Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Remuzzi's apartment

These. People. Took. Pictures. Of. Their. Apartment. In. 1960.

As if it were a personal gift to me in 2010! Thank you, Remuzzi family, for being so house proud. This apartment almost makes me want to start from scratch. Almost. Doesn't it look like a set from Mad Men? The floral drapes! The blue-with-yellow-and-orange-accent-pillows-couch! The TV next to the record player in a proto-entertainment center!

Couldn't you just die? Click on any picture to see a larger picture (the better to peruse you with, my dear).

Sandra Dee

I mentioned Bobby Darin in my last post, and I've been thinking ever since about my love-love relationship with his angel-faced first wife, the late Sandra Dee. In my generation, her first and last names are so far past synonymous with the Grease soundtrack-- a situation I find problematic. Not that I don't like Grease. Not that I don't agree with the Boris-Karloff-and-Frankenstein attitude of some celebrities that it is far, far nobler in the mind to be thankful for having a career defining, iconic role that sticks out in people's minds than to be a nasty naysayer about how "limited" your career is by said role. However, the song "Sandra Dee" to the actress Sandra Dee must've been like reading your own, unflatteringly misguided obituary twenty years too soon. If you're going to get at me for something, make sure you have your facts straight, boyo. Take a look:

"Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee/Lousy with virginity/Won't go to bed 'til I'm legally wed/I can't; I'm Sandra Dee...As for you Troy Donahue,/I know what you wanna do/You got your crust/I'm no object of lust/I'm just plain Sandra Dee"

The singsongy nasality of the lyrics are bad enough-- the fact that they pegged my poor cotton candy haired vedette as a Frigidaire queen is just...plain...unfair. I know the wholesome, Annette Funnicello kind of 60's entertainment we're talking about, the kind that hide navels in improbably high waistbands of bikini bottoms and ignore sex altogether. I also know Sandra Dee has made some well nigh unwatchable movies, and they have that same cheap, cardboard quickie look that a lot of light entertainment did in the late fifties' and early sixties'. For the most part of her early career, SD was playing someone's willful, spritely daughter, lacking confidence in her own identity as fifteen year olds are wont to be, but also sexually curious, as fifteen year olds are wont to be. How exactly does this whole boy-girl thing work? What'll I do if he kisses me? Do boys like girls who go all the way? How do you keep from getting in trouble? These aren't exactly archaic questions, and they certainly don't bespeak any particular aversion to the male of the species.

While Sandra Dee's movies are emphatically about not being able to have sex, the girl is no poster child for abstinence. She spends most of her on screen time coyly asking her parents about pre-marital relationship consummation, getting rebuffed, and obliquely having sex anyway to more or less positive results. Because we're young! Because we're different than our parents! She's not at all a prude. Sandra Dee's movies are NEVER about trying NOT to have sex but merely being young and curious and being told to be strait-laced for no apparent reason. The narrative themes in her films run along the lines of "why shouldn't we, don't you think we should" rather than "we'd better not, oh, we'll get in trouble"-- a distinction that seems lost on the songwriters from ye olde Grease. If you can watch her scenes in A Summer Place and still think Sandra Dee's about NOT about sex-- well, I don't know what to tell you.

It's strange to think about the deluge of publicity that surrounds movie stars in a bizarre cocoon of innocuousness until years and YEARS later things start to come out about the "real" person behind the celebrity. Sandra Dee appeared in fifteen magazines a month at the height of her popularity, and yet practically every word written about her was false, a press agent's idea of "creative spin".

What I remember off the top of my head about Sandra Dee is mostly from her son Dodd Darin's memoir/dual biography of his parents, Dream Lovers. He talks about his mother's sexual abuse from her stepfather at 8 (a creepy, in-family "joke" about how her stepfather married her mother "to get Sandy" is repeated in one late 50's fluff piece, as if it was at all cute), her first modeling jobs at 10 (which, owing to a early developing figure, cast her as 15), her discovery as a screen star (around the age of 14, nobody's sure because her stage ambitious mother constantly lied about Sandra's age to get her older, better paying roles), and her contract-breaking marriage after an on-set love affair to the swinging-est of late 50's crooners, one Bobby Darin. She suffered from anorexia and alcoholism most of her life, and yet she's the very picture of the "perfect teenager" of the perfect late 1950's. Does this girl look like she has any problems?

