Music

November 10, 1957 – Elvis at the Honolulu Stadium

Elvis Presley arrives in Honolulu on November 9th, aboard the USS Matsonia. Photo: Elvis Australia website

Elvis Presley arrives in Honolulu on November 9th, aboard the USS Matsonia. Photo: Elvis Australia website

On November 10, 1957, Elvis Presley gave two concerts at the Honolulu Stadium in the American Territory of Hawaii.  Arriving by the cruise ship USS Matsonia for his first visit to the tropical paradise, Elvis promptly fell in love with the beautiful setting and friendly people.  Hawaii became his favorite vacation destination, the setting for three of his films (Blue Hawaii, Girls! Girls! Girls!, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style), and his chosen venue for several large concerts, including a March 25, 1961 fundraiser to help build the USS Arizona memorial.

On this visit, Elvis planned three concerts, the two at Honolulu Stadium, and another the following day at the U.S. Army’s Schofield Barracks.  Elvis-o-philes will want to know that The King stayed at Henry J. Kaiser’s newly opened Hawaiian Village Hotel, conceived on a “village plan”, where “various sections of the development were designed in specific types of motifs indicative of the culture of the hotel’s surroundings”.  If Room 14A still exists, it may be one of the many pilgrimage sites for enduring generations of Presley’s many fans.

The November concerts in Hawaii would be Elvis’ last concerts in the 1950’s.  One month later, after enjoying Christmas at Graceland, Presley received his long-expected draft notice.  In March of 1958 he would be inducted into the United States Army and assigned to Fort Hood, Texas for basic training.

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November 6, 1957 – Happy Birthday, Lori and Greg Singer!

The Singer Family in Portland, Oregon, summer of 1962: (Left to right) Jacques, Gregory, Lori, Leslie, Marc, and Claude (standing)

The Singer Family in Portland, Oregon, summer of 1962: (Left to right) Jacques, Gregory, Lori, Leslie, Marc, and Claude (standing). Photo: The Oregonian

On November 6, 1957, older brothers Claude and Marc Singer welcomed two new members to their extraordinary family – twins Lori Jacqueline and Gregory.  Their parents, Poland-born violinist and symphony conductor Jacques Singer and pianist and tall Texas beauty Leslie Wright Singer, were soon to oversee a household of budding prodigies.  Their talented offspring eventually found success in movies, music, dance, television, and modeling.

Embed from Getty Images

Lori Singer at the PGA Awards, January 22, 2011

Lori’s professional talent and accomplishments have been impressive; as a cellist, she made her symphonic debut at age 13, was accepted at the Julliard Performing Arts School in New York City, and won the 1980 Bergen Philharmonic Competition following her graduation.  In addition to school and music studies, she earned spending money as a model, represented by the Elite Modeling Agency in New York.  In her spare seconds, she began studying acting and made her debut on the television series Fame in 1982.  (Older brother Marc paved the way with star turns in the movie Beastmaster and its sequels, the television mini-series V, and many other silver- and small-screen performances, including American Conservatory Theater Shakespearean productions.)  Lori is perhaps best known for her role as pastor’s daughter Ariel Moore in Footloose with Kevin Bacon.  She also appeared with Tom Hanks in The Man With One Red Shoe, and received awards for her performances in Trouble in Mind and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.  She has appeared in several other movies, continued to perform in classical music venues, and in 2013 co-produced the award-winning documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.

Greg Singer. Photo: Manhattan Symphonie

Greg Singer. Photo: Manhattan Symphonie

Lori has been a tough act to follow for her brother Greg, even though she only got a 3 minute head start.  A very talented violinist and conductor in his own right, Greg’s progress as an artist always required more work and determination than the almost effortless success Lori enjoyed.  He also studied at Julliard as a teen, played with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and American Symphony Orchestras, and in Broadway shows, ballets, and operas.  He has managed the Naumberg Orchestra and New York City Symphony.  He currently lives across town from Lori playing his violin, conducting the Manhattan Symphonie, and running his own W. 80th Street shop, Gregory Singer Fine Violins.

I have a remote personal connection to Lori and Greg, from their years spent in Portland, Oregon while their father conducted the Portland Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1972. The twins attended Ainsworth Elementary School, where they became good friends with my trumpet-playing, wonderful future husband.  My future husband greatly missed Greg and Lori after they left for New York and Julliard.  In 2010, after almost forty years, he reconnected with the twins, spending a music-filled afternoon with Greg in his violin shop and speaking with Lori by phone.  We continue to wish them much success and happiness.

October 20, 1957 – NYC Mayor Robert Wagner’s Coney Island Campaign Stop

The Mayoral Debate: Catsup or Mustard? Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times Photo Archives, available at the New York Times store

On October 20, 1957, incumbent New York City mayoral candidate Robert F. Wagner, Jr. stopped for a classic Coney Island treat – a All-American hot dog.  On his way to a second-term landslide victory, Democrat Wagner’s alignment with Carmine DeSapio’s Tammany Hall machine during his first election in 1953 instigated a intra-party feud between DeSapio and Presidential Widow Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband Franklin had previously stripped the long-standing political society from federal patronage.  Tammany Hall’s 140-year influence over the city had begun to wane in the 1930’s, with the election of Republican Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on a Fusion ticket.  The 1953 DeSapio-Wagner alliance resulted in a brief resurgence of machine politics in the 1950’s.

