Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Anecdote of the Week



The Siren is tied up at the moment, but she remembered this tidbit from Joan Collins' Past Imperfect and decided to share. Yes, I own Joan's memoirs. In hardcover. And I love Joan. You gotta problem with that?

Anyway, we had mentioned the Diane English remake of The Women but the Siren frequently forgets that this is the second remake of the Luce/Cukor classic. The first remake was The Opposite Sex, from 1956. Joan took the part of Crystal Allen, which Crawford had played with such panache. But Collins encountered some problems that Crawford didn't report, including a horrendous skin reaction to the soap flakes used in the bubble-bath scene. The Siren hasn't seen this version, one reason being that it's supposed to stink. But that doesn't stop her as much as the presence of Hollywooden actress (thanks, Mr. Wolcott) June Allyson in the old Norma Shearer part.

Collins, however, has a tale to tell regarding Allyson and why it's those "sweet" types you really need to watch out for -- not to mention anybody in a Peter Pan collar. Time came to film the big confrontation.

June was a tiny lady, about five foot two in heels. She was famous for her cute blond bob and her Peter Pan collars. She was petite, delicate and ladylike, so I was not concerned that she had to slap my face after the following dialogue.

June: By the way, if you're dressing for Steven, I wouldn't wear that. He doesn't like anything quite so obvious.

Crystal: When Steven doesn't like what I wear I take it off!

...And June hauled off and belted me. This little lady with her tiny hands had a punch like Muhammad Ali! I felt as if a steamroller had hit me. Something fell from my face and hit the floor with a loud clatter--my teeth? Oh, God, no. Please don't let her have knocked out my teeth? My head was ringing, as the slap had connected with my ears, and I couldn't hear a thing. Stars danced before my eyes and I staggered to a chair and collapsed.

"Cut--cut, for Christ's sake, cut!" screamed director David Miller. "What the hell's going on here?"

June burst into tears and collapsed into another chair. Makeup men and dressers rushed to the set with smelling salts and succor.

I put my hands tentatively to my mouth. Thank God, a full set of teeth still, but what flew off me? The wardrobe lady solved the mystery, retrieving the long rhinestone earrings which the force of June's slap had sent spinning. But any more shooting was out of the question. On each of my cheeks was forming the perfect imprint of a tiny hand! Branded, if not for life, for the two or three days it took for the welts to go down. June was desperately sorry, and it took longer to calm her down than it did me. Luckily, when they saw the scene on rushes it was unnecessary to reshoot the slap--it had complete authenticity!


Is it just the Siren, or does it seem that there was something else going on here? It isn't hard to cheat a slap. The Siren herself learned how to do it. Perhaps Allyson was so tiny that nobody thought it worthwhile to teach her how. Or perhaps Allyson had vast reserves of repressed anger that came roaring out at that moment.

Or, deep down inside, she wasn't sweet at all. Hmm...



As for Joan, not everyone has to be a talent for the ages, and the Siren just finds Collins enormous fun, from her taste for younger men to her pronouncements on why you should always wear foundation (that's makeup, guys) and her endearingly frank memoirs. She's a unique combination of highfalutin' and down-to-earth. Not every diva would cheerfully tell how Howard Hawks, who liked his women slender in life and on screen, rebuked her for indulging in too much food when shooting Land of the Pharaohs in Rome. Collins, who'd been up the previous night wolfing pasta and zabaglione, batted her eyelashes and claimed to have eaten only three hard-boiled eggs for two days. Hawks snapped, "Well you better cut it down to two hard-boiled eggs."

45 comments:

Gloria said...

I quite like Joan myself! For one, she has lots of self awareness, and sometimes she happens to be in the right place at the right film (as in In the Bleak Midwinter). Also, Land of the Pharaohs is a film which has given me great joy (and a bit of stinging pain, but not because Collins, Hawks et alia)

And delighted to hear she's a lady who loves her food! (I recently learned that Miss Takamine has a healthy appetite herself... How couldn't one help loving them? ;D)

Campaspe said...

Gloria, one of the things that is fun about the book is her frankness about having to diet at times. She also prides herself on self-discipline and being able to whip herself into shape when need be.

She does love her food, though. She had a near-death experience when she decided to ignore her doctor's warning that she had a shellfish allergy and eat some cioppino anyway. Joan describes the resulting swelling of her face with gusto.

