Category Archives: 1950s

Christopher Isherwood in two moods

Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood was an English-American writer with works that include his 1935-39 ‘The Berlin Stories’ and two semi-autobiographical novellas inspired by his time in the German Weimar Republic. These enhanced his post-war reputation when his ‘I Am a Camera’ was first adapted into a play in 1951 and then a film of the same name in 1955.  In 1966 he gave us the stage musical ‘Cabaret’!

What caught me, though, is a comment Christopher made on 28th September 1959 when he wrote: ‘Last night I went to Elsa Lanchester’s.  Oh the horror of TV!  It is so utterly, utterly inferior, yet just enough to keep you enslaved, entrapped, on the lower levels of consciousness – for a whole lifetime, if necessary.  It is a bondage like that of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.’

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The King is Dead – Long live the Queen

I’m sure many millions of people across the world will know – but just in case ….

65 years ago on Tuesday 2nd June 1953 the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as sovereign of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey.  Elizabeth ascended the throne at the age of 25, upon the death of her father, King George VI who had passed away on Wednesday 6th February 1952, and was proclaimed Queen by her various privy and executive councils shortly afterwards. The coronation took place more than a year later because of the tradition that holding such a festival is inappropriate during the period of mourning that follows the death of a monarch and also on account of the need to make preparations for the ceremony. During the service, she took and subscribed an oath to, among other things, govern the peoples according to their respective laws and customs, was anointed with holy oil, presented and invested with regalia, and crowned.

Celebrations took place across the Commonwealth and a commemorative medal was issued. It was the first British coronation to be televised and was the fourth and last British coronation of the 20th century.

She was born Miss Mortenson

On 1st June 1926 a little girl was born and, in due time, was named Norma Jeane Mortenson.  She was born and raised in Los Angeles and spent most of her childhood in fosters homes and an orphanage.  She married at the age of 16 and, in 1944 while working as part of the war effort in a radioplane factory, she was introduced to a photographer from the ‘First Motion Picture Unit’.  Photographs were taken and she soon began a successful pin-up modelling career.  This work led to a short-livered film contracts with 20th Century Fox in 1946/7 and Columbia Pictures in 1948.  After a series of minor film roles she signed a new contract in 1951 with Fox and from there her career blossomed.  Oh – by the way – by now she had changed her name.

She was now known as Marilyn Monroe!

I think we might say a little bit more about this lady in the near future!

The War was over and Marlene moved on

After the 2nd World War things began to change for so many people.  Marlene was one of them! In 1953 she was offered $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.  The show was short and mainly consisting of a few songs associated with Marlene and her daringly sheer “nude dress” – a heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé that gave an illusion of transparency.  Surprise Surprise – it attracted a lot of publicity!  One of these ‘attractions’ led to her being signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year.  She also had her Las Vegas contracts renewed.   From that point forward to the mid-1970s she was a highly paid cabaret artist, performing live in large theatres in major cities world-wide.

Marlene employed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger starting in the mid-1950s; together, they refined her nightclub act into a more ambitious theatrical one-woman show with an expanded repertoire. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Bacharach’s arrangements helped to disguise her limited vocal range – she was a contralto – and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect.

Francis Wyndham offered a critical appraisal of the phenomenon of ‘Dietrich in Concert’ when he wrote in 1964: “What she does is neither difficult nor diverting, but the fact that she does it at all fills the onlookers with wonder … It takes two to make a conjuring trick: the illusionist’s sleight of hand and the stooge’s desire to be deceived. To these necessary elements (her own technical competence and her audience’s sentimentality) Marlene Dietrich adds a third—the mysterious force of her belief in her own magic. Those who find themselves unable to share this belief tend to blame themselves rather than her.”

At this time Burt Bacharach felt he needed to devote his full-time to song writing. Together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964.  However – Marlene had come to rely on him in order to perform and, in a TV interview in 1971 she credited Bert Bacharach with giving her the “inspiration” to perform during those years. She said:-

‘From that fateful day on, I have worked like a robot, trying to recapture the wonderful woman he helped make out of me. I even succeeded in this effort for years because I always thought of him, always longed for him, always looked for him in the wings, and always fought against self-pity…  He had become so indispensable to me that, without him, I no longer took much joy in singing. When he left me, I felt like giving everything up. I had lost my director, my support, my teacher, my maestro.’

In November 1972 a version of Marlene’s Broadway show ‘An Evening with Marlene Dietrich’ was filmed in London.  It was titled ‘I Wish You Love’ and Marlene as paid $250,000 for her co-operation but she was unhappy with the result. Non-the-less the show must go on and in January 1973 it was broadcast on the BBC in the UK and on CBS in the US.
Continue reading The War was over and Marlene moved on

María Elena Santiago & Buddy Holly – music & sadness

Buddy’s wife was born María Elena Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her mother died when Maria was 12 years old and, in 1953, her father had sent her to live with her aunt in New York City where she worked as a receptionist for a music publisher – ‘Peermusic’.  As a receptionist Maria Elena probably first met Buddy in August 1957 when, as rising stars, he and the Crickets first visited Peer Southern Music in the Brill Building on Broadway to meet their publishing manager Murray Deutch – Maria’s boss.

It was a day or so before Thursday 19th June 1958 – the day when Buddy recorded ‘Early in the Morning’ in New York’s Pythian Temple – that Buddy had asked Maria out. She had never been out on a date and told Holly he would have to ask her aunt for permission. Buddy promptly got her aunt’s permission and five hours into their first date, Buddy handed a rose to Maria and asked her to marry him!  On August 15, 1958, less than two months later, they were married in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

They settled down there until Buddy broke up with his band, ‘The Crickets’, and moved to New York. It was in October 1958 that Santiago-Holly went on tour with her husband and took on promotional duties. Buddy also formed the Maria Music publishing company with which “Stay Close To Me” was filed.  Buddy produced Lou Giordano’s version of the song which was issued on Brunswick records on Tuesday 27th January, 1959.

Buddy and Santiago had been married for just six months at the time of the crash.  Maria Santiago-Holly learned of Buddy’s death from the reports on television. She was a widow and did not attend the funeral – nor has she ever visited the grave site. She told the Avalanche-Journal: “In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.”

Maria Santiago-Holly suffered a miscarriage shortly after due, we are told, to “psychological trauma”

Buddy Holly’s funeral was held on Friday 7th February 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Holly’s wedding just months earlier. The pall-bearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis, and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend, because of his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party.

Buddy’s body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery, in the eastern part of the city, with his headstone carrying the correct spelling of his surname – Holley – and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Buddy had gone – but his work would live on – and on – and on!

Buddy and ‘Peggy Sue’ leave memories

In my younger days – the 1950’s that is – I was one of those thousands, or maybe millions, of British teenagers who latched on to the US ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ performers. Elvis was my number one with Buddy Holly a close second.  I can remember hearing – and then getting dad to buy – ‘Peggy Sue’ as Christmas got close in 1957. It reached number 6 in the charts – Harry Belafonte was at number 1 from 22nd November until Jerry Lee Lewis took the number one slot on 10th January1958!  Buddy had 3 hits in 1958 – ‘Listen to me’ [2 weeks & peaking at 16]; ‘Rave On’ [14 weeks & peaking at 5] and ‘Early in the Morning’ [4 weeks & peaking at 4]. In January 1959 he had a brief – one week hit – ‘Heartbeat’. While I was enjoying ‘Heartbeat’ – and hoping that Buddy would be over here soon – Buddy was getting on a plane and moving on to another show.

He was in ‘The Winter Dance Party’ tour that had begun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 23rd January 1959. The amount of travel involved created logistical problems.  The distance between the venues had not been considered and, adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses broke down twice in the freezing weather.  Added to this was Buddy’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized for frostbite to his toes which he had suffered while aboard the bus!  As a result Buddy decided to organise other form of transportation so, before their next appearance – planned for 2nd February in Iowa – Buddy chartered a four-seat Beechcraft from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City with Jennings, Allsup, and himself.  His idea was to depart after the Clear Lake Surf Ballroom show and fly to their next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo, North Dakota.  This would allow them time to rest and wash their clothes.  It also meant that they could avoid a rigorous bus journey.

It was just before midnight when the Clear Lake show ended just before midnight.  There were some discussions on who was joining Buddy in the flight.  Allsup agreed to flip a coin for the seat with Ritchie Valens – he took out a brand new half-dollar and Ritchie called heads. Heads it was. Richie reportedly said “That’s the first time I’ve ever won anything in my life.”  Allsup later opened a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas called ‘Heads Up’. Waylon Jennings also voluntarily gave up his seat – this one to J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper) who had influenza and complained that the tour bus was too cold and uncomfortable for a man of his size.

Roger Peterson, the pilot, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only.  Shortly after 1:00 am on Tuesday 3rd February 1959, Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when their plane crashed into a cornfield five miles northwest of the Mason City, Iowa airport shortly after take-off. The bodies of the entertainers were all ejected from the plane on impact while Peterson’s body remained entangled in the wreckage.  Buddy Holly had sustained fatal trauma to his head and chest and numerous lacerations and fractures of his arms and legs.

We will be attending the funeral in a few days time.

A lady I wish I had known

In looking through various sources – like notes – and ideas – and luck for posing I often find something that is new to me.  That has happened today when I found something by Dawn Powell.  She was new to me so I dug a little deeper and discovered that she died in 1965.  Going deeper I found her work was very nice and I’ll certainly ‘come back to her again’.  The piece I chose is perfect for this – it was published on Wednesday 3rd November 1954 and reads as follows:

‘Notes for talk – people like different books at different times in their lives.  It seems odd that such difficult ponderous writers as Walter Scott, Dumas, Victor Hugo are so often pets of our youth when later in life they seem almost over our heads.  It must be that, at 12 or 13, our heads need filling – there are few experiences and knowledge to furnish resistance, so the story has a wide screen.  The young reader has no experience of his own to debate the story; he accepts it wholly, is gullible, it blooms in his mind completely.  Trollope is certainly a writer for adults.’

Popular music that helped me through the 1950s

It was on Friday 14th November 1952 that the British singles music charts were first published – but I knew nothing about it!  It was not until Friday 23rd October 1953 that I really ‘hooked into’ popular music of the day.  I kept notes and I played records – and I was told by my parents quite often to ‘turn that noise down’.  Sometimes I did as they asked!  Below are the records for the first 8 years that I made sure I heard who was holding the number one slot on the Friday nearest that magical first date above

1953 – Frankie Laine with ‘Hey Joe’ [2 weeks]

1954 – Don Cornell with ‘Hold My Hand’ [4 weeks]

1955 – Jimmy Young with ‘The Man from Laramie’ [4 weeks]

1956 – Frankie Laine again, this time with ‘A Woman in Love’ [4 weeks]

1957 – Paul Anka with ‘Diana’ [9 weeks starting on 30th August]

1958 – Connie Francis with ‘Carolina Moon’ with ‘Stupid Cupid’ on the flip side of the double ‘A side’ [6 weeks from 26th September.

1959 – Bobby Darin with ‘Mack the Knife’ [2 weeks]

1960 – it’s a new decade and Roy Orbison has ‘Only the Lonely’ at number 1 for 2 weeks

Let’s just roll forward 40 years to the 23rd October 2000 and we find U2’s version of ‘Beautiful Day’ holding the top spot – for me another special number.

So that’s me – do you have musical memories like this?  I’d love to know if you have.

A million becomes 60 million after this story hits the screens.

It was on this day – Saturday 6th October 1962 – that a film of the book launched the James Bond saga across the world.

‘Doctor No’ was the sixth novel by author Ian Fleming to feature his British Secret Service agent James Bond.   He had written the novel in early 1957 at his home in Jamaica and it was first published in the United Kingdom by Johnathan Cape on Tuesday 31st March 1958. The novel centred on Bond’s investigation into the disappearance in Jamaica of two fellow MI6 operatives.

Sean Connery – agent 007 – had to battle with the mysterious Doctor No – a scientific genius bent on destroying the whole U.S. space program. As the countdown to disaster began James Bond headed for Jamaica.  There, surprise surprise, he encountered the beautiful Honey Ryder (played by the beautiful Ursula Andress).  Together they have to confront a megalo-maniacal villain in his massive island headquarters.

Created on a one million dollar budget, the film box offices returned just short of 60 million dollars!

The Festival of Britain comes to its end

Two or three times my parents had said that we would go to the Festival of Britain – but the promises were never turned into fact.  But now the whole thing was closing and I had been deprived of being part of it.  However events had been held all over Britain, not just in London and, after all, we had haved one Festival in our village!

It was on Sunday 30th September 1951 that the Festival of Britain came to an end. It had been organised to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and, after a special service attended by the King, Queen Elizabeth, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and other senior members of the royal family, King George declared the festival open in a broadcast from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The official closing ceremony was planned to also be pronounced by the King but, unfortunately, he was not well enough and the closing speech was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He described the Festival as being ‘a real family party’ and ‘the standard by which we shall face the future’.   He said that there were many legacies of the Festival – trees planted, and statues and other artworks commissioned.  He also said that the Festival had given a better awareness of Britain as a thriving economy with a skilled workforce.