Music

October 2, 1957 – The 1957 World Series Begins

Milwaukee celebrates their David vs. Goliath win over the Yankees

On October 2, 1957, the National League Milwaukee Braves traveled to Gotham to meet the American League powerhouse and perennial favorite Yankees for Game 1 of the 1957 World Series.  The defending champion Yankees held the home field advantage over the Braves, runners-up to the Brooklyn Dodgers for the NL pennant the year before.  The Milwaukee roster featured outfielder Hank Aaron, third-baseman Eddie Mathews, outfielder Wes Covington, catcher Del Crandall, shortstop Johnny Logan, second-baseman Red Schoendienst, outfielder Bob Hazle, and pitchers Warren Spahn, Bob Buhl, and Lew Burdette.  New York sported giants of the baseball world: Mickey Mantle in the outfield, Yogi Berra behind the plate, Hank Bauer in the outfield, Tony Kubek in the outfield and on third base, Jerry Coleman on second base, Gil McDougald at shortstop, Enos Slaughter in the outfield, and pitchers Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Don Larsen, and Tom Sturdivant.

The series went back and forth, with plenty of excitement for fans of the Fall Classic, taking the full seven games to determine the victors.  New York won Games 1, 3, and 6; the Braves took Games 2, 4, 5, and 7.  Milwaukee pitcher Lew Burdette (who had made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1950) was named Most Valuable Player.  Burdette posted wins in three games – 2, 5 and 7 – two of them shutouts (Games 5 and 7), and in all three he was on the mound for the complete game.  Asked about pitching in Game 7 after only two days’ rest, Lew quipped, “I’ll be all right.  In 1953, I once relieved in sixteen games out of twenty-two.  I’m bigger, stronger, and dumber now.”

Songstress Lucy Monroe. Photo: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

Songstress Lucy Monroe

The New York team sported a few big-name players who started every game –  and one member of the organization who is not so well-known.  Miss Lucy Monroe, the designated Yankees National Anthem Singer, sang “Oh Say Can You See” before every Yankee home game from 1945 until 1960.  Also the official soloist for the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lucy once estimated that she had risen to “the rocket’s red glare” over 5000 times in her singing career.  She sang at the New York World’s Fair, with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras, and with the Chicago, St. Louis, and Metropolitan Opera companies.  Her soaring voice sold war bonds and inspired Presidents Roosevelt, Johnson, and Kennedy.  She offered her anthem rendition on the chilly platform for President Harry Truman’s inauguration, and at many, many other civic and patriotic gatherings.  After retiring in 1960 at the age of 54, she married New York lawyer Harold M. Weinberg one year later.  They enjoyed 16 years together before Lucy became a widow in 1977.  She died of cancer at her Manhattan home in 1987, at the age of 80.

Image Credits: Milwaukee County Historical Society; Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

September 26, 1957 – West Side Story Opens on Broadway

The Winter Garden Theater, Broadway, New York City. Photo: Library of Congress, Leonard Bernstein Collection

The Winter Garden Theater, Broadway, New York City

On September 26, 1957, West Side Story, a modern musical take on Romeo and Juliet based on rivalries between white and Puerto Rican teenage street gangs, opened at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in New York City.  Arthur Laurents wrote the book, Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, newcomer Stephen Sondheim (with contributions from Bernstein) wrote the lyrics, Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed the dancing, and Harold Prince and Robert Griffith produced the dark, revolutionary musical which became a critically-acclaimed hit and part of our American cultural legacy.

Originally conceived as a doomed love story between an Italian-American Roman Catholic boy and a Holocaust-surviving, Jewish Israeli immigrant girl on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (hence the first working title, East Side Story), the story morphed several times (including a Los Angeles-based version of a Chicano turf war) before finally settling on portraying the rivalry between West Side teenage gangs appearing increasingly in the city in 1957.  West Side Story’s songs were more complicated musically and the dancing far more extensive than most Broadway productions to date.  Adding to the producers’ challenges, most of the cast members needed to be both singers and dancers, and at the same time be (or at least appear to be) teenagers.

