Skip to main content

From the Archives: Bobby Short, From Danville to New York.

Singer and pianist Bobby Short. This year marks his 30th-Anniversary performing at New York's Cafe Carlyle. Telarc records has just put out a CD called "Bobby Short and His Orchestra Celebrating 30 Years at the Cafe Carlyle. Short has appeared as himself in several movies including Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters". (Originally aired 10/1/85)

22:15

Other segments from the episode on February 6, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 6, 1998: Interview with Bobby Short; Interview with Cari Beauchamp; Interview with Ian Whitcomb; Review of Jim Lauderdale's and Buddy Miller's albums "Whisper"…

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 020601NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Bobby Short
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

America's foremost cabaret singer, Bobby Short, has a new CD celebrating his 30th anniversary at the elegant New York night spot the Cafe Carlyle. On today's archive edition, we have an interview we recorded back in 1985 after the publication of his memoir.

Short's vast repertoire covers the history of American popular song from early Kern and Berlin to Sondheim. His performances and records have kept alive Porter and Gershwin favorites, and have revived many of their forgotten gems.

Let's start with a song from one of Bobby Short's early albums recorded in the late 1950s. The song is "Fun to be Fooled" with music by Harold Arlen and a lyric by Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg (ph).

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "FUN TO BE FOOLED")

BOBBY SHORT, SINGER AND PIANIST, SINGING:
Spring is here
I'm a fool if I fall again
And yet
I'm intrigued by love's call again

You say you love me
I know from the past
You mean to love me
But these things don't last

Fools rush in
To begin new love affairs
But tonight
Tonight, my dear, who cares?

Fun to be fooled
Fun to pretend
Fun to believe
Love is unending

Thought I was done
Still it is fun
To be fooled again

Nice when you tell
All that you feel
Nice to be told
This is the real thing

Fun to be kissed
Fun to exist
To be fooled again

It's that old devil moon
Having his fling once more
Selling me spring once more
I'm afraid love is king once more

Fun to be fooled
Fun to pretend
This little dream won't end

It's that old devil moon
Having its fling once more
Selling me spring once more
I'm afraid love is king once more

Fun to be fooled
Fun to pretend
This little dream won't end

GROSS: Bobby Short singing and accompanying himself at the piano.

Short represents sophistication, but he's not a native of the high society that embraced him. He grew up in Danville, Illinois where his mother was active in the church and made a living as a domestic. Short played road houses and the vaudeville circuit before reaching puberty.

Bobby Short told me that when he was a child, jazz was frowned on by the church, but he listened anyway.

If your mother was kind of strict about what kind of music you went to hear, how did you end up playing in road houses and saloons when you were nine?

SHORT: Well you have to remember that back in those days, there was a deep, deep Depression spread over America. And money was awfully hard to come by. And the fact that I could earn money made a lot of things different.

GROSS: What kind of material were you playing when you were a child?

SHORT: Jazz -- oh, pure jazz. We played all the popular songs in the saloons. People danced. And then when I was 12, I left Danville and I became involved in honest to goodness vaudeville.

GROSS: And what were you doing there?

SHORT: I was playing the piano and singing then, but I was in a white tails suit, you see, on the stage. And I performed with great dignity and I was a child performer.

GROSS: Did you have to learn to tap dance and things like that?

SHORT: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I think every other colored kid in America -- I say "colored" because that was the word they used in those days -- on the stage tap danced. I could never learn to tap dance very well. And I played the piano and sang. I was given lessons constantly. I could not learn to dance. And I played and sang, though, and I had my white tails suit. I performed on vaudeville stages around the Midwest and part of the east.

GROSS: Were you singing songs with sophisticated and world-weary lyrics when you were 12?

SHORT: Well, they were -- it was difficult in those days to find songs that were exactly suitable for a 12-year-old. But there were a couple of kids around in those days performing, and so whenever -- big star kids, I mean, like Judy Garland and Bobby Bree (ph) and Deanna Durbin and Harold Nicholas (ph). And whenever they sang a song, I'd think, well, this is appropriate for me to sing. But it was not easy to find songs for a kid to sing. 'Course, I preferred to sing about smoking and drinking and never thinking of tomorrow.

GROSS: What did it mean to you, though?

SHORT: Oh, it just meant sophistication, I suppose, and grown-up, which of course I was not. But I -- my mind was very receptive to sophisticated music and so of course it didn't matter to me about the lyrics. I just thought they were something that went along with the music.

GROSS: Had you taken piano lessons?

