19th & 20th April, 2010
Photo by Eric Yeager
©2009 All Rights Reserved
A Thought for Today
Early to bed and early to rise makes a
man healthy, wealthy and perpetually tired.
TO BEGIN WITH
As we start this mid-April week it turns out there are a number of
people I’ve known, admired and worked with over the years who share
“Hamp” was one of the great jazz all stars. He influenced many a decade
of musicians and was one of the nicest, most generous and gentle bosses
I ever had. We toured together briefly before a stint with Uncle Sam put
a halt to my days as a big band singer. I learned a lot from him and we
had some interesting adventures together. Particularly when I was the
only white member of his band as we played a still very much-segregated
American South. I could write a chapter or two or three on our
‘hospitality’ in Alabama.
What made Hampton great as an artist was his versatility. He could bop
with the best of them and he was peerless when it came to malloting out
a sweet ballad on the vibraphone. Before starting his own successful and
world-renowned big band he was a sideman and soloist.
Hamp was more than generous when it came time to let me sing. I
performed everything from They Raided The Joint Took Everybody Down But
Me, Pretty Eyed Baby, Walkin' My Baby Back Home, assorted blues, bop,
scat and of course a nightly chorus of How High The Moon. The many great
musicians I got to work with during my stint with Hampton provided a
basis for my respect of players of every kind
I lost touch for a while Hamp after exiting the Army and turning my
interest to a folk, then more International style of singing. We had a
very happy reunion in the late 1960’s thanks to Dinah Shore who booked
us as guests on her popular television shows. If he were still with us
he would have turned 87 today.
I never worked with Hugh, except for a brief stint when we stumped
cross-country for Gerald Ford’s Presidential Campaign but I always
admired his work with kids. Ever since he hit it big on television with
his Wyatt Earp series he has always donated a large chunk of his
television and film earnings to the Hugh O’Brian Foundation, which helps
abused, neglected and underprivileged kids. And over the years his
appearances have earned millions for his own charity and other
organizations of like mind.
Hugh O’Brian is a survivor and his film and television career spans
decades. The last time I saw him was at an Oscar party a couple of years
ago and later at an autograph signing we both took part in. Hugh turns a
bright young 85 this week.
I was under an exclusive contract to Universal Pictures who owned me
lock, stock & cash on the line for those wishing to employ me outside of
the Universal-International gates). I met Jayne while on loan out to The
Jack Benny Show, “Shower of Stars.” It was quite a cast, in addition to
Benny and company Jayne and myself the other guests included Liberace,
at the height of his popularity and Vincent Price who besides his
ubiquitous film work had recently been a contestant on the 64,000
Question, a very popular TV quiz show of the day where he applied his
considerable knowledge of fine art to win big bucks for several
A weeklong eight hour a day rehearsal, not unusual in those days for a
live hour-long variety program, helped make fast friends of all of us.
Over the years Vincent advised me on art, I was a budding collector and
he of course the expert and major collector. I would see Liberace at
various functions and we attended dinner from time to time at each
But, it was Mansfield who intrigued and fascinated me the most. Despite
her dumb blonde image she was one smart woman. Her obviously arresting
figure, almost constant smile and that simpering, whimpering voice
helped turn her into one of 20th Century Fox’s most interesting contract
players. But she was not without real comedic talent. Don’t take my word
for it, check out the recently release Jayne Mansfield DVD collection
which includes The Girl Can’t Help It, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter
(adapted from the Broadway play) and The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw. Jayne
holds her own in those films with veteran actors such as Tony Randall,
Joan Blondell, Barry Gordon and Tom Ewell the comic foil for Fox’s other
blonde bombshell of the day, Marilyn Monroe.
Jayne Mansfield knew what she wanted and by working hard, cooperating
with the studio and always making herself available to the unusually
powerful world press of the day, she seldom failed to get it.
She was always on time and one of my favorite memories of her was the
first day of the Shower Of Stars rehearsals. On Monday morning when all
of us sat down at a conference table for the first time together for a
read through of the script Jayne was the only one of us –– and that
includes the old pro Benny –– who didn’t use her script for reference.
She knew all of her lines and all of ours by heart.
Jayne was sweet too, everybody liked her. In all the years I knew her
there were no reports of professional tantrums, pouting or any kind of
conduct, personal or private, unbecoming her status as a super star.
When we met over the years I found her friendship intact and her joy at
new work, whatever the project, undiminished. When her contract with Fox
ended she and her husband Mickey Hargitay embarked on a successful night
Law And Order, in all of is permutations, is one of my consistently
favorite TV series and I hope one day to meet Mariska Hargitay (Jayne
and Mickey’s daughter) not just to thank her for the pleasure I’ve had
watching her emote week to week but to share with her what a unique
woman her mother was.
Mariska, a young child at the time, survived the fatal automobile crash
that took her mother much to soon. Jayne’s indomitable spirit and true
zest for living was and continues to be an inspiration to all of us who
knew her. She would have turned 78 on April 19th.
- RM 4/18/2004 Previously unpublished.
on the Stanyan House logo to buy Rod McKuen books, CD's and lots more
Click on the heart logo to
subscribe to the Rod McKuen mailing list
Catch Rod McKuen live!
Click on the links below for details of
concerts and appearances.