Maria (Carol Lawrence) and Tony (Larry Kert)

Tryouts in Washington, DC and Philadelphia in August of 1957 garnered positive reviews.  The 39-member cast included: Michael Calin as Riff, leader of the white Jets gang; Larry Kert as Tony, Riff’s friend (a role originally intended for James Dean); Ken Le Roy as Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican Sharks; Carol Lawrence as Maria (Bernardo’s sister, Juliet to Tony’s Romeo); Chita Rivera as Anita, Bernardo’s girl; William Bramley as Officer Krupke; and a young Elizabeth Taylor as Francisca (a Shark girl).

The production garnered several Tony nominations and two awards in 1958.  Jerome Robbins won Best Choreographer, Oliver Smith won Best Scenic Designer, Carol Lawrence was nominated for Best Featured Actress, Irene Sharaff was nominated for Best Costume Designer, Max Goberman was nominated for Best Conductor, and the entire production was nominated for Best Musical, the award for which went to Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

The original production of West Side Story ran for 732 performances on Broadway through June of 1959, considered a very successful run.  It then went on the road, returning to the Winter Garden Theatre in 1960 for an additional 253 performances.  Many productions and tours of the musical have been staged over the years in New York, London, and regional theaters.

From John Chapman’s review in the New York Daily News:

“The American theatre took a venturesome forward step when the firm of Griffith & Prince presented West Side Story at the Winter Garden last evening.  This is a bold new kind of musical theatre – a juke-box Manhattan opera.  It is, to me, extraordinarily exciting . . . the manner of telling the story is a provocative and artful blend of music, dance and plot – and the music and the dancing are superb.  In [the score], there is the drive, the bounce, the restlessness and the sweetness of our town.  It takes up the American musical idiom where it was left when George Gershwin died. It is fascinatingly tricky and melodically beguiling, and its marks the progression of an admirable composer . . .”.

Image Credit: Library of Congress, Leonard Bernstein Collection; Leo Friedman/Publicity Photo

September 11, 1957 – Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” Sends Many

Sam Cooke: Sharply-dressed and on his way to the top

 

On September 11, 1957, the latest buzz was all about a new song getting plenty of airplay on the radio.  “You Send Me“, the B side of a new single released by newcomer to the pop scene, Sam Cooke, was catching everyone’s attention (unlike Side A, a reworking of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”).

At the time, Cooke was a member of the gospel quartet, the Soul Stirrers.  As one of eight children of a Baptist minister, Cooke began his career singing church songs with his brothers and sisters in a group they called The Singing Children.  He joined the Soul Stirrers in 1950 at age 19.  In 1957, crossing over to pop or R & B alienated a gospel vocalist’s fan base.  The success of “You Send Me” precipitated Sam’s leaving the Soul Stirrers and heading out on his own.

“You Send Me” went to the top of Billboard’s pop and R&B charts.  It established Cooke as a mainstream R&B singer and achieved legendary status as part of the foundation of soul music, a genre which Sam helped create.  Cooke has been called the King of Soul for his talent and influence on other vocalists, including Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye.  He had 29 Top 40 pop hits in the United States between 1957 and his death in 1964, and even more of his singles hit the Top 40 R&B charts.  Cooke later started his own recording label, SAR Records, a publishing imprint, and a management firm.  He took an active role in the civil rights movement.

Sadly, the man who in September 1957 had everyone joining in on “whooooa—–oh—oh-oh-oh-oh” was shot and killed by a hotel clerk in Los Angeles, California in December of 1964.  The controversial ending to a stellar career – which included the hits “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, “Bring it on Home to Me”, “Cupid”, “Twisting the Night Away”, “Another Saturday Night”, and “A Change is Gonna Come” – was ruled a justifiable homicide.

September 10, 1957 – Jerry Lewis Solos at Ben Maksik’s Town and Country Club

Jerry Lewis (Not Nutty Yet)

On September 10, 1957, singer, dancer, and comedian extraordinaire Jerry Lewis gave a powerhouse solo performance at Ben Maksik’s Town and Country Club in Brooklyn, New York.  After years of second-billing behind Dean Martin doing successful comedy nightclub acts, radio and television programs, and films, Jerry was on his own before a live audience with his unique brand of slapstick comedy.  The duo’s breakup in July of 1956 ended a relationship that had become increasingly strained by Lewis’ dominance in popularity.  Each went on to success as solo performers.  Neither would ever comment on the split or consider a reunion.

