the age of 90.

Some people have music in their souls. Jo's earliest plans were for the opera, but the Great Depression sidetracked many dreams. She sang first with her sisters and then with The Pied Pipers. Starting a solo career she would sell over 25 million records and make the Billboard Charts 83 times between 1944 and 1957 with songs such as Early Autumn, Long Ago and Far Away, Shrimp Boats, Make Love to Me, You Belong to Me, plus popular duets with Gordon MacRae and Frankie Laine.

Here is a performance I adore. The song, Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Gentleman is a Dope.

One of the great ironies of the world of entertainment is that the only Grammy won by Jo is for comedy album. Jonathan & Darlene Edwards, an excrutiatingly funny parody of a really bad lounge act was created by Jo and husband Paul Weston as a party turn, but evolved into albums that still elicit the original reaction.

Here's Jo as another comic alter-ego, Cinderella G. Stump, who thinks she can better Bing Crosby and Perry Como on Arthur Freed & Herb Nacio Brown's Temptation, or is that Tim-Tay-Shun?

This is just one of the lovely wartime ballads that gave her the nickname G.I. Jo, Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's I'll Walk Alone.

Jo and her second husband, Paul Weston, the pianist/arranger/composer/producer had more than a successful career together, their marriage in 1952 lasted until his death in 1996 and their two children, Tim and Amy, are also musicians.

Her presence will be missed. Jo Stafford's legacy lives on.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Before "the Marias": Part III

Canada's First Lady of Song

Gisele Marie-Louise Marguerithe LaFleche was born in Winnipeg on January 10, 1927. Her life was ended in a warmer clime - California on September 5, 2003 in a struggle with colon cancer. I'm sure she would want me to remind you all to add a colonoscopy to your medical examinations.

Gisele MacKenzie gave the world music and humour, and Canadians pride in this homegrown success story. "MacKenzie" was her father's middle name and she claimed it so as not to be confused with a striptease artist. She studied voice and violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music and in 1946 had her own radio show on CBC, Meet Gisele. That is also the name of one of two National Film Board Shorts, the other being Songs by Gisele. These often pop up on television without warning and are great fun displaying her versatility with the songs Piper of Dundee, J'ailaisse mon coeur, A Trout No Doubt, Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair and Red Rosy Bush.

1950 saw Gisele move to the states where she appeared with fellow Canuck Percy Faith on radio, and with Bob Crosby on television. She also started a long association with Jack Benny. It was Jack who recommended her for a spot on the phenomenally successful Your Hit Parade (24 years combined on radio and television). Another Canadian vocalist, Ontario born Dorothy Collins was a mainstay on the program as well. Gisele also had her own series which ran for a season on NBC. On stage, she toured in such shows as Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, The King and I, Gypsy, Mame and Hello, Dolly. Gisele left us a lot of memories through recordings, night clubs, television game shows, talk shows and variety shows.

Here is a fan tribute found on YouTube. The vocal is a dandy version of At Sundown, and the visuals give you a nice overview of Gisele's career.

Everybody's favourite:

Now, here you might imagine Caftan Woman going into a rant about where all the good singers have gone...well, they haven't gone anywhere, they're just not on top 40 radio or blared in blue jean boutiques. For instance, give a listen to Gigi MacKenzie. If her grandfather's middle name was good enough for her mother...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Before "the Marias": Part II


"Winnipeg's Sweetheart", Edna Mae Durbin, was born December 4, 1921. Since 1950, the widowed (1999) Mrs. Charles David has lived in retirement in Paris. She raised her family and lived life on her own terms. She left Hollywood in 1949 after a 13 year career because: "I couldn't go on being Little Miss Fix-it breaking into song forever". For Deanna Durbin's fans, that is what she will always be - the teenager with the amazing voice and the young woman who grew into a talented comedic actress. Deanna never seemed to go through that awkward stage. Her talent and self-possession grew and was universally admired.

MGM was her first studio, however her contract lapsed and she was snapped by Universal. That studio was facing difficult economic times, but all that was about to change when Deanna Durbin appeared in "Three Smart Girls" (1936). The public was enthralled and this was reflected at the box office.

Over the course of her career, Deanna appeared in 14 movies, bringing classical music to the masses and presenting that rare ability among sopranos with the ability to take a standard and do it justice. Entertaining movies with wonderful co-stars like Adolph Menjou, Charles Laughton, Dan Duryea, Gene Kelly, Pat O'Brien, Robert Cummings, Franchot Tone - Leopold Stowkowski. I would like to recommend a few titles: One Hundred Men and a Girl, It Started With Eve, His Butler's Sister, Christmas Holiday, Lady on a Train, Up in Central Park.

