Anyone who has studied music or sight-singing knows that the lines and spaces of the musical staff all have letter references which had to be learned. To help us remember them, our teachers came up with corresponding acronyms. All reading from bottom to top, for the lines of the treble staff, E-G-B-D-F, we were told that “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” or as the Moody Blues named one of their albums, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. For the spaces, F-A-C-E, it was simply “face.” For the lines of the bass staff, G-B-D-F-A, we were assured that “Good Boys Do Fine Always,” and the spaces, A-C-E-G, was “All Cows Eat Grass.”
I am always making lists of all sorts of nonsense, and I came across a scrap of paper one day that had some sentences written on it that suggested a theme. I had apparently thought up some alternative mnemonics for the lines of the treble staff, so I’d like to share them with you. At least these are not sexist like the traditional one is.
“Eat Good, But Don’t Fast.” “Even Great Bodies Diet Frequently.” “Enemies Grapple, But Do Friends?” “Elvis‘ Guitar Broke Down Friday,” “Eydie Gormé Bedded David Foster (or any appropriate names).” “Eventually God Bestows Death, Fornicator!” And my favorite, “Elephants Got Big Dicks…Feet!”
When I get around to it, someday I’ll probably think of some cleverer alternatives for the other lines and spaces as well. Remember the old slogan for Lucky Strike cigarettes, “L.S.M.F.T.—Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”? It could also stand for, “Loose Sweater Means Floppy Tits,” or “Let’s Screw, My Finger’s Tired!”
Opera singers, in particular, have been known to be quite catty with each other (or “throw shade”) upon occasion. There are a couple of stories in opera circles about soprano diva Zinka Milanov. She was once being interviewed and questioned about her up-and-coming rival Leontyne Price. “So, Miss Milanov, what do you think of Leontyne Price?” “Well, the voice is…okay, I guess, but I think that she should confine herself to roles that she is more suited for.” “Such as?” “Bess.”
Here is the other one. At the end of Puccini’s Tosca, the lead soprano jumps from a parapet to her death, and the stunt is traditionally staged with a trampoline to secure the singer’s fall. One night as Eleanor Steber, in the role of Tosca, was executing her “suicide leap,” she missed the trampoline and broke her nose when she hit the floor instead. Ms. Milanov, upon learning of Ms. Steber’s unfortunate mishap, exclaimed to the press, “You see? I told them that she was not right for the part.”
The spiritual gala with Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman (aka “Jes’ Enormous”) and conductor James Levine, in which I participated in 1980 in NYC, later went on tour to various places (without me, I’m sorry to say). During one of their stopovers (I don’t know where it was), Ms. “Battleaxe” was standing at the backstage bulletin board reading a recently-published review of their program. The article seemed to be commenting on how “these great, black divas” were one thing and “those wonderful, black sopranos” were something else and black this and black that. Kathy complained, “Why does this person have to say ‘black’ all the time? I hate that. Why can’t he refer to us as just great divas or singers or whatever?” Then she walked away in a huff. Ms. Norman was standing nearby and having overheard Kathy’s tirade, made this comment to whomever was in earshot, “Well, somebody had to tell her.”
Once while soprano Eileen Farrell was working with gay conductor Thomas Schippers, the maestro made a vocal criticism to Ms. Farrell that she apparently did not take too kindly to. She retorted with, “Tommy, I’ll make a deal with you. If you will leave the singing to me, I will leave the cock-sucking to you, all right?” (Ooh,::snap!::)
American soprano Isola (pronounced “I-so-la”) Jones was once being introduced during a radio appearance by someone who apparently did not know her at that time. “What is your name, dear?” “Isola Jones.” “We have here with us in the studio today that up-and-coming operatic soprano, Ola Jones.”
I heard this story about Evita Peron. You won’t find this scene in the Madonna movie. In case you are not aware, Eva Duarte (her real name) was a popular South American film actor in the early ’40s, until she married Juan Peron and became Argentina’s First Lady. During the same period, “Evita” was enjoying a less-than-friendly rivalry with Mexico’s leading actress at the time, Maria Felix [1914-2002]. I don’t suppose that they exactly hated each other, but I imagine that they sometimes competed for some of the same movie roles, and maybe even the same men.
Well, when Evita died of cancer in 1952, at the age of 33, Ms. Felix happened to be in Buenos Aires working on a film, so she deigned to pay her disrespects at Evita’s funeral. While Maria was viewing the body in its coffin, she was overheard making the comment (in Spanish), “Ah, together at last!” A mourner standing next to her inquired, “Do you mean Evita with her God?” Maria explained, “No…her legs.”