StinkyLulu said...

I sorta totally love June Allyson in The Opposite Sex (my comments on that performance here).

I sorta love it even more now.
Thanks.

Campaspe said...

Lulu, it's enough to make a person like June, isn't it? Or at least, not run screaming from the room when she appears on my TV screen. I mean I love Joan and wouldn't want her face damaged or anything but dang. Two days for the marks to go away? June was more woman than I thought.

can't wait to read your thoughts on the movie!

Flickhead said...

Superb banner photo!

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, Cinemascope works well for these banners despite my lousy layout skills.

Haven't seen Seven Thieves in eons but I rather liked it, mostly for Robinson. Joan took strip lessons from Candy Barr but says the resulting routine was so steamy they had to cut most of it.

Steve said...

So after hauling off and belting Joan, *June* burst into tears and collapsed into a chair?! Sounds like a hilariously obvious diversionary tactic to me--but then, no one ever accused June of being much of an actress.

But who knew she was a conniving, duplicitous little drama queen? I like her more already!

Vanwall said...

I'll have to look for this one - June slaps Joan, for real? Who'da thunk it that way 'round? Joan had a nice style writing about it, too - I can just imagine her in an interview about that scene. Not a lot of subtlety about Joan, as she was just built that way, (somehow, I couldn't take her seriously as Edith Keeler on "Star Trek" even tho she was a model of refinement compared to Shatner) but a sneaky June just doesn't come to mind; she must've been making a statement for some reason, whether she knew it or not. Still waters run deep.

Campaspe said...

Steve & Vanwall I know - June's histrionics are far more diva-esque than the way Joan reacts, though of course it's Joan doing the telling.

I am trying to recall the Joan movies I have seen. Land of the Pharaohs, which I totally enjoyed. I did see one I bet few others have caught, which is my runner-up for all time worst title: "Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?" Just the fact that Anthony Newley thought this was an acceptable way to deface a marquee tells me everything Joan says about him in Past Imperfect was probably true. And sweet lord the movie is baaaaad, I mean bad, I mean I was simultaneously mending hems while I watched it kind of bad. But Joan was cute in her brief part, and seemed to be the only person trying to give a real performance.

She thinks her best work was in The Wayward Bus, which I have not seen. If anyone has and wants to weigh in, weigh away.

Noel Vera said...

I'm on record as harboring fondness for June. She can slap my cheeks anytime.

Joan I liked in at least two things: Joseph Pevney's 'City on the Edge of Forever,' and Hawks' 'Land of the Pharoahs.'

Gerard Jones said...

June sounds like the ne plus ultra of passive-aggressives. Not only does she get to wallop the younger, prettier actress with all her might, but then she gets to be the object of everyone's sympathy and attention. "Oh, poor June! She's so upset about hurting the starlet who's on her way up as she's on her way down! Poor June!"

Nick Tosches, in his much-fun biography of Dean Martin, claims she and Martin had an affair for years when they were both married to other people, and suggests (on what basis I don't know) that Dino found her to be a whole lot of fun in bed. I suspect there was a lot going on behind that repressed veneer and crinkly-nosed smile.

Flickhead said...

Do they still make "smelling salts"?

Campaspe said...

Flickhead, "smelling salts" are just ammonia carbonate or spirits of ammonia and they do still make them. We had some in our first aid kit back home. I have no idea why, no one in the family ever fainted. We weren't the clutched-hanky type. Perhaps my mother anticipated a visit from June.

Noel and Gerard, there's this weird thing I have where I start researching somebody and lo and and behold they become much more interesting and in some cases more likable to me. I was all set to be rather snarky about Luise Rainer but once I really read about her I began to love her and now I would defend her to the death. June I can't say the same for, but that Tosches tidbit and this story (which I remembered from my first reading of Joan's book, but hadn't thought of in a while) are making me think I need to ease up on her. This despite liking Dick Powell and thinking Dean Martin's wife Jeanne was darling in the documentaries I saw.

I still ain't gonna watch Good News again. No way, no how. "The Varsity Drag" = worst earworm ever.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I recently saw Sea Wife. Worst title song ever. Imagine Lifeboat crossed with Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, and not being as good as either of those films.

Campaspe said...

Oh dear. She was rather proud of Sea Wife. Although most of her discussion centers on how Burton tried to seduce her and failed.

Karen said...