Deanna was a favourite of Winston Churchill and Ann Franks. She inspired Dame Joan Sutherland and Lily Pons. Angela Lansbury has said she used to sing around the house trying to be Deanna Durbin. The Metropolitan Opera wanted her for their boards. Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted her for "Oklahoma!". Alan Jay Lerner personally played her the songs for "My Fair Lady" in an effort to dissuade her from retirement. Obviously, she is a lady who means what she says.

The release of Deanna's Universal pictures on DVD is creating new fans, as devoted as her followers in the 30s and 40s. Talent will tell.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Before "the Marias": Part I

CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? is putting the spotlight on homegrown talent. One young lady will win a dream role, but all are receiving welcome exposure to a country-wide audience.

Here in Caftan Woman's corner of the blogosphere I'm going to turn my spotlight on Canadian talent who made their mark in the show business of yesteryear when success for many meant travelling south of the 49th parallel. This is not merely a nostalgic exercise as these talents are garnering 21st century fans discerning enough to exercise their entertainment options.


Bobby Breen was born November 4, 1927 in Toronto, the son of William Breen, manager of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in the 1930s. Bobby was a naturally talented kid - an outstanding boy soprano who sang in English, French, Italian and Spanish. He received at home training and was managed by his elder sister, Sally, also a singer. From the age of 7 he was appearing on stage and in 1936 made a name for himself on Eddie Cantor's radio program. He was signed by RKO studios that year. Along with an extraordinarily fine voice, young Bobby possessed an assured and pleasant screen personality. No "dead end kid", but no sentimental sap either, though many of his films could be accused of leaning toward the schmaltzy side.

Until recently I had only heard Bobby on record/radio, but thanks to the miracle of DVDs and Turner Classic Movies I've been able to see and enjoy his entertaining features.

Let's Sing Again (1936), co-starred Henry Armetta
Rainbow on the River (1937), co-starred May Robson and Charles Butterworth
Make a Wish (1937), co-starred Basil Rathbone, Donald Meek and received an Oscar nomination for Best Score for Hugo Riesenfeld
Hawaii Calls (1936), co-starred Ned Sparks
Breaking the Ice (1938), co-starred Charle Ruggles and Victor Young was nominated for the Best Score Oscar
Fisherman's Wharf (1939), co-starred Leo Carrillo and Lee Patrick
Way Down South (1939), co-starred Clarence Muse and Alan Mowbray and, once again, Victor Young was up for the Best Score Oscar
Escape to Paradise (1939), co-starred Kent Taylor with "paradise" being the South American setting
Johnny Doughboy (1942), was a Jane Withers movie that featured child actors at that awkward age who had outgrown their usefulness to the studios including Breen, "Alfalfa" Switzer and Baby Sandy.

This link is to a performance from 1939s Way Down South. Bobby solos with the legendary Hall Johnson Choir. On the platform with 12-year-old Bobby is Clarence Muse - actor, writer, producer, director, compose and lawyer, who co-write this film with Langston Hughes.

When Bobby's film career faded, he attended UCLA then continued to tour and record as a vocalist. He was also guest pianist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra and in his later years ran a talent agency. The latest information I can find is that the 80 year old Breen and his wife, Audrey, are enjoying retirement in Florida and those who have met him speak of a "cool guy" and a "nice gentleman".

How about a spot on Canada's Walk of Fame for Bobby Breen? Perhaps a spot could be found by the Royal Alex where his dad worked in administration from 1910 - 1939.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What are you watching?

He: What are you watching?
Me: It's called Greatest American Dog. I'm not really watching it. I thought Password was on.
He: What's it all about?
Me: It's some sort of competition with these people and their dogs. They give them different challenges and the last dog...
He: Gets to be Maria!

I've been watching CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Of course I have. I'm a music theatre gal from way back. If need be, a look at my record collection or YouTube searches would verify the same. I met my husband doing community theatre. My wedding featured music by Irving Berlin and Lerner & Loewe. My children listened to Jerome Kern while in the womb. When such things were affordable, I never missed a show. I have Richard Kiley's autograph!

I love watching talented musical theatre performers and seeing fresh new faces. If a television talent show seems like an odd way to cast the lead in Mirvish's upcoming production of The Sound of Music - well, odder things have happened. Like any audition process it has had its highs and lows.

