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Remembering Mel Torme.

Singer Mel Torme died Saturday at age 73 of complications from a stroke. We'll hear an interview Terry Gross did with Mel in 1988. For more than 50 years, Torme was one of most accomplished and versatile pop and jazz singers. Known for years as "The Velvet Fog," Born Melvin Howard Torme to Russian-Jewish immigrants in Chicago on Sept. 13, 1925, Torme first made his reputation in the Big Band era as a songwriter, arranger, drummer and singer. He later sang in MGM musicals. Described by Ethel Waters as "the only white man who sings with the soul of a black man," Torme was one of the few white performers to share the spotlight with jazz greats like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. This originally aired 10/19/88.


Other segments from the episode on June 7, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 7, 1999: Obituary for Mel Torme; Interview with Bill Murray; Review of Eric Ambler's and Dan Fesperman's books "A Coffin for Dimitrios" and "Lie in the Dark."


Date: JUNE 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060701np.217
Head: Bill Murray's Views on Golf
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

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

Golf is considered one of the most quiet, reflective and polite sports; except when actor and comic Bill Murray is on the golf course. He became famous in the golf world for his shenanigans playing on the pro-am golf circuit, which brings together pros and celebrities.

He literally tore up the golf course in his movie "Caddyshack," in which he played the groundskeeper of the course. Murray used to caddy as a kid, now he has a new book called "Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf." The title refers to his monologue from "Caddyshack."

In this scene from "Caddyshack" he's providing his own color commentary as if he's competing in the Master's, but instead of a golf club he has a sickle and what he's swinging at is chrysanthemums.


BILL MURRAY, ACTOR, PORTRAYING GOLF GROUNDSKEEPER: The crowd is standing on its feet here at Augusta. The normally reserved Augusta crowd is going wild for this young Cinderella who's come out of nowhere. He's got about 350 yards left, he's going to hit about a five iron, (unintelligible).

He's got a beautiful backswing.


Oh, he got all of that one! He's got to be pleased with that! The crowd is just on its feet here. He's a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he lines up this last shot. He's got about 195 yards left and he's gonna -- it looks like he's got about an eight iron.

This crowd is going deadly silent -- Cinderella story, out of nowhere. A former greenskeeper now about to become the Master's champion.


It looks like a -- it's in the hole! It's in the hole!

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hey, young fella. I was hoping to squeeze in nine holes before this rain starts.

MURRAY: Certainly, your eminency.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Take my bag, huh?

MURRAY: Certainly, your magnificence.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: OK. Come, on. Chop, chop!

GROSS: So how old were you when you started working at golf clubs?


GROSS: And what was your first job?

MURRAY: I was a shag boy.

GROSS: What does that mean?

MURRAY: It's not an Ausitn Powers thing.

GROSS: Yeah, it sounds kind of dirty, doesn't it?


MURRAY: Yeah, but it's a -- you would drop a bag of golf balls on a practice tee and then you'd just run out into the -- somewhere out there. And the player would practice and hit the balls, and you had to fetch them like a dog out there.

And sometimes they'd go for half an hour, sometimes they'd go for an hour, sometimes they'd go for an hour and half. And when you hit all the balls, you ran them back in, dropped them in front of him and ran back out. It was -- it was cocker spaniel work.


But you're outside and as long as you didn't drift off -- you could get hit, you know, your mind could wander. I started doing it like it was -- like I was playing the outfield or the infield or something. I tried to retrieve the ball before it stopped moving, you know.


I'd get the break. I'd get the Mickey Mantle jump on it and go for it. And so that kept me in (unintelligible) for a while.

GROSS: I think your brothers were already working at the golf club when you started.

MURRAY: Mmm-hmm. Yeah, my oldest brother Edward started there, and he really was slavishly devoted to golf. He got into it very seriously, and he still is. And now his children are. He worked his way through the caddying ranks until he worked in the pro shop, and then he got a caddy scholarship to go to college.

My other brother, Brian, he worked his way as a caddy until he earned enough money to buy cigarettes and then he'd go play cards and perfecting his cursing. But they both turned out OK, considering. So I was Little Murray, I guess, when I showed up.

GROSS: How old were you when you were big enough to start caddying?

MURRAY: I think I was 11 1/2 when I finally got (unintelligible) like in there -- 12 -- but I mean, I carried singles until I was 13. Which means you carried one bag. And then when I was 13 I started carrying doubles and that's when I carried two bags. And then you get paid twice as much, which wasn't very much. And you have to take care of two people while you play.