SHORT: Not really. I'm self-taught, mainly. And at one point during my very early years at the piano, my mother thought that I should take lessons, because in those days every household had a piano and always somebody in the household played the piano. And my mother played the piano a tiny bit. All the Renders (ph) -- all -- that's my mother's family -- were musical to some degree.

GROSS: Well, you have extraordinary enunciation. Do you credit any of that to your vocal coach?

SHORT: My vocal coach, and I think my good ear, and really whiz-bang high school education in Danville, Illinois.

GROSS: Are there any, like, secrets to enunciating without doing anything that really exaggerates the -- exaggerates the language too much?

SHORT: I think there are tricks, and those tricks are some of the things that learned from my old music teacher in Illinois at Danville High School. I think there are ways to go about pronouncing certain sounds, certain vowel sounds, that make it -- that make the sounds less offensive.

Because sometimes an "owl" sound can sound terrible. You don't want to, like -- you'll -- say you've learned to say "now-oo" instead of "now." And you learn to grab onto those consonants as quickly as you possibly can. And there are ways.

GROSS: You were telling us a couple of minutes ago that you took voice lessons, but you're self-taught at the piano. Do you know how to read music? Did you teach yourself how to do that?

SHORT: Not really very well at all, and I've such respect now for the music that I play that I don't rely upon myself at all to take a song and learn it cold. If I'm really in difficulty, I'll call in a pianist to teach me the song.

GROSS: And they'll sit down and...

SHORT: Sit down and show me the proper chords, and I have this -- this indestructible memory which has helped me all these years.

GROSS: I figure you must -- 'cause you're...

LAUGHTER

... you know so -- you know hundreds and hundreds of songs.

SHORT: Yes.

GROSS: Do you ever blank out on the words?

SHORT: I have a few times, but most of the time if I just -- I have a computer inside somewhere -- if I just press the right combination of numbers, it all comes rolling right out again after years and years and years of neglect.

GROSS: When did you start actually developing the repertoire that you're famous for now of popular song standards -- Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin?

SHORT: I began that as soon as I knew about it. I heard a funny story about a young lady from Mississippi who had moved to New York, and somebody said: "when did you first go to New York?" She said: "soon as I heard about it."

LAUGHTER

As soon as I heard about Rodgers and Hart -- I didn't know a thing about Rodgers and Hart in Danville, Illinois. Cole Porter's name we all knew about, but we didn't know about Rodgers and Hart. We didn't know about Arthur Schwartz (ph) and Howard Dietz. We knew about George Gershwin, of course, and "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Porgy and Bess."

But the people who -- who were the mainstays on the Broadway musical stage were unknown to us in a small town like Danville. But as soon as I left Danville, I learned about those things, and it became an all-consuming interest with me. And I set about learning all I could possibly learn.

GROSS: Could you tell what attracted you to those songs? Why you knew that that was it and not boogie-woogie and not the blues?

SHORT: I don't know. I felt that I was better equipped to -- I've always had a great fondness for the language. And I had four years of English in high school, which should tell you something. And I've always been attracted to words and the putting together of phrases and sentences. And I used to write poetry when I was a child.

And I felt that to sing these songs was not going to wear me out and bore me. And so, I learned them. It wasn't easy because my agents at the time would have had a much easier time promoting a young black boy who played boogie-woogie and sang, than a young black boy who was singing the latest hits from some obscure Cole Porter show on Broadway.

But I had learned the rudiments of performing when I was a child, and so I was always entertaining the people and it didn't much matter with what I was entertaining them, so long as I entertained them.

GROSS: You have been at the Cafe Carlyle since 1968.

SHORT: Yes.

GROSS: Can you tell us the story of how you first became the pianist and singer there?

SHORT: Oh, it's a very -- it's not a big story. It's just that I was called in. The new owner, Peter Sharpe (ph) owned the hotel. He called me in one day to take the place of his vacationing pianist, who'd been there for a long time. And I was a great success in the room. And so of course they asked me if I'd come back and play an engagement there. And of course I wanted to because I'd always wanted to work at the Cafe Carlyle.

And with that, I believe they offered their -- their steady pianist half the year and me the other half of the year. And he did not like that arrangement at all, and so they gave the whole year to me, which I quickly altered to suit my own capacities.