In the Paramount film released in June of 1957, The Delicate Delinquent, Jerry became a major comedy star in his first solo role playing a juvenile delinquent mistaken for a gang member.  Officer Darren McGavin put Lewis through police training – compete with amusing “mishaps” – and young Jerry finally “reformed” and redeemed himself by graduating from the academy.

Later that summer, reviewer Robert W. Dana of the New York World Telegram and Sun covered Lewis’ act at the Town and Country Club for his column, “Tips on Tables”.  Dana admitted “I haven’t always been an ardent Lewis fan.  I am now after this performance.”  He continued, “Given the keynote at the outset by Ned Harvey’s crack band, the man with the shorty  haircut never let up.  He’s Mr. Rhythm with a voice.  He’s Mr. Hoofer, with a loose-jointed grace of a true showman.  And he’s Mr. Clown, who makes each line count for a laugh.”

Lewis, the son of a vaudeville entertainer father and a radio-station-piano-playing mother, spent part of his opening night kidding around with a Spanish dancer act, poking fun at rock and roll, crooning a “Danny Boy” spoof, and giving a side-splitting portrayal of “Tokyo’s foremost singing star”.  After initially bumbling about, he “caught on” and joined in a tap dance number.  And he gave serious and skillful renditions of “Shine on Your Shoes”, his top forty hit “Rock a Bye, My Baby”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, and closed the evening with the somewhat poignant “I’ll Go My Way By Myself”, which Dana described as “a touching, straightforward conclusion”.  Lewis deeply appreciated Dana’s column, sending him a signed note on September 12th “to express my heartfelt thanks to you for your very, very nice column.  I more than appreciate your kind words, and my only hope is that I can live up to them.”

Jerry Lewis went on to great fortune and fame all over the world.  He received numerous rewards for his film and television work.  In spite of suffering nagging health concerns through much of his adult life, he maintained a full work schedule. Until stepping down in 2011, Lewis dedicated himself to his yearly Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, raising 2.6 billion dollars over the years for research and treatment of the crippling disease.

Image Credit: Public Domain Publicity Photo

September 8, 1957 – Pope Pius XII on the New Media, a “Wonderful Invention”

His Holiness Pope Pius XII

On September 8, 1957, Pope Pius XII issued the 39th of his 41 encyclicals, or circular letters, on that cultural doppelganger, the media.  At the age of 81 and midway through year eighteen of his almost twenty-year pontificate, Pius XII saw the need to give direction to church authorities and the Catholic faithful about motion pictures, radio and television – technologies that were entirely new creations during his lifetime.  Miranda Prorsus, which is Latin for “wonderful invention,” begins by claiming that television, movies, and radio “spring from human intelligence and industry,” but “are nevertheless gifts from God, Our Creator, from Whom all good gifts proceed.”  His Holiness continued with his reasons for writing his letter:

“Just as very great advantages can arise from the wonderful advances which have been made in our day, in technical knowledge concerning Motion Pictures, Radio and Television, so too can very great dangers.

“For these new possessions and new instruments which are within almost everyone’s grasp, introduce a most powerful influence into men’s minds, both because they can flood them with light, raise them to nobility, adorn them with beauty, and because they can disfigure them by dimming their lustre,  dishonour them by a process of corruption, and make them subject to uncontrolled passions, according as the subjects presented to the senses in these shows are praiseworthy or reprehensible.

“In the past century, advancing technical skill in the field of business frequently had this result: machines, which ought to serve men, when brought into use, rather reduced them to a state of slavery and caused grievous harm.  Likewise today, unless the mounting development of technical skill, applied to the diffusion of pictures, sounds and ideas, is subjected to the sweet yoke of the law of Christ, it can be the source of countless evils, which appear to be all the more serious, because not only material forces but also the mind are unhappily enslaved, and man’s inventions are, to that extent, deprived of those advantages which, in the design of God’s Providence, ought to be their primary purpose.”