As if she had any room to talk, being an alleged whore herself. Maria was married four times and had many lovers throughout her life. With her son, Enrique Lara, Maria had once planned to make a film about the incestuous relationship between a film star and her son. Although the film was never made, it was rumored that the subject was autobiographical. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
One of my favorite personalities is the legendary Tallulah Bankhead. There are many stories about her, and I have a few I would like to share. Now some of these may be just jokes that have been attributed to her, but from what I know of her, they all could as well be true. She did admit that she could never remember anybody’s name, and that’s why she called everybody “Dahling.”
Some friends of Tallulah once invited her to attend a High Episcopal church service with them, and since it was her first time, she was quite intrigued by all the pomp and circumstance of the liturgy. At the point in the service when the thurifer is processing around the sanctuary swinging his censer full of incense all around, Tallulah, sitting on the aisle, felt compelled to tell the guy as he passed her pew, “I think that your drag is simply divine, Dahling, but are you aware that your purse is on fire?!”
Once when our Tallulah was taking a dump in a public restroom, she finished her business then realized, to her chagrin, that there was no toilet paper in the stall. She became aware of a person in the stall next to her, so she politely asked, “Excuse me, Dahling, but I regret that there is no paper in here. Would you please be a dear and let me borrow some of yours?” The woman replied, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Miss Bankhead, but there is none over here either! I just finished the roll.” There was a pause and a sigh, then some rustling sounds of Tallulah getting something out of her purse. Tallulah then asked the woman in the next stall, “Before you leave, Dahling, can you change this five?”
Another time, a friend she was with asked her, “Tallulah, did you just fart?” She replied, “Well, of course, I did, Dahling! You don’t think that I always smell this way!?”
As you can see, Tallulah had no inhibitions and actually loved to shock people. I found this account in one of her biographies. When Tallulah and Marlene Dietrich were at Paramount Studios together in 1932, they had adjoining dressing rooms. Marlene wore gold dust in her hair, for a role she was playing at the time. Tallulah got some and put it on her pubic hair, then she would show herself to the crew and comment, “Guess what Marlene and I’ve been doing, Dahling.” Since they both “dabbled,” some even might have believed it.
Tallulah once granted an interview to gossip columnist Liz Smith, and when they had finished, Tallulah walked Liz to the elevator in her hotel. When the elevator door opened and they found it crowded with people, Tallulah said to Ms. Smith, “Thanks for the wonderful interview, Dahling,” and then just as the elevator door was closing shut, she added, “You are just about the nicest lesbian I have ever met.” (And she actually was, too.)
Tallulah once publicly defended a friend of hers who was being accused of having Communist leanings. It soon occurred to Tallulah that she really didn’t know if her friend was a Communist or not, so she asked her. “My whole family were Republicans, and I guess I’ve always considered myself a Republican as well,“ was the woman’s response. Tallulah replied, “A Republican? That’s worse than being a goddamned Communist, Dahling!” I’ll help her say. Her response to the notion that cocaine is addicting, “I know for a fact that cocaine is not addicting, Dahling. I’ve been taking it for years!”
This next story is really about movie director Alfred Hitchcock, who was known for his rather wry sense of humor, but it involves Tallulah as well. One day during the filming of Lifeboat in 1943, one of Hitchcock’s assistants came to him in a tizzy with a complaint about his star player. It had come to his attention that Ms. Bankhead was in the habit of not wearing any underwear on the set, even during shooting. “What shall we do about it, Hitch?” “Well, I’m not quite sure,” pondered the director. “I haven’t decided whether this is a problem for wardrobe, makeup or hair.”
This next happened during the filming of The Birds (1963). They were about to shoot the scene where the birds attack the children while they are leaving school. Real live birds were used for the close-up shots of the attacks. One of the schoolchildren was juvenile actor Morgan Brittany (billed at the time as Suzanne Cupito) who really had a fear of birds. She was so upset about doing the scene, she ran to Hitchcock and told him, “I am so frightened of those birds, Mr. Hitchcock. I’m afraid they might kill me.” Hitchcock patted the girl on the head. “That’s all right, my dear. This is the last day of shooting anyway.” After the release of the film, a journalist interviewing Hitchcock wanted to know how he got all those birds to perform on cue and to do their part as required. Hitchcock told the reporter, “We paid them very well.”