GROSS: We're featuring a 1985 interview with Bobby Short, who is now celebrating his 30th anniversary at the Cafe Carlyle in New York. We'll hear more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Before we get back to our interview with Bobby Short, let's hear him do a song from one of the composers he's most associated with, Cole Porter. This is Short's 1957 recording of "Dream Dancing."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "DREAM DANCING")

SHORT, SINGING: When day is gone
And night comes on
Until the dawn
What do I do?

I touch your hand
And wander through slumberland
Dream dancing
With you

We glide between
A sky serene
And fields of green
Sparkling with dew

It's joy sublime
Whenever I spend my time
Dream dancing
With you

Dream dancing
Oh, what a lucky windfall
Touching you, clutching you
All the night through

So say you love me, dear
And let me make my career
Dream dancing
To paradise prancing
Dream dancing with you

Dream dancing
Oh, what a lucky windfall
Touching you, clutching you
All the night through

So say you love me, dear
And let me make my career
Dream dancing
To paradise prancing
Dream dancing with you

GROSS: What do you see your role as being in American popular music?

SHORT: Oh, I don't know. I -- I am so shy about trying to put a label on myself. I just think that I play and sing what I like, and I don't attach any -- any long-term importance to it. It's given me pleasure. It's earned me a comfortable living. And it's entertained a lot of people, I suppose, over the years.

But I don't look upon myself as some kind of prophet or paragon of invention of whatever, you know. I'm kind of a keeper of the flame, I suppose.

GROSS: Well one of the things you've done for me as a listener is introduce me to songs that I fear I wouldn't otherwise have found out about. And then, you know, kept songs alive that I've really enjoyed, too.

How do you find the songs that are the lesser-known gems that you perform?

SHORT: Well, I have a rather good ear for things like that. And then, of course, if it gets around that you're into songs like that, people who have access to them are all-too-willing to bring them to you. Many of the songs that I learned in the 1940s were brought by people who had heard them in shows or who loved them and hadn't heard them since they'd seen the show.

I was lucky enough to meet people who had written some of those songs, and of course they brought their songs to me -- people like Burton Lane and Cole Porter.

GROSS: What did Cole Porter bring to you?

SHORT: Oh, goodness, I can't even think, but he certainly gave me lots of extra lyrics to things.

GROSS: Did you ever perform when Cole Porter was in the room?

SHORT: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, many times.

GROSS: Did he have a way that he liked his songs interpreted?

SHORT: Well, I never found him fidgety about his songs being interpreted by performers. I never found him demanding or too critical. Many composers are. But this was a very level-headed, I believe very democratic man -- Cole Porter. And I think that he was always aware of the fact that he came from Peru (ph), Indiana. I think more and more that he was aware of that.

And from a little society, a very socially ambitious mother -- but he was not a part, automatically, of the society that he sought or that -- or that took him up. And I think he remembered all of those humble beginnings. I don't mean "humble" in terms of poverty 'cause he was not poor, ever. But let's face it, coming from the Midwest and going off to crash into eastern society back in those days just wasn't being done very often.

GROSS: It's funny, 'cause his songs really define that kind of society, and he wasn't even...

SHORT: They do.

GROSS: ... from it.

SHORT: And so that is another thing that I've thought about a lot. I think that not being part of it gave him a chance to be objective about it, more than he could have been had he been part of the society.

GROSS: Isn't that true of you, in a way, too, because you were an outsider to New York...

SHORT: Absolutely.

GROSS: ... high society.

SHORT: Absolutely.

GROSS: And -- and now you've become a symbol of it.

SHORT: Well, not really -- not ever really a part of it. But I think that I share that with Cole Porter a great deal.

GROSS: Have your friends or fellow performers ever urged you to get with it and sing the "now" songs -- sing songs of today?

SHORT: Well, I went through a very, very bleak period in the 1960s when Beatle-itis took over the universe. And it was very tough-going for a while. And it was amazing how many people came to me and said: "look, if you want me to finance you, I'll finance you. You can buy yourself an act" -- that was the idea then. You bought an act. You had a choreographer. And you got an act -- learned some new songs -- and went out to Las Vegas, I suppose, and earned zillions of dollars a week.

I was asked to record this and record that, and to change my style and to change other things about myself -- the way I dressed, the way I looked, the way I presented myself. And it was very interesting that I held on and stuck to my guns and managed to survive.

GROSS: Were you -- was it suggested that you start wearing jump suits and...

SHORT: Well, costumes, you know. Just something smart from St. Laurent. I mean, in velvet or, you know, a coverall in silk or whatever -- just something far-out.

GROSS: But you don't expect to ever change either your repertoire or your...