GROSS: Now you were a greenskeeper in the movie "Caddyshack." And in "Caddyshack" it was part of your assignment to kill the gophers that were tearing up the green on the golf course. Did you ever have to do that, worry about gophers?

MURRAY: Well, they needed me on that wall, Terry.


They -- well, I didn't have to do it ever, but I was there once when it was done. The little gophers there were burrowing into the side of a green, and I wasn't there when it happened but they had put poison into the warren or whatever it is. And we were there to see these little baby gophers just stumble out, you know, for their last sunrise.

It was, you know, not -- I mean, I didn't fall apart or anything but it was -- you know, you don't want to see anything die. And little baby gophers, that was terrible. Yeah, so that's my -- that was -- you know, that was method acting. If that's what your question was.


MURRAY: I've done that before and I was calling upon that.


GROSS: The emotional memory.

MURRAY: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: In "Caddyshack" your most famous scene is the scene when you're basically doing your own color commentary for yourself. You're the greenskeeper imagining yourself a big golf pro star. What kind of feedback do you get from golfers about that movie, and particularly that scene?

MURRAY: Well, everybody's done it. I mean, a lot of the things I've done in that film I think that every kid has done -- well, talked himself through it and through his own practice time or his own playing alone time. You know, you hear players say -- real players, when they make a great shot or a great play at the end of the game, they say, well, I've done that a thousand times practicing.

Well -- and they narrated too, at the same time.


But people, there's something about that movie, "Caddyshack," that touches people. And when I look at it now it's -- I watched it the other night and it's hard to turn off or walk away from when it starts because it's engaging. There aren't many movies about golf and it's -- so it fills that. Also, it's some sort of movie about class or status or something.

So it has a Prince and the Pauper feel, something like that. And so it appeals to people at that level because, you know, when you talk about golf being a certain kind of person's game; certainly one of the gripes is that it's a rich person's game.

GROSS: Now I think that "Caddyshack" was written, or at least co-written, by your brother Brian Doyle Murray.

MURRAY: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: Were there any in-jokes from your years together working on golf course that ended up in the movie?

MURRAY: Well, sure. There was - there's various people that are portrayed in the movie that are the actual names of the people we used to caddy for, like Mr. and Mrs. Havercam (ph). Was this deadly pair of 36-handicap golfers, which is the illegal limit; you can't get higher than 36 for a man and 40 for woman, and they were that.

And they had matching gray bags and, you know, if you, you know, you'd be given your "loop," as it was called, your job. Sort of like a trucker bringing out whatever truck he's driving this morning or something. And you'd come out of the pro shop carrying these identical gray bags, and the caddies would just go wild because you had the Havercam's.

And you had what was basically a day's job caddying them around the course. You know, they were very nice people but terrifying game. You could never try to walk ahead of them because the ball could go in any direction. And it was just going to take you all day to finish 18 holes.

GROSS: Bill Murray is my guest, and he's written a new book called "Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf." Now, I understand you're going to be in the new movie "The Cradle Will Rock."

MURRAY: Yes, I've already done it.

GROSS: You've already done it.

MURRAY: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: Is that based on the Mark Blitstein (ph) musical or is it about the kind of actors who were in the musical?

MURRAY: Both. It takes place and climaxes the night of the opening of the Blitstein musical.

GROSS: Oh, so it's about the making of the musical?

MURRAY: Right. It just -- I'm told that it was at the Cannes the other night and it got the longest standing ovation any film has ever gotten. But then I read in the paper today that it didn't win anything. So I don't know, maybe it wasn't in competition. Maybe it was just being shown.

GROSS: So tell us a little about the story and who you play in it.

MURRAY: Well, I'm a creation of the writer, Tim Robbins, who is also the director. I play a ventriloquist whose job, in the federal theater project, which is the time period that we're talking about, is to teach the next generation of ventriloquists.

And since vaudeville is dying rapidly at that moment, it died very quickly at that time, there's not really going to be anyplace for these ventriloquists to go anywhere. But I've got some ventriloquists, or guys that want to be ventriloquists, who don't that understand that your mouth can't move when you're talking, you know, so I'm having a lot of trouble.

And I'm basically playing a cranky old vaudeville -- vaudevillian ventriloquist.

GROSS: Did you have to learn ventriloquism for the role?

MURRAY: Well, I learned some. Yeah, I got so I was OK at it. I mean, it's -- it occurred to me that if I wanted to do it I could do it, you know. But you just have to practice and practice and practice. I got so I was pretty good at it, and I got so that the voice was all right and I could not move my lips. And I learned some of the tricks about it.

