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Posts tagged ‘singers’

Blessed Insurance- book review of Norma Zimmer’s unlucky autobiography

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though some strange thing happened to you. – 1 Peter 4:12

Norma Zimmer was a gifted soprano who performed for decades on television’s ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.’ Welk even gave Zimmer the title of Champagne Lady, the highest honor among other fine women vocalists on the show. Zimmer accepted that appellation graciously in her autobiography,norma although with reservations about sounding like she would be promoting liquor.

She was raised by alcoholic parents in poverty in the Pacific Northwest. Her parents were emotionally abusive, they smoked cigarettes, and they did not yet know God. But Norma grew up to confess Christ on her own. Throughout her story she draws Christian lessons from a life of “tests” and “fiery ordeals.” Her gifted singing, confident will, and the generosity of early supporters enabled Norma to make a great career of radio/recordings, television, and Christian revival concerts. She describes her adult life with financial comforts, devoted family, and spiritual bliss. Yet through bad luck (or influence of her book editor), tests of her and family’s allegiance to God never abate: toxemic pregnancy, auto accident, crooked car salesman, crooked agent, twisted intestines, psoriasis, debilitating arthritis, broken back, brain shunt, family strokes, sister dies of liver disease, father dead in a car two days, family dog burns the house down, near death penicillin reaction, near death choking on beef Stroganoff, stranded on treacherous river rapids, water skiing accident, downhill skiing accident:

“…’one of the [ski-lift] workers climbed up on the tower to repair it and he called for a peen hammer. They threw one up to him but he missed it and it fell and hit your husband.’ I was crying, and praying, O God, help us! Please protect him, Lord!”

A prayer too late, if you ask me. I imagine if Job read Norma’s autobiography he would say, “Wow, this dame can’t catch a break.”

Still, what also never abates is Norma’s optimism about life, people’s good nature, and her faith in God’s long game. Some readers may discover her buoyant attitude and ornamented writing style ironic, others inspirational. If you are a fan of the ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW’, like I am, you already have a sensibility for what is over-decorated but enjoyable. If you take your Lawrence Welk more serious, you might also find Zimmer’s book metaphysically uplifting.

Lawrence Welk

Lawrence Welk

However, if you pray to read more detail about what it was really like working under Welk’s baton for twenty years, God’s answer will be No. There is not much behind the scenes here, except some descriptions of how busy Norma was on days driving between the studio and hospitals, and lists acknowledging all the backstage angels who kept Norma looking grand. I hoped for behind the curtain conflict among the performers, rather than hearing more about Norma’s redoubtable faith in Jesus, no matter what terrible shit life threw at her. I wanted to read more shit about Lawrence the hot-headed puritan, or the over-the-hill band member schtuping a teenage Lennon sister, or the on-camera star who had an off-screen champagne problem.

I admit that despite my being atheist, I did find Norma’s take on life encouraging. She was a person who absolutely believed that smiling into the video camera communicated a hopeful message to viewers. At another scene in the book she describes laying awake with her her croup-afflicted toddler Ronnie, worrying if she should take him to the hospital for a tracheotomy:

“He was barely able to breathe… I lay beside Ronnie, watching and praying. ‘God,’ I prayed over and over, ‘please heal our little son.’ Suddenly I noticed a brightness behind me… Standing near the bed was a lovely blonde woman with a white blouse and dark skirt… She just stood there with a radiant smile on her face, looking down at Ron. Then she just faded away. It was a glorious experience. I felt no fear – just awe. I have always believed that I was permitted to see Ron’s guardian angel.”

A blonde in a blouse and skirt? Who was her son’s guardian angel, Donna Reed?

Off screen Norma Zimmer sounds like she was a bit of a kook, but I’m also convinced, beyond a doubt, that she was a wunnerful, wunnerful lady.

Gene Nelson: Am I In Love – TCM CLASSIC FILM UNION Video

I think Gene Nelson was WBs version of MGMs Gene Kelly: dance, voice, looks, atheleticism, not to mentions Genes. This isnt the best production number, but it’s one of a kind

Gene Nelson - "She's Working Her Way Through College"

Gene Nelson – “She’s Working Her Way Through College”

Gene Nelson: Am I In Love – TCM CLASSIC FILM UNION Video.

REBLOG: VANITY FAIR INTERVIEW: SO THE GREAT PAUL WILLIAMS STILL GREAT. BUT WHO WAS/IS HE?

I actually am often trying to explain “who was Paul Williams” to younger people or to my peers who don’t know pop culture of the 1970s. As this V.F. writer points out there is no contemporary equivalent entertainer like Paul Williams to compare to Paul Williams. The guy was everywhere: pop music (genius), talk shows, game shows, movies. I think what was interesting about him was that he didn’t look like Bobby Sherman, or Burt Reynolds. He was comical, but he had a serious artist side, and he didn’t seem to care about looking like a gay Troll Doll. Part of his high profile can be attributed to the ubiquity of network television. Everybody was watching the same shows on 3 channels so our labor pool of celebrities was smaller. Also people from that time did real stuff to become famous. Famous people then wrote great songs, were not funny on Dinah, or walked on the moon.  Entertaining, even attempts at entertaining, are less important enterprises in becoming famous today. You only have to be talented now at looking beautiful or saying something outrageously stupid on a reality show. – rf brown 

Paul Williams, Writer of “Rainbow Connection,” on His 1970s Neighbors: “Borrow a Cup of Sugar? Maybe a Cup of Vodka” | Blogs | Vanity Fair

Paul Williams, Writer of “Rainbow Connection,” on His 1970s Neighbors: “Borrow a Cup of Sugar? Maybe a Cup of Vodka”

1:30 PM, JUNE 8 2012
BY JIM MCCRARY/REDFERNS.Paul Williams In the A&M Photo Studio, 1970.

Paul Williams, the songwriter, actor, and all-around 1970s media personality, is the subject of a funny, fascinating, and ultimately moving documentary that opens today in New York and Los Angeles. The title, Paul Williams Still Alive,will give you some idea of the movie’s arc, as well as its tone.

Short, witty, and possessed of a signature look that combined aviator glasses and a Jan Brady hairdo, Williams enjoyed Kardashian-like ubiquity in the 70s. (If “enjoy” is the right word.) Though he cut his own records, his songs became far bigger hits for acts such as the Carpenters (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “We’ve Only Just Begun”), Three Dog Night (“Just an Old Fashioned Love Song”), and Kermit the Frog (“Rainbow Connection”). He and Barbra Streisand co-won an Oscar in 1977 for “Evergreen,” from A Star Is Born. You know: “Love soft as an easy chair . . . ”

But that’s not all. Williams also appeared in films such as Smoky and the Bandit and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, along with pretty much every 70s TV show you can think of, including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, where, by IMDb’s reckoning, he turned up 14 times between 1971 and 1978. Paul Williams Still Alive includes a very funny clip of him being gunned down by Angie Dickinson on Police Woman and a less funny clip of him guest-hosting The Merv Griffin Show, where he appears to be coked up and makes jokes about screwing around on the road behind his wife’s back.

I can’t quite think of a contemporary equivalent to Williams, only earlier songwriter-actor-personalities—that was once a job description, as with Hoagy Carmichael and Oscar Levant. Unfortunately, Williams’s career flatlined in the 1980s when he disappeared into the proverbial haze of drug and alcohol abuse, but he’s been sober for 22 years now. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the new documentary takes a couple of surprising turns, traveling way past “Behind the Music” territory to become a kind of meditation on how people do and do not let their pasts define them. I wouldn’t have thought a film that includes numbers from Circus of the Stars and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour would have something to say about the human condition, but there you have it. Williams has led a more colorful life than most of us, but here he evinces a stubborn, heroic modesty.

The director is Stephen Kessler, who, I should note, is an old and good friend of mine. The film begins with him essentially stalking Williams, and in some sense, it’s as much his story as it is Williams’s—Roger & Me with a happier ending and two much nicer guys at its center. As the following slide show demonstrates, it also serves as a delightful, if occasionally eye-searing, survey of trends in costume and set design on 1970s variety shows.

file

The Tonight Show, 1975.

Bruce Handy: How did Steve first approach you about doing the film?

Paul Williams: It was an e-mail that I answered nine months later. There’s a wonderful, ethereal place where you look at a message that you don’t want to say yes to, and you don’t have the balls to say no to, so you just keep it “save as new” for seven months and every time you look at your mail you’re like, “Oh, my God.” Eventually we talked.

He said from the very beginning, “Someone needs to do a documentary on you and I’d like to do that.” I was like, “I don’t know.” The line I’ve used again and again is that I’ve never found anything more pathetic than some little old man saying, “Please, sir, may I have another cup of fame?” The last thing I wanted to do was a behind-the-scenes “Where Are They Now?” If Steve had found me living behind a trailer behind a junkyard, working at the Red Lion singing “Rainbow Connection” to a sock-puppet Kermit, he would have been thrilled.

Was that the reluctance, that you were afraid Steve was going to make fun of you?

Partly, and I didn’t want to poke the bear again. I had had the full-tilt celebrity experience to the max. I always was a little embarrassed. I had acting agents for a little while after I got sober, and they’d want to send me out to audition, and I just found it embarrassing, going out to ask for something. I had my share. I had all that attention. I don’t need that now. Financially, I’m at a place where I’m O.K. I have a great family. I have good relationships with my kids.

The climax of the movie, really, is the scene where Steve has you watch that footage of you guest-hosting Merv Griffin where you’re clearly high and kind of smug and obnoxious. And present-day Sober You eventually tells Steve to turn it off—that you can’t take it.

I said, “It’s like A Christmas Carol. Steve is taking me back and showing me my past.” The Ghost of Christmas Past. Look at you being an asshole. But it’s a really important piece because you can see the footage practically made me ill. You can see how much I hated that. I was just fried [in theGriffin footage]. I was arrogant, grandiose, shallow, making jokes about marriage infidelity on the road. I asked Steve, “Why would you make a film about that?” Who wants to know about that guy? He’s terrible.

That Griffin footage is pretty extreme, but in earlier clips, it looks like you’re having a good time. I know that’s partly the performer’s craft of appearing on a show likeThe Tonight Show, but still.

I had a lot of fun! The 70s were fabulous. But we rolled into the 80s . . . and suddenly you moved from use to abuse to addiction, where all of a sudden the general party has moved on, and where I’ve moved back to a place where I’ve lost touch with what is my reality, in a sense—where all of a sudden I’m doing stuff on television that was totally inappropriate. That’s what made me clean up.

I want to talk about your music, too. Today it’s Monday and it’s raining. You must get that all the time: Oh it’s a rainy day and it’s Monday!

When it’s raining and it’s Monday, that’s a win-win.

I had thought you were mostly a solo songwriter, but the film mentions your various collaborators.

Kenny Ascher and Roger Nichols were the two main collaborators throughout the years. [B.H.:Williams wrote “You and Me Against the World” and “Rainbow Connection” with the former, “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” with the latter.] The first Academy Award nomination [in 1974, for the song “Nice to Be Around,” from Cinderella Liberty] was stuff I wrote with John Williams. My collaborators were my music school.

As a listener, I’d say that if anyone besides you did your songs the most justice, it was Karen Carpenter. Did you work with the Carpenters directly on those records?

No. I knew them and was friends with them, but I hung out with actors. I lived next door to Bob Mitchum.

Did you go over and borrow a cup of sugar?

Not sugar. Maybe a cup of vodka.

My friends were more actors than they were music guys. The Carpenters [Karen and her brother Richard] were like these kids. But they knew what Roger Nichols and I had done, when nobody else did. We’d been writing album cuts and B-sides. These guys knew it. They walked into my office and said, “We love this Small Circle of Friends record ‘Drifter,’ and the Peppermint Trolley Company record of ‘Trust.’” [Two obscure “sunshine pop”-style records Williams and Nichols had written.] We were shocked. “Wow, somebody knows what we do.”

Who is Vonda King?

Canadian songstress Vanda King.  I don’t much about but her but there is a ton on YouTube.

Eddie Fisher was 82 and "A true mensch."

Washington Post Obit: A Singer Best Remembered For Scandal

The great Eddie Fisher is no longer coming down for breakfast at 82.  The obits have a lot about his film roles and his celebrity marriages, but this guy had the best voice.

Here are two giant ones:

“Everybody’s Got A Home But Me”  [from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream]

“Heart”  [from Damn Yankees]

this video kind of sucks