SHORT: I don't think so.

GROSS: ... style of singing because of trends.

SHORT: I don't think so. There's danger in that at this point. I think that what it is that I've become is a fairly solidly founded thing, and it's certainly regarded by people who support me as something solid. And to -- to move out of that into something else would be a shock not only to my supporters and my fans, but also to my own sense of integrity.

GROSS: Bobby Short, recorded in 1985. His new CD is called "Bobby Short and His Orchestra Celebrating 30 Years at the Cafe Carlyle."

We'll hear a song from it -- the song is "Picture Me Without You," which was performed in the 1936 Shirley Temple film "Dimples." The song was written by Ted Kohler (ph) and Jimmy McHugh. The arrangement we'll hear is by the tenor saxophonist Lauren Schaumberg (ph).

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "PICTURE ME WITHOUT YOU")

SHORT, SINGING: Just picture me without you
And you without me
Just close your eyes and you'll see
How lonely we'd be

Skies would fall
Stars would all
Tumble
Life would be out of tune
Dreams would soon
Crumble

There'd be no me without you
No you without me
And yet, nobody could be
As happy as we
Smiling through
Always together

I can't picture me without you

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Bobby Short
High: Singer and pianist Bobby Short. This year marks his 30th anniversary performing at New York's Cafe Carlyle. Telarc records has just put out a CD called "Bobby Short and His Orchestra Celebrating 30 Years at the Cafe Carlyle. Short has appeared as himself in several movies including Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters."
Spec: Music Industry; Bobby Short; Piano; History; Great Depression; Cole Porter
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bobby Short
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRAURY 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 020602NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Without Lying Down
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: You may be surprised to hear that one of the most powerful screenwriters in early Hollywood -- the highest-paid screenwriter for several years -- was a woman. She wrote over 200 films, including the first "Stella Dallas" and "Anna Christie."

She won Oscars for "The Champ" and "The Big House." She wrote hit films for her friend Mary Pickford, including "Poor Little Rich Girl," "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," and "Pollyanna."

But her name is not well known, which is something her biographer is trying to change. My guest, Cari Beauchamp, has written a new biography called "Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood." The Museum of Modern Art in New York is now showing a retrospective of Marion's films.

Beauchamp says that Marion's success is in some ways not so surprising. Women wrote half of the Hollywood films produced before 1925. I asked Beauchamp why it was easier then for women to break into screenwriting.

CARI BEAUCHAMP, AUTHOR, "WITHOUT LYING DOWN: FRANCES MARION AND THE POWERFUL WOMEN OF EARLY HOLLYWOOD": Women, remember, in the teens and early '20s were also directors and producers. And I've come to conclude that the reason for that was that filmmaking was more collaborative; that women thrived in that collaborative setting.

It wasn't filmmaking by committee, because everybody did have their role, but it was collaborative and it was way before the time that we think of now as the "auteur" days of the director -- of the great director or of a single person putting their stamp on a film.

These people truly did work together. One of the most joyous times for Frances was in 1917 when she was signed as the exclusive screenwriter for Mary Pickford, and she and Mary Pickford and their friend Mickey Neelan (ph) who was the director created half a dozen films in two years that set incredible box office records, and here I'm talking about Pollyanna, The Little Princess and films like that.

But at the time, what's truly amazing to me is that Frances was 28, Mary was 25, and Mickey was 26.

GROSS: And the medium was very young, too.

BEAUCHAMP: The medium was very young. That was another key for why women were allowed in and -- not only allowed in, but then once they were in, were nurtured and flourished -- was that very few people took the movie-making business seriously as a business.

It was so quick -- it was growing so quickly, and films would be an idea one week, before the camera the next; in the theaters the next months. It was a very quick turnaround. And that Wall Street didn't really start to pay attention until the middle '20s.

GROSS: You mentioned that Frances Marion wrote a lot of films for Mary Pickford, and Mary Pickford had this, oh, sweet, naive image on screen. Wasn't she called "America's Sweetheart?"

BEAUCHAMP: Yes. That was her tag-line.

GROSS: But off screen, she was a real dynamo, from what I understand.

BEAUCHAMP: She was an incredible woman -- truly incredible woman. And having seen all of her films now and, of course, reading all the scripts, I grew to have tremendous respect for her talent. She also was, in many ways, encaptured by this image.

She would play roles like Pollyanna; of the "glad girl" -- the little sweetheart -- and her fans would love it. And then she would try to stretch with a film like "Stella Maris" (ph) or "The Love Light" where she played a -- falling in love with a German -- married woman falling in love with a German spy. And the fans did not like to see their "little Mary" in those type of roles.

