Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy – in Happier Times
As of June 25, 2013, the world was divided into two parts.
One part consisted of people who couldn’t wait to read Shirley Jones: A Memoir. They wanted to know everything the actress was willing to tell about her adventures with sex, drugs and musical comedy. Until the book’s publication, they’d always assumed that Jones’ Oscar-winning performance as a, shall-we-say, free spirit in Elmer Gantry was a real stretch.
Now they’re not so sure.
Conversely, those in the other part of the world who’d heard about Jones’ tell-all book were crying out “MUCH too much information!” They wanted to continue thinking of Jones as lovely Julie from Carousel, that nice Laurie from Oklahoma! — or even that semi-repressed Marian the Librarian in The Music Man.
Well, you’re always going to get people who’ll relish every sordid detail about Jones’ tempestuous marriage to Jack Cassidy of “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman” fame. What Jones alleges about one night she and he had spent with Joan Collins and Anthony Newley – which Collins hotly denies and has made certain won’t be in subsequent printings – gives a whole new meaning to the title of Newley’s first musical hit: Stop the World – I Want to Get Off.
If you read Shirley Jones: A Memoir or even the reviews, you may have a different reaction to the new disc that merges two albums she made with Cassidy. The first, Speaking of Love, backed with an oh-so-lush Percy Faith Orchestra, was their 1957 salute to operetta. Here they sound as if they’re just warming up to do a concert in one of those summer tents that dotted the landscape at the time.
The second, With Love from Hollywood, was their 1958 tribute to songs from films. With songs that were written decades later, they sound less formal and are apparently having more fun. What the two recordings do have in common, however, is that Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy are clearly at the height of their vocal powers.
Both recordings seem so, well, innocent. And yet, with the new inside knowledge that readers of Shirley Jones: A Memoir now possess, they’ll find that some lyrics suddenly take on different meanings. Can you help but come out with a big grin while listening to “Try To Forget” (a 1931 Jerome Kern-Otto Harbach song from The Cat and the Fiddle) when Jones mentions Cassidy’s “daydreams, your gay dreams,” not to mention “your glad dreams, your mad dreams”?
When Cassidy implores “Try to forget – won’t you?” we suddenly feel as if we’re witnessing a scene late-at-night in their kitchen after Cassidy has come home after who-knows-what. Ditto “Lover, Come Back to Me,” the million-seller from the pens of Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein from The New Moon. Listen to Cassidy’s admitting that “We broke the ties that bind” and his plea “to leave the past behind.” When he asks, “Lover, where can you be?” we envision a Jones who’s had enough and has walked out on him.
And while listening to “Wanting You,” another selection from The New Moon, we know that when Cassidy sings “My heart is aching for someone,” he’s supposed to mean Jones. But during the recording session, was someone else on his mind? We wonder, but perhaps Jones centered on his meaning by the time he got to another telling lyric: “You know the truth of my story.”
As for “You Are Love,” the classic from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s groundbreaking Show Boat, well, wasn’t Gaylord Ravenal supposed to be a scoundrel?
The recording’s first cut, “Vienna, My City of Dreams” — the only non-show tune in the bunch — offers no double entendres. That the music for such a song was written by man with the name Rudolf Sieczynski isn’t surprising, but the lyricist’s name offers a surprise: Kim Gannon, whom we know as the wordsmith for the 1951 musical Seventeen.
While Sieczynski wrote the words and music for this song in 1914 – when Gannon was but fourteen years old – we know that these lyrics came much later. What’s interesting in the light of Jones’ revelations is that this song would later be used prominently in Eyes Wide Shut – a film that certainly had its sexual overtones. Still, it’s such lovely Blue Danube-y music! How can you be still reading when you could be listening?
Similarly speaking, “A Kiss in the Dark” is from a 1922 operetta called Orange Blossoms. Having operetta king Victor Herbert’s name on it as composer isn’t surprising, but seeing Buddy DeSylva’s name as lyricist is. DeSylva, after all, co-wrote the books for musical comedies that bore no relation to operetta: Good News, Panama Hattie and DuBarry Was a Lady among them. Nice to see where he started out, though.
From the 1917 operetta Maytime, we have a Sigmund Romberg melody in “Will You Remember” – although few will remember or even have heard of his lyricist. And yet, there was a time when Rida Johnson Young was a household-name. Maytime was the nineteenth Broadway show on which she was listed as author, eight of which were musicals. In fact, she took her eleventh play, Next, and later adapted it into a musical called The Red Petticoat.
If there’s any doubt that we’re talking genuine operetta on this recording, it’s dispelled when we hear the two do “I’ll See You Again,” Noël Coward’s 1929 hit song from Bitter Sweet. The word “been” is meant to rhyme with “between,” so “bean” is how the singers must pronounce it.
These albums were produced in the era when six songs were offered on one side of the record and six on the other. But even if you’re not paying attention to how many songs you’ve heard, you’ll know that twelve have finished and you’re out of operetta-land when you hear the pizzicato violins that start the next song (thanks to Frank DeVol’s orchestra).
With Love from Hollywood features one Oscar-winner: “It Might As Well Be Spring” from the first musical version of State Fair that debuted in 1945. Also included are three Oscar nominees: the loveliest song that Jerome Kern ever wrote with Ira Gershwin, from their 1944 Cover Girl: “Long Ago (And Far Away),” “Dearly Beloved,” Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s hit from You Were Never Lovelier in 1942 and from Irving Berlin’s Top Hat in 1935, “Cheek to Cheek.”
Here we go again with new interpretations. When Jones and Cassidy are dancing cheek-to-cheek and singing about how they “reach the highest peak” – well, you get the point. In “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” the Irving Berlin hit from 1936’s Follow the Fleet, we center on “there may be trouble ahead.” We now see Jones’ point in “It Might As Well Be Spring” when she admits “knowing I’m a dope.”
And yet, when Cassidy sings the title words of “Dearly Beloved,” he sounds as devout as a preacher from the pulpit. He sings it soft, so it’s almost like praying. But if you know what Jones wrote about Cassidy and Cole Porter, you wonder if the singer wanted to make up his meanness to the songwriter by including two cuts from the Porter house to add to the man’s royalties.
Both come from Porter’s 1948 film The Pirate. The first, “Love of My Life,” shows that Cassidy had a bedroom voice long before Barry White. The other cut is a Cassidy solo, “Nina.” Hmmm, but while he was singing it, was he thinking about Nina Popova, his castmate in Music in the Heart in 1947? At this point, we can’t put anything past him.
The most obscure Hollywood song? Possibly “For You, For Me, For Evermore,” a song that George and Ira Gershwin had written more than a decade earlier. After George died, his brother placed it in the 1947 film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. Doing a very nice job on it is The Shocking Miss Jones.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com.and www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.