And speaking of performing birds… It’s been said that New York City has everything, and that includes specialty pet shops. One, Connoisseur Critters, reputed for having very talented, and high-priced, animals on hand for sale, is located near Lincoln Center, and a friend of mine, after visiting the store, had this report to relate. He went in only to browse. He feels the same way I do about paying a lot of money for pets. He likes birds, however, especially parrots, so he asked the store clerk to show him some of their more special merchandise. “That’s a pretty bird there. How much is it?” “$5,000.” “What?! Why so much?” “Well, that parrot can sing all the arias from every Mozart opera.” “It can? How about that colorful one right there? How much is that?” “That one goes for $10,000, and he can sing the entire Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle.'” “Get out of here! So what’s the story on that handsome fellow there next to him?” “I’m asking $15,000 for that one. He can sing all the arias and choruses from every Verdi opera!” “Wow! Too much! That’s incredible!” My friend was just about to leave the bird department when, in one of the cages, he spied an old, sad, disheveled, broken-down, decrepit, molting, pitiful-looking specimen of a parrot and said to the clerk, “That tired-looking number there must be cheap, at least. He looks like he’s on his last legs.” “Oh, but on the contrary, Sir. He’s worth more than all the rest. Try $20,000.” “You’ve got to be kidding! Twenty-thousand for that thing?! What can he do in his condition?” “Well, I am not entirely sure, but all the other parrots here call him ‘Maestro.'”
TWO AND ONE ARE A PROBLEM
Which reminds me… This rather odd occurrence happened in Tel Aviv, Israel, as I was leaving the Museum of Art after my concert there with the Collegiate Chorale in July 2008. Right outside the front door was a clowder of cats just hanging out around the entranceway there. I counted twelve of them. Apparently, there is a preponderance of stray cats in the country. I suppose they over-procreate, and there not being enough, if any, animal shelters to accommodate them all, unwanted cats are just left out on the street to fend for themselves. I noticed quite a few of them myself all over town while I was there. And they all looked very scrawny, I suppose from not getting enough to eat.
Well, these museum cats appeared to be no exception. My colleagues and I, those of us who love cats, were rather feeling sorry for these poor, hungry cats, when we noticed that a few feet from where we were standing was a man with a bag filled of what looked like to be some kind of roll or bagel, some of which he was attempting to sell to us passersby. But it occurred to me, this man has food to feed the cats, but instead of doing it himself, he’s there to sell it to us so that we can feed the cats! How twisted is that? I tell you, there is a hustler everywhere you turn.
I had never thought of it before, but that reminded me of the Bird Woman from Mary Poppins. Now she’s out there on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral every day selling bread crumbs and imploring, “Feed the birds, oh, feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” I’m thinking, ‘Bitch, you’re the one with the damned bread crumbs. Feed ‘em yourself. What do you need us for?!’
Here is a celebrity cat story that I mentioned in another post, but I think it’s worth retelling. When Zsa Zsa Gabor was a guest one night on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, she came on with her pet female cat, which was sitting on her lap, and she was stroking her while talking to Johnny. At one point Zsa Zsa asked Johnny, “Do you want to stroke my pussy?” Johnny replied, “Sure, if you move the cat out of the way.”
Broadway star Ethel Merman once was a featured guest on “The Loretta Young Show” on TV. Whereas Ms. Young was purported to be a prude and did not allow any swearing on the set, Ethel was known to be quite the potty-mouth. Ethel slipped up several times, prior to the show. The first time, when Ethel said, “You have a hell of a crew here,” Loretta chided her and told her that she must deposit a quarter in the “Curse Box.” A little later Ethel was heard complaining, “Where is the God-damned coffee that I ordered?” and Loretta again presented the box in which to deposit her quarter. Next, when Ms. Merman said, “Shit! What’s my next line?” and Loretta brought the box over to her, Ethel told her, “Loretta, here is a ten-dollar bill. Now go fuck yourself.”
Although he never came right out and said so, I think that everybody figured out that comic actor Paul Lynde was a big ol’ queen, and those who were not aware just were in denial, because he didn’t really hide that fact, did he? He was always himself on TV and in the movies. Remember when Lynde was a regular celebrity guest on the old “Hollywood Squares,” he frequently gave campy, witty responses to the questions asked him. I am amazed how he got away with it on the then-conservative network TV. Here are some of my favorites. When asked what the “D” in D-Day stands for, Paul answered, “Doris,” and said that the Pink Panther was a gay militant. “Do female frogs croak?” “Sure, if you hold their little heads under the water long enough.” When asked, “Why do the Hell’s Angels typically wear leather?” Paul quipped, “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.” “Besides politics, Paul, what is the other subject considered to be in poor taste to discuss at nudist camps?” “Each other’s measurements,” was the reply. “What is the most abused and neglected part of your body?” Paul said, “Mine may be abused but it certainly isn’t neglected!” “Paul, what would be a reason for pounding your meat?” Paul: “Loneliness.” “What state was Abraham Lincoln born in?” Paul: “Like all of us–naked and screaming.” “What good might come out of a forest fire?” Paul: “Roast venison.” “Which is prettier, a fairy or a pixie?” Paul: “Well, looks aren’t everything. But I’ll go with the fairy.” “What, if anything, brings tears of joy to a monkey’s eyes?” Paul: “Learning that Tarzan swings both ways.”