And so while she personally felt the desire to stretch and prove herself this great actress, she was forced time and time again by, for commercial purposes, to return to the little girl role.

GROSS: Did Frances Marion...

BEAUCHAMP: ... and I think eventually she suffered from that.

GROSS: Did Frances Marion write a lot of those little girl roles for her? And did Frances Marion try to help her out of that image?

BEAUCHAMP: Frances wrote both. She wrote over half of all of Mary's films, and while they -- they were such good friends. Not -- to think of them just as a writer and a star doesn't begin to say it because they were -- they lived next door to each other for a while.

Then they lived within a block of each other. They would go to the studio together at seven in the morning. At night, Frances would read to Mary, while Mary had to spend an hour a night taking care of those golden curls -- washing and setting them.

They would figure out which film they were going to do next together, but more than that, Frances was there at the party in New York where Mary first met Douglas Fairbanks.

GROSS: When Frances Marion started writing movies in the silent era, what did it mean to be a screenwriter -- in the days before dialogue?

BEAUCHAMP: Well, I was frankly surprised when I went -- when I found scripts from as much as 19 -- as early as 1915 that were 60 pages in length. So what Frances would write would be the actions -- the pantomimes.

Frances prided herself in having a minimum number of titles needed -- those sheets that -- where people would read what people were saying -- because she felt strongly that if there was enough pantomime, you didn't need those explanations.

GROSS: The transition to sound films was a crisis for a lot of silent film stars because suddenly they had to speak -- people would hear their voices. What was the transition like for Frances Marion? As a screenwriter, she had to write a different type of screenplay.

BEAUCHAMP: Well, in some ways, they had to make -- they had to make dialogue instead of titles, but they were freer in certain ways because it didn't have to fit on that little single card anymore. But films still had to move.

Actions still had to be portrayed on the screen, and so for a while, studios went through -- for six months to a year -- they went through a minor crisis, bringing in dialogue coaches and Broadway stars who had had practice speaking.

But it was really just a crisis much more for the actors and actresses than it was for the writers. And Frances made a relatively easy transition. In fact, Irving Thalberg at MGM gave her the assignment of writing Greta Garbo's first talkie, Anna Christie. And she also had the assignment of writing Norma Shearer's first two talkies, and Norma Shearer was not only the queen of the lot, but Irving Thalberg's wife.

So that underscores the importance of Frances to MGM.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite of Marion's screenplays?

BEAUCHAMP: I love Stella Dallas. I also adore her "Scarlet Letter." I think some of the talkies are a lot of fun, but the silents are just gorgeous. Maybe one of my favorites, I think, is a film called "Zander the Great," (ph) which she wrote for Marion Davies.

And I think the reason that I like it so much is it opens with the scene of Marion in absolutely no makeup doing a bicycle routine worthy of Mack Sennett (ph) -- very funny, very clever.

It's the film of all of Marion Davies films where I think her incredible natural comedic talents come through. And it shows what Marion Davies could have been, as a talent, if Hearst had let her.

GROSS: William Randolph Hearst.

BEAUCHAMP: Right. And Hearst and -- William Randolph Hearst and Frances Marion worked together for 15 years off and on. Frances prided herself in going to different -- working with different studios and different producers; not being tied to just one, although she did do most of her work with MGM.

And Frances Marion and William Randolph Hearst had what I affectionately call a "15-year tug-of-war" over the proper kind of roles for Frances -- for Marion Davies. Hearst always wanted her in massive costume epics where she played this glamorous woman, and Frances fought very hard to have her scrubbed down playing natural comedic roles, which she thought showed her talent off the best.

GROSS: Marion Davies had a long-time relationship with William Randolph Hearst, although he was officially married to somebody else, but he and Davies even lived together.

BEAUCHAMP: Right. He and -- had had five sons by Millicent Hearst, and left them in New York from 1915 on, really, and lived with Marion Davies in California. And then, of course, built the San Simeon -- the incredible castle that they lived in and ruled from for over 30 years until Hearst's death in, I guess, 1953.

GROSS: My guest is Cari Beauchamp, author of the new biography of Frances Marion. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest Cari Beauchamp is the author of a new biography of Frances Marion, one of the most successful and prolific screenwriters in early Hollywood.

When Frances Marion was the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, how much was she making?

