Sunday, August 18, 2013

Friday Dance Party: The Bossa-Nova Balladeer

When this songstress died last week, she took a part of Old Show Business with her.

Eydie Gorme
I suppose history considers the most glamorous years of Hollywood to be its golden age of the 30s and 40s, with the studio system creating glittering stars who showed up to film premieres dripping in fur and diamonds. 
Hollywood Palace, Ed Sullivan, Dean
Martin, Carol Burnett: Gorme was a
glammed-up guest on them all.

But when I think of the glamor of show business, I think of the 60s and 70s, when I was glued to the television, watching entertainers such as Eydie Gorme on variety and talk shows.  It was an era when singers were in tuxedos for the gents, and evening gowns for the ladies.  It was not uncommon to see a star walk onto Johnny Carson's set in formal evening attire;  such a thing would be fodder for comedy on today's talk show circuit.  But I loved watching the glamorous stars of that era singing their tunes on the variety shows of the day, and Gorme was a regular visitor to such programs.
I'm sure the first time I ran across Eydie Gorme, it was as a guest on The Carol Burnett Show.  She appeared regularly throughout the show's run, sometimes with her husband, but just as often solo.
She got her start on a variety show, headed by Steve Allen.  It was on that program that she met Steve Lawrence.  Their marriage was legendary in show business, and they appeared as a couple many, many times on TV as I was growing up. 
The marriage of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme lasted a whopping 55 years, unheard of in show biz circles.  During their heyday in the 60s and 70s, the mere mention of their first names conjured them up.  Like Lucy and Desi, and Liz and Dick, everybody knew Steve and Eydie.
In addition to performing with her husband, Eydie had an ongoing solo career (Steve did, too), including her massive popularity in Latin American culture.  Her recordings with Trio Los Panchos were big hits south of the border, and she was arguably a bigger star in Spanish speaking countries than in the states. 
Eydie's bilingual talents led to a job interpreting at the U.N.
She soon left the diplomatic life to become a star. In Latin
America, she's huge.

She did fine here, though, beginning with a splashy hit called "Blame It On The Bossa Nova" in 1963. The song became an enduring part of pop culture once Gorme made it famous.  It was covered numerous times over the years;  Annette Funicello's recording made a surprisingly hilarious appearance in this moment from The West Wing:

I enjoyed Gorme's interpretations of various Broadway ballads more than her flings with swing.  Over the years, she plucked showtunes from the Broadway stage which reflected love, regret, and determination, then belted them out over the airwaves for wallflowers like me to hear them. 
The Gorme belt turned many a Broadway tune into a
popular song.

There are numerous clips out there of her renditions of such songs, so many that I could not choose which to use for this week's Dance Party.  If you care to, you can go here for her version of "What Did I Have..." from On A Clear Day..., go here for "As Long As He Needs Me" from Oliver, go here for "What I Did For Love" from A Chorus Line, and go here for the title number from The Way We Were (yes, I know that's a film, but what the hell...).  
Our gal's biggest hit from her repertoire
of Broadway Ballads was surely "If He
Walked Into My Life" from Mame. She
won the Grammy for that recording.

Considering her success recording showtunes, it's odd that Eydie Gorme appeared only once on Broadway.  On the strength of the stars' popularity, the show ran over a year, transferring from the Shubert to a smaller house at the end of its run.  Largely forgotten now, Golden Rainbow produced a solid standard tune for Lawrence (and for Sammy Davis, Jr.) in "I Gotta Be Me."  A very young Scott Jacoby was nominated for a Tony, playing Steve's son.
Though it was not a hit on the Billboard charts, "This Could Be The Start of Something Big" is probably the signature song for the Steve and Eydie duo, and the clip below illustrates exactly what I mean when I write of Old Show Business: our gang includes Dinah Shore, Steve Allen, and Ann Southern, all of whom are dressed to the nines and having a ball with this cheesy routine.  I can just imagine all these stars going out to the hottest nightclub after taping their shows, hobnobbing with the other glamour stars of the day;  that's what Show Business meant to me back then. 

Frank came through in a time
of crisis for Eydie.
While not technically part of the Sinatra-Martin-Davis gang which dominated Show Business in the 60s, Steve and Eydie were surely Rat Pack-Adjacent.  They were old friends with the entire group, and their Vegas show was as successful as any.  When the couple's son Michael died in 1986, Sinatra sent his private plane to ferry them home from a concert gig in Atlanta.

I graduated from Cal State Northridge in 1979; a few years later, Steve and Eydie's youngest son Michael enrolled in the department I had just left.  I met the young gent only once, but have friends who worked with him on campus in several musicals, which were warmly supported by his parents.  Michael died very unexpectedly from a heart problem when he was only 23.  Steve and Eydie ceased touring for a year to recover.

In lieu of one of Gorme's ballad performances, this week's final clip comes from an early appearance on the Tonight Show.  She was a regular and welcome guest for both Steve Allen and Johnny Carson, and always brought down the house with her song.  As everybody knows, Eydie died last week, just a week shy of her 85th birthday.  Show Business will never be quite the same to me.