September 6, 2013 · 3:48 PM
I was music director of the CNE Grandstand Show from 1953 to 1968. Since this is my first blog post of the Canadian National Exhibition series, I thought I’d give you an introduction, and explain the events that lead to my being chosen for this wonderful job.
Prior to my arrival, the Grandstand Show was practically an all-American production. The stars, producers, choreographers, lighting designers, etc., were all Americans. The only Canadians in the show were pit musicians and backup singers.
Toronto’s new mayor, Alan Lamport, who always had a strong opinion on how things should be, was not at all happy with that arrangement. In 1952, he set out to change the spectacle into an all-Canadian production, with the only American being the star headliner. “Lampy” consulted his experts and was directed to Jack Arthur (vice-president of Famous Players Canada) as the man who could bring a show like that together. Though Jack was eager to get back into producing, he planned to keep his position at Famous Players for the first few years “just in case”. (So it wouldn’t appear that he had two jobs, I heard that his salary for the first year at the CNE was one dollar.)
The first “Canadiana” show that Jack put together featured Alan and Blanche Lund, Max Ferguson (Canada’s lovable radio character, Rawhide), Evelyn Gould, Celia Franca with the National Ballet, the Malvern Collegiate Precision Squad, The Canadettes, and the RCMP Musical Ride. The American star for 1952 was Tony Martin.
With the move to the new format, they were also looking for a new music director for the 1953 season. It so happened that the assistant producer under Jack Arthur was Jackie Rae, who happened to be a good friend of mine. He was also the producer of three of my CBC radio shows, so he knew my work very well. It was because of the recommendation of Jackie Rae that I came to be music director of the CNE Grandstand Show. (If the surname sounds familiar, it is because Jackie was the uncle of former Liberal Party leader, Bob Rae.)
I am forever grateful to Jackie for recommending me. He was a great human being and I miss him.
In my next post I’ll write about what I think is one of the most important parts of the whole Grandstand spectacle — the orchestra!
You can find that post (here)
Jackie Rae – 1959
August 9, 2013 · 1:35 PM
In my time at the Imperial Room, I had the great pleasure of working with Ginger Rogers. She was one of only a few true iconic movie stars who appeared with us. We usually think of Ginger as one half of the celebrated dance pair, Astaire and Rogers. The two danced together on screen for 16 years (from 1933 to 1949) and made 10 films during that time.
It was now February of 1976, and she could still sing and dance amazingly well (even though she was in her mid-60s). Ginger was performing solo by this time, because Fred – who was 12 years her senior – had stopped dancing professionally and was devoting his time to acting.
Her show was well produced, and I could tell she had a good choreographer. Backed by eight dancers, it was an absolute class act. Though I don’t know the reason, early in the run she decided to add a number. She asked me to write an arrangement of an Irving Berlin tune from one of her old movies. I did so quickly, and she liked it so much I gave it to her as a gift.
Her show ran for two weeks, and I was very moved by the way she closed the show each night. After the final chart and after her final bow, she stepped up to the microphone, gazed out – as if peering off to a far away place – and sweetly said, “Good night, Fred.”
A partnership as close as theirs, did not fade.
Fred and Ginger in their movie, “Shall We Dance” (1937)
August 6, 2013 · 11:01 PM
To give you some idea of how varied the headliners in the Imperial Room could be, here is the full list (in order) from January to December of 1976:
The Fifth Dimension
The Mills Brothers
The Smothers Brothers
The Righteous Brothers
This list covers 9 months of actual shows. We had summers off, so there were no performances from mid-June to mid-September. Some acts performed for one week, others for two weeks. Keep in mind that there are 12 more years worth of performers in addition to this one. I have a lot of writing ahead of me.
In next week’s post, I’ve got a touching story about Ginger Rogers that I’d like to share. (find the Ginger story here)
May 18, 2013 · 1:03 PM
My music career began in 1939 and has continued uninterrupted to the present day. Over and over again I have had to adapt to the changing times to stay afloat. By all calculations I must be on my eleventh life by now. (I get 18 of them, by the way.)
My newest adaptation is not a musical one, but rather a decision to move into the computer age. This is a big step for a man who has long considered himself a “techno-rebel”. I refused to learn the Finale or Sibelius programs, because I prefer to write music with a felt pen and score paper. I do not know how to work a VCR or DVD player. I do not know how to program that funny cable box to record TV shows when I’m not home. But none of this worries me, because knowing things like this are not all that important, really. But I will tell you what IS important — MUSIC !
So I will do whatever I have to do to keep the great eras of music alive. If it means learning how to blog at 92, then so be it.