Bono and U2 were on tour somewhere one year, and when they first came out onstage for one of their shows, Bono began clapping his hands every few seconds. This went on until the crowd finally quieted down, and Bono said to the audience, “Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies.” Some man from the audience yelled, “Then stop clapping!”
There was a staged production somewhere some years ago of The Diary of Anne Frank with Pia Zadora in the title role. Pia doesn’t exactly have the reputation of being a great thespian, and her performance in this particular production apparently proved to be quite tedious, at least to one bored spectator. There is a scene in the play where the Nazi Gestapo are storming private homes looking for Jewish refugees, and while they were searching the premises where Anne and her family and friends were hiding, some disgruntled man in the audience yelled out to the stage, “She’s in the attic!”
Another stellar performance was Debby Boone as Maria in New York City Opera’s production of The Sound of Music some years ago. When Maria first falls in love with the Captain, all confused, she runs to the Mother Abbess at the Abbey for some counsel and advice. “There, there, Maria,” the Reverend Mother comforts Debby. “Now tell me, my child, what is it you cahn’t face?” (Sounds like “cunt face.”)
There is a story about humorist/writer Dorothy Parker that she and her other writer friends used to play a word game when they got together. They would challenge each other to use common words cleverly in a sentence. Two of Dorothy’s most famous concoctions are these. Horticulture: “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Fornication: “Fornication like this, let’s have champagne!”
There are those who like to answer a question with a question. If an affirmative reply is appropriate, for instance, instead of “yes” someone might say, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” or “Is the Pope Catholic?” The one I like to use is, “Did Rose Kennedy own a black dress?” Think about it.
One of the appeals of The Boys in the Band being one of my two favorite plays (the other being Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), is the number of campy, funny lines in it, that I don’t hesitate to quote at appropriate moments in life. In the play, Michael’s party guests are trying to show him how butch they can be when his purportedly straight friend, Alan, arrives. The nelliest, most obvious one in the bunch, Emory, asks Donald, in a deep voice, “Do you think the Giants are gonna win the pennant this year?” To which Donald replies, “Fuckin’ A, Mac.” (I haven’t been able to discover what the “A” stands for, however.) I actually got to use that line one day in the subway station, while waiting for the D train at Columbus Circle. One train had just pulled out of the station when a young man approached me and asked, “Excuse me, what train was that that just left?” To which I replied, ‘Fuckin’ A, Mac!’ That made my day. I learned that there is a musical version of The Scarlet Letter which they have entitled, Fuckin’ A. Don’t you love it?
I toured for many years with Robert DeCormier, and occasionally we would have group parties while on the road. We were in Great Falls, Montana one year, throwing our lighting engineer, Laura Mraz, a birthday party in one of the motel rooms. Another satisfying moment was when they had brought out the cake and the Birthday Girl had made her wish, I softly said to her, “Blow out your candles, Laura.” In case you don’t know, that is the last line of The Glass Menagerie. I used this same person once for a pun that parodied a 1978 Faye Dunaway movie: “Eyes of Laura Mraz.”
Contrary to what is often said about New Yorkers, that we are an unfriendly lot, I’ve always found us to be helpful and accommodating when asked for directions and how to get about the City. Throughout Manhattan many of the numbered avenues and cross streets have alternate names in certain sections of the thoroughfares, to honor people who were influential to New York City history in some way. Like, Leonard Bernstein Street is located behind Lincoln Center and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. runs through Harlem. Some of the honoree street aliases are not that familiar. For instance, my block (and the next one east) of W. 43rd Street has the alternative names of Leon J. Davis and Adolph S. Ochs Street. I did some checking and found out that Davis was a U.S. labor leader and Ochs was a former owner of the New York Times, which was located on the very block and street. Once while walking on the Upper West Side, a gentleman stopped me to inquire about where Edgar Allan Poe Street was. I happened to know that one, having worked on that particular street for a time (in Paul Simon’s manager’s apartment) as a carpenter‘s assistant. So I recited, “Edgar Allan Poe Street / Is West Eighty-Fo’ Street.”