Mayor Wagner, a Yale graduate and Scroll and Key member, was born in Manhattan in 1910, the son of U. S. Senator Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Sr.  During his tenure in Gotham he was instrumental in building public housing and schools, creating the City University of New York system, establishing the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barring housing discrimination based on race, creed or color.  He is said to be the first mayor to pro-actively hire a significant number of people of color into city government positions.  The city’s performing arts jewel, the Lincoln Center, was developed while Wagner was in office.  The Public Theater’s New York Shakespeare Festival (now known as Shakespeare in the Park) also took shape during his tenure.  His administration’s inaction led to the out-of-town migration of the Giants and Dodgers baseball teams, although a subsequent commission he formed led to the birth of the New York Mets.

Wagner broke with DeSapio and Tammany Hall during his third-term mayoral campaign in 1961.  His victory set a milestone in New York City, and local machine politics thereafter entered a decline.

October 18, 1957 – The Frank Sinatra Show Debuts on ABC

On October 18, 1957 (“It Was a Very Good Year“!), the first episode of The Frank Sinatra Show was aired on ABC.  Viewers could be excused a slight feeling of deja vu (“A Foggy Day“?), however.  An earlier television show starring Sinatra had appeared on CBS between 1950 and 1952 – also called The Frank Sinatra Show (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me“).  ABC’s sequel (“The Second Time Around“) was to include thirteen variety shows (“Let’s Face the Music and Dance“), thirteen dramas starring Frank, and ten dramas hosted by Frank, all taped in advance at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood (Not “My Kind of Town“?) and lasting a half-hour (“Come Rain or Come Shine“).  Sinatra would have total artistic control (“I Did It My Way“) and receive $3 million (“Nice Work if You Can Get It“) for the series.

Frank’s guests were a stellar bunch.  Bob Hope (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin“), Kim Novak (“The Girl Next Door“), and Peggy Lee helped Sinatra kick off the series opener, one of the variety offerings.  Other big names during the season included Dean Martin (“I Get a Kick Out of You“), Bing Crosby, Robert Mitchum, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eddie Fisher (“Love and Marriage“), Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Wood, Van Johnson, Eydie Gorme, Dinah Shore, Shirley Jones, the McGuire Sisters (“Young At Heart“), Ann Bancroft, Lloyd Bridges, and his daughter, Nancy Sinatra (“Nancy“!).

Low ratings for the drama offerings led to schedule adjustments (“In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning“?).  ABC switched to more variety shows, and a majority of them ended up being live broadcasts (“The Way You Look Tonight“).  By the time the series ended in June of 1958, fourteen live variety shows had been broadcast, eight filmed varieties, four dramas starring Sinatra, and six dramas which Frank hosted.  Critics weren’t generous to Ol’ Blue Eyes (“Please Be Kind“!)- and Frank doesn’t seem to have put his all into making the show a success (“Fly Me to the Moon“!).  Reports were he hated to rehearse (“Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad“).  As a result, filming for eleven shows was shoehorned into fifteen days (“Luck Be a Lady“), with an understandable but unfortunate loss of quality (“The Best is Yet to Come“?).

Despite the series’ cancellation, Sinatra’s successful career would continue for decades (“Pocketful of Miracles“).  Frank always remained a great favorite with the American public (“Let’s Fall in Love“!)(“All the  Way“!)

October 17, 1957 – Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” in Memphis Theaters

Promotional Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

On October 17, 1957, Elvis Presley’s third film, “Jailhouse Rock”, debuted in Memphis, Tennessee.  Produced by MGM and directed by Richard Thorpe, “Jailhouse Rock” was the musical story of convict Vince Everett and his rise to riches and fame in a post-incarceration singing career.  The film challenged American movie-goers with its positive depiction of Presley as a convict hero who swore and spent on-screen time in bed with his female agent, Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler).  Vince and Peggy’s sometimes racy dialogue included a scene in which Peggy protests, “How dare you think such cheap tactics would work with me!”, to which Vince replies, “That ain’t tactics, honey.  It’s just the beast in me.”

The movie opens with Vince serving a one-year manslaughter sentence following his involvement in a bar fight started by someone else.  Vince’s cellmate is Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), a country singer past his prime but happy to pass along to Vince his singing and guitar-playing skills.  Vince is eventually released from prison, starts working in nightclubs, meets Van Alden, a record company talent scout, and records a demo which he and Peggy pitch to a record label.  When his song is given to one of the label’s already established stars, disillusioned Vince and Peggy start their own label.  The American dream comes true for Vince, as he becomes an overnight singing and movie-starring sensation.