Pius went on to declare that the Church had the sacred right and duty to further its mission to sanctify souls by using the new media to spread truth and virtue.  He acknowledged that governments had the responsibility to spread news and teachings for the common good of society.  Individual citizens could also use media to enrich their own and others’ intellectual and spiritual culture.  But Pius denounced people who used these new avenues of communication “exclusively for the advancement and propagation of political measures or to achieve economic ends,” or for anything “contrary to sound morals” that would put souls in danger.

Following specific sections addressed to both makers and consumers of television shows, movies, and radio programs, Pope Pius XII entrusted his new precepts and instructions to the Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television.  He expressed his “firm confidence in the ultimate triumph of God’s cause” and imparted his Apostolic Benediction on all within the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Image Credit: The Vatican

September 7, 1957 – Elvis Records His Christmas Album


On September 7, 1957, visions of sugar plums replaced palm trees as Elvis concluded three days at Radio Recorders studio in Hollywood recording the tracks for Elvis’ Christmas Album, to be released in October.  The collection of popular and sacred Christmas songs and four previously-released gospel favorites, Presley’s fourth recording for RCA Victor Records, would go on to multi-platinum status and be reissued in many different formats over the years.  Elvis stayed in a proper Christmas mood for most of the tracks – the gospel songs, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Silent Night”, “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, and “White Christmas” – but let loose a little on Ernest Tubbs’ “Blue Christmas” and gave a very merry spin to two songs commissioned specifically for the album.  The first was “Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)”, by Aaron Schroeder and Claude Demetrius. The second was written on the spot in the studio at Elvis’ request by the team who wrote many of his biggest hits, including “Jailhouse Rock”: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  Elvis choose Leiber and Stoller’s blues-y, rock-and-roll “Santa Claus is Back in Town” to lead off Side One of the album, which dedicated one side to the secular selections and the other side to the sacred.

Elvis’ Christmas Album spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, but was not without its share of controversy.  Irving Berlin, composer of “White Christmas”, attempted to have the song and the entire album banned from radio play.  Bing Crosby’s famous version of the almost-instant classic appeared on the Billboard charts every year from 1942 to 1962, and Berlin obviously much preferred der Bingle’s rendition.  Calling it “a profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard,” Berlin instructed his staff to call radio stations nationwide to demand Elvis’ off-White version be kept off the air.  Most radio stations, recognizing a good-for-business-hit when they heard one, refused to comply.  If teenage girls couldn’t have Elvis and a sprig of mistletoe for Christmas, the next best thing would be this album.  With its gospel favorites and classic carols, Mom and Dad might even want to listen, too.

Image Credit: RCA Victor Records

Mid-Century Modern – Vogue Magazine’s September Issue

Suzy Parker in Vogue Magazine, September 1957. Photo source: Vogue

Suzy Parker in Vogue Magazine, September 1957.

The September 1957 issue of Vogue Magazine was probably not the iconic behemoth that currently arrives at the newsstand with a thud each fall to profile and advertise the season’s couture. But the Conde Nast bible of style, then under the editorial directorship of Jessica Daves, had much to do with guiding the taste and flair of 1950s closets. With mid-century modern bringing back a neo-50s vibe, this editorial image of Suzy Parker from September, 1957 feels right at home with the trends of today (possibly minus the green fuzzy hat).

Texan redhead Suzy Parker was one of the first very-supermodels. In addition to her editorial work for fashion magazines, Parker frequently appeared in advertisements for cosmetics and other consumer products. She was the first model to earn over $100,000 per year. Suzy was also one of the first in a long line of fashion models who made the crossover to movies. Two films released in 1957 slated Suzy for small roles: Kiss Them for Me, with Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield; and Funny Face, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Fashion photography legends Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst, and Irving Penn were inspired by Parker and their images, in turn, inspired 1950s women to pursue elegance with a flash of Texas sizzle. John, Paul, George, and Ringo – raging adolescents in 1957 – collectively wrote and recorded a tribute to Suzy in 1969, which was included in the soundtrack of the 1970 documentary, Let it Be.

Image Credit: Vogue Magazine