SHOULD HE REVEAL THE FAMILY SECRET?
I have a problem. I have two sisters. One sister plays the oboe and my other sister is a street prostitute. My mother died in an insane asylum when I was 5-years-old. My brother is a mass murderer who was just sentenced to death in the electric chair, and my father peddles narcotics to “special education” schoolchildren. Recently, I met a woman who was just released from prison, where she served time for smothering her newborn baby to death. Abby, I love this girl very much and want to marry her. My problem is this. Should I tell her about my sister who plays the oboe?
Robert Hill and his new wife, Betty, were vacationing in Europe, as it happens, in Romania near Transylvania. They were driving in a rental car along a rather deserted highway. It was late, and raining very hard. Visibility was poor when suddenly the car hit a large puddle and skidded out of control! Bob’s attempts to control the car were for naught, as he swerved and smashed into a tree. Moments later, Bob shook his head to clear the fog. Dazed, he looked over at the passenger seat to see his new bride unconscious and bleeding profusely from the head. Braving the elements and not having a working cell phone, Bob knew that he had to carry her to find the nearest telephone to call for medical help. After a short while, he saw a light coming from a large old house. Frightened, he knocked at the enormous oaken door. A small, hunched man opened the door. Bob blurted out, “Hello, my name is Bob Hill, and this is my wife Betty. We’ve been in a terrible accident, and my wife has been seriously injured. Can I please use your phone?” “I’m sorry,” replied the hunchback, “We don’t have a phone, but my master is a doctor. Come in and I will get him.”
Bob brought his wife inside as an elegant man descended the stairs. “I am afraid that my assistant may have misled you. I am not a medical doctor. I am a scientist. However, it is many miles to the nearest clinic, and I have had some basic medical training. I will see what I can do. Igor, bring them down to the laboratory.” With that, Igor picked up Betty and carried her downstairs, with Bob following closely. Igor placed Betty on a table in the lab. The traumatic events finally caught up with Bob, who collapsed from exhaustion and his own injuries. Igor placed Bob on a nearby table. After a brief examination, Igor’s master looked worried. “Things are serious, Igor. Prepare a transfusion.” Igor and his master worked feverishly, but to no avail. Bob and Betty Hill subsequently expired from the injuries they sustained in their accident.
The Hills’ deaths upset Igor’s master greatly. Wearily, he climbed the steps to his conservatory, taking a familiar seat at a large pipe organ, a refuge where he has always found solace. As he began to play, a stirring, almost haunting, melody filled the house. Meanwhile, Igor was still in the lab tidying up. As the music filled the air, his eyes caught a brief movement. Astonished, he saw the fingers on Betty Hill’s hand twitch and Bob’s arm began to rise as well! He was utterly shocked when Betty and Bob sat straight up! They were alive! Unable to contain himself, he dashed up the stairs to the conservatory to share the miraculous news with his master. Interrupting the doctor’s emotional recital, Igor burst in and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Master, Master! The Hills are alive with the sound of music!”
It is often hard to shake
Catsup out of the bottle;
But when it does come out,
Instead of a little, a lot’ll.
In 2008 I answered an Instinct magazine challenge, in order to win the just-released DVD of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. We were asked to write an original verse or two about Johnny Depp. I decided to do a song parody on both subjects, as a sort of quasi-roast, and this is the result. There are 44 references to Johnny’s films and roles. It has been revised several times since my initial submission, and this is the latest edition below. My entry did win the prize, by the way.
THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY DEPP
(Sung to the tune of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”)
Attend the films of Johnny Depp;
His acting’s dope, his roles are hep;
The characters he plays are cool,
He’s never attended an acting school;
He has a most impressive rep,
That Johnny Depp—
Killed in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
His movies range from bad to good,
From Private Resort to Ed Wood;
We watched his talent taking shape
When we learned what was eating Gilbert Grape.
For brilliance he deserves a nod
As Sweeney Todd—
Tim Burton’s favorite actor.
We’ve seen you get high, Johnny;
You do drugs in Blow,
Also, Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
(What about From Hell, too?)
As Donnie Brasco, Johnny’s great,
A rare-book sleuth in The Ninth Gate,
His Barnabas Collins is a scream,
Is romantic in Arizona Dream,
A gypsy in The Man Who Cried,
He voiced Corpse Bride,
The