The comedy of it is harder than anything, I think, but the business of it is just really a matter of -- is technique and just practicing over and over.

GROSS: This really shows in a way how show business has changed. When I was growing up in the '50s a lot of the old vaudevillians were still on the variety shows like "The Ed Sullivan Show."

MURRAY: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: And there were ventriloquists even like on "The Howdy Doody Show." So, you know, as a kid I mean I, and I guess everybody, tried to figure oh, can I do that? Can I, you know, speak without my lips moving?

And I don't think kids today watching TV would feel compelled to learn ventriloquism. You wouldn't see a ventriloquist, I don't think.

MURRAY: Well, you'd think it's just a special effect.

GROSS: That's true, you would.

MURRAY: You'd think that it was being recorded. There are commercials where they do ventriloquism and they do spectacular, unbelievable things. So you wouldn't think anything of it unless you saw it live.

GROSS: Now I'm wondering if you grew up with other vaudeville things. I was watching a rerun of "The Mickey Mouse Club" the other night. And so here's all these kids in the '50s, and like for the talent round-up song they're doing this like tap dance and just doing all these really vaudevillian kinds of moves that have nothing to do with their generation.

But the generation of show biz people working with them were bringing in all of their generation's stuff. And it was just fascinating to watch this totally out of date performance style being done by kids.

MURRAY: Well, it's cruel. Yeah, it is cruel. I mean, there are some people who think line dancing is cruel.


What do you mean my boy was doing the electric slide last night?


GROSS: But did you grow up watching a kind of generation of performers that were going to be just incredibly outdated by the time you grew up but you were trying to emulate them?

MURRAY: Well, I saw "The Mickey Mouse Club" and I remember Doreen and all those babes doing crazy kinds of dance routines that were nutty, you know. And I think one of them graduated to "The Lawrence Welk Show" and ended up dancing on that show.

But they did all kinds of things, and you thought, gosh, if only I could be a Mouseketeer. But I wouldn't want to do what he does, or I wouldn't want to do what she does. It seemed like they were overqualified for jobs that weren't going to exist when they became adults. You're absolutely right.

But I don't know what you would do if you were trying to train somebody now. I'm, it's like watching, you know, pageant kids or something. What are they practicing for? I don't know. What are they trying to figure out here? I don't know what they're trying to learn.

Although I highly recommend tap dancing. Tap dancing is really a lot of fun. It's fun to do.

GROSS: Did you learn it?

MURRAY: Well, there was one time when we had this gigantic cast at the Second City in Chicago where everybody was over six feet. We were called the Seven Giant Goyum (ph) or something like that.


We were these big giants. And we decided to do a tap dance number because we thought it would be the most frightening thing to be on the stage and just come down stage and tap on our wooden stage. Because it would be like, you know, would be like a Gattling gun right in front of the audience. And we would sort of overpower them.

And we took tap dancing lessons for about six weeks, but nothing ever came of it. But it just makes you laugh doing these steps. You just start laughing a lot, and you sweat a lot too. It's quite a workout.

I think that Tae Bo guy is probably going to like have a tap dance -- somebody should have a tap dance video -- infomercial. And they could do well with it. But it's -- that's the only thing I know how to do. I mean I can sing and I can -- my few tap dancing steps I do repeatedly over and over again. Just like I can play just a few notes on the piano, and when I walk through a room I play those notes, you know, "Rhapsody in Blue."

And then I walk away like -- I always like...


Act like the pianos out of tune and then walk away. People go, "oh, no, go on. Go on, please."


GROSS: My guest is Bill Murray. His new book is called "Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf." We'll talk more after break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Bill Murray, the star of such films as "Rushmore," "Kingpin" and "Groundhog Day." In his days on "Saturday Night Live" he was famous for his merciless imitations of bad lounge singers.

When we left off we were talking about the generation gap in entertainment and some of the old fashioned and often bad performers he used to watch on TV when he was a kid. I figured the inspiration for his character, Nick the lounge singer, must have come in part from watching bad singers on TV.

I think one of the alienating things about hearing some of those songs sung when I was a kid is that they were sung by singers on "The Ed Sullivan Show" with sequined gowns and big phony smiles on their faces belting it out, just really ruining some great songs.

MURRAY: Well, it was a different generation of songwriters, I guess. They wrote them differently in those days.


GROSS: That's right. But you must have loved that stuff in a good-bad way because, I mean, you can mock it so well.

