Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Oomph Girl Turns 100: A Pictorial Tribute to Ann Sheridan

It was 100 years ago today that Ann Sheridan was born Clara Lou Sheridan in Denton, Texas. Today she is probably best known for her appearances in such films as Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), They Drive by Night (1940), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Kings Row (1942), and I Was a Male War Bride (1949). In the early Forties she was receiving as many as 250 marriage proposals a week from starstruck, lovesick fans. During World War II she was one of the most popular pin-up girls.

Ann Sheridan circa 1934
As a young girl Clara Lou Sheridan was very athletic. She was quite adept at riding horses and had an interest in both football and basketball. In her own words, Miss Sheridan could "....whistle through my fingers, bulldog a steer, light a fire with two sticks, shoot a pistol with fair accuracy, set type, and teach school..." She attended Robert E. Lee Grade School and Denton Junior High School in Denton, Texas. While in school she tried out for many school plays, but she always wound up the understudy. After graduating high school she enrolled in North Texas State Teachers College in Denton (now the University of North Texas) with the intention of becoming a teacher. All of this would change when her eldest sister Kitty sent a bathing suit picture of Clara Lou as an entry in a beauty contest held by Paramount Pictures. Clara Lou won the contest and with it a bit part as a beauty contestant in the film Search for Beauty (1934). The film marked her big screen debut.

Despite Clara Lou Sheridan's obvious good looks, Paramount cast the starlet only in bit roles for the most part. Even changing her stage name to "Ann" after being told "Clara Lou Sheridan" was too long to fit on a cinema marquee did not improve the roles that Paramount gave her. Ann Sheridan then left Paramount for Warner Bros. in 1936, where she would be much better utilised. It was not long before she was appearing in such films as Angels with Dirty Faces, Dodge City (1939), Torrid Zone (1940), and They Drive by Night (1940).  It was not also long before Ann Sheridan became known as "the Oomph Girl". In 1939 in his column Walter Wincell wrote of Miss Sheridan, "she's got an 'umphy' quality." Warner Bros. head of publicity  Bob Taplinger seized upon this and dubbed Ann Sheridan "the Oomph Girl". Despite the popularity of the nickname, Ann Sheridan never liked being called "the Oomph Girl" as she thought it was demeaning.

Ann Sheridan in the Early Forties
Arguably Ann Sheridan was at the height of her career in the Forties. It was during this period that she was receiving 250 marriage proposals from fans a week and she was one of the most popular pin-ups with G.I.s serving in World War II. It was during this period that she also played what may be her best known role, that of vain actress Lorraine Sheldon in The Man Who Came to Dinner. During the Forties she also appeared in such films as Kings Row (1942), George Washington Slept Here (1942), Nora Prentiss (1947), I Was a Male War Bride (1949) and Stella (1950).

Ann Sheridan circa 1952
Sadly Ann Sheridan's career had begun to decline in the late Forties. Despite the success of  I Was a Male War Bride  in 1949, it continued to decline in the Fifties. As the Fifties progressed, then, she appeared more and more on television. Throughout the decade she appeared on such shows as Schlitz Playhouse, Four Star Revue, Celebrity Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, Playhouse 90, and The United States Steel Hour. Miss Sheridan did continue to appear in films during the decade, including Steel Town (1952), Take Me to Town (1953), Come Next Spring (1956), The Opposite Sex (1956), and The Woman and the Hunter (1957).

Ann Sheidan in a publicity still for Pistols 'n' Petticoats
By the Sixties Ann Sheridan's career was entirely in television. She guest starred on the popular Western Wagon Train and had a regular role on the soap opera Another World. It was in 1966 that she took the lead role of Henrietta Hanks in the Western parody Pistols 'n' Petticoats. Unfortunately it was during the shooting of the series that it was learned Miss Sheridan had developed oesophageal and liver cancer. She died on January 21 1967 at the age of 51.

In an interview with film historian John Kobal, Ann Sheridan once said, "That's the only thing I ever wanted to be. A good actress. But I suppose I can't get away from that Ann Sheridan Oomph thing. I wish I could." Miss Sheridan was right that she was never able to get away from that "Oomph thing". To this day she is still known as "Oomph Girl". With a face and figure like hers it is little wonder that she is still known that way. That having been said, I believe that she is regarded by most classic film buffs as a good actress. Her performance as Lorraine Sheldon in The Man Who Came to Dinner remains well loved to this day. Her performances in such film as Angels with Dirty Faces, King's Rowk, and I Was a Male War Bride also remain respected to this day. In the end Ann Sheridan was a pin-up girl who could act. And for that she has remained among the most beloved stars 100 years after her birth.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Gary Owens R.I.P.