BEAUCHAMP: Well, she set the record originally in 1916 by being paid $200 a week, which at the time set all kinds of records. But very quickly thereafter, when she was signed in 1917 as Mary Pickford's exclusive screenwriter, she was paid $50,000 a year. Two years later, Hearst hired her to write for Marion at $100,000 a year.

So, I mean, even now, these are not small salaries and you can imagine what that bought in 1919.

GROSS: Why did Frances Marion earn so much? Did she have a style that was considered to be her specialty? Was she considered to have a golden touch?

BEAUCHAMP: She had a golden touch in a way, although she didn't really have to doctor other people's films. I mean, she always was looking at other films, but she wrote her own.

What Frances -- I think, made her films so special was she had a knack for creating characters that grabbed the audience very quickly. She gave her characters clever little quirks that endeared them to the audience.

Her bad guys, particularly, always had a fun little something that endeared them. Wallace Beery in "The Secret Six" is a big gangster, but he always drinks milk. And the same with Wallace Beery in "The Big House."

She has a scene where he cries and -- over his inability to read. I mean, these were some would say little, you know, feminine touches to these macho male characters, that Frances excelled in.

She also excelled in story structure. She could -- she loved writing the beginning and the end, and then filling it in the middle. She loved the full -- the arc of the story and which is one of the reasons her frustration grew in the early '30s when the production code started to mandate more and more regulations of what you could or could not do with your characters.

GROSS: What ended her career?

BEAUCHAMP: Well, Irving Thalberg's death in 1936 was sort of the beginning of the end for Frances, in the sense that -- not that he had protected her so much -- as -- and she called him "my rock of Gibraltar" -- but that he respected her. He -- and respected Anita Loos and the other women writers that he worked with so well and encouraged.

He -- in fact, when Irving died, Frances was on a leave of absence in Europe and I found a draft of a contract in her personnel file in MGM that said that when she returned in January of '37, she was to sign an exclusive contract to write, direct and produce for Irving Thalberg for the next five years.

Well, Irving died in September of '36, so that was -- we're unable to know what would have happened. But we do know that when she came back in January, Louis B. Mayer changed her contract to a week-to-week agreement. And Frances had been spoiled. She -- and she was the first to admit it.

She had worked wonderfully for years -- casting her films; working with these other actors; writing specifically for their talents; and working with them in a very collaborative way. And all of a sudden, she was on a week-to-week situation where she not only was to write her own scripts, but to be available to any director, any producer, to work on whatever screenplays they wanted doctored. And she found that very stultifying.

GROSS: By the time Frances Marion retired from screenwriting in 1946, I think the door had closed for women in a lot of ways. I mean, this was a period when you're not seeing so many women writing screenplays or directing. Is there -- what do you think are the factors that helped close the door, if you agree that that's what happened?

BEAUCHAMP: Well, I do agree that's what happened. I think it was a rather slow process, but I think it was not just in Hollywood. It was nationwide. And it happened to "Rosie the Riveter" -- it happened to all the women who had come forward in World War II. And with the return of the soldiers, women returned home. And that was a very huge cultural/social phenomenon.

GROSS: Yeah, but Frances Marion got started long before World War II. That's not what...

BEAUCHAMP: Oh, of course she...

GROSS: ... what helped her in or other women.

BEAUCHAMP: No, but it was -- it helped wipe out women from the studios in so many ways that I have found in my conversations with women in Hollywood today, where they have said: I thought I knew Hollywood history, and I thought women in Hollywood began in the '50s with Ida Lupino -- which is fascinating to me -- that they had a vague image of yes, Mary Pickford also ran her own studio, but the women of Hollywood are -- were for the most part thought to begin with Lupino in the late '50s, because women were so wiped out, not just Frances and not just screenwriters, but women in the publicity department and as assistant directors.

They were, except for Dorothy Arsner (ph) -- the one and only woman on the list of directors under contract in 1942.

GROSS: The Museum of Modern Art is currently doing a retrospective of Frances Marion's movies. What's it been like for you to see her movies with other people in a nice theater?

BEAUCHAMP: Oh, I tell you, it's -- for me, it's been the biggest thrill of this entire project. I mean, holding your own book in your hands in nice; getting lovely reviews is nice. But walking into Zander the Great a little late last week and seeing over 400 people laughing their heads off to Marion Davies was absolutely chilling to me.

It was the biggest thrill I've had, to know that these films are still drawing these kind of audiences. The Museum of Modern Art is very pleased with the incredible attendance they've had. It's averaging -- it's a theater that holds 480 people; it's averaging over 400 a screening, even for silent films without piano in the afternoon.

