Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Eerie (True) Encounter

Editor's Note: The following item should have been published on Monday, August 29th, but the presence of Hurricane Irene over the weekend provided a distraction not to be ignored.


In the August 22nd issue of SloaneView, I listed Casablanca as my favorite film, and indeed it is. I did NOT mention that I am currently reading a fascinating account of the making of the film. It is called "Round Up The Usual Suspects" , available at Amazon, recommended without reservation. Written by Aljean Harmetz, it is thoroughly researched and utterly mesmerizing. Now, here's my own true Casablanca story (well, really my Ingrid Bergman story):

On August 28, 1982, I was in a Tokyo studio, recording what was to become an album titled "As Time Goes By", the song featured on the cd. It's available today at Amazon and other online venues. The musicians were a marvelous trio: Tim Horner, one of my favorite drummers, the gifted Japanese bass player Yukinori Narishige*, and the marvelous, legendary American jazz pianist Don Abney who was living in Japan at the time. Abney's reputation as accompanist to some of the leading jazz singers of the day was impressive, and so I looked forward to collaborating with him. The studio date was set for August 28th.

Feeling rested and relaxed after an afternoon nap, a shower and comfortable satisfaction about the song list, I began work on my make-up. While standing in front of the bathroom vanity, I felt a sudden jolt of heat fill the small space. I really thought the infra-red heating fixture in the ceiling had somehow surged itself into the "on" position since I certainly hadn't engaged the switch myself.

As the warmth lingered, the strong presence of Ingrid Bergman was undeniable. My first reaction was astonished delight, followed by the more sensible assumption that since I was to record "As Time Goes By" in a few hours' time, my vivid imagination had stimulated an image of the beautiful Ilsa Lund.

The few moments of intensity began to dissipate, then gently vanished altogether. I felt elation, gratitude and humility, in that order. Finally, it was time to meet my colleagues in the lobby of the hotel to make the journey to the studio.

When I returned to the hotel after recording the entire album in one session, and following a jolly drinks/dinner party, I watched as CNN flashed the news that Ingrid Bergman had died that day in London. There is an eight-hour time difference between London and Tokyo, so the fact that I was recording on the 28th in Tokyo makes the date August 29 in London. I was startled and sad but absolutely convinced she had graciously paused on her journey just long enough to wish me well. To this day, I treasure the memory of all that.

Official Ingrid Bergman Web Site

Note this interesting fact: according to her official web site, she was born on August 29, 1915, and died on August 29, 1982 in London.

* At our first meeting, I had some difficulty pronouncing Mr. Narishige's name, but henceforward he was "Cookie", a nick-name he embraced with kind affection. We became very good friends.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Read any good books lately?

The summer languorously ambles toward its demise. I'm not a big fan of hot weather so I am vigorously preparing for its departure by cleaning the den. This is strenuous labor which requires heavy lifting, not to mention the willingness to part with years of accumulated junk. Our exclamations are pretty standard stuff by now: "Why did we ever keep THIS?", predictably followed by "Oh look: here's a picture of Aunt Mabel dated 1942, Narragansett Pier".

In 1942, I was five years old, but even at that tender age, I was a big fan of the movies. "Bambi" was released that year and though the seat upon which my baby bum sat has long since vanished, it once contained DNA evidence of my over-wrought reaction as I wept uncontrollably. My father whispered "It's only a movie", but I was beyond consolation.

The Hollywood of 1942 produced some of my all-time favorite films, including (but not in any particular order): "Pride Of The Yankees", "Mrs. Miniver", "Madame Curie", "Random Harvest" (wasn't Greer Garson a busy lady!), "King's Row", "Holiday Inn", "The Man Who Came To Dinner" and of course the best of all, "Casablanca".

The fact that I was so young and couldn't possibly have understood complex story lines made no difference. Explicit sex and/or violence were unknown factors in these films. (For example, in today's cinema would we ever see Humphrey Bogart remaining immaculate in his white tux jacket even after Ilsa has just confessed: "If you knew how much I loved you ... how much I still love you", followed by that passionate kiss? Fade ... Next, he's turning from the window, holding a cigarette in his hand and without the slightest crease in his formal attire, delivers the memorable line: "And then?" as she explains why she was a no-show at the train station.)

The Community Theater in our town and others around the country provided great incentives to entice my mother and other devoted movie fans to fork over the 50-cent admission: A complete set of china, one dish at a time, service for six. Or a book. Not just any book either: Ibsen, Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, Whitman, the Brontes. I read them all eventually. As if being handed a free book wasn't enough, I forced my mother to take me to the small corner variety store where the latest Nancy Drew Mysteries were on sale. They cost more than the movie but my mother nurtured my love of reading and always bought the treasured tome for me.

I realize "Read any good books lately?" is an old-fashioned line, and shares its somewhat dated message with "Mind your own business", "How dare you?" and "Do you know the way to San Jose?" All the same, if you share my enthusiasm for black and white films of the 1930's and 1940's, send your list along. At the very least, I will have a better idea of the average age of my readers. Just click "Comments" below.
[Disclaimer: I was born in 1937 ]