Gary Owens, the disc jockey who provided the voices of such carton characters as Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, as well as served as the announcer on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, died on February 12 at the age of 80. The cause was complications due to type 1 diabetes.

Gary Owens was born Gary Altman on May 10 1934 in Mitchell, South Dakota. He was only 16 years old when he got his first job in radio, working  at KORN in Mitchell. Two years later he was promoted to the station's news director. He attended Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. In the late Fifties he worked a number of stations in the Mid-West and South. In 1956 he moved from KORN to KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa. Afterwards he got a job as a disc jockey at KOIL in Omaha, Nebraska. It was there that the station's owner gave him the surname "Owens". He worked in Dallas, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Denver before moving to California in 1959. He worked at  KROY in Sacramento and KEWB in Oakland. It was in 1954 that Gary Owens did his first voice work in animation, narrating the Disney animated short "Pigs is Pigs". During the Fifties he also served as one of the announcers on the children's show Ding Dong School.

It was in 1961 that Mr. Owens got a job at  KFWB in Los Angeles. In 1962 he moved to KMPC in Los Angeles, where he would remain for the next two decades. It was during the Sixties that Gary Owens voiced what might be his two most famous animated characters. In 1965 he provided the voice of the title character in the syndicated cartoon Roger Ramjet. In 1966 he provided the voice of Space Ghost in the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon Space Ghost & Dino Boy. He also served as the narrator on the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. It was in 1968 that he began his stint as the announcer on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. He coined a number of the catchprases on the show, including "beautiful downtown Burbank". He was one of the few members of the cast to remain with Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In for the entire run of the show. He also either appeared in or did voice work for such television shows as McHale's Navy, The Munsters, Mr. Terrific, The Green Hornet, and Batman. He worked as an announcer on Sesame Street for seventeen years starting in 1969.

In the Seventies Gary Owens provided the voice of The Blue Falcon on The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour, as well as voices in various other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. He appeared on such live-action television shows as Barnaby Jones, Get Christie Love, and Man from Atlantis. He did voice work for such feature films as The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), Return from Witch Mountain (1978), and Coming Attractions (1978). In 1972 he released the comedy album Put Your Head On My Finger. In 1973 he wrote the humour book The (What to Do While You're Holding the) Phone Book.

In the Eighties Gary Owens moved from KMPC to KPRZ  in Los Angeles. He also served as an announcer for KKGO-FM in Los Angeles, and co-hosted a morning commute show with Al Lohman on KFI. For a time he was the host of the syndicated oldies radio show Soundtrack Of The Sixties and the oldies show  Gary Owens Super Track. He continued to provided assorted voices for Hanna-Barbera cartoons. He served as the narrator on the TV show Sledge Hammer and guest starred on Simon & Simon and Night Court. He was one of the performers on No Soap Radio. He was the voice of various announcers and newscasters in the feature films Hysterical (1983), European Vacation (1985), Destroyer (1988), and How I Got Into College (1989). He played a minister in Diggin' Up Business (1990).

From the Nineties to the Naughts Gary Owens was one of the voices on the cartoons Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron, Ren & Stimpy, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Eek! the Cat, and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. He also provided guest voices on numerous other cartoons. He appeared or did voice work for the feature films Spy Hard (1996), Border to Border (1998), Muppets from Space (1999), Major Damage (2001), and Frank McKlusky, C.I. (2002). He did voice work on promos for Antenna TV. His last voice work for a character was fittingly enough Space Ghost in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. His last work as a narrator was for the feature The Adventures of Kaitlyn Kitty Kat Kay (2015). In 2004 he published the book  How to Make a Million Dollars with Your Voice (Or Lose Your Tonsils Trying).

 There can be no doubt that Gary Owens was blessed with an amazing voice. It was well suited to that of a disc jockey, which explains why he was so successful throughout his career. His voice was also highly adaptable. He could voice such bigger than life heroes as Roger Ramjet and Space Ghost, but at the same time he could be a newscaster, announcer, or disc jockey. There was little wonder he was very much in demand as an announcer or narrator for various animated cartoons, TV shows, and feature films. Few men had a voice as great as that of Gary Owens.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Late Great Louis Jourdan

Louis Jourdan, the legendary French actor who starred in such films as Madame Bovary (1949), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), and Gigi (1958), died on February 14 2015 at the age of 93.

Louis Jourdan was born Louis Henri Gendre in Marseilles on June 19 1921. His parents were Yvonne (née Jourdan) and Henry Gendre, a rich hotelier. His education was truly international, as his father's work took the family to Turkey and the United Kingdom. He took an interest in acting while very young and studied at the École Dramatique in Paris. It was while he was at the École Dramatique that he began acting on stage. This brought him to the attention of director Marc Allégret, who hired him as an assistant cameraman on the film Entrée des artistes (1938). Mr. Allégret cast him in the film Le corsaire (1939), which would have been Louis Jourdan's film debut had it not been interrupted by the onset of World War II.

During the Occupation, Louis Jourdan would appear in several films, most of them directed by Marc Allégret. They included Parade en 7 nuits (1941), La belle aventure (1942), L'arlésienne (1942), Félicie Nanteuil (1944), and Les petites du quai aux fleurs (1944). He also appeared in the films Ecco la felicità (1940), Premier rendez-vous (1941), and La vie de bohème (1945). Following the war Mr. Jourdan immigrated to the United States. Producer David O. Selznick cast him in The Paradine Case (1947), against the wishes of director Alfred Hitchcock. The legendary director appears to have been right, as Mr. Jourdan was cast against type as a rather earthy valet. Regardless, Hitchcock and Louis Jourdan liked each other (Mr. Jourdan even attended the director's funeral in 1980).

Fortunately Hollywood would find more suitable roles for Mr. Jourdan in the late Forties: Stefan Brand in  Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Octavio Quaglini in No Minor Vices (1948), and Rodolphe Boulanger in Madame Bovary (1949). The Fifties would see Louis Jourdan at the height of his career. He starred in such high profile films as Decameron Nights (1953), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Escapade (1957), and Gigi (1959).  He also appeared in such films as Bird of Paradise (1951), Rue de l'Estrapade (1953), The Swan (1956), Dangerous Exile (1957), The Beat of Everything (1959), and Can-Can (1960). Mr. Jourdan made his television debut in an adaptation of Fulton Oursler's A String of Blue Beads in 1953. He starred in the TV show Paris Precinct, and guest starred on such shows as The Elgin Hour, Studio One, Climax, General Electric Theatre, and ITV Play of the Week. He made his debut on Broadway in 1954 in The Immoralist and appeared again on Broadway in Tonight in Samarkand.

The Sixties would see Louis Jourdan's career go into a slight decline as the urbane, European types he had played fell out of favour with Hollywood. He appeared in such films as Le vergini di Roma (1961), Le comte de Monte Cristo (1961), Il disordine (1962), Leviathan (1962), Mathias Sandorf (1963), The V.I.P.s (1963), Made in Paris (1966). Les Sultans (1966), Peau d'espion (1967), Cervantes (1967), and A Flea in Her Ear (1968). He appeared on television in such shows as The Greatest Show on Earth, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Name of the Game, and The F.B.I.

In the Seventies Louis Jourdan guest starred on the shows Columbo and Charlie's Angels, as well as the mini-series The French-Atlantic Affair. He appeared in the television movies The Count of Monte-Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Count Dracula. He appeared in the films Piange... il telefono (1975), Plus ça va, moins ça va (1977), and Silver Bears (1978). He appeared on Broadway in 13 Rue de l'Amour.

From the Eighties into the Nineties Louis Jourdan's most notable roles were often villains. He played Arcane in Swamp Thing (1982) and The Return of Swamp Thing (1989), as well as Kamal in the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983). He appeared in such films as Double Deal (1983), Grand Larceny (1987), Escuadrón (1988), and Year of the Comet (1992). He guest starred on such shows as Aloha Paradise, Vega$, Hotel, and Cover Up. He appeared in the television movies The First Olympics: Athens 1896.

Hollywood cast Louis Jourdan as a series of Continental sophisticates, something with which he was not always happy. He once said that he was Hollywood's "French cliche". Regardless, he was very good in such roles. Remarkably handsome, gifted with an incredible voice, and even more remarkably charming, he could easily play charismatic, urbane Frenchmen. Still, Louis Jourdan had such talent that he could play many other sorts of roles with ease. In a television adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo Mr. Jourdan was excellent as the  State Attorney Villefort (here it must be pointed out that he earlier played Edmond Dantès himself in Le comte de Monte Cristo). He was also very adept at comedy, as his role as a neurotic artist in No Minor Vices stands as proof.

Of course, many younger people might remember him best for his roles as villains in his later films. And there can be no doubt that Mr. Jourdan was very good at playing villains, whether it was the smooth Arcane in the "Swamp Thing" movies or the treacherous Kamal in Octopussy. One of his best roles as a villain was in the Columbo episode "Murder Under Glass" in which he played Paul Gerard, a food critic who has found a new source of income by extorting money from restaurants in trade for positive reviews.

In real life Louis Jourdan was nothing like the villains he played. By all accounts he was always friendly and polite, and I have never heard anyone say anything negative about Mr. Jourdan as a person. He remained married to the same woman, his wife Berthe, for 68 years (she preceded him in death last year). By all accounts he was the perfect gentleman, not only charming, but friendly and kind as well. Louis Jourdan was then more than a talented actor, but a truly good human being as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The 100th Birthday of British Star Phyllis Calvert

It was 100 years ago today that legendary British film star Phyllis Calvert was born. Today she may remain best known for the many Gainsborough melodramas in which she starred. In the Forties, at the height of her career, she was second only to Margaret Lockwood as the most popular British actress in film. She later moved into television, where she appeared on everything from an adaptation of Little Women to an episode of Mr. Bean.

Phyllis Calvert was born Phyllis Bickle on February 18 1915 in Chelsea, London. As a child she trained as a dancer at the Margaret Morris school of dancing and the Institut Français. She made her stage debut in  Walter de la Mare's Crossings in 1925 at the Lyric in Hammersmith. She made her film debut at age 12 in The Arcadians (1927). She would have uncredited roles in the films Discord (1933), Anne One Hundred (1933), and School for Stars (1935).

It was in 1939 that she made her debut on London's West End in A Woman's Privilege. Although best known for her film roles, Phyllis Calvert would appear on stage throughout much of her career. In 1939 she appeared in Max Catto's Punch Without Judy. In 1942 she had the lead role in Terence Rattigan's Flare Path. In 1947 she played the title role in a revival of Peter Pan at the Scala, a role that would later be played by fellow Gainsborough actress Margaret Lockwood. She would later appear in such productions as Felicity Doulkas's It's Never Too Late (1954), The Rehearsal (1961), and A Woman Of No Importance (1967). In 1973 she played Queen Mary in Royce Ryton's Crown Matrimonial. Her final stage appearance would be at the Chichester festival in Henry James's The Heiress in 1989.

Of course, it would be for her films that Phyllis Calvert would be best known. In the late Thirties and early Forties she appeared in such films as Two Days to Live (1939), They Came by Night (1940), Let George Do It! (1940), Neutral Port (1940), and Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It (1941). Her first major role was in Kipps, released in 1941. She appeared in Uncensored (1942) and The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) before achieving stardom playing opposite Margaret Lockwood and James Mason in Gainsborough Pictures' The Man in Grey (1943). Phyllis Calvert would become one of Gainsborough Pictures, appearing in such films as Fanny by Gaslight (1944), Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945), They Were Sisters (1945), The Magic Bow (1946), The Root of All Evil (1947), Broken Journey (1948), and My Own True Love (1949).

Phyllis Calvert's time with Gainsborough Pictures marked the height of her film career, although she continued making movies well after her time with Gainsborough had ended. Over the years she appeared in such films as Appointment with Danger (1951), Mandy (1952), The Net (1953), It's Never Too Late (1956), Indiscreet (1958), Oscar Wilde (1960), and Oh! What a Lovely War (1969). Her last film appearance was in Mrs Dalloway in 1997.

Starting in the Fifties Phyllis Calvert's career increasingly shifted towards television. She made her television debut in 1951 in an episode of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. In 1958 she appeared in BBC adaptations of  Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Good Wives. In the late Sixties and early Seventies she played agony aunt Kate Graham in the Yorkshire Television drama Kate. She later played recurring roles in the series Cover Her Face, All Passion Spent, A Killing on the Exchange, and Jute City. She guest starred on such shows as ITV Play of the Week, Owen M.D., Lady Killers, Tales of the Unexpected, Victoria Wood, Mr. Bean, and Causality. Her last appearance on television (indeed, her last appearance ever) was on an episode of Midsomer Murders in 2000.

Phyllis Calvert died on October 8 2002 at the age of 87 in London.

There can be no doubt that the height of Phyllis Calvert's fame coincided with her time at Gainsborough, even though her roles in the Gainsborough melodramas were not the most rewarding. While Margaret Lockwood got to play a series of very interesting femmes fatales, over all Phyllis Calvert was stuck playing somewhat less interesting good girls. In the Forties her image was a wholesome one for the most part--the loyal Clarissa to Margaret Lockwood's rather less faithful Hesther in The Man in Grey. Even in her various films for Gainsborough Pictures, one could tell Miss Calvert was an actress of some talent. This can be borne out by one of those films in which she departed from her "good girl" image, the movie Madonna of the Seven Moons. Indeed, she played a woman with dissociative identity disorder whose two identities are worlds apart: wholesome wife Rosalinda and the mistress of a jewel thief Maddalena. For an actress who primarily played clean-cut, virtuous women, Phyllis Calvert was surprisingly effective as Maddalena.

While Phyllis Calvert may be best known for her various Gainsborough melodramas, she also had a gift for comedy. This can be seen in one of her later films, It's Never Too Late, in which a humble British housewife finds her life turned upside down when the screenplay she has written is turned into a hit film. Miss Calvert had perfect comedic timing and a wonderfully dry delivery. She was very much at home playing a sensible person in the midst of chaos. Her comedic talents were to put to good effect in such films as Let George Do It, Indiscreet, and A Lady Mislaid.

Even in those films where Phyllis Calvert was not allowed to display the full range of her talent, it was obvious that she was an actress with considerable expertise. She could take sometimes uninteresting roles and give them a sense of individuality through the merest gestures and facial expressions. And when she was given a substantial role, such as that in Madonna of the Seven Moons, she give a better performance than most other actresses of the time. It is perhaps for this reason that in the Forties she was second in popularity only to Margaret Lockwood in the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Late Great Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore, known for such hits as "It's My Party" and "You Don't Own Me", died yesterday at age 68. The cause was lung cancer.

Lesley Gore was born  Lesley Sue Goldstein on May 2 1946 in New York City. She grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey. She attended the Dwight School for Girls in Englewood, New Jersey. She was sixteen when her vocal coach had her make recordings. These recordings eventually reached legendary record producer Quincy Jones, then working as an A&R man at Mercury Records, who signed her to the label. Her first single, "It's My Party", was written by John Gluck, Wally Gold and Herb Weiner. It was initially recorded by Helen Shaprio in February 1963, but her version would not appear until her album Helen in Nashville was released that October. In the meantime Lesley Gore recorded her version, which was released in the United States in April 1963. "It's My Party" reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on June 1 1963.

 Lesley Gore's next single would a sequel to "It's My Party". While "It's My Party" related the heartbreak of a girl whose boyfriend disappears at a party with another girl, in "Judy's Turn to Cry" the girl gets her boyfriend back from Judy by making him jealous. "Judy's Turn to Cry" was written by Beverly Ross and Edna Lewis. Released in June 1963 just as "It's My Party" was at the top of the charts,  "Judy's Turn to Cry" proved to be a hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also in June 1963 that Miss Gore's first album, I'll Cry if I Want To, was released.

Lesley Gore followed "Judy's Turn to Cry" with the single "She's a Fool", which peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her next song would prove to be her second biggest hit. "You Don't Own Me" was written by John Madara and David White and released in December 1963. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, kept from the #1 spot by the phenomenally successful "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles. In the song a young woman tells her boyfriend that he does not own her and to let her live her life the way that she wants. The song would become regarded as a feminist anthem. Sadly, it would also be Lesley Gore's last top ten single.  Both "She's a Fool" and "You Don't Own Me" appeared on her album, Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts (released in November 1963).

In 1964 Lesley Gore released the albums Boys, Boys, Boys and Girls Talk. She also released the singles "That's the Way Boys Are" (which peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100), "I Don't Wanna Be a Loser" (which peaked at #37), and "Maybe I Know" (which peaked at #14). At the peak of her success Lesley Gore appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Andy Williams Show, Shindig, and Hullabaloo. She also appeared in the films The T.A.M.I. Show (1964), The Girls on the Beach (1965), and Ski Party (1965).

Unfortunately by 1965 Lesley Gore's career had gone into decline. Only two of her singles from that year hit the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100:  "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows" (which peaked at #13) and "My Town, My Guy and Me" (which peaked at #32). Her album, My Town, My Guy & Me, peaked at #120 on the Billboard albums chart. An appearance on the phenomenally successful TV series Batman (in the episode "That Darn Catwoman"/"Scat, Darn Catwoman!") would drive her single "California Nights" all the way to #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1967. It would be her last major hit. Despite releasing several more singles throughout the late Sixties and into the Seventies, she never again reached the Billboard Hot 100.  Before her appearance on Batman, she had previously appeared as herself on an episode of The Donna Reed Show.

While her recording career was still taking place, Miss Gore attended  Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., majoring in English and American literature. She would begin writing her own songs after being dropped by Mercury. Her 1972 album Someplace Else Now (released by MoWest Records) contained songs entirely written by her. She released three more albums: Love Me by Name in 1976, The Canvas Can Do Miracles in 1982, and Ever Since in 2005. She wrote songs for the 1980 film Fame.  "Out Here on My Own", co-written with her brother Michael, was a hit for Irene Cara and peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also received an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Song.

Later in her career Lesley Gore continued to appear on television, on such shows as American Bandstand, Dinah!, The Midnight Special, Sha Na NaMurphy Brown, and Hollywood Squares. She was the host of In the Life, a PBS newsmagazine series devoted to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangendered individuals (Miss Gore had come out as a lesbian in 2005). In the late Nineties she also appeared on Broadway in Smokey Joe's Cafe. In June 2011 Lesley Gore was one of the headlines (along with Ronnie Spector and LaLa Brooks) at She's Got the Power, a Lincoln Centre concert dedicated to the girl groups and girl singers of the Sixties.

While the height of Lesley Gore's career was relatively brief (from 1963 to about 1965), there is a reason she is still remembered today. She had an incredible voice, one that was blessed not only with great musical range, but great emotional range as well. In an era known for its girl singers, Lesley Gore had among the most expressive of voices. And while she did not write any of the hits of her early career, Lesley Gore was a good songwriter. Her song "Out Here on My Own"  was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song with good reason.

Beyond her talent, however, Lesley Gore may be best remembered because any many respects she marked a turning point for female singers in the United States. In 1963 most girl singers were still singing about how great their boyfriends were or how their boyfriends had broken their hearts. They were singing songs that very much reflected the view of women during the era. To wit, it was the year of "He's So Fine" by The Chiffons, "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, and "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" by The Supremes. "It's My Party" turned all of this on its head. Yes, it was a song about teenage heartbreak, but it was also a song in which a young woman made it clear she was going to express her feelings regardless of social decorum. "You Don't Own Me" defied that era's expectations of young women even more. While other girl singers sang of their loyalty to their boyfriends, with "You Don't Own Me" Lesley Gore made it clear she was very much her own girl. That it was released on the eve of the second wave of feminism in the United States is perhaps no coincidence. Gifted with an great voice and later becoming a good songwriter, Lesley Gore was very much a trendsetter before she even turned 18. She represented a sharp break from the many girl signers before her.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Two Songs by Lesley Gore

Today I have felt a bit under the weather as well as taking care of a sick cat on top of that. It is for that reason I don't feel like writing a complete eulogy for Lesley Gore. For those who don't know, the singer/songwriter, best known for such songs as "It's My Party", 'You Don't Own Me", and  "Judy's Turn to Cry", died today at the age of 68. The cause was lung cancer.

What could be Lesley Gore's two best known songs could be considered to have feminist tones. In the case of "It's My Party", a young girl is determined to cry regardless of society's norms regarding not crying at parties (especially one's own). Essentially the song is about a young woman asserting her right to express her emotions at any time she chooses. "You Don't Own Me" is an even stronger expression of feminism. "You Don't Own Me" makes it clear that she is not simply her boyfriend's property and demands that she be allowed to live her life as she chooses. Compared to the typical love songs of the era, "You Don't Own Me" was extremely progressive in tone.

Anyhow, here is "It's My Party" and "You Don't Own Me". I will write a full eulogy for Lesley Gore tomorrow.