I was sorry to read of the recent passing of singer/actress Polly Bergen, who died at age 84 of complications from emphysema. As has been our custom, I’m reposting our original feature on the star and also temporarily reactivating the music link.
———– (originally published in May 2013) ———-
I don’t know about you, but even though I knew Polly Bergen could sing, I have always thought of her as an actress. In fact, I was doing just that — thinking about her — not too long ago when I read a story about the odds of Hillary Clinton becoming president, because one of Bergen’s memorable roles was in 1964’s Kisses for My President. In case you’ve forgotten, she played the president and Fred MacMurray was the – er – first husband or first gentleman, whatever. But she’s always had a musical side too, and that’s what the GMC is all about.
A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Nellie Paulina Burgin was raised in a musical family — her father was a talented amateur singer who would appear on her TV show many years later — but even though she always sang, her career leaned more toward acting in the early years. While still a teenager she began building her experience in radio and on stage, and by the late 1940s was ready to try her luck in Hollywood.
It didn’t take long for her to begin showing up in small parts in movies and gradually moving on to bigger and better roles, but film stardom eluded her and by the early 1950s she was using her singing ability to expand her career, showing up on Broadway and occasionally on TV. It was about then that throat surgery slowed her down a little, but in the mid-1950s she really began to gain some momentum as a singer, recording several albums and making high-profile appearances like her Emmy-winning portrayal of singer Helen Morgan on TV’s Playhouse 90.
By the 1960s she was still singing but also getting co-starring roles in movies, occasionally appearing on Broadway, and frequently showing up on TV. In subsequent years she continued to take choice parts, like her Emmy-winning role in TV miniseries The Winds of War (and its sequel), but she later revealed new talents by founding her own company to market cosmetics, jewelry, and shoes. She also wrote several beauty books, and even now — in her eighties — is still active.
Polly Bergen – “September In The Rain” (You can also access music in left column.)
I don’t play the piano. I tried to learn once but gave up on it. But one thing I do remember is how difficult it was to make my fingers cover all the territory they needed to — and I have big hands. That made it even more amazing to me when I learned that Johnny Guarnieri, who was for many years one of the best jazz pianists around, was known for his surprisingly small hands.
John Albert Guarnieri was a native New Yorker who began working professionally when he reached adulthood in the mid to late 1930s. Classically trained, he had transitioned to jazz (although he sometimes combined the two in later years) and had also become proficient in stride piano* in the style of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. It wasn’t long before his talent earned him work in some of the many big bands that roamed the land at the time, leading to a gig with one of the biggest, Benny Goodman‘s. Over the next few years Guarnieri made his name while working with Goodman and then Artie Shaw, another superstar bandleader of the era. In fact, it was his association with Shaw that led to one of his unique accomplishments — the first musician to play the harpsichord on a jazz recording.
During the 1940s Guarnieri led his own group for a while and also spent time with Tommy Dorsey’s band. He made some of his best records during this period, teaming up with stars like Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, and Don Byas. As the decade drew to a close he landed a position with NBC, which provided him with a base on the musical side of radio and TV, and plenty of opportunities to freelance too.
During the 1950s and 1960s Guarnieri solidified his position as one of the most-respected pianists around, eventually settling in California and finding plenty of work in TV and nightclubs while continuing to make records, including several with the Henri René Orchestra backing Eartha Kitt. As the years passed he also made several successful tours, appearing in Europe for appreciative fans. He stayed active until his death at age 67 in 1985.
* Guarnieri explains ‘stride piano’ at the beginning of the video below.
Johnny Guarnieri Orch (w/ Lester Young) – “These Foolish Things” (You can also access music in left column.)
This is the ninth edition of Diamonds In The Rough, the Special Feature that gives newer visitors to the GMC the chance to see some of our favorite posts from the past. Come to think of it, our regulars might want to take another look at these too. Sometimes things are just as much fun the second time around.
Of course, some of those same regulars have probably noticed that the series has progressed by date — it other words, we’ve gradually worked our way from posts that first appeared in 2006 to those below, which were published in 2012 and early 2013. That means we’re getting so close to current posts that we might not do these quite as often. But I think this one still works pretty well.
The Diamonds – “The Stroll” (You can also access music in left column.)
3D Has Been Around For A Long Time
Personal experiences with REAL 3D.
The Saga Of Little Georgie Gobel
One of the most-loved guys in show business.
The Little Sparrow – Édith Piaf
She is still a legendary figure in France.
Lucky Strike Sweetheart Dorothy Collins
She was a lot more adventurous that you’d think.
And Another Childhood Icon Bites The Dust
Not exactly ‘PC’ but still fun.
That Scandalous Song
An interesting history for a song with meaning.
Rockabilly’s Sparkle Moore Inspired By Comics
I wonder what Dick Tracy would have thought?
The Mystery Of Charly McClain
One of the most popular posts on the GMC.
Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes – Artist With A Comb
Remember when our hair was sort of like that?
Walter Brennan — Recording Star?
He had not just one but two best-sellers.