And there's 30 films being shown now, and their plan is to show another 30 films in January and February that will mostly be the silent films written by Frances and her group of women friends.

GROSS: Well Cari Beauchamp, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

BEAUCHAMP: Well, thank you very much.

GROSS: Cari Beauchamp is the author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Cari Beauchamp
High: Writer Cari Beauchamp is the author of the new book, "Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood." She was the highest paid writer, male or female, for three decades, and was also the first woman to win an Academy Award twice for screenwriting. Her stories were directed by George Cukor, John ford, and King Vidor. She was married four times who has said, "I spent my life searching for a man to look up to without lying down." But her friendships with women in Hollywood were legendary.
Spec: Movie Industry; Women; Hollywood; Frances Marion
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Without Lying Down
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 020603NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Nearer My God to Thee
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: In the movie "Titanic," the band's last song is "Nearer My God To Thee." Well, that's the way the legend tells it. But Ian Whitcomb (ph) says it's not true. Whitcomb is an expert on early 20th century pop music. His new CD "Titanic" features some of the songs performed by the band on the Titanic, with the same arrangements they used.

We're going to hear the song he says was the last one played by the band. But first, let's talk to him about it.

Ian, what makes you think that "Dream of Autumn" was actually the last song played on the Titanic, as opposed to Nearer My God To Thee?

IAN WHITCOMB, MUSICOLOGIST: Well, I think common sense and facts. First of all, common sense: if you are playing in a band in a crisis -- a ship going down, or if you're in a plane, say -- you wouldn't play something to scare people. Your whole job is to keep them calm. So common sense told me that.

And then I looked up the facts. The facts are that the newspapers at the time -- the New York Times, which I trust -- carried an interview with Harold Bride (ph), whose was the Marconi operator at the time. And he was one of the last men off the ship.

And he said quite categorically, the last tune that they were playing was "Autumn." We know that was short-hand for "Song D'Autumn" (ph). It wasn't the hymn. There is different tunes to that hymn. We know that he was referring to a current hit "Song D'Autumn" by the English composer Archibald Joyce (ph).

Then on top of that, we have the actual testimony of the survivors who wrote books. Colonel Gracie said the same thing. And the list goes on. And it just makes -- it makes sense. But of course, for the tabloids it made melodramatic sense to say that it was Nearer My God To Thee.

GROSS: Now, you think that the musicians were really the heroes of the Titanic. Tell me why.

WHITCOMB: Well, because they were altruistic in the true sense of the word. I mean, they weren't -- as far as we know, they weren't ordered to go off and play. They volunteered to go off and play. And they got -- they were still in their suits and they went into the lounge and assembled, with leader Wallace Hartley (ph) and began to play -- and wisely played ragtime to cheer people up and to prevent panic.

And then they moved up to the deck, too, and they went on playing right -- well, not 'til the end. I mean, sensibly, they stopped about an hour before the ship finally went down. And then did their best to save themselves. Of course, they all perished. But I think they're the heroes of the ship.

GROSS: Now, tell us about the arrangement we're going to hear on Dream of Autumn.

WHITCOMB: This is the original arrangement played by the band on board the ship. It's what they called a "stock" arrangement, which was published and given free to musicians in that time. And I love this arrangement. It's a beautiful, beautiful song and we have used exactly the same instruments. We haven't changed a note of this.

And I think you'll agree it's a lovely song and a much better tune than Nearer My God To Thee.

GROSS: Well Ian Whitcomb, thank you very much. And let's hear from your recording "Titanic: Music as Heard on the Fateful Voyage" -- the last song on the CD, which you say is also the last song they played, Dream of Autumn.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "DREAM OF AUTUMN," FROM "TITANIC: MUSIC AS HEARD ON THE FATEFUL VOYAGE")

GROSS: Music from Ian Whitcomb's new CD Titanic on Rhino Records.

Coming up, new CDs by two Nashville outsiders.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: In the movie "Titanic," the band's last song is "Nearer My God To Thee." Well, that's the way the legend tells it. But Ian Whitcomb says it's not true. Whitcomb is an expert on early 20th century pop music. His new CD "Titanic" features some of the songs performed by the band on the Titanic, with the same arrangements they used.
Spec: Movie Industry; Titanic; Music Industry; Nearer My God to Thee
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Nearer My God to Thee
Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 020604NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: New Releases
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Jim Lauderdale is a veteran country music songwriter, who's written hits for acts like George Straight, Vince Gill (ph), and Patty Loveless. His own albums, though, haven't sold well and he's part of a group of musicians who are outsiders within Nashville, one of whom is Buddy Miller (ph), who plays and writes on Lauderdale's new album called "Whisper."