Pleasures: The fast pace of the program. The imagination in putting it together and talent of the contestants.

Disappointments: Allie was gone too quickly. Donna, whose performances stayed with me from show to show (therefore, the one I would most want to see) is gone.

Oddball song choices/missed opportunity: A Canadiana night with no Gordon Lightfoot? Ah, how cheerful my life would be if I were never to hear Black Velvet again. I had successfully erased Bang, Bang from my memory bank. (Sugar Town was about to join it, but I suppose that's just a dream now.) The prevalence of pop tunes distresses me. There are plenty of venues for that sort of thing on television. If the intent was to appeal to a broader audience, I think perhaps the title of the program is enough to keep them tuned out.

The radio in the hospital lab advertised the closing of "Mamma Mia" at the Royal Alexandra. The nurse turned to me and said: "I wanted to see "Mamma Mia", but my husband hates that Andrew Lloyd Webber".

Here is a show about putting on a show. What a wonderful opportunity to celebrate musical theatre. You can't tell me that from Victor Herbert to Stephen Sondheim there aren't enough wonderful songs to showcase and challenge the contestants. If a geezer like me can enjoy Defying Gravity then some youngster would certainly be impressed with The Man I Love. Why, the music of Richard Rodgers alone would give you so many "colours" you'd have to come up with new names for them.

I'll be tuning in next week with hope in my heart. Hoping that Marissa keeps sparkling. Hoping to hear something pretty from Janna. Hoping to catch Jayme fever. Hoping against hope that the judges don't get a sudden nostalgic yen for the Leo Sayer Songbook.

Will I be voting? Ah, that's The 64,000 Question.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring

My boy, Gavin, loves the thunder-rain. Anticipating last evening's downpour, he wandered the front yard singing his favourite rain song - Will the Sun Ever Shine Again from Disney's Home on the Range. The rain started, he wandered and sang. The rain continued, he wandered and sang. The wind blew, the rain pounded, he came on the stoop and sang. He started to go back down the stoop and the water smashed him. He looked at it, betrayed, shut the door and watched the storm from the couch.

Hi Aunt Tracey. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Friday, July 4, 2008

George M. Cohan Said It

1905 was quite a year for 27 year old George M. Cohan. It was the year of his third successive Broadway hit. George Washington Jr. followed in the wake of Little Johnny Jones and 45 Minutes from Broadway.

George Washington Jr. came about a little differently than George's other shows. It was his habit to write the book and then compose the songs. In the case of this show, it was the song that came first - a song. A song that was inspired when the young man rode in the funeral procession for a Civil War veteran. George was riding with a veteran who told the young man of his experiences at Gettysburg and of the ideals for which he and his comrades fought. "And it was all for this," the old soldier said, stroking the folded, tattered flag in his lap. "She's a grand old rag."

Inspired, George wrote:

You're a grand old rag, you're a high-flying flag,

And forever, in peace, may you wave;

You're the emblem of the land I love,

The home of the free and the brave.

Ev'ry heart beats true, under Red, White and Blue;

Where there's never a boast or brag;

But, should auld acquaintance be forgot,

Keep your eye on the grand old rag.

The song was an immediate sensation in the show, but raised a controversy in the newspapers as critics objected to Cohan's relegating the flag to the dustbin. Are critics deliberately obtuse? George M. Cohan, the most patriotic of performers? Well, George lost a bit of the poignant drama of his song by bowing to controversy and changing "rag" to "flag", but his exuberant song lives on.

Happy Independence Day to all you Sons of Yankee Doodles!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Canada Day

Happy Canada Day, one and all. It's a day for relaxing, reflecting and enjoying fireworks. It may also be a day for reading. It's never too early to give children an interest in their country's history and there are many, many books to help.

Rebecca L. Grambe's "Digging Canadian History" is for the 3-6 year old age group, and might educate a few of the adults sharing it.

Scholastic Canada publishes the "Dear Canada" series for older children. Each book is written as a diary by a fictional girl living through historical times from the expulsion of the Acadians to WWI.

Vicki Cameron's "Shillings" features Colonel By's children involved in a mystery during the building of the Rideau Canal. Jean Rae Baxter's "The Way Lies North" concerns a family of Loyalists in the 1700s.

Why not consider starting a new Canada Day tradition and share history with the youngsters in your life?


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...