Thursday 11 July 2024

It's off to work we go...

 We have looked previously at Duke Ellington's proposed idea for a musical called Coal Black and the Seven Dwarfs. Two lyric sheets alleged to be from the planning for the production were listed recently on eBay.

The first is the lyric for the song I Could Get A Man which Ellington and the Orchestra recorded with vocalist Dolores Parker for Columbia Records on 22 December 1947. A comparison of that recording with the lyric sheet shown below demonstrates that not all the lines made the cut...


Thornton Hee (March 26, 1911 – October 30, 1988) was an American animator, director, and teacher. 

He taught character design and caricature.

T. Hee was hired by the Leon Schlesinger Studio as a character designer in 1935, and got to work overtime creating Hollywood star caricatures in The Coo Coo Nut Grove, directed by Friz Freleng.

Another T. Hee caricature-packed Merrie Melodie, The Woods Are Full Of Cuckoos, directed by Frank Tashlin, is a spoof of then-popular radio shows Community Sing, Allen's Alley (a.k.a. The Fred Allen Show and Al Pearce & His Gang.

It's likely Walt Disney saw these Merrie Melodies, as he hired T. Hee, who subsequently worked on Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, the 1938 Silly Symphony designed and intended as the last word in movie star caricatures.

Hee joined Walt Disney Animation Studios around 1937. 

T. Hee was one of the storyboard artists who contributed The Reluctant Dragon segment from the 1941 film of the same name.

He is most recognized for directing the Dance of the Hours segment of Fantasia. 

He left after the strike, but returned to work there twice, from 1940 to 1946, and again from 1958 to 1961.

Where T worked between his last 1940's stint for Disney and his joining UPA and the crew of director Robert "Bobe" Cannon is one of the many mysteries I found putting today's post together. 

An informative Cartoon Research post noted his work at UPA on the animated titles for the Life Of Riley TV show.

Hee also worked for United Productions of America (1951 to 1958) and Terrytoons (1961 to 1963).

Now where T worked between leaving Disney in 1946 and joining UPA is one of many questions about his career I could not answer.

It would appear that T had the task of injecting comedy into the Jolly Frolics cartoons of director Bobe Cannon. 

Bobe worked for Chuck Jones at Warner Bros. and Tex Avery at MGM but, as a director at UPA, absolutely abhorred conflict and anything that could remotely resemble slapstick. 

That made things a bit of a challenge for the UPA story department. 

The Bobe Cannon cartoons enjoyable and charming, but not exactly laugh riots. 

That's okay - laughs aplenty mark John Hubley's brilliant work at UPA, and later, the Mr. Magoos directed by Pete Burness.

Hee was one of the co-founders, with Jack Hannah, of the Character Animation program at the California Institute of the Arts. 

He later served as chairman of the Film Arts Department.

T Hee provided the illustrations during the opening credits of The Life of Riley television show of the 1950s.

T. Hee was born on 26 March 1911 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA. He was a writer, known for Pinocchio (1940), Variety Girl (1947) and The Parent Trap (1961). 

He was married to Patti Price. 

He died on 30 October 1988 in Carbon County, Montana, USA.

 T. Hee founded, with Jack Hannah, the Character Animation program at the California Institute of the Arts, where he would be chairman of the Film Arts Department. 

He ended up contributing to the next generations of animators - from John Lasseter to Tim Burton to the late Joe Ranft - with his teaching at CalArts.


Born.    March 26, 1911
Died.      October 30, 1988

FULL Page is about 8 x 11


Please see photos

The second item up for auction is a typed sheet of the lyrics for the song  Sweet Velvet O'Toole.

Interesting to note that the possibility of a production of Cole Black/ Satin Doll and the Seven Little Men was still being mooted as late as 1990...

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Big And Busy Intersections


The post following is a cut-and-paste from the blog Cocktails With Elvira.

Blogs and their posts have a habit of disappearing without trace so I wanted a permanent record of the fascinating research in the article.

Cocktails With Elvira was originally referenced in a post here last September, The Coventry Mystery Play. The post concerns the mysterious Barbara Waring and her relationship to Duke Ellington who wrote the music for her production of  a play called The Jaywalker.

Here is the post. No copyright infringement is intended.

Barbara Waring, Cavalcade, The Gentle Sex and Duke Ellington

6 January, 2012

I think it is safe to assume that all of the attendees at Arthur Jeffress’  Orchard Court party went there from the Blue Angel (see ) and that it was therefore a fairly impromptu gathering. Elvira and Michael were invited but Elvira declined, claiming tiredness, which was unlikely given the descriptions of her as being “in high spirits” and “excitable” while at the club. In the light of subsequent events, it was not exactly a wise decision to return home.

The inclusion of Barbara Waring (Born Barbara Waring Gibb 1912-1990)  among Jeffress’ late night guests is further evidence of the importance of the theatre and young actors and actresses to West End club and party life. Who was she with that evening? It is unlikely that she went to the Blue Angel alone, so fellow actress Irene MacBrayne is the most probable companion. Lester Empson Lucas (21), who is proving a little elusive, is another possibility.

She was younger than most of the Monday night revellers (19) and was appearing in Noel Coward’s Cavalcade at the time (as, I suspect, was MacBrayne). She was a close friend of Sylvia Coke’s (they had been at RADA together) and may be the unnamed actress who attended the earlier Mews cocktail party with Miss Coke – although that does not fit with the statement Sylvia gave the police.I would doubt that she knew Elvira or Michael very well, if at all.

However through her friendship with Sylvia Coke and Angela Worthington she would have met many of London’s fashionable and “fast” characters. Her son’s obituary lists Noel Coward and Ivor Novello as friends of his mother and Angela Worthington cites John Heygate, Ewart Garland, Michael Sieff (of Marks and Spencer fame) and the disreputable Gussie Schweder as part of the young actresses’ circle. Belgravia-born Schweder was gay, dissolute and an inveterate party-giver at his Knightbridge flat. I’m sure Gussie would have had more than a passing acquaintance with Michael and/or Elvira.

Cavalcade itself is an even more appropriate cultural marker of the demise of the Bright Young Things than the Barney trial. An extravagant and over-blown historical tableau, it turned Coward from darling of the sophisticates into a “national treasure” and respectable figure of the establishment almost over-night. Though Coward, by 1931, was already the highest paid author in England, his plays still were considered somewhat racy and all had problems with the censors. Cavalcade, a sentimental pageant charting the lives of two families (one rich,one poor) through the events of the first thirty years of the century, struck just the right patriotic and nostalgic notes and a nation reeling from the Depression and the recent humbling abandonment of the Gold Standard took it to its heart immediately. Royal approval was given by the appearance at the second night of the King and Queen, the Daily Mail serialised it and it ran (to full houses) for over a year. The Conservative party even credited it with bolstering the middle-class vote and ensuring that the “Radical” thirties remained largely under their stewardship.

The play’s impact on the West End was equally impressive. As it featured over 400 actors and behind the scenes workers, it provided much employment and for young hopefuls (like John Mills and Barbara Waring) was their first experience of a really successful long-run. Mention must be made of the elaborate sets and the wide range of costumes used in the course of the show. These were designed by Gladys Calthrop, Coward’s costumier,set-designer and confidante from The Vortex onward she was a member of the upper-echelons of lesbian Bohemia – her lovers included Mercedes De Acosta and Eva Le Gallienne, themselves indirectly linked to the Barney circle (through Tallulah Bankhead and Jo Carstairs).

Cavalcade does hint at the tensions caused by the twenties’ moral , sexual and cultural upheavals and closes in a noisy night-club with “jazz-age decadents” and a female character singing Twentieth Century Blues , but as Philip Hoare points out “the overwhelming impression of the production was of nostalgic national introspection and sentimentality”. The endless  patriotic speeches and chestnuts like Keep The Home Fires Burning ensured that tradition triumphed over modernity.

Barbara Waring continued her association with Noel Coward but her next real impact was in cinema rather than on the stage. She appears in small roles in three of the best British war-time films – Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve, Powell and Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale and Leslie Howard’s The Gentle Sex. The latter is of particular interest as it features dialogue contributions from playwright Aimee Stuart (whose own proto-feminist, discreetly-gay, Bohemian circle overlaps at times with the Chelsea Set)  and an uncredited acting part for Peter Cotes,  the author of The Trial of Elvira Barney. When Cotes writes that at certain times in his life he encountered many who knew Elvira then the set of The Gentle Sex is probably one of those occasions. Thirteen years earlier, Waring had appeared in Stuart’s Nine Till Six with its all female cast a key play for both actresses and audiences of Elvira’s generation (see here).

The film itself is a mixture of, hopefully ironic,  condescension  and, for the time, quite progressive views about women. It remains oddly moving. Waring, like the whole female cast, is excellent as a rather unpleasant and aloof dancing- teacher who is forced to re-examine her prejudices.

Barbara Waring, whose father was a Doctor, had married the theatrical agent Laurence Evans in the late 1930s. As seems de rigeur for every woman this blog mentions, the first marriage was short-lived. In 1947 she married Geoffrey Cunliffe, son of Baron Cunliffe and Chairman of British Aluminium. Her creative career was not quite over though. A play of hers, The Jaywalker – religious in theme, was due to be performed at Coventry Cathedral in 1967.

The music was by Duke Ellington. A mutual friend of Ellington and Waring, Mrs. Lesley Diamond made the introduction. As Renee Gertler (niece of the artist Mark Gertler), the future Mrs.Diamond had been one of many young English fans who had lionised and met Ellington on his first triumphant tour in 1933.  Given this jazz and art connection it would be nice to place Renee Gertler in the Bohemian world of the Blue Angel etc. but she was actually a 13 year-old schoolgirl at the time. In the 1950s, however, her Park Lane home became Ellington’s favourite London retreat – a place to write and relax.

I’m not sure what happened to the production of The Jaywalker but the music is available from Storyville Records.

One of the reasons Arthur Jeffress invited everyone back to his place, that night at the Blue Angel, was so he could play them some of the “hot” records he had brought with him from his recent trip to New York. I wonder if these included any Duke Ellington sides. It is not unlikely as he was already a favourite of the London cognoscenti (the hard-partying Constant Lambert being a particular fan).Anyway, I like the image of a young Barbara Waring  nodding away appreciatively to the Ellington Orchestra in the early hours.

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Cambridge Blues

Hearing Duke Ellington’s music performed live in a venue – or within the vicinity of a venue – where the Orchestra actually appeared, appeals to the imagination and can only enhance the experience.


Those attending Duke Ellington Sacred Concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge on 20 July this month will find themselves only a stone’s throw away from Great St Mary’s where Duke Ellington himself performed on 20 February, 1967.


I was alerted to news of this month’s concert in the first instance by a reminiscence from someone who was there at the performance in 1967 and will be there again on Saturday evening. The piece was recently published on Alison Kerr’s Blog.


A number of musicians and aficionados were asked to share their thoughts and feelings about Ellington, fifty years now from his passing.


One of the contributors was broadcaster Russell Davies who said:


“The closest any of us came to the band physically was in Great St May’s Church, 1967, when Duke played his first-version Sacred Concert. Our university group, the Idle Hour Jazz Band, were among the first to buy tickets. I’m going to be talking about this occasion in July in King’s College Chapel, because the Crouch End Festival Chorus is singing its own version of the piece, and I’m there as a witness to the original. 


“We were quite close to the stage (the holy end), and I was on the end of a row, with my foot sticking out a bit – I remember that because Johnny Hodges, on his way to the stage, tripped over it. I could have ended a great career there. I sat next to our clarinet player, Trevor Stent, and I remember his sobs of panic (“Oh NO! you CAN’T do that!”) when Russell Procope, an early arrival, starting carving visible strips off his reed. But of course he’d been doing it since the 1920s. The only person we were envious of at the Cambridge event was a drummer we knew under the name of Freddie Foskett, who wangled sole permission to be present at Duke’s rehearsal, where he took many fine photographs – we’d no idea he was a serious photographer at all (he wasn’t a great drummer). He’s gone now, but his work is quite revered – under his proper name of Brian Foskett.”


There is, in fact, no end of eyewitnesses to Ellington’s sacred Concert in 1967…

Also present was critic Clive James. In his book Cultural Amnesia, he writes of the occasion:

“The set-piece suite of his last years on the world tour, the Sacred Music Concert, was the etiolated culmination of his adventures in large-scale composition—the end point of a long development in an art-form for which his own best work had proved that “development” was an inappropriate word. I attended the Sacred Music Concert in Great St. Mary’s at Cambridge while I was an undergraduate. It was a privilege to see the grand old man still in command of his destiny and his charm, but there was too much sacred and not enough music. When the sidemen rose for their solos, showers of notes were no substitute for the carved phrases of their forgotten ancestors. Ellington must have known it: he was conducting a tour of his own tomb. Later on, outside in King’s Parade, I saw him ease himself into the limo with his old-time baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, sole survivor from the days of glory, the only Ellingtonian sideman who was ever allowed to ride in the car with the chief, instead of in the bus with everyone else.


“From the limo before it pulled away, Ellington smiled and twiddled his fingers at the fans, the bags under his eyes like sets of matched luggage. (I got a wink from him, which I filed away among my best memories.)”

An article about the Cambridge Sacred Concert was featured in an edition of Blue Light, the journal of the Duke Ellington Society UK.

Following its appearance, the following letter was received from Quentin Bryar, Secretary of  the Society...



Many thanks for the article in Blue Light about the Sacred Concert at Great St Mary's in Cambridge in 1967.


By complete coincidence, I met a lady earlier this year who sang at the concert. Jacqueline Stother, who was sitting next to me at a family wedding, was a student at Cambridge at the time and astonished me by saying she sang in the choir that night.

I had never met Jacqui before, but I plied her with questions of course, and later sent her some stuff about the concert including excerpts from Val Wilmer's review in Down Beat which is reproduced in Ken Vail's Duke's Diary, and the photograph which is in Duke Ellington's America by Harvey Cohen.


Here is Jacqui's reply:


Thank you so much for your e-mail and attachments about the Duke Ellington Concert in Cambridge.  The photographs were very interesting - I think I may be the girl with short hair, wearing a light-coloured top under a university gown, at the left end of the second row of the choir, but I'm not absolutely certain.  Unfortunately I can't remember a great deal about the concert, apart from being blown away by the saxophone solos, the vocalist, and of course Duke Ellington's playing.  I can't remember the tap-dancing  and drum solo at all.  


I can remember my feeling of anxiety about singing with such a famous band, especially since I was not really a jazz aficionado.  At the rehearsal I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to sing the top notes in tune (I sang soprano then, but didn't have a wide range - I now sing second alto!) and I remember Duke Ellington trying to get us to sing in jazz style (we were more used to classical pieces) he was very nice and encouraging.


The choir at the concert was not the main church choir, but a group of students who performed anthems at special services and gave occasional concerts.  From memory, we usually rehearsed on Sunday afternoons and our concerts often began at 8.30pm, after the students had returned to their colleges for their evening meal - hence the late starting time. 


I have contacted a couple of my contemporaries who sang in other choirs at Cambridge.  One was not in Cambridge that weekend, the other was at the Concert, but can only remember a great sense of occasion and the church being packed (an audience of 1,300, according to the article you sent - there are upper galleries above the main chancel). 


I'm sorry not to be more helpful, but the Concert did take place 50 years ago!

Details of the concert at King's College may be found here.

There is further reading on Ellington's Cambridge appearance from the local press here and a rather sniffy contemporary review for The Guardian by Ronald Atkins here.

Monday 8 July 2024

Ellington In Excelsis

Three recent lots in the virtual salesroom of eBay are testament to the highs and lows, as it were, of Ellington's career: the church and the nightclub.  

He certainly did get around much.

Here are photographs of the ephemera with the respective descriptions by the vendors. For an item signed by Ellington, the sale price of the Trinity Cathedral programme at a little over £17 was a steal for some lucky bidder...

Vendor's description:

DUKE ELLINGTON and his Orchestra
Tritinity Cathedral
October 10 and 11, 1968

Programme is signed and has few text remarks in Dutch language (like with Sonnet of the Apple: this was spoken by a 6 years old 'negro boy*' and he got an enormous applaus'
* i just translate here the nowadays unaccepted words

Programme is in VG condition and has 'golden imprint'

From the vendor...

Program for the ‘Cotton Club Parade, Fourth Edition’ held at the famous New York club in 1930’s, 8.75 x 11.75, signed on the front cover in pencil by Duke Ellington. In very good to fine condition.

Starting bid is a cool $780.00...

The final lot - again start the bidding at $780.00 - captures a real moment in time, including as it does a photograph of two of the patrons of the Zanzibar Club...

The vendor writes...

Harlem Renaissance - era 1940's Zanzibar Cafe jazz club memorabilia captures a moment in Harlem and jazz history. This club was opened after the famous Cotton Club was closed down and created a new policy allowing black audiences in. Famous for helping to desegregate entertainment New York, the club was also extremely popular during World War Two where Gi's would take dates. While the club itself  was not in Harlem, many of the acts that played there had their roots in Harlem. 

Up for sale is an archive you're unlikely to see again. Includes two programs featuring shows of the Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway orchestras. They were two of the biggest acts through the 1930's and 40's and must've been amazing to go see. The people who went to the shows made short notes on the corner of each program, which is a nice trace of the people that went on those nights.

This lot includes:

- Two club programs with a schedule of all the music acts playing that night
- An original black and white photo of two patrons at a table taken in the club with the original folder 
- Two packs of matches - one with matches and one just the matchbook cover

"Cab Calloway spent some quality time at Zanzibar... entire months! Café Zanzibar, "Home of the Stars", was a Broadway theater that opened in 1943 with the aim of succeeding the prestigious Cotton Club which had recently closed.  But Zanzibar brought one notable difference: the black audience was accepted there. This policy greatly contributed to its success both with orchestras and the public. The Hi De Ho Blog tells you everything he knows about the Café Zanzibar."