Monday, November 19, 2018

Hear Some Sammy Davis, Jr.

A James Garner drama was airing on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). MISTER BUDDWING is one of those 1960s, set-in-New York City gritty dramas that I love from that era. I love that they were shot on location and now show us how the city looked long before it was gentrified and Disney-fied. New York City. How I miss it.  In MISTER BUDDWING, James Garner and Katharine Ross play a Manhattan couple caught in the rain. The run into a church. The church is St. Malachy's in the Broadway theater district. It's my favorite house of worship in New York City.  MISTER BUDDWING has another scene that's shot in the theater district.  Right in Shubert Alley.
That Shubert Alley scene brings me to Sammy Davis, Jr. In the scene, Garner's character watches a woman (played by Suzanne Pleshette) engaged in a sidewalk chat with a man. He follows her a bit after she finishes her conversation.

We see the marquees and theater posters for Broadway shows currently on stage. Almost all the shows, I noticed, were made into movies: THE ODD COUPLE, LUV, NEVER TOO LATE and HELLO, DOLLY! One Broadway musical had a big, decorative marquee that's quite noticeable above Garner's head in a couple of shots. The marquee has an illustration of its star.  It's the only hit show that was not adapted into a film -- and, man, how I wish it was.  The show was the musical version of GOLDEN BOY starring Sammy Davis, Jr.

A lot of us classic film fans have seen the 1939 film version of the Broadway play. The film starred William Holden as Joe, the boxer, and Barbara Stanwyck as Lorna. For the musical, the boxer was now a black character from Harlem and his interracial romance with the Lorna character gave the play an extra punch then during the Civil Rights era.

My parents bought the original cast album.  It got frequent play in our house.  What a rich, wonderful score GOLDEN BOY had. Lyrical, jazzy, funny, touching and memorable.  Sammy Davis, Jr. was a huge star. That Broadway musical should've been made into a movie. But it wasn't. Neither was another Broadway musical that had a tasty score by Richard Rodgers. NO STRINGS, which made Diahann Carroll the first African American woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, gave us the song "The Sweetest Sounds." Set in Paris, it was the story of an interracial romance. Two Americans in Paris. She's a top high fashion model. He's an acclaimed novelist in an artistic lull -- until he meets her. "The Sweetest Sounds" was covered by the numerous popular singers and jazz artists of the day. But, did Hollywood rush to make NO STRINGS a movie? No.  I recall reading an entertainment news item that one major studio was interested -- if the glamorous black model was not black. The studio reportedly was interested in actress Nancy Kwan.

Then that would've diluted or evaporated the point the musical subtly made about racial freedom for black Americans in the USA.  The two sweethearts were free to romance in Paris but could they be as free in the U.S.? Could she get the same income and professional respect back home that she did in Paris? 1962's NO STRINGS and 1965's GOLDEN BOY -- two musicals with timely stories and top talent. Both Broadway shows had interracial romances at their heart and Hollywood was still timid about that in the 1960s. Keep in mind that NBC executives ordered Petula Clark not to touch her special guest, Harry Belafonte, during their duet on her network music variety special in 1968. Clark considered their orders rubbish. She was executive producer of her special. She took Belafonte's arm during their duet.

There were so many weekend afternoons I spent listening to this in my youth in L.A. It fueled my eagerness to see a Broadway show.  Here's the overture to GOLDEN BOY.

I memorized every single song on the GOLDEN BOY original cast album. It was one of my favorite albums in our family record collection. Sammy Davis, Jr's voice was at its best on the original cast album.  His leading lady had a voice that also touched my soul. Her voice was warm, passionate, honest.  Paula Wayne starred on Broadway then went on to teach future Broadway Tony winners. She had cancer and died early this month at age 84.  Here's Sammy Davis, Jr. and Paula Wayne doing their big love song from GOLDEN BOY. It's called "I Want To Be With You."

As I got older and entered my teen years, "Night Song" from GOLDEN BOY started to seep deeper and deeper into my heart.  Here was a young black guy from Harlem, a boxer, hungry for something...something better than he'd ever had growing up. He wanted to be noticed. And he's black. He's of a people who've been overlooked and treated as second class citizens. The line "Who do you fight when you want to break out but your skin is your cage?" really stood out to me growing up in the Civil Rights era.  I understood and felt the layers of his restlessness and confusion.  Listen to Sammy Davis Jr as Joe Wellington on the GOLDEN BOY original cast album sing "Night Song." Against his family's wishes, Joe turns to prizefighting to escape his ghetto roots.  Click onto this link:

The lyrics were by Lee Adams, the music by Charles Strouse. Their the men who did the score for BYE BYE BIRDIE on Broadway five years earlier. That 1960 show was made into a 1963 movie.

Sammy Davis, Jr. was an astonishing multi-talent. Hollywood never utilized his skills in a true star lead role the way it did his Rat Pack buddies Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.  Like those other Broadway shows we see advertised in MISTER BUDDWING, I wish GOLDEN BOY had also received a big screen treatment.

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