The dance sequence to the song “Jailhouse Rock” has been cited as one of Elvis’ greatest moments on screen.  The series of steps, choreographed by Alex Romero and incorporating a number of classic Elvis “moves,” combined with the setting in a men’s-only cellblock, gave an erotically (if not homo-erotically) charged energy to the film.  One of film’s greatest male dancers of all time, Gene Kelly, applauded a run-through of the dance sequence on a visit to the set during production.

Filming had just begun on May 13th when Elvis inhaled a loosened dental cap and was rushed to the hospital.  Surgery to remove the cap, followed by several days of recovery, hardly slowed the speedy film shoot.  “Jailhouse Rock” wrapped on July 17th and just three short months later, men, women, boys and (especially) girls were lapping up popcorn and Elvis in the plush seats of a local movie palace.

October 13, 1957 – The Edsel Show Broadcast

Louis Armstrong; Frank Sinatra; Rosemary Clooney; Bing Crosby. Photo: CBS

On October 13, 1957, CBS aired a live (on the East Coast) broadcast of The Edsel Show, essentially a one hour “infomercial” promoting the recently released-but-doomed new Ford Motor Company brand.  The broadcast is now primarily famous not for the car, and not for the impressive list of musical talent involved, but for the fact that it is the oldest surviving television show on videotape (made for the three-hour air delay on the West Coast).

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra hosted the star-studded evening which included musical performances by Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, “mystery guest” Bob Hope, and the Norman Luboff Choir.  The Edsel Show, a one-time special, replaced CBS’s usual Sunday night powerhouse, The Ed Sullivan Show.  “Edsel: The Show”, as opposed to “Edsel: The Car”, was ironically one of the year’s most successful and popular broadcasts.  The show served as Bing Crosby’s television breakthrough, after which he signed a two-special-a-year, highly-compensated contract with ABC.

The real star – the car! Photo: CBS

Rosemary Clooney reported in her autobiography, Girl Singer, an amusing (or embarrassing) moment on the day of the show.  “The only Edsel I ever saw was one they gave me to drive while I was rehearsing.  I came out of the CBS Building, up those little steps to the street where my purple Edsel was waiting, like the Normandie in drydock.  Mr. Ford was right behind me, heading for his Edsel.  I opened the door of my car and the handle came off.  I turned to him, holding it out to him.  “About your car . . . .”

October 2, 1957 – The 1957 World Series Begins

Milwaukee celebrates their David vs. Goliath win over the Yankees. Photo: Milwaukee County Historical Society

On October 2, 1957, the National League Milwaukee Braves traveled to Gotham to meet the American League powerhouse and perennial favorite Yankees for Game 1 of the 1957 World Series.  The defending champion Yankees held the home field advantage over the Braves, runners-up to the Brooklyn Dodgers for the NL pennant the year before.  The Milwaukee roster featured outfielder Hank Aaron, third-baseman Eddie Mathews, outfielder Wes Covington, catcher Del Crandall, shortstop Johnny Logan, second-baseman Red Schoendienst, outfielder Bob Hazle, and pitchers Warren Spahn, Bob Buhl, and Lew Burdette.  New York sported giants of the baseball world: Mickey Mantle in the outfield, Yogi Berra behind the plate, Hank Bauer in the outfield, Tony Kubek in the outfield and on third base, Jerry Coleman on second base, Gil McDougald at shortstop, Enos Slaughter in the outfield, and pitchers Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Don Larsen, and Tom Sturdivant.

The series went back and forth, with plenty of excitement for fans of the Fall Classic, taking the full seven games to determine the victors.  New York won Games 1, 3, and 6; the Braves took Games 2, 4, 5, and 7.  Milwaukee pitcher Lew Burdette (who had made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1950) was named Most Valuable Player.  Burdette posted wins in three games – 2, 5 and 7 – two of them shutouts (Games 5 and 7), and in all three he was on the mound for the complete game.  Asked about pitching in Game 7 after only two days’ rest, Lew quipped, “I’ll be all right.  In 1953, I once relieved in sixteen games out of twenty-two.  I’m bigger, stronger, and dumber now.”

Songstress Lucy Monroe. Photo: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

Songstress Lucy Monroe. Photo: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

The New York team sported a few big-name players who started every game –  and one member of the organization who is not so well-known.  Miss Lucy Monroe, the designated Yankees National Anthem Singer, sang “Oh Say Can You See” before every Yankee home game from 1945 until 1960.  Also the official soloist for the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lucy once estimated that she had risen to “the rocket’s red glare” over 5000 times in her singing career.  She sang at the New York World’s Fair, with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras, and with the Chicago, St. Louis, and Metropolitan Opera companies.  Her soaring voice sold war bonds and inspired Presidents Roosevelt, Johnson, and Kennedy.  She offered her anthem rendition on the chilly platform for President Harry Truman’s inauguration, and at many, many other civic and patriotic gatherings.  After retiring in 1960 at the age of 54, she married New York lawyer Harold M. Weinberg one year later.  They enjoyed 16 years together before Lucy became a widow in 1977.  She died of cancer at her Manhattan home in 1987, at the age of 80.