MURRAY: Well, you have to -- I guess I enjoy mocking it, but you have to see what -- where the original center of it was and how they destroyed it, you know. It's the ruining of a good song that's -- that you want to recreate. You know, it's not -- the song itself is good or bad as it is.

But even sometimes the original singer of the song doesn't sing it as well, you know. Sometimes his version of the song is the worst version. You know, he just got it first. But you have to like the stuff and you have to, I guess, you have to know that when you have the song, when you have the microphone you have the opportunity to touch somebody.

And when you don't do it with the lyric or the power of it, but you do it with -- your own excuse for technique comes in and steps on top of it that's I guess what I object to when I want to mimic.

GROSS: You really studied that so well.

MURRAY: Well, I'm a good listener, I guess. And I always think when you have the opportunity -- of course I'm very much aware it now, I have an opportunity to say something. I say, well, I like to watch bad entertainers and I get a kick out of imitating them.


But (unintelligible) gets jammed down your throat all the time, you know, it's forced down your throat. And if you talk about the Sullivan show, here was this case where it was the biggest show in America, it was on once a week and people fought like dogs for that spot on the show. And, you know, when they got their spot they went out there, you know, with all the energy they possibly could have and just blasted themselves through this screen of people.

You know, sometimes losing control, I think. And, you know, you can see where just the desire for success or the -- just the fear space that you can get into backstage at the Sullivan would make you mad.

I had the occasion to play Carnegie Hall -- to play at Carnegie Hall. I actually got to sing at Carnegie Hall last month, and as part of a benefit for a rain forest thing. And I was asked to do it because it was a Sinatra theme, and they couldn't find anybody to do "My Way."

And they felt it was important to have "My Way" in the show. So I got the call like two days before, and I thought, am I going to really do this, sing with these guys? These are real singers going to be here -- Tony Bennett, Elton John, Sting and Don Henley. These guys can actually show up.

Then I thought, well, hell. When's the last time anybody asked me to sing at Carnegie Hall? So I did it. And -- but the anxiety I felt backstage, I mean, I thought I was going to -- I thought I had swallowed a goose. I mean, there was just nothing between my solar plexus and my throat for about 13 minutes before I went on stage.

It just got...


But it all turned out OK. It had a happy ending, but boy just the anxiety of having to go out there, I never had anything quite like that. Of feeling, oh, my God, am I in over my head this time?

GROSS: So what did you do with the song?

MURRAY: I murdered it. I absolutely killed it. I -- you know, I went out, it was like two-thirds of the way through the show. It was after the intermission. And I went out -- no introduction, you know, in the dark. And I had this full orchestra behind me.

And I -- like I said, I couldn't talk -- dry mouth, you know. Bad bladder, everything's going wrong all at once -- falling apart. And then when I hit the stage I just sort of -- I sort of channeled Frank, I guess. I don't know.

All of a sudden I just started -- all of a sudden it just happened, you know. And then I just started becoming the guy and they started playing that music from "My Way," and, you know, with a full orchestra, you know, we could all pull it off almost. You know, I mean, it gives you a lot of backing.

And I started singing the notes, and I can sing. So they -- the people later said, we thought you were lip-synching. Because it was so good, Terry. It was that good. But I started lip-synching, and then I basically rewrote the lyrics and changed them around to suit my own mood.

And I got -- I started getting laughs with it, and then I was off the click track. I mean, there's a full orchestra playing to its own charts, so they just keep playing, you know. And the fact that I'm -- I'm off the lyric and talking and doing things they don't -- it doesn't matter to them. They don't keep vamping -- it's not like a piano bar. They just keep going to the end.

So I said it -- and said let's see if this big band is going to stay with me here. And they didn't. They just kept barreling right ahead.


But I managed to catch them at the pass -- I headed them off at the pass and turned it, you know, turned it around and got out of it again. And it was huge. It was a big deal.

GROSS: What were your lyrics?

MURRAY: Oh, I can't remember. I said -- I don't know. I just changed them. I changed everything.


There were elegant dames

And stuff like that. You know, "hey, Jack." You know, a lot of that and yelling at the band. "Hey, louder!"


You know stuff like that.


Some of these chicks were a bit more
Than I could

You know, that -- anything. So I had a lot of fun doing it. It was really fun.

