Not counting any of several short-lived regroupings that occurred after 1980, Mary Wilson had the longest tenure of any member of the Motown vocal group The Supremes. Starting in 1958 when Wilson and three other teenage girls--Florence Ballard, Diane Ross, and Betty McGlown--living in a Detroit public housing project formed a group called The Primettes; through 1960 when McGlown left to get married and was replaced by Barbara Martin; through 1962 when Martin left to have a baby, with the group, now called The Supremes and signed to the upstart record label Motown, continuing from here on in as a trio; through late 1963 when Motown head honcho Berry Gordy named Ross official lead singer, the girls having taken turns singing lead up to that point; through 1964, '65, and '66 when Diane Ross became Diana Ross and the trio achieved a worldwide success that came close to rivalling that of The Beatles; through 1967, '68, and and '69 when a depressed Ballard turned to drink and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong and the group's named was changed to Diana Ross and The Supremes; through 1970, '71, and the first few months of '72 when Ross left to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Jean Terrell, the group's name once again just The Supremes; through the remainder of 1972 when Birdsong left to start a family and was replaced by Lynda Laurence; through 1973, '74, and '75, when Terrell, upset that the hits had stopped coming and that Motown wasn't doing enough to support the group, left and was replaced by Scherrie Payne, and Laurence, wanting to start a family, decided to leave and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong, who as I just said had left to start family and was now returning to the fold; through 1976 when Birdsong, believing the group was being mismanaged (Wilson's husband Pedro Ferrer having taken over as manager) left a second time and was replaced by Susaye Greene; and through the first half of 1977 when the girl group finally disbanded. Mary Wilson, I repeat, was there for all of it, from beginning to end, 19 years.
Along with The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Temptations, and Bob Dylan, The Supremes' most well-known lineup--Ross, Wilson, and Ballard--were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Accepting on behalf of the legendary girl group at that year's induction ceremony were Florence Ballard's daughter Lisa Chapman Ballard (the mother having died in 1976) and a spectacularly glam Mary Wilson. Here's Mary's acceptance speech (the "Richard" she refers to is Little Richard, who made the speech inducting the group into the Hall):
Love the interaction between the klieg lights and Mary's ruby red lipstick!
As you saw and heard, Diana Ross wasn't there that night. Wilson's explanation as to why Ross wasn't there--that she wanted to spend time with her family--should be taken with a grain of salt...
...poured into an open wound. Whose wound exactly, is hard to say.
Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross. Since Wilson sang mostly backup during that era, I'm only going to give you a single song from that period, The Supremes' last big hit before Ballard left the group:
Cindy Birdsong, Jean Terrill, and Mary Wilson. Terrill was the official lead singer during this period, but she didn't dominate nearly as much as Diana Ross did. Wilson got to sing lead occasionally, as she did on this Smokey Robinson-penned hit:
Released in December 1971, it eventually peaked at #16.
Cindy Birdsong, Mary Wilson, and, um, let me double-check to make sure I got this right.....Scherrie Payne. By this time--it's 1975 now--Wilson was considered the act's main attraction, and was singing lead about half the time, including on this kinda'-but-not-really-a-hit song (I'll explain afterwards):
When it comes to disco, I feel one should distinguish what came before Saturday Night Fever from what came after Saturday Night Fever. Not because the music itself was all that different afterwards, or different at all, but because attitudes toward, and expectations of, the music had changed so much. In 1975, disco was an up-and-coming musical genre that Billboard magazine tentatively kept tabs on with a "Disco Singles" chart. The pre-Saturday Night Fever "Early Morning Love" peaked at #6 on that chart. That sounds impressive , but that success has to be somewhat qualified. The song was never released as a single in the United States. If you wanted to listen to it, you either had to buy or borrow the album The Supremes, which came out the same year, or go to an actual disco (of course, there was a third option that I just now showed you: watch Soul Train.)
Watching that, I can't help but think it was a waste of Mary Wilson's talent singing backup to Diana Ross all those years. Now, that doesn't mean I believe Wilson should have sang lead instead of Ross, whose voice, after all, gave The Supremes its charts-topping signature sound. What I think is that Wilson might have been better off as a solo act from the very beginning. But at a particular point in time, either no one saw that in her, or she didn't see it in herself. Settling for backup just may have been the quickest way of leaving the Detroit projects behind. RIP, Mary Wilson.
I never, ever update Mark Twain. I don't modernize it. I let the audience update the material. When I go out on stage, I'm trying to make the audience believe they're looking at this guy who died 104 years ago and listening to him and saying to themselves, "Jesus, he could be talking about today." And that's the point.
That's some of what the movie captured--the uncertainty and doubt. Most of the sources and informants were just low-level players who just saw a piece of the conspiracies. [All the President's Men] director Alan J. Pakula picked actor Hal Holbrook to play Deep Throat. Holbrook was the wise actor of the era, cerebral and high-minded. He was the one who seemingly knew the entire story but wouldn't tell it all. It was a powerful performance, capturing the authoritative and seasoned intensity, cynicism and gruffness of the man in the underground garage.
--Bob Woodward, The Secret Man.
Jim [Brooks] said, "I just had a flash. I know what it's about. Mary's going to do a show. Mary's going to do a new show...." Her movie career didn't go anywhere, and she had this big smash hit special, which was called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman. It was an hour-long special with Dick and Mary reuniting them in a variety of different sketches and songs and everything. The show went through the roof, and CBS was nuts about the idea of getting Mary back on television for them.
--Allan Burns, TV writer and producer, screenwriter, and, early in his career, animator for Jay Ward Productions.
Allan's range was like nobody's...I don't think you ever get an absurdist [The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, The Munsters], a legitimate humorist [The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda] and a feeling person [A Little Romance] in one package.
--James L. Brooks, who, in addition to The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, also created with Burns the Moore-spinoff Lou Grant.
He was a guide and mentor, and I loved him...Jim Brooks was the bouncing-off-the-walls part of the team, and Allan was the stabilizer.
Although we worked hard enough to make [Captain von Trapp] interesting, it was a bit like flogging a dead horse. And the subject matter was not mine. I mean, it can't appeal to every person in the world...But [The Sound of Music] was a very well-made movie, and it's a family movie and we haven't seen a family movie, I don't think, on that scale for ages.
Well, that was a dream come true. I had always been a fanatic Christopher Plummer fan. I still am. I had acquired a CD of him performing excerpts from Henry V to the accompaniment of the musical score that William Walton wrote for the Olivier movie of Henry V. I used to just listen to it over and over and over again. And Chang came out of that recording. I just thought, “I want a Shakespeare-quoting guy, and we’re gonna get Christopher Plummer.” It’s the only time I ever wrote specifically for an actor, not counting the Star Trek cast. And I said to Mary Jo Slater, who was our casting director, “You have to get him for this, because I can't make the movie otherwise. There’s no other actor who can do this.” So, she got him. And I had the time of my life. It was just my own Shakespeare wind-up toy. I would just say, “Do that ‘Let slip the dogs of war’ for me again.” He was a delight.
--Nicholas Meyer, who directed Plummer in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
In his 80s when we met, I marveled at his intense curiosity, hunger to make something vulnerable, and his need to challenge himself. Christopher was both dignified and mischievous, deeply cultured and always looking for a good laugh. As he said about playing my father who was dying ‘not an ounce of self pity,’ and that’s how he was. I’ll always be indebted to Christopher for honoring the story of an older man who dares to come out of the closet, to overcome shame with grace, and intelligence, and a rowdy desire for life — Christopher knew how to make that story alive for so many people.
--Mike Mills, who directed Plummer in Beginners, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at the age of 88, making him the oldest winner ever.
(All three of these fellas deserve a much better sendoff than I'm giving them here, but if I were to give each of them that better sendoff, I probably wouldn't be done until a month from now, and God knows who will have died in the meantime--Kirk)
|Cloris Leachman 1926-2021|
|Cicely Tyson 2024-2021|