Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Dance Party: She Met Him Just In Time

When Merv Griffin died in 2007, I wrote a bit about what his talk show meant to me as I was growing up, and just becoming interested in show business.  I failed to mention, during that tribute/obit, the contribution this guy had to the longtime success of the show:
Mort Lindsey
He earned a PhD in Music Education from Columbia University, but this guy was no academic.  Lindsey was an integral part of the 25 year run of The Merv Griffin Show.  As the program's musical director, he arranged, conducted, and accompanied a huge variety of stars, in a huge variety of styles. 

These days, when a singer performs on a talk show, they almost always bring their own musical director, and often their own band, but during the Merv years between 1962 and 1986, musical stars depended on the house band to accompany their performances. 
Lindsey won an Emmy for his work as
musical director for Streisand's A Happening
in Central Park.

Mort was considered one of the very best, and could arrange champagne music for Lawrence Welk, Broadway showtunes for Ethel Merman, country sing-a-longs for Dolly Parton, and R&B songs for Freda Payne. 
Mort put Judy at ease, allowing her to give
dynamic concert performances.

Lindsey knew how to put the biggest musical stars at ease, and he was in demand as a free-lance musical director, in addition to his work with Merv Griffin.  Pat Boone, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, and Liza Minnelli all used him on various television and concert endeavors. 
Not only did Mort Lindsey work with Barbra Streisand, he also worked with Jim Bailey impersonating Barbra Streisand.
But it was his association with Judy Garland for which he is most admired.  In 1961, Garland's career had stalled, as a result of her lack of reliability caused by her substance abuse.  Her handlers were sending her out on the road in a concert tour, in an effort to jumpstart her career.  Lindsey was considered a studio musician at the time, and was hired simply to "pull the orchestra into shape," as he later described. 
Judy at Carnegie Hall

Unexpectedly, Judy showed up to an orchestra rehearsal, and was impressed enough with Lindsey's work that he was hired to music direct the full tour.  The climax of the tour was Garland's celebrated debut at Carnegie Hall, an evening which is considered one of the great show business comebacks.

Mort Lindsey was to be Garland's musical director for the rest of her career.  He became an intimate friend and collaborator, and even co-wrote (with Johnny Mercer) the song "Lorna," in honor of Judy's daughter. 
Bugs Bunny's Chuck Jones
broke his Warner Bros contract
to direct this stylish film. Mort
arranged the Harold Arlen score.

He arranged the music on her one and only animated film, Gay Purr-ee, and when she moved to television for her own variety series, she took him with her.  It is from that series that this week's Dance Party is plucked. 
In 1968, Garland gave one of her final TV appearances on Merv Griffin's show. She was wracked with fright, but was persuaded by the fact that her longtime collaborator Mort Lindsey was leading the band.
While I knew Mort Lindsey solely from his work with Merv Griffin, he will forever be remembered as the man who helped Judy Garland revive her concert career.  The clip below comes from her variety show (if you are interested, a previous Dance Party comes from the series as well).  Mort, of course, is at the piano, and Judy's ease with him is palpable.  He died last week at the age of 89.