GROSS: Bill Murray. His new book is called, "Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Bill Murray
High: Actor and now author Bill Murray. He's co-written the new book "Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf" with George Peper. "Cinderella Story" is really two books; the first is a string of anecdotes about Murray's club-wielding adventures with a number of celebrities including: Jack Nicklaus, John Denver, Clint Eastwood, and Hunter Thompson. The book is also an autobiography of a kid who started out caddying for 60 cents a half-hour with his brothers. As a performer, Murray first came to prominence as a cast member of "Saturday Night Live." He then went on to appear in movies such as "Ghostbusters," "Caddyshack," "Meatballs," "Stripes," "What About Bob?" and most recently "Rushmore."
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Sports; Lifestyle; Culture; Bill Murray

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: Bill Murray's Views on Golf

Date: JUNE 07, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060702NP.217
Head: Maureen Corrigan Reviews Two Books Set in the Balkans
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: We've been reading about war in the Balkans in the front pages of the newspapers, book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review of two mystery novels set in the region; one old, one new. She says this is a region of the world that outsiders have often found to be a mystery unto itself.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Shadowy, corrupt, chaotic -- a place where borders and allegiances always seem to be shifting. That's the image of the Balkans painted by even the soberest of our news correspondents. How many of them, I wonder, are Eric Ambler fans? Who may have received their first indelible, sinister impression of the Balkans from Ambler's 1939 thriller masterpiece, "A Coffin for Dimitrios."

This idea that fiction influences our perception of reality is at the heart of the plot of "A Coffin for Dimitrios" itself. The novel's unwitting hero is Charles Latimer, an economic historian turned detective fiction writer. Traveling around Europe, Latimer meets the head of the Turkish secret police who tells him a story about a Greek master criminal named Dimitrios whose drowned corpse has just been recovered.

Latimer gets sucked in by the literary potential of Dimitrios' story and begins to act the detective himself, investigating Dimitrios' notorious career. Snooping his way through the menacing back alleys of the Balkans, as well as Paris and Geneva, Latimer discovers that Dimitrios made a fortune in pimping, blackmail, assassination, the white slave trade and drug smuggling.

Of course a master criminal like Dimitrios doesn't die easily, and long before the lumbering Latimer catches on we readers suspect that Dimitrios is alive and irritated by the investigation. The final confrontation between Dimitrios and Latimer is a triumph of the macabre.

"A Coffin for Dimitrios" was Ambler's fifth novel, published in the same week that World War II broke out in Europe. Ambler had already distinguished himself as a writer bent on elevating suspense fiction out of the schlock pile. In his 1985 autobiography he dryly noted that, "as I saw it the thriller had no where to go but up."

Ambler's leftist politics were markedly different from his conservative suspense writer predecessors like John Buchan. In "A Coffin for Dimitrios," the polyglot international conspiracy of criminals that Dimitrios heads represents for Ambler a miniaturized version of modern society corrupted by capitalism.

Ambler also tried to root his novels in real life political situations. Here's one of his characters sagely commenting on the way fictions can be used to fuel old nationalist hatreds. "For the past three months there has been a stream of propaganda to the effect that Yugoslavia is planning to attack Bulgaria. Such propaganda always begins with words, but soon it proceeds to deeds. Where there are no facts to support lives, facts must be made."

One foreign correspondent who must have read Ambler, and certainly carries on his literary tradition, is Dan Fesperman, who reported on the Balkans for the "Baltimore Sun." Fesperman has just published a brilliant thriller set in contemporary Sarajevo called, "Lie in the Dark."

Detective Inspector Vlado Petric is one of two homicide detectives left in the city. His situation is absurd given that corpses are commonplace on the streets of Sarajevo, but Petric stays on the job sustained by the belief that, "now and then one murder offered a portal to machinations far greater than the pulling of a trigger or the plunging of a blade."

When he stumbles upon the body of the chief of special police, Petric finds that portal to something larger, an art smuggling scheme that stretches back to World War II. Fesperman's novel, like all superior detective fiction, offers keen social commentary along with its suspense.

Following Petric, we enter apartments heated only by jerry-rigged gas jets; drink diluted Nescafe; traverse the city on foot because there is no alternative; and cast a cold eye, both on refugees from the countryside and those visiting flak-jacketed celebrities who climbed upon the ruins of Sarajevo's misery for a few brief moments in the world's spotlight then departed once the lights were off.

In Raymond Chandler's immortal phrase, "mystery fiction investigates a world gone wrong." Some 60 years apart, both Eric Ambler and Dan Fesperman have located the ground zero of that world in the Balkans.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan recently won a 1999 Edgar Mystery Award. She reviewed "A Coffin for Dimitrios" by Eric Ambler, and "Lie in the Dark" by Dan Fesperman.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Maureen Corrigan's book review.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Maureen Corrigan

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: Maureen Corrigan Reviews Two Books Set in the Balkans
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.

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