Over the years whenever I am being interviewed, someone will ask me how and when I was first aware that New York City was to be my future. Until last night, when Bernard Belasco took me to Town Hall for Broadway by the Year 1948, I did not have the vaguest idea. Hearing the songs from Kiss Me, Kate and Where’s Charley? began to stir the memory stew. The Cole Porter score and the song “Once in Love with Amy” have always been rooted deep in my consciousness. I never knew quite why.
I had a non-traditional relationship with recorded music. As I have mentioned before, on the ranch growing up our only radio was a crystal set. Thanks to the war, replacement crystals were impossible to get. Radio listening was strictly limited to Gabriel Heater and the agricultural report. Luckily for me, down in the basement was an old Victrola and a huge pile of records from the 1920s, when my mother and her brothers were kids and lived there. “How Could Riding Hood” and “She Knows Her Onions” and “Who’s Taking Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter While the Caretaker’s Taking Care?” were the songs I grew up with. The singers I knew were Ruth Etting and Rudy Vallée and Libby Holman etc.. Ruth and Libby still top my list of favorites. (Another reason I was not a popular teenager in the 1950s.)
Last night when Scott Siegel (who deserves a yearly special Tony Award) was introducing the year 1948, he mentioned it was the year the long playing record was introduced, and it all came flashing back. In 1948 I was nine. For the first time I began to venture out of the kid’s section of the Kennewick public library. I discovered this whole room with current magazines and newspapers that I had never noticed before and as I walked in, there HE was, on the cover of this magazine called Theatre Arts.
OK, maybe he wasn’t on the cover but this very handsome man was smiling at me and if I remember right he was wearing an earring. The neck of his shirt scooped to the right showing a wicked wink of flesh, something I had never seen before on a man. There was a look in his eyes also not all that common among our local men folk. Reading the magazine, I discovered he was Alfred Drake and he was staring on Broadway in a show called Kiss Me, Kate.
In our town in the late forties you bought records in the same appliance store where you bought the phonograph. I knew the lady who ran it, and she would let me play the records. Imagine my joy when a few weeks later I walked in and there HE was again, on the cover of one of those new long playing records. I would come in and play it day after day. No one minded because there was almost no demand for this sort of record in a wheat ranch town. They were there primarily for display. As to when and where I heard “Once in Love with Amy” from Where’s Charley?, I still don’t know. (I don't think a cast album was recorded.)
But I started spending a lot of time in the magazine section of our library. I religiously read Theatre Arts, and religion it was and still is! The only one I ever subscribed to. I also discovered The New Yorker magazine, and my fate was sealed. 1948 was indeed a very good year, one which would forever change the direction of my life. (It was right about then that I became addicted to opera, but that is for another post.)
Broadway by the Year 1948 was wonderful. There was an amazing song that I had never heard before, “Is It Him or Is It Me,” from Alan J. Lerner and Kurt Weill’s Love Life sung by Farah Alvin. Bobby Steggert broke hearts with “Nobody’s Heart But Mine” from As the Girls Go by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. But the show stopper was (as it always is) Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” presented by Jeffry Denman and Bobby Steggert. These two stars from the current hit YANK!, had so many encores I stopped counting at about one hundred. Well, maybe not one hundred, but a lot. I take back what I said about Scott Siegel deserving a yearly special Tony Award. He deserves two yearly.