All the leaves are brown (all the leaves are brown) And the sky is grey (and the sky is grey) I've been for a walk (I've been for a walk) On a winter's day (on a winter's day) I'd be safe and warm (I'd be safe and warm) If I was in--Huh?
Stella may have told this magazine, but since I only have the cover and not the insides, I can't tell you why she posed in the nude. What I can tell you is that like fellow nude models Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Stella Stevens possessed actual acting talent, particularly when it came to comedy acting. To prove my point, I've enlisted the aid of...
...these two guys.
First up, Jerry:
The Andy Griffith Show fans will have recognized Ernest T. Bass himself, Howard Morris, in the above clip. Note how uncharacteristically subdued Jerry seems. He may have met his match in Morris.
But back to Stella...
...this time with Dean:
A very earthy woman. Dino could have done a lot worse.
My family was very conservative, and I had a traditional upbringing. I was not brought up to be a sex symbol, nor is it in my nature to be one. The fact that I became one is probably the loveliest, most glamorous and fortunate misunderstanding.
If a man were going to become a woman, he would want to become the most beautiful woman in the world. He would become Raquel Welch.
--Robert Fryer, producer of the film version of Gore Vidal's novel Myra Breckinridge
I can't recall what Gore Vidal thought ofRaquel Welch in Myra Breckinridge, his transgender comedy, though he wrote off the film itself as "an awful joke." The movie managed to piss off everyone including the White House which demanded that old clips of Shirley Temple be excised from the movie because it demeaned her position as a delegate at the United Nations. So it had that going for it. Still the film seems even more relevant to our time than the late 60s.
Radio and television comedian Jack Benny was born on St. Valentines Day in 1894 (he died the day after Christmas in 1974.) Since this is the holiday that celebrates romantic love, I thought it best to include the love of Benny's life, Mary Livingstone, whom he married in 1927. Mary was a fixture on Benny's radio show (where she played not his wife but his secretary), but with the switch to television in the 1950s, she developed a crippling case of stage fright, and her TV appearances were sporadic. Here's one of those sporadic appearances, her stage fright quite unnoticeable:
Romantic comedy with some women's gymnastics thrown in.
From 1955 to 1970, Mary Livingstone didn't appear on TV at all, but Benny finally managed to convince her to appear on this Nixon Administration-era special:
Lucille Ball's appearance toward the end of that clip reminds me that she was a Beverly Hills neighbor of the Bennys for a number of years. Lucy did not like Mary Livingstone, once referring to her as a "hard-hearted Hannah" and complaining that she kept Jack on a "short leash". In fact, there doesn't seem to have been much fondness for Mary among Benny's immediate circle of friends. Benny's best friend, fellow comedian George Burns, tried putting it in context:"Mary wasn't a bad person, she was just difficult, a little jealous and insecure. She didn't want to have better things than her friends had, particularly Gracie [Allen, Burn's wife and comedy partner]; she wanted to have the same things, but more of them. And bigger." Gracie herself once confided, "Mary Benny and I are supposed to be the dearest of friends, but we're not. I love Jack and I can tolerate Mary, but there are some things about her I don't like." The Benny's adopted daughter Joan wished her mother "could have enjoyed life more." None of this says much for Mary, huh? As always, there's a wrinkle. Outside that immediate circle of friends, things were said about the husband. The fey mannerisms that so superbly abetted Benny's almost supernatural comic timing led to some speculation--David Niven and Paul Lynde were among the speculators--that when he wasn't performing, he wasn't...performing. At least not his husbandly duties. The bedroom joke in the above video may have been no joke, certainly not to Mary. Denials on Benny's part notwithstanding, his interests were rumored to lie elsewhere, and given the mores of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, that could have been potentially career-damning if found out. Was this, then, a marriage of convenience? Was Mary Jack's beard? Well (to borrow a Bennyism), all that can be said for sure is that people often lead complicated lives, even celebrities. Especially celebrities.
Whatever did or didn't go on in that bedroom, and whether or not the couple had some sort of agreement or understanding, Jack Benny seems to have had a genuine affection for Mary. He may even have loved her. Shortly after his death, Mary wrote this in the then-popualr woman's magazine McCall's:
Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home. I learned Jack actually had included a provision for the flowers in his will. One red rose to be delivered to me every day for the rest of my life.
Mary Livingstone survived her husband by nine years, dying in 1983 at the age of 78. Do the math and that's just over 3200 long-stemed roses. Perhaps it helped make up for any compromising that may have led to the hard-heartedness.
Hal David, Dionne Warwick, and Burt Bacharach. By 1962 lyricist David and melodist Bacharach, both working together and separately, had enjoyed some success as songwriters. However, the success wasn't so immense that they could just sit back and let the record companies and recording artists come knocking on their door. They still had to take their wares and hawk their wares to labels big and small, and that was best done with demos. Hire a competent sessions vocalist to give voice to a song the two had composed, and if the record exec liked what they'd heard, they'd assign the song to a different vocalist, one who was already a star, or on the fast track to becoming a star. The sessions vocalist Bacharach and David hired was a young woman by the name of Dionne Warwick. Stories vary, but Warwick seems not to have realized at first that the two men wanted her only as a demo singer, to be merely a tool to make someone else a star, rather than turning her into a star herself. Once she wised up to their nefarious plan, she was said to have shouted out in anger, don't make me over! Rather than take offense at this act of insubordination and fire her on the spot, Bacharach and David looked at each other and said something along the lines of, hey, that might not be a bad idea for a song title. The demo for "Don't Make Me Over" with Warwick's vocals was sent to a label. The record exec heard it and didn't assign the song to a different vocalist who was already a star or who was on the fast track to becoming a star, but to Dionne Warwick herself, who quickly became a star herself. Many, many more Warwick/Bacharach/David collaborations followed. In the little booklet that came with my The Very Best of Dionne Warwick CD, I count fourteen and I'm sure there were more. Eventually, Bacharach and David themselves became songwriting stars, and recording artists as disparate as B.J. Thomas and Jackie DeShannon and Herb Albert and Tom Jones and The Carpenters came knocking, even banging, on their door. Dionne Warwick lives on, but Hal David died in 2012 at age 91, and Burt Bacharach (who also cowrote several hits with third wife Carole Bayer Sager) passed away just the other night at 94. R.I.P Burt.
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