Miller's most recent album, "Poison Love," made rock critic Ken Tucker's year-end top-10 list. Here's Ken with reviews of both, starting with the title song from Jim Lauderdale's album.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "WHISPER")

JIM LAUDERDALE, SINGER/SONGWRITER, SINGING: I see you
Over there
Smiling at the way I stare
I make a wish
That you would be
Near enough to hear me when I

Whisper
Whisper
I think I love you
Whisper
Whisper
I think I love you, too

KEN TUCKER, ROCK CRITIC: The laconic, unadorned style of Jim Lauderdale's song Whisper summarizes why he's not a big star. He harks back to a simpler time in country music when songs could build to their emotional effects and didn't have to commence with big ear-grabbing hooks for bored country radio listeners.

Buddy Miller, who plays guitar on most of Lauderdale's new album, takes the same sneaky approach on his own album Poison Love.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "POISON LOVE")

BUDDY MILLER, SINGER/GUITARIST, SINGING: Love in the ruins
After the fall
What were doing?
Not thinking at all

I'll take the chair for
There's no one to blame
Someone just called me
Or was that just your name?

But regret
Is a debt
That I just can't pay
'Cause there'd be more than I could ever make
Turn left
And we get to that place in the road
I will be on the one we shouldn't take

TUCKER: On Poison Love, Miller and his wife, the singer Judy Miller, collaborated on "100 Million Little Bombs" -- a song about the problem of unexploded land mines -- not your usual country music subject, yet in execution it sounds like a classic lament.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "100 MILLION LITTLE BOMBS")

MILLER, SINGING: Three dollar bomb
A hundred-thousand (Unintelligible)
Steps of a child
And the ground explodes

You can't clear one
Before another reloads
To ratch up the ante again

(unintelligible) in the simple
They're green and black
They take you right down
On a one-way track

We've gone so far now
That we can't get back
And we still won't stop
This train

The foot fall of a soldier
The foot fall of a child
They don't know the difference
They're blinding me in (unintelligible)

Hundred million...

TUCKER: Jim Lauderdale told Billboard magazine recently that he's sick of being labeled "retro" or "alternative country," and that he wanted to cut "just a classic country album." To this end, he's collaborated with a Nashville old-time, Harland Howard (ph), who's written country hits for half a century.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "WHISPER")

LAUDERDALE, SINGING: It's been hard to let you go
It's all part of life, I know
Had enough of holding on
It's time to sing that good-bye song

Well, I've been sitting here wastin' time
Hoping you might change your mind
Wishing for a love that's dead and gone
And I'm gonna sing that good-bye song

Good-bye, good-bye...

TUCKER: Both Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller strike rock and roll ears like mine as guys who picked up riffs from the Beatles and the Byrds, as well as Buck Owens and George Jones. At this point, their alternative status may limit their commercial prospects, but the commercial situation of big-time country music is so precarious, with eroding audience shares and pointlessly overblown big stars like LeAnn Rhimes (ph), that their outsider status is almost an enhancement.

There's a freedom to working outside the mainstream that Buddy Miller, Judy Miller on her recent album "Blue Pony," and now Jim Lauderdale on Whisper are taking full advantage of.

Rock fans in search of melody and rhythm would do well to pay attention to them.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

Dateline: Ken Tucker; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: Rock Critic Ken Tucker reviews two recent releases: Jim Lauderdale's "Whisper," and Buddy Miller's "Poison Love." Both albums have been categorized as "alternative country" and Tucker says in a time of "overblown big stars" that label may be a marketing enhancement.
Spec: Music Industry; Poison Love; Whisper

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: New Releases
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

22:30

From 'Designing Women' To 'Hacks', Jean Smart's Career Is Still Going Strong

Smart is nominated for Emmy Awards for her performances Hacks, about a veteran comic working with a Gen-Z comedy writer, and the crime drama Mare Of Easttown. Originally broadcast May 2021.

52:30

'Storm Lake' Documentary Depicts The Triumph And Struggle Of A Local Newspaper

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Art Cullen discusses the battle to keep print news alive in small-town America. Cullen runs Iowa's Storm Lake Times, along with his brother, the paper's publisher.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue