Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tonight's set list

At The Habit, York: -

Is It Only The Moonlight?
Tennessee Waltz
Let Your Fingers Do The Walking
Comes A Time

A packed house and a real eclectic mix of music to warm the cockles of whatever cockles are.

Farley Granger RIP

With Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train
Farley Granger Obituary
Actor who rose to fame in Hitchcock's Rope and Strangers On a Train, but refused to conform to Hollywood pressures

Brian Baxter
Tuesday 29 March 2011

Early on in his career, the actor Farley Granger, who has died aged 85, worked with several of the world's greatest directors, including Alfred Hitchcock on Rope (1948) and Strangers On a Train (1951), Nicholas Ray on They Live By Night (1949) and Luchino Visconti on Senso (1953). Yet Granger failed to sustain the momentum of those years, meandering into television, some stage work and often indifferent European and American movies.

The reasons were complicated, owing much to his sexuality and an unwillingness to conform to Hollywood pressures, notably from his contract studio, MGM, and Samuel Goldwyn. Granger refused to play the publicity or marrying game common among gay and bisexual stars and turned down roles he considered unsuitable, earning a reputation – in his own words – for being "a naughty boy".

He was also the victim of bad luck, notably when Howard Hughes, the egomaniacal owner of RKO studios, took against They Live By Night, shelving it for a year before releasing it without fanfare. While his contemporary Charlton Heston had maintained that it was impossible not to launch his own acting career from two Cecil B DeMille movies, Granger had the far more difficult task of springboarding from his Hitchcock films, where the director had been the star.

Granger was born in San Jose, California, and first appeared on a school stage aged five. A dozen years later he was working in theatres around Los Angeles, when his dazzling good looks were noticed by a local talent scout. Aged 18 he made his screen debut as a curly-haired Russian soldier in Lewis Milestone's The North Star (1943).

Milestone also cast him in the role of a sergeant in The Purple Heart (1944), but by then the real war had caught up with the actor who, following his military service, took a long while to re-establish himself. Ray cast him in the leading role of They Live By Night, as the emotionally unstable crook Bowie, and by the time the film was released, he had appeared in the feeble Enchantment (1948) and the bucolic Roseanna McCoy (1949).

Luckily, he had also been loaned out for the claustrophobic Rope, filmed in 10-minute takes, resulting in an elegantly artificial movie, with the actors even more puppet-like than was usual with Hitchcock. Granger and John Dall were ideally cast as gay students who murder a friend to display a Nietzschean concept of supremacy. Granger played the highly strung Phillip, who cracks under the probing of their tutor (James Stewart). The public were less than enthusiastic. The director Jean Renoir scathingly dismissed the film, adding that it was "a film about homosexuals in which they don't even show the boys kissing".

Moving on, in 1950 Granger starred in the fast-paced thriller Side Street, directed by Anthony Mann, Edge of Doom and Our Very Own, before being rescued from the routine by Hitchcock, who cast him in another movie with a gay subtext, Strangers On a Train. He took the more conventional role of a handsome tennis champion, Guy Haines, mentally seduced by the unhinged Bruno (Robert Walker). Bruno obligingly murders the sportsman's wife, who is holding back Guy's career and social ambitions. When the killer wants repayment in kind – via the death of his own bullying father – matters go horribly wrong. Granger was bland rather than urbane, perplexed rather than intimidated, and despite charm, good looks and an attractive voice, he found his career not taking off.

Instead, routine fare such as Behave Yourself! (1951) and Small Town Girl (1953) followed. Even the sympathetic Vincente Minnelli made little of the star opposite Leslie Caron in The Story of Three Loves (1953). Granger needed to get out of his contract and was happy when he was loaned out by Goldwyn to star in Visconti's Senso. He was intriguingly cast as the embittered romantic Franz Mahler, an Austrian soldier who betrays the married woman besotted with him. She in turn betrays not only her country, Italy, but also those struggling politically against the invading forces. With dialogue by Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles, the film took heady flight into a sumptuous period melodrama. It took many months to shoot and Granger relished new freedom in Europe, buying a house in Rome. Despite this he never worked again in anything comparable to Visconti's masterpiece.

Returning sporadically to the US, he played in The Naked Street (1955) as a hoodlum taken under the overly protective wing of Anthony Quinn, then had a better role as the murderous roué in Richard Fleischer's The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955).

He returned to the stage, acting in The Carefree Tree on Broadway in 1955, and touring with The Seagull, Hedda Gabler and She Stoops to Conquer. Television offered the occasional bit of intelligent casting, including the grasping would-be lover in The Heiress (1961). The role had been a triumph for Montgomery Clift in the cinema in 1949 and one could see the rationale behind the new casting. After a decade mainly in the theatre and TV and little-seen movies such as Rogues' Gallery (1968), Granger returned to a more congenial Europe.

In 1970 he made a western, My Name Is Trinity, and then a complicated spy thriller, The Serpent, where he co-starred with Henry Fonda, Yul Brynner and Dirk Bogarde, all gentlemen of a certain age in search of elusive work. He again worked in American television, in such popular series as Matt Helm, Ellery Queen, The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote, and also contributed to the documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), an examination of homosexuality in Hollywood movies.

In 2001 he appeared in his last film, The Next Big Thing, and came to London for his West End stage debut, in a revival of Noël Coward's once-controversial play Semi-Monde. He later withdrew because of difficulties in remembering his lines. He said that he had become bored with the process of film-making and retired, devoting himself to travel and his greatest love, the theatre, now as a spectator. In 2007, he published a memoir, Include Me Out, co-written with his long-term partner, the producer Robert Calhoun, who died in 2008.

• Farley Earle Granger, actor, born 1 July 1925; died 27 March 2011

Monday, 28 March 2011

Bonnie Scotland

That's another fine mess you've got me into: Stolen statue of Stan Laurel turns up after seven years with diary of adventures

The life-size statue of the comedian, which vanished from an Oban hotel in 2004, mysteriously returned this week

17 March 2011 11:55

A life-size statue of comedian Stan Laurel, stolen from a Scots hotel seven years ago, has been returned - along with a diary of his adventures.

The six-foot-tall statue was stolen from Oban's Rowantree Hotel in 2004 and despite its owners putting up a £1000 reward for its return, the mascot was never seen again.

Staff at the hotel were stunned on Wednesday when the statue appeared at the back door, with a spoof diary round his neck. The spoof claims he only "popped out for a loaf", and reveals his adventures, including pictures of him with the Queen, Nelson Mandela, the Spanish World Cup winning team, Barack Obama and even Colonel Gaddafi. The cover reads: "Ah is no awa tae bide awa, ah wis aye cumin back tae see ye".

Rowantree Hotel office manager Michael Durkin, 35, who was working at the hotel in 2004 when Stan was stolen, said: "Stan went missing seven years ago, overnight.

"Everyone was annoyed and pretty embarrassed that a six-foot statue could have been taken from the reception without anyone noticing.

"It was reported to the police and Gilbert MacKechnie, who owned the hotel at the time, offered a £1000 reward for his safe return.

"The hotel was full the night he was pinched and we thought a stag party may have been responsible, but we never got to the bottom of the mystery and we'd given up hope of seeing Stan again.

"Then, I was coming in to work last Wednesday and saw him standing at the door to the back car park. I couldn't believe my eyes and just burst out laughing.

"A diary was tied round his neck and his photo superimposed with famous people around the world - the Queen and Nelson Mandela, the Spanish World Cup winners and Barack Obama, among others.

"I can see the funny side now. Someone has obviously gone to a lot of trouble to play this prank and it's brought a smile to my face."

The opening diary entry explains: "What can I say? I went out for a loaf. In 2004 I was a wanted man. £1000 was offered for information about my whereabouts. By then I was at the North Pole and it was more hassle than it was worth for the Eskimos to get me back to Oban."

Another entry reads: "Before I left Oz I sent Nelson Mandela a postcard. I knew it was a long shot, the guy had retired from public life and was trying to chill out during his twilight years."

Mr Durkin said: "The whole thing had become a bit of an urban legend and we would always tell the story to new staff members because they didn't believe people would steal things as large as that.

"I don't think he's been very far though. I think whoever took Stan did so for a prank, but when the police became involved decided to keep a low profile. "I don't think it was a local person - Oban is a small town and someone would have found out. But he's been in Scotland I'm sure.

Some of the diary is written in Scots." Stan has been returned to the Rowantree's reception for the time being."

As his final diary entry reads: "It will be a while before I go out for a loaf again." Mr Durkin also revealed that a camera is watching him round the clock to prevent him disappearing on any more travels.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Last night's set list

At the Fulford Arms, York: -

Reason To Believe
The Old Laughing Lady
On The Beach
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
Only Love Can Break Your Heart

I was showered with praise and now I feel so humble.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Out and About with Prefab Sprout #11

At last: Don't Sing! And high on the cliff with the drummer, notebook and sharpie at the ready, was our own Terry Kelly!


Friday, 25 March 2011

An Evening with Salinger

My Literary Hero: An Evening with J. D. Salinger

February 7 2011
by Blair Fuller

In the winter of 1952, I received a telephone call from my mother, Jane Canfield. There was to be an evening party at my parents’ house on Thirty-eighth Street, she told me. “A Harper’s party,” she added, Harper’s being the publishing house of which Cass, my step-father, was chairman. My mother said that I would be a welcome guest and that my younger sister, Jill, and her husband, Joe Fox, were expected.

I had graduated in June the previous year, delayed by two years in the Navy, at the end of World War II, and another year as a student in France. I wanted to be a writer. The Harvard Advocate had published a short story of mine. In Archibald MacLeish’s writing workshop I had started to write a hopeless novel, and had continued to its uninteresting conclusion months after graduating. Now I was a marketing trainee with the Texas company Texaco and would be posted to West Africa in the summer. These were my last months in New York.

My mother continued, “Someone that I know you admire has accepted—J. D. Salinger.”

I told her I would most certainly come.

The Catcher in the Rye had come out the year before. I had read it with enthusiasm but not with the extreme admiration I felt for his short stories in The New Yorker. They seemed to me matchless in their vividness, especially in conveying his characters’ subtle and complex emotions.

When I arrived that evening, Mary, the maid, was waiting at the door to take the guests’ overcoats, and I could see that the house was as finely turned out as it could be: flowers in the vases and the antique furniture shining. “The bar is on the porch,” Mary told me.

I got a drink and joined Jane and Cass in the living room with “Mac” MacGregor, Harper’s editor-in-chief. Soon Jill and Joe arrived, and for a short time it was a mostly family party. Then, nearly all at once, the thirtysome others crowded in, Salinger among them.

A headshot of him had appeared on the Catcher book jacket—dark hair slicked back above a longish, handsome face. This night he was well dressed in a suit with a faint glen plaid pattern, a white shirt whose collar was secured behind the knot of his necktie by a gold collar pin. His cufflinks caught the light. Why did his elegance surprise me?

I felt some shyness shaking all the hands, particularly Salinger’s, and felt certain that Jill would, too. Joe was never shy. He was the one who told Salinger that it was a pleasure to meet him and how much he admired his work.

Joe had been the captain of the Harvard swimming team. He had majored in English, but I’d been surprised when he declared that he wanted to work in publishing. He was a book salesman for Alfred Knopf at the time of this party, but he later became a well-known, much respected editor at Random House, working with such writers as Truman Capote, Philip Roth, and Martin Cruz Smith.

Salinger shook all hands with apparent ease. I had the feeling, however, having been looked squarely in the eye by him and having watched him shake the hands of Jill and Joe in the same manner, that he was glad to see some relatively young guests. He was thirty-three that year.

Dinner was eaten from my parents’ best plates balanced on the guests’ knees. Wine glasses were filled and refilled. Book gossip was exchanged. Conversational companions changed often with the changing of dishes and drinks. For a considerable time Jill and Joe and Salinger and I were all sitting on the living room’s carpet. He asked us to call him Jerry, then asked some routine questions about what we were doing and why, but with a pleasing sympathetic intensity. He made several comments that put him on our side, the side of people starting out rather than the people settled in to lifelong careers. The conversation warmed, and we found that we could make each other laugh.

He seemed especially interested that Jill was a painter and that our grandparents, our father’s parents, had both been painters who had lived in Cornish, New Hampshire. Salinger told us that he knew Cornish. I told Jerry that I had written a novel that no one would ever publish and got a complicit nod for which I was grateful. Our small group became increasingly hilarious and was eventually broken up by Jimmy Hamilton, who wanted Salinger to meet someone he thought important.

Toward the end of the night, as the other guests were putting on their coats, Joe found me in the front hallway. He spoke into my ear, “Jerry has asked us up to his place for a drink. Are you game?”

We three had our coats on, waiting for Salinger to say his good-byes, then he joined us and we went out to the street and found a cab immediately.

What a great turn of events! For Salinger to be taking such interest in us!

In the apartment, which was a brownstown further uptown, Salinger asked us what we would like to drink. I offered my help getting out the ice, but no, he’d prefer to do it himself. The bar’s bottles and glasses were arranged at one end of a counter between the small kitchen space and the living room, and we stood around while Salinger poured—whiskey for all, I think. Drinks in hand, Jill, Joe, and I sank into a long sofa across from the bar, Jill sitting between us. Salinger sat down on a chair facing us across a coffee table.

In my buzzy contentment I looked around the room at the pictures on the walls, and I lost track of what Joe and Salinger were saying to one another until I heard Joe ask, “Where did you go to college, J. D.?”

Salinger did not immediately reply and in that momentary silence the mood in the room changed. I caught my breath. I believe that Joe’s businesslike tone could be heard as faintly aggressive; it was familiar to my ear.

Salinger said evenly, “A little college in upstate New York. A college you’ve probably never heard of.”

“Which one?” Joe asked. Nothing suggested that Joe had heard anything in Salinger’s voice but information sharing.

After another short silence Salinger said, “Hamilton. Does it make a difference to you, knowing that the name of the college is Hamilton?”

“Where is Hamilton?” Joe asked. Did he need to know Hamilton’s location? I dreaded what might follow.

“I suppose you both went to one of the Ivies,” Salinger said. “Maybe you both belonged to the same club. Perhaps at Harvard?”

Joe and I had in fact belonged to the same club at Harvard.

But now Salinger began talking of something else; I didn’t immediately grasp his subject. Buddhism, his studies in that religion, and his wish to go further in those studies. He said, “I’d be surprised if any of you think of yourselves as Buddhists.”

He talked about the discipline of meditation, of what might be reached through its practice, of a book that had helped him to appreciate its benefits. Of “levels,” or did he say, “stages of enlightenment.” He spoke more quickly as he went along. Perhaps it was simply impatience with our ignorance. I was not keeping all the information straight.

He said something about his own achievement level of Siddhartha. “I’d say that you,” he pointed at Joe, then at me, ”are at” and he mentioned a low level. He said he would put Jill at a higher level.

Some sound or subtle movement on Jill’s part made me glance at her. Her face was shiny with tears. She did not move at all or make any sound, but when I looked up both Joe and Salinger were staring silently at Jill.

Joe stood up. He stooped over Jill saying something that got no answer, then said to the room that we would have to go now.

“Yes,” I got to my feet. “We really have to go.”

Joe and I fetched our coats and Jill’s while she and Salinger stood silently. As we headed for the door Salinger came alive and spoke up. “No, no,” he said. “Please don’t go. Please stay and have another drink. Don’t go now.” He was shaking his head.

“Really, we must go,” I said. “I’m sorry.” And I was, I certainly was.

I did not understand exactly why Jill had broken down, but it was impossible to think that we could stay.

We stood awkwardly on the sidewalk waiting for a cab. One came quickly and Salinger asked again that we change our minds. “Come back in, please, have another drink.”

The three of us got into the cab. Joe gave the driver my address and when the cab began to move Salinger began walking, then running, alongside, still asking us to change our minds. He hit the cab—with his fist, I supposed—and the driver braked.

Joe said, “Drive on!” Salinger was looking in through the window beside me. “Stop. Please come back!” He was shouting now in the quiet street.

The cab moved and got through the intersection. Joe said angrily, “He’s absolutely crazy.”

I do not remember anything else being said during the short ride to where I was living. Jill and Joe kept the cab and went home.

During the days and weeks that followed I brooded about what had gone wrong with the evening. I wanted badly to understand it. Something critical had been said or done. What was it?

SEVERAL YEARS after the party, I learned from Jill that at mid-evening she had gone up to our mother’s bedroom to use the bathroom and that when she came out of it she had found Salinger lying on the guests’ coats piled on the bed. He had proposed to her that she leave the party with him right then, that very minute. He would drive them to Cornish that night. They would leave everything in their lives and start a new one together.

I asked her why she had said no.

“I was smitten with Jerry that evening,” she admitted. Then she added, “But I wondered what he and I would be saying to one another around Hartford”—Hartford being about halfway to Cornish.

I’ve often wondered if Jill has ever thought of contacting Salinger. I asked her once, but she dismissed the idea, and we haven’t spoken of it much since.

Blair Fuller is an editor emeritus of The Paris Review. He is the author of two novels, A Far Place and Zebina’s Mountain, as well as Art in the Blood: Seven Generations of American Artists in the Fuller Family. He lives in Tomales, California.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tonight's set list

At The Habit, York: -

Love Song
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Rocky Raccoon

Busy night (lots of players) so everyone limited to 4 songs. Had to leave early as there's now work in the morning once again.

Liz 'n' Bob

Elizabeth Taylor RIP

Age 79

Dame Elizabeth Taylor
Dame Elizabeth Taylor, who died on March 23 aged 79, made more than 50 films, won two Oscars, was a grandmother at 39 and was married eight times to seven men.

Statistics related to her lifestyle filled more column inches in the press than assessments of her acting ability. Her $1 million fee for appearing in Cleopatra (1963) set a new record at the time, as did the film’s ultimate $37 million budget. It was a moot point whether the cost of the diamonds bestowed upon her by her fifth (and sixth) husband, Richard Burton (they divorced and remarried), notched up more millions than they weighed in carats.

A woman of exceptional physical beauty, she grew into the most photographed Hollywood film star of all. Other love goddesses, such as Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, were not in her league in terms of public and press attention. Everything she did was news.

Her career was long and many-stranded. She began as a child star and, with Natalie Wood and Judy Garland, shared the rare distinction of enjoying even greater fame as an adult. Her affair with, and subsequent marriage to, Richard Burton catapulted her into world headlines and gave her waning popularity a fillip just when it was needed. With Burton she embarked on a long series of films which, at least at first, became box-office hits thanks to curiosity alone, regardless of their quality.

In later life she moved into television and cameo roles, barely needing to act. Her mere presence at a party or at one of her multiple weddings was sufficient to command attention. She was renowned for gaining weight, for losing it, for alcoholism, drug dependency, detoxification and — throughout her life — for a succession of often life-threatening ailments. Ulcers, amoebic dysentery, bursitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, brain tumours — she had them all. And survived, every time — until now. She underwent more than 30 operations, once after nearly choking on a chicken bone.

To her credit, she was a tireless fund-raiser on behalf of Aids and cancer research and a generous supporter of Jewish and Israeli causes following her conversion from Christian Science to Judaism, the religion of her third husband, Mike Todd. This resulted in her films being banned in many Arab countries.

As an actress, she improved with practice. Most of her early work, as a child star and young teenager, was indifferent, relying on giant close-ups of her dazzling beauty and violet eyes. In 1951, however, under the direction of George Stevens in A Place in the Sun, she gave a performance of some subtlety, hinting at better things to come.

Critics found her acting aspirations easy to mock. Joseph L Mankiewicz, who directed her in the Tennessee Williams adaptation Suddenly Last Summer (1959), was congratulated on extracting from her a mediocre performance, “which is a definite step up in her dramatic career”. The British theatre critic Jack Tinker greeted her attempt to conquer the West End with the observation that “she teeters on the brink of competence”.

Yet in the right part she could be effective. She registered strongly in Tennessee Williams’s Cat on A Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Suddenly Last Summer, and won her first Oscar in 1960, for Butterfield 8, in which she played a call girl. It was not her best work, and even she conceded that it was largely a sympathy award since she had nearly died of pneumonia — and lost a husband in a plane crash — the previous year.

Nevertheless, it was a solid performance, and in 1966 she won a second Oscar, this time better deserved, for the film of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It was her finest work — a splendidly blowsy, foul-mouthed performance for which she added several pounds to accentuate her overripe figure.

Marrying (and getting divorced) became almost a second career, and became her principal claim to fame. She was still almost a child when she married Conrad (Nicky) Hilton, heir to the hotel fortune, in 1951. It was publicised as a marriage made in heaven but lasted only a few months. Subsequent evidence suggests that he beat her even on their honeymoon.

Her second marriage, in 1952, was to the debonair English actor Michael Wilding, then 40 years old and twice her age. This lasted five years and was followed immediately by a brief marriage to the movie mogul Mike Todd, who was killed in a plane crash in 1958; contracted as she was to the studio, she was allowed a week off and then compelled to finish filming Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The singer Eddie Fisher had been best man at her wedding to Todd and rushed to console her in her grief. The following year they married, earning Elizabeth Taylor a reputation in some quarters as a home-wrecker, since Fisher had been married through much of this period to Debbie Reynolds. For her part, Elizabeth Taylor strongly denied the charge. “I’m not taking anything away from Debbie Reynolds,” she insisted, “because she never really had it.”

Fisher lasted no longer than his predecessors. In a much-reported affair during the making of Cleopatra in 1963, she left him for her co-star Richard Burton, who became the most durable of all her husbands. They were initially married for 10 years, divorced in 1974, remarried in the following year and divorced for good in 1976.

She had two more husbands — the politician John W Warner, to whom she was married between 1976 and 1982, and the former truck driver Larry Fortensky, 20 years her junior, whom she had met when they were both attending a treatment centre for drink and drug abuse. They married in 1991 (when she had just turned 60) at a ranch owned by her close friend Michael Jackson, and divorced in 1996. “I’m not marrying again,” she vowed. “I promise.”

She was born Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor on February 27 1932 in London. Her mother had been an actress before her marriage under the stage name Sara Sothern, while her father, who had been born in Kansas, had come to England as a buyer for his uncle, a successful St Louis art dealer. Later he established his own gallery in Old Bond Street.

They lived in Hampstead, where Elizabeth attended a co-educational private school and took dancing lessons from Madame Vacani. She had made her stage debut at the age of three, dancing a recital before members of the Royal family at the London Hippodrome. Her godfather, Victor Cazalet, also encouraged her to take up riding, presenting her with a pony which she was allowed to exercise on his estate in Kent. This proved invaluable practice for one of her earliest film roles, in National Velvet (1944).

Shortly before the Second World War the family returned to America, settling in Pasadena and later in Beverly Hills. Elizabeth’s mother supported her daughter in her film ambitions, and in 1941 she landed a one-year contract with Universal, which used her only once, in a small part in There’s One Born Every Minute (1942).

Elizabeth’s father, however, became friendly with the MGM producer Sam Marx, with whom he shared air-raid warden duties. Marx was seeking a little girl to play the granddaughter of an English lord in Lassie Come Home (1943) and agreed to give Elizabeth a test. It was a notable success and she got the part.

Still a child, she had to complete her education at MGM’s own school, and in 1950 she obtained her diploma from the University High School in Hollywood.

MGM used her skilfully as a child actress, both in its own films — such as National Velvet, in which she played the first little girl ever to win the Grand National as a jockey, and Courage of Lassie (1946), a sequel to Lassie Come Home — and in those for which she was lent to other studios, such as Twentieth Century-Fox’s Jane Eyre, in which she played Jane’s tragic friend Helen Burns.

Throughout the late 1940s she gradually matured on screen, receiving her first on-screen kiss (from Jimmy Lydon) in Life with Father (1947), playing Amy in the 1949 version of Little Women, and graduating to adult roles in Conspirator (1950), a Cold War thriller in which she played the wife of her namesake Robert Taylor.

Capitalising on her engagement to Nicky Hilton, MGM shrewdly cast her in Father of the Bride (1950), as Spencer Tracy’s daughter. It proved so successful that a sequel — Father’s Little Dividend, depicting the birth of Tracy’s first grandchild — was made the following year with the same cast.

For A Place in the Sun (1951), the George Stevens production based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy, she was lent to Paramount. A powerful drama about a yuppie before his time who is caught between two different social milieux and pays for it with his life, it was one of the most celebrated pictures of its year and contained a love scene between Taylor and Montgomery Clift, dissolving from one giant close-up to the next, that has become a cinematic classic. Taylor’s performance, as the spoilt rich girl with whom Clift falls in love, earned the first favourable notices of her adult career.

Well cast as the Jewish girl Rebecca in Ivanhoe (1952), her star was rising fast, and she was able to command a much-improved seven-year contract at $5,000 a week. Highlights of this period included Elephant Walk (1954), again made for Paramount when the original star, Vivien Leigh, was forced to withdraw through illness; the Regency romance Beau Brummell (1954); and Giant (1956), her second appearance for George Stevens. In this film, she was required to age some 30 years from start to finish; her co-stars were James Dean (in his last screen role) and Rock Hudson, who became a personal friend.

With Montgomery Clift she appeared in another epic, Raintree County (1957), though production was interrupted by a serious car accident in which Clift’s features were damaged and had to be partly reconstructed by plastic surgery. The crash happened outside Elizabeth Taylor’s house, and she was the first to reach him. After several minutes she managed to decipher his mumbled request: “Please take out my teeth.” With characteristic bravery, she pulled out the four lodged in his tongue. The ambulance took 45 minutes to arrive.

Then followed her Tennessee Williams years, her Oscar for Butterfield 8 and the momentous meeting with Richard Burton during the shooting of Cleopatra.

This was a famously troubled production. She had not originally wanted the role (which was offered to Joan Collins) and asked for a record fee of $1 million only to try to put off the producers. Filming started in London but had to be suspended — after $5 million had been spent — when Miss Taylor fell ill and was admitted to the London Clinic. After she recovered, Twentieth Century Fox decided to scrap what had already been filmed, change the cast and director and start from scratch in Italy.

Rex Harrison replaced Peter Finch as Caesar; Burton took over Antony from Stephen Boyd; and Joseph L Mankiewicz, who had directed Taylor in Suddenly Last Summer, took the helm. But as location work strung out and the running time lengthened to almost four hours, the budget rocketed to $37 million, nearly bringing Fox to its knees.

Despite this fiasco, the liaison with Burton opened a new phase in Elizabeth Taylor’s career. They appeared constantly together — in lowbrow fare such as The VIPs (1963), The Sandpiper (1965) and Hammersmith Is Out (1972), as well as in highbrow literary ventures such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Others in a literary vein included The Taming of the Shrew (1967), Dr Faustus and an adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians (both 1967); another Tennessee Williams movie in 1968, based on his early work The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore but renamed Boom! for the screen; and, in 1971, a version of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, for which she worked for no salary but a share of the profits. Her final collaboration with Burton was on a two-part television drama called Divorce His, Divorce Hers (1974).

With the exception of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? none of these was a critical success, but many were box-office hits thanks to the apparently insatiable public appetite for anything pertaining to “the Burtons”. She made other, better films with distinguished casts and fine directors — John Huston’s film of Carson McCullers’s Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), for example, opposite Marlon Brando; and Joseph Losey’s Secret Ceremony, with Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum. But they were commercial failures. By this stage in her career, Taylor was a superstar only in harness with Burton.

Much of her later film work was not well received. George Stevens, who had steered her through two of her earlier successes, A Place in the Sun and Giant, directed her again in his last film, a romantic drama called The Only Game in Town, with Warren Beatty, but lightning did not strike thrice. X, Y and Zee (1972), based on an Edna O’Brien novel, found more favour, but few had time for the thriller Night Watch or the soap opera Ash Wednesday (both 1973).

Other films included an ill-starred Russian-American co-production, The Blue Bird (1976); a film of the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music (1977); a non-speaking cameo in the political thriller Winter Kills (1979); and a role in one of the Agatha Christie adaptations, The Mirror Crack’d (1980). Among her last screen appearances was as an opera singer in Franco Zeffirelli’s Young Toscanini (1980), which was launched at the Venice Film Festival but jeered off the screen and never released.

In 1981 Elizabeth Taylor made her Broadway debut in a revival of Lillian Hellman’s melodrama The Little Foxes, playing the scheming Regina Giddens, a role Bette Davis played in the 1941 film version. Reviews were mostly snooty, though the production subsequently toured to New Orleans, Los Angeles and London, where the limited run was cut short in 1982.

A second Broadway venture, a 1983 revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives opposite Richard Burton, from whom she was then divorced, ran for only 63 performances.

Elizabeth Taylor was appointed DBE in 1999.

In recent years she had been in poor health, but took a keen interest in her scent and jewellery lines. She was also one of Michael Jackson’s most vocal supporters in 2005 when he was accused, and acquitted, of sexually abusing a child.

In December 2007 she and James Earl Jones gave a benefit performance of AR Gurney’s play Love Letters to raise money for her Aids foundation.

Elizabeth Taylor was mother to four children: two sons by Michael Wilding; a daughter by Mike Todd; and a handicapped German girl whom she adopted with Richard Burton. In recent years she had been close to Jason Winters.

Beach Boys Engineer Mark Linett Talks 'Smile' Release

by Ed Christman, N.Y.
March 11, 2011

While Mark Linett is a two time Grammy Award winning engineer and producer who has worked with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Jane's Addicition, Los Lobos and Randy Newman among others, he most closely associated with his work with the Beach Boys. For nearly 25 years, Linett has worked on the band's catalog and has produced the reissues of the entire Beach Boys catalog including the "Pet Sounds Sessions" and "Good Vibrations" box sets. He also works on Brian Wilson solo album including doing research in preperation for the 2004 release of "Brian Wilson Presents... SMiLE," for which Linett was nominated for a Grammy for best engineered recording. Here he chats about working on the SMiLE sessions, which he is producing in conjunction with long-time Beach Boy archivist Alan Boyd, for release later this year.

Beach Boys' Lost 'Smile' Album to See Release in 2011

How long have you been working on the "Smile" project to get it ready for release?
In one sense I began working on it 25 years ago. I have been working with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys catalog since 1987. We first took a quick look at the "Smile" material back in 1988 and then it was shelved again until Brian Wilson put out "Smile" in 2004. We started working on it about August or September of last year [and] doing our digital transfers last fall; even though the project hadn't been confirmed, it seemed likely. That way when the project did get a green light, we would be a way a head of the game. And we knew we would be dealing with roughly 50 separate recording sessions for the project and that doesn't even include the sessions for "Good Vibrations."

How much work have you put into it?
At this point I would say we have put in a couple of hundred hours going through the roughly 50 sessions because we want to present them in a form similar to what we did on the "Pet Sounds" box, where the sessions are condensed down to the most interesting and informative to get the fly on the wall bits to give a real sense of how this project was created.

The Beach Boys have a tremendous amount of material in their vaults. We do know of things that have gone missing over the past 40-odd years. Now that the project has the green light, we think we have a better opportunity to make sure there is nothing else out there that we haven't been able to locate because the project has never come to fruition. So one of the objects here is to make sure that everything that still exists can be a part of this project.

How much of this project was completed before it was abandoned?
We are still working on the sessions so we haven't begun assembling what would normally be considered an album, which in this case will only be a representation of where the project got before it was put aside by Brian and the group. All of the tracks were recorded. A lot of the vocals seem to not have been completed.

Brian spent a tremendous amount of time on "Heroes & Villains". [There's] even a slightly longer version of the one that was released as a single, which includes several extra sections doesn't even have to begin to encompass every variation of that song. And I should point out that the most interesting thing about "Smile" is that it took Brian's original concept, which he first used with "Good Vibrations,"-he would record the song in sections in different variations and then sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, assemble the final backing track before going on to vocals.

So Brian spent most of his time on "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes & Villains"?
"Good Vibrations," if memory serves, was recorded twice as a complete songs. After the first two sessions, he started to record pieces. They would do a verse, a chorus, a bridge at various sessions and in different ways. "Good Vibrations" was extremely complicated, I can't remember exactly how many sessions were actually used to create the final backing tracks but it was quite a few - I think there were in excess of 20 backing track sessions that were considered for that song.

I am always astounded that if you listen, as I have, to the entire recorded output on that song; and then look at what was assembled as the final backing tracks and some of the experiments that didn't get used-it was an amazing accomplishment. I am just amazed that not only was he able to put that together, but of course it was so influential and successful at the same time. And originally, the song was much more of you would describe a Wilson Pickett kind of R&B number in the chorus and that ultimately didn't get used. When he got to "Smile," "Heroes & Villains" took that a step further and recorded enormous amount of different pastiches of themes both vocally and instrumentally.

What will the changes in studio technology bring to "Smile" today?
[Brian] was doing this with very primitive technology that we now do on a daily basis with digital recordings, reusing sections and moving them around. Its interesting to surmise if he had the current technology what might have happened. It would have been so much easier to do these experiments.

The advantage that we have now is digital editing that we didn't even have in 1996 when we were editing for the "Pet Sounds" boxset; it was still on tape with razor blades. So it goes a lot faster but there is still about 20 times as much material [on "Smile"]. But that almost makes it 20 times as interesting to present that much material.¨

"Smile" is one of the most bootlegged albums of all time. What will be new for the listener?
For most of them, the whole thing will be new. The Beach Boys have an enormous amount of material from their whole career and [since] we have been actively doing an archive project for about 10 years, there are things that we have discovered that the bootleggers missed.

And the other important thing is bootleggers tend to present every single take... We are obviously going to use the best versions and there are things that we can do that was just technologically impossible when those bootlegs were made in the 1980's.

For example, we can put Brian's vocal back into "Surf's Up," which was a group track in the 1970s [on the "Surf's Up" album]. Brian recorded a basic track with a full band for part one. And he also recorded a sort of a demo version, its just him double-tracked and a piano track. What the band did was they used the part one backing track and tried to fly Brian's vocal into that, but the technology at the time really made that impossible. So what happened was that Carl sang the [lead] vocal and overdubs were added [forthe Surf's Up album version]. And for the second half, they used Brian's piano vocal piece and added very few additions.

With the technology we have today, its much much easier to take Brian's vocal for part one and put it onto the backing track. I have done it and its quite nice. Now we have the ability to shift time things very easily so those synchronizations can be accomplished.

Will there be one complete version of the album in the way it was presented 2004 and will that album serve as the guide line for the "Smile" Sessions track listing?
We have gaps, we have missing vocals. We aren't missing any music which is heartening. All the songs were recorded. Most of it is there. I can't be sure that we won't still come up with something because we do know that there were other things recorded, but the tapes are no longer in the group's possession. And unfortunately they may have been destroyed years ago.

We have some rough mixes from 1966, which will probably become part of the quote album. There seems to be less of that than you might expect. That also leads to believe, it really wasn't close to being finished when it was put aside to go to the next project.

If you take Brian's 2004 version as a blueprint, [it will have] all of that music, all of the significant parts and even the little segue ways. For the most part, that project was heavily researched by myself and others to make sure Brian had available all the parts that had been recorded back in 1966 and 1967. Some lyric additions were made in 2004 that hadn't been completed before the project was abandoned. That's some of the questions that we have to do deal with. How will we are going to present those few pieces. But there really aren't too many. The biggest one is the song that became Blue Hawaii, which started out as a thing called "Loved to Say Dada," which is sort of the water section of the piece. That had background but no lead vocal.

What will you do. Will you add vocals?
Don't know yet. The general consensus appears to be not to do any recording just because this is a historic piece, but its a little premature because we are still trying to get 30 hours worth of sessions down to some kind of playable length. Even at that, it will be at least 3 CD to represent the sessions.

But will you attempt to present it as an album in a certain song order?
Oh sure, we will present it probably on a single CD, and the vinyl will have to be three sides; I am not sure what the fourth side will encompass at this point. When we did Brian's version in 2004, it had to span 3 sides to fit. And there is another indication of I just don't know. I don't know if he was going to eliminate songs; it was surely never proposed than more than a single album to Capital at that time. Fortunately we don't have that restriction anymore; the CD will allow us 80 minutes which is more than enough. But we will certainly going to present the whole piece as close to it as was envisioned, or as is envisioned, as possible. Obviously, [it will be] with input from Brian as from everybody else.

Will it be in mono or stereo?
At this point I would probably say mono because that's the way Brian intended it, although the sessions will be presented in stereo. One other consideration, with some of the bonus space, we ight present at least some of the album, the stack of tracks version in stereo.

Were the Beach Boys on the tracks or was it mainly the legendary L.A. session musicians, the Wrecking Crew?
The tracks are, by and large, the Wrecking Crew. Carl is on some of the sessions; Dennis is on a few of them. And of course the vocals, there are numerous vocal sessions that are all the Beach Boys, depending on who is taking the lead, sometimes its Carl, sometimes it Dennis, sometimes its Brian. Most of the significant vocal sessions are group sessions and Brian seem to have gone back to the idea of doing the vocals with the group around one mike as opposed to doing the lead separate from the background, especially with "Heroes and Villains."

Will Paul McCartney be on the album?
If Paul McCartney is on "Vegetables," it is that version. This is one of those stories that has been told over the years and you would really have to ask somebody who was there to confirm whether Paul was there. Yes, there are two versions of "Vegetables," well there are three if you count the "Smiley Smile" version; and certainly one that will appear on the album version as well as the special version is that one Paul McCartney purportedly is participating in the vegetable crunching.

That is another point. There is versions of these songs that were not used. Brian re-recorded some of these songs again. It's clear which versions were meant for the album, but towards the end of the project he started thinking that some of these needed to be re-recorded and got as far as cutting tracks for two or three of them. And those will also be presented. There are a few extras., the song, "You're Welcome," which was the b-side of "Heroes & Villains" doesn't seem like that was ever going to be a part of the album; it didn't wind up being part of Brian's 2004 version, so that will be included in the sessions.

We are acting as the producers. But until we got something pretty well laid out, we are not going to get a whole lot of feedback from anybody. Some of these questions are hard to answer because not only haven't we assembled them yet, then this has to be played for Brian and the other members of the group and see what kind of input they have. Just because Brian did it the way he did it in 2004, [who knows if] he won't say we'll lets add, "You're Welcome," it will be a nice throwdown.

So how will you go about assembling the sessions portion of the project?
The boxset will present hopefully all of the [50] recording sessions [which comprise 30 hours] but do it in a condensed form so what the listener hears is like being the fly on the wall; so the listener hears the most important and most interesting parts musically and also the interaction between Brian and the group and the musician.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart

Paul Gambaccini returns with the award-winning series to look back at four more occasions on which a classic live album was recorded. He hears from those who were there, on-stage, backstage and in the audience, to re-create the event for all of us who, each time we play the album, think: 'If only I could have been there'.

When 'The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart' appeared in 1960 it became the first comedy album ever to top the charts. From 'The Driving Instructor' to 'Abe Lincoln vs Madison Avenue', the sketches that earned Newhart Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Comedy Performance were as popular in Britain as in the US. And they still raise a laugh more than fifty years on.

In this first edition of the new series, Paul Gambaccini talks to the now 81-year-old comedy star himself who, before the legendary album, was an accountant who leavened the office monotony by working up 'phone' routines with a colleague. When Chicago DJ Dan Sorkin heard a tape of the pair, he thought Bob's end of the act was good enough to record and managed to interest George Avakian of Warner Brothers Records. Avakian wanted Bob in front of a live audience and found a club in Houston - The Tidelands - where the manager, Dick Maegle, agreed to let the novice perform. Sorkin, Avakian and Maegle have all been interviewed for the programme.

So on 12 February 1960 a nervous Bob went out on stage. The result is as fresh today as it was then. Paul Gambaccini hears the story of the making of this classic album

Producer: Marya Burgess

Available to listen to for only a few days:

Lorraine Mariner