Some clippings from around the web, mostly from the exhaustive Sandra Dee Fans website.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Connie Francis and Brenda Lee

It's summer, so I have on my hands the wanton luxury of spending a large block of time digging up facts. Facts on who, on this sunny Sunday afternoon? Brenda Lee and Connie Francis. Obviously, if you're over fifty, or merely under-fifty-and-neurotically-into-50's-pop-music-right-now, this is the post for you.

The first thing to do, for me, was to separate these two gals out, because damned if I didn't use their names interchangeably from time to time in the last 25 years of my life. Oops.

THIS is Brenda Lee... This is Connie Francis.

Totally similar. In fact, examine the similarities:

1) Tiny, tiny women? Check. (CF is five one and a half, Brenda Lee is FOUR FOOT NINE. That is so very, very tiny)
2) Names from 50's high school year books? Check. (Though CF was born "Concetta Rosemarie Franconero" and BL was born "Brenda Mae Tarpley")
3) Brown bouffant hair, heavily shaded eyebrows, large dark eyes, and bubble skirts? Check.
4) Constant chart presence in the late fifties and early sixties? Check.

And my favorite:

There's no accounting for how I could confuse the woman who sang "I'm Sorry" (that would be Brenda Lee) with the woman who sang "Who's Sorry Now?" (that would be Connie Francis). But I'll never confuse the two again, due to the actually somewhat embarrassing amount of time that I've spent today internet sleuthing about their lives and careers.

Let's start with Brenda Lee:

Brenda Lee was born in Georgia in 1944 and was singing professionally by the age of 10. And when I say 10, I mean 10-- not making the rounds of elementary school talent shows (which she did and I'm sure dutifully picked up her stack of awards afterwards), but singing in concert, on records, and on tv with one of the most incongruously placed voices you ever heard coming out of a ten year old. This tiny, tiny girl would walk out on stage in bobby sox and a Peter Pan collared dress, and open her mouth to a sound as big as the room. "Sweet Nothings" (1958) was a track that caught my ear on an oldies compilation, and I just couldn't get over the razor blade sharp delivery-- she can croon, but she can also nail an intro as raw as Little Richard, if the song calls for it. Primarily a country artist, her songs had pop crossover appeal and she seems to get lumped into the category of "rockabilly" a lot (which allows "golden age of country music deniers" to explain away a natural attraction to her voice, or why they like Johnny Cash, with "well, it's not REALLY country..." [but that's a post for another day]). The girl PUTS AWAY songs.

Take a listen:

"Sitting in class trying to read my book-- my baby gives me that *special* look" somehow comes off as innocuous in print, but listen to that girl sing it like her second marriage was on the rocks. I could just die. "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree", yet another success. The aforementioned "I'm Sorry" slows it down some from the girl rocker image, but she nonetheless sings the fool out of it.

Also, can someone take a picture of 10 year old me with Elvis doing a two step in the backstage of the Ryman? Anybody? That would work for me.

On to the second event:

Connie Francis was born in New Jersey in 1938. She was salutatorian from her high school, originally played an accordion in her act, and despite a beautiful face and a voice to match, had a series of disastrous releases before hitting it big with a cover of a 1923 release, "Who's Sorry Now". CF had misgivings about recording the song, which are pretty self-evident when you listen to the original 78 recording, but obviously things turned out for the best.

Neat thing about CF: she had relatively serious early relationship with Bobby Darin, who was at the time primarily a songwriter and worked on material for CF before her later success. How did that end? Well, I didn't see this coming:

"When her father learned that Bobby Darin had suggested the two lovers elope after one of her shows, he ran Darin out of the building at gunpoint, telling Bobby to never see his daughter again."

Thanks, Dad. Good job. Run Bobby Darin right out of my love life. Despite the fact that we are probably made for each other. Annnnnnndddd.... I'llneverforgiveyouforthisone.

Her good looks and chart success even led to a series of movie roles, including 1960's Where the Boys Are. Go on, get it, Miss Francis:

The big-footed man is Jim Hutton, 80s actor Timothy Hutton's pappy. Couldn't you just reach through the screen and hop in?

That's all I got on these two tiny dynamos of late fifties/early sixties pop. Hope it helps, though I still don't expect you to be able to tell the difference between the two of them at fifty yards or in a crowded grocery store, at least it's fun to look at old glamor shots of the gals. :)


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