I loathe June Allyson. Oh, how I loathe June Allyson. I loathe her bangs, and her voice (dear lord, the hateful huskiness of that voice, especially in song), and the way every evening gown she ever wore looked like a floor-length shirtwaist with spangles.

I liked the slap anecdote, though--even though I, too, have a sneaking fondness for La Collins--and so I poked around in IMDb's Allyson bio and learned that she was something of a bad girl: a 12-year long unmarried relationship with Dirk Wayne Summers, and an affair with Alan Ladd while both were still married.

Of course, then I got to the part where she and Dick Powell convinced Ronald Reagan to switch from the Democrat to Republican parties, and everything went dark for a little while, and now I really hate her again.

Frank Conniff said...

Joan was fun and sexy in “Rally ‘Round The Flag, Boys,” a Leo McCarey movie from late, late, late in his career. I haven’t seen it in a while but I remember it as a misfire that had some entertaining moments. Based on a Max Shulman novel, it was an attempt to satirize suburbia and the military at a time when that kind of thing wasn’t too common in movies (it’s not all that common these days either, now that I think of it). If I remember correctly, Joan spent most of the film trying to entice Paul Newman to misbehave with her and cheat on Joanne Woodward (his wife in the movie, as well as real life, of course). And yet there was something very likable about Joan in that film.

I once tried to see "Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?" It was playing on a double bill with “Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?” But by the time I finished reading the marquee, the movies were over.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

June's autobiography was fairly interesting, with it's mixture of the straightforward (she's talks openly about puking before going on the Broadway stage to do a musical number- ironic, as I think the only time Junie really showed real talent was when she bellowing her way through numbers such as "The Three B's," "Thou Swell," and, yes, the aforementioned "The Varsity Drag"- maybe she knew there were plenty of people waiting to hate her singing) and the evasive (don't try figuring out her age, and forget any mention of Dean Martin. She does mention Alan Ladd, but pussyfoots around mentioning any pussyfooting around they may have done).

I think Joan's talented enough, and I was surprised to find her so different from Alexis once I saw a few of her early roles. She was definitely a pro from the get-go (I'll add Island in the Sun as another good Collins performance from this period- she's lovely, and plays her role in a charmingly simple manner, with no unnecessary theatrics), and she proved to be quite a survivor. I love that when big fame finally came her way, she thoroughly embraced and enjoyed her place in the sun, while playing the role of her career to the hilt.

Gerard Jones said...

To all loathers of June Allyson I recommend a critical watching of Her Highness and the Bellboy. That's the one where she plays the crippled girl who turns out to be able to walk but just doesn't want to because she likes being dependent. Where Robert Walker reads her fairy tales and she acts like an eight-year-old though she has the body and implicit sexuality of a woman. And through it all she smiles. And smiles. Sweetly. And she's never portrayed as mentally ill but as innocent and fine and weirdly attractive.

It's one of the most perverse characterizations I've ever seen in a Hollywood movie, a sort of paraplegic and endlessly complaisant Lolita, and June embodies her with horrifying conviction. A complicated woman, I'm guessing. But not necessarily in a way one would want to get too close to.

Exiled in NJ said...

Oh Siren, how could we miss the most logical link? What does Addison deWitt say?

"You're too short for a gesture like that."

Or did I misquote him?

Edward said...

Siren, I strongly advise you to avoid The Opposite Sex. In addition to the flaws mentioned, it has some of the worst, most forgettable songs -- the most hideous hairstyles, makeup, and wardrobe -- and the cheesiest set design ever put on film. Years after watching it, I'm still trying to blink away the image of June Allyson in a pantsuit, writhing around a jungle gym and sqawking out her "big number." She plays a great lady of the musical stage, and as such ranks with Joan Crawford in Torch Song and Susan Hayward in Valley of the Dolls.

Re: Joan Collins, I second Frank's opinion that she was truly great in Rally Round the Flag, Boys. With the recent sad news about Paul Newman, I realized my favorite image of him is his drunk scene with Collins in that film, both of them so loose and silly that you have to laugh. This performance is probably the closest she ever came to her fun-loving real-life self.

Also you should check out The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, in which Collins is astoundingly beautiful and strangely affecting as Evelyn Nesbit, driving Farley Granger's Harry Thaw nuts with her emotional unavailability. Even heavily censored, the atmosphere of thwarted desire and rampant greed knocks your socks off.

Tonio Kruger said...

I like that banner photo too.

And I suppose this should be the part where I admit being embarrassed by the fact that the only movie I ever saw Joan Collins in was the old Amicus horror flick Tales from the Crypt. And, of course, I saw that when I was so young that I was doing well to distinguish Bud Abbott from Lou Costello.

And satires of suburbia and the military are rare? I could swear that director Joe Dante built a whole film career about satirizing suburbia and that satires of the military have become so common that they already seem cliched by the time Mars Attacks! came out.

And edward had to go and mention the name Evelyn Nesbit. Now I'm going to have Ragtime: The Musical's "Crime of the Century" ringing in my head for the rest of the week...

Noel Vera said...

You don't like Good News? Oy vey!

I noticed, though, it's the basis of the Archie comics, isn't it?

Never noticed that about Highness/Bellboy (but then I was probably looking only at Hedy Lamarr). I need to watch it again.

And hey--if Dean Martin liked it, it's gotta be, well, interesting, at the very least.

Gerard Jones said...

Noel, Archie's two direct antecedents are Andy Hardy and radio's Henry Aldrich. Supposedly John Goldwater, the publisher, told either the artist or the writer or both, "Do me a version of Henry Aldrich." But the Hardy movies were at their peak then (this would probably have been the summer of '41), and there's a lot of Mickey Rooney in the way Bob Montana originally drew Archie.

This was several years before the Allyson Good News, of course, but the original stage version or the 1930 movie might have been on the creators' minds. In some ways, it's one of the fountainheads of the whole genre, I guess.

It wouldn't surprise me if the '47 movie affected the Archie comics published after that date somehow, but that would take some looking. So we'd need someone with the patience to watch a June Allyson movie and read a bunch of Archie comics.

Karen said...

To frank conniff and edward, I heartily third Joan in Rally Round the Flag, Boys! She really is delicious in it, and yes, the drunk scene with Newman (isn't there swinging from a chandelier involved?) is priceless, as is her over-the-top hostess ensemble. Collins manages to be sexy and non-threatening at the same time--is that what I mean? I guess I mean that she is both sexy and likeable.

And, yes, she's simply marvellous and absolutely lovely in The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. You really see how she was pegged as the new Elizabeth Taylor. I'm not quite sure why, soon after this run, she seemed to take a left turn into B-movies and television.

Well, it certainly didn't harm her career.

Belvoir said...

Haha, don't ever apologive for admiring Joan Collins, Siren! Those who sneer are so 90's.
In the 21st century she's rightly gotten her due for her kicky elan, drama and daring. She's larger than life, a survivor, a style icon, and every other camp cliche you can think of, lol. She really is something, and it's okay for anyone to admit to her fabulousness.
:)

Vanwall said...

Joan, for me, will always be what she pretty much was in film and TV - the pretty one, literally, trotted out to add some oomph to the proceedings. I honestly can't think of any of her films where that wasn't paramount in the scripting - she had/has lottsa "it", and even when she acted her heart out, it was in the service of delineating a kind of allure. A hot kind of allure, sure. A lotta hot kinda allure. Damn she was hot! Did I mention I like her hotness? Your banner is manna, at this point.

June, for me, was the simpering, frozen-in-amber ice-woman - never could figure out why a such cute gal with huge potential and a voice so husky it coulda pulled the Iditarod winner would insist on playing such unsympathetic roles; she was a classic case of repressed sexuality, as I never could get excited 'bout anything she did, where as Joan, hell, she could excite the inert, like a rock, or a tree, with a smoldering glance, to say nothing of poor human males. If June'd used her natural talents and took a few harder-edged roles with even an ounce of sexuality, I bet she could've been viewed as one of the greats, IMHO, but she always had this stick up her...well, you know. I bet that slapping incident wasn't as unplanned as it seemed, in either execution or aftermath. When ya can't compete on a visceral level, her solution was to whack a mole, I see.

'Course June and Joan had much more in common in their private lives than they thought, I bet - neither one was prone to fits of socialistic tendencies, and prolly could've switched repressive leanings without a hair out of place. At least Joan seemed more up front about what use she put her good looks to, but June was strictly of the species phonus balonus.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I just recalled that I briefly had fewer than six degrees of separation from Joan Collins. Over thirty years ago, I was working with the daughter of one of the producers of this movie.

By the way, speaking of anecdotes, I'm reading Lee Server's biography of Robert Mitchum.

Dan Leo said...

I wish only to add this (from Wikipedia) concerning Ms. Collins's break-up with Arthur Loew Jr:

"The relationship with Loew ended in a row at a New Year's party with Loew screaming at Collins 'you're a fucking bore' and Collins, a raised eyebrow quipping, 'and you're a boring fuck'."

Campaspe said...

Exiled -- "and besides, it went out with Mrs. Fiske." :D

I did see Girl in the Red Velvet Swing when I was a lass and remember thinking Joan was an eyeful but not much more. She said Nesbit, in her 70s at the time, showed up around the set, absolutely unrecognizable as the beauty of decades past and a sad, broken woman who drank a lot of gin and ate violet-scented cashews to mask the fumes (didn't work). Collins says she was thankful she didn't think of herself as particularly beautiful and so had less to lose than Nesbit, which the Siren flat does not believe. But I do believe Joan when she says she resolved to keep developing the inner self and not rely entirely on looks.

She also says she had a great time filming Rally Round the Flag and the Newmans became lifelong friends of hers.

Gerard Jones said...

Could Joan have been a victim of timing? The whole studio-era glamor-girl culture disappeared out from under her, but she was a little too old and too well-established in Hollywood for the big-eyed English bird fad that hit in the mid-'60s. And '60-'70s TV didn't know what to do with her type. Although she has a certain immortality with geeks my age for her Star Trek, Vanwall is right about her being wrong for the role--just too big and flashy. Lucky for her she made it to the '80s and the arrival of aging-queen camp.

Oh, and lucky for June she hung around long enough for Depends.

Noel Vera said...

Gerard, check out the Archie comics storyline: good girl (Betty/June Allyson) goes for all American student (Peter Lawford) who's in love with Patricia Marshall; meanwhile, there's this subplot of a girl going after a guy under the nose of her jealous dimwit quarterback of a boyfriend. Someone's copying from someone==maybe the late '40s Archie as you said.

Vanwall said...

Frankly, as far as Archie and Jughead incarnations go, I much prefer "Goodman Goes Playboy", the Harvey Kurtzman / WIll Elder Playboy/Archie spoof story from the lamentably short-lived "Help!" magazine. It led to lawsuits, suppression, intrigue and displays of monumental stupidity. Maybe the real intentions of those salacious college musicals is finally revealed there. I always thought there was more than a little of Joan in Veronica's looks, or maybe the other way 'round?! - anyhow, if you're interested in a more adult take on Archie's shenanigans, even more so than "Starchie", the brilliant Mad Magazine parody, take a gander yonder and find true enlightenment:

http://tcj.com/journalista/goodmangoesplayboy.pdf

Gerard Jones said...

Intriguing parallels, Noel. But the Archie-Betty-Veronica triangle as we know it was in place within the first couple of years, so still a few years before the '47 movie. Does anyone know if that triangle was an element of Good News in its '20s-'30s incarnation?

The Archie creators were only in their early 20s when they started this stuff, so I wonder about them being inspired by Good News from when they were 10 years old or so. But the themes could have been knocking around in later campus comedies based on it. There are even echoes in a couple of Andy Hardy movies, where he chases unattainable glamor girls while neglecting Ann Rutherford and/or Judy Garland.

The Midge-Moose dumb-quarterback stuff is later, though. Could definitely have been lifted from GN.

Noel Vera said...

Apropos of not much, there was a comic adaptation of a TV movie sequel to the comics "To Riverdale and Back Again," illustrated by Gene 'The Dean' Colan (Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Howard the Duck).

gmoke said...

According to wikipedia:

"Montana's stepfather had managed a theatrical costume shop in Bradford, Massachusetts. In 1936, the family moved to Haverhill, Massachusetts, and from 1936 to 1939, Montana attended Haverhill High School. When he was 17 and 18 in 1937-38, he kept diaries of local events and news stories, illustrating the diary pages with his cartoons. The students and faculty of Haverhill High later inspired the leading characters in the Archie cast, as revealed in a 1970s Boston Globe article by film critic Gerald Peary."

And Anthony Newley really liked long titles, like his musical "The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd" and "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off."
Some good songs there and it was great to see him on stage on Broadway with Cyril Ritchard but, boy, did he go haywire in the 1970s.

Gerard Jones said...

Thanks for the research, gmoke. I'm sure Montana drew something from his experience, but I also have to think that plot elements like the snooty heiress who's pursued by the all-American boy who is in turn pursued by the nice girl he doesn't appreciate are straight out of musical comedy, Hollywood and radio. Montana also had a habit of claiming a little too much solo credit for Archie-there were writers involved too, especially Vic Bloom and Sam Schwartz. (Yes, Archie Andrews, America's favorite freckle-faced redhead, was created by Jews and Italians. I love America.)

But this isn't a comics blog, is it? Sorry, Siren!

And man, am I with you on Anthony Newley in the '70s.

Karen said...

I'll third the scariness of the 1970s version of Anthony Newley, which was the first version I ever saw. I have, however, just seen the 1948 version of Vice Versa, in which a 17-year-old Newley spends much of the film imitating Roger Livesey, and I have a newfound respect for him.

Noel Vera said...

If someone can pin down the genesis of that Moose subplot, I'd be a happy camper.

Campaspe said...

Gosh, I haven't read Archie since I was 12 or 13 but I loved them then. I have no idea of the strip's history but as for the Moose, here's a pure guess: Farewell, My Lovely, the 1940 Raymond Chandler novel where the big, dumb Moose is obsessive about his Velma. He was played so wonderfully in Murder, My Sweet by Mike Mazurki, who looks a bit like the way the comics Moose is drawn.

Campaspe said...

As for Newley, the 60s version was quite cute in the way all Englishmen were in that decade. I like that sort of bright, brassy Great White Way personality even when it doesn't translate that well to screen (and it usually doesn't).

I don't think I have a single impression of him from the 1970s, and I guess that's fortunate. Joan is pretty fair to him on the whole, I think, describing the early time of their marriage and two children as "the good years."

Gerard Jones said...

Noel: I've ascertained that Moose first appeared in Jughead #1 in 1949, as the gang's dumb-jock friend, and Midge appeared as his girlfriend in #5 of the same series (so probably early '50). So perfect timing to be a variation on Good News. And I suspect Campaspe's right (ain't she always?) about Chandler/Mazurki's Moose as the origin of the name.

I've always seen Newley as a casualty of the late '60s. In the middle of the decade he had that Swingin' Sixties thing down, but then What Is Hip made that huge turn around '68 and '69, and the old-school singers who tried to keep up with it were just destroyed. I link him mentally with Sammy Davis, joined as they are by "Candy Man." Not that I like Sammy Davis in any incarnation, but he sort of made sense in his narrow-lapel-black-suit era, and was just bizarre in his psychedelic "Candy Man" form. Newley and Davis both seemed to appear constantly on TV talk and variety shows in the early '70s, and they really used to creep my young self out. Something about Newley's mouth when he sang...

Frank Conniff said...

Newley and Sammy Davis, Jr. did creep me out when I was a kid watching them on talk shows in the late sixties / early seventies. But now, all these years later, from watching old variety show clips and listening to certain albums (check out "The Wham of Sam"), I've come to discover that Davis was in fact a brilliant performer and a fearless trailblazer in terms of breaking down doors that were previously closed to African-American entertainers. And Newley, when he collaborated with Leslie Bricusse, wrote some wonderful songs.

Campaspe said...

What Frank said.

Gerard Jones said...

I guess Davis did some trailblazing, in his self-involved way, but he hurt his legacy there when he embraced Nixon (and kissed him on the cheek on national TV) in 1968, at the very moment Nixon and Agnew were openly exploiting white fear of black people in order to win election. Not that black people don't get to be Republicans and conservatives. But Davis seemed so unaware of the complexities and conflicts, seemed to think it was just the hippest, jolliest thing to follow Frankie and Dino in embracing Tricky Dick. Many other black entertainers at the time saw Davis not as a trailblazer (with its implication of leading others) but as a man who turned his back on the struggle and his people because he wanted to belong to the other side. But I know...it's complicated stuff.

No denying his ability, either, but I've never liked what he did with it. I have a beloved CD compilation of Johnny Mercer tunes by various artists, and the one track I find unendurable, to the extent that I have to preprogram the CD player to skip it, is Sammy's "Old Black Magic." Too self-conscious, too frantic, too needy of recognition as clever and pyrotechnic. Pretty much what I see in all his work. But there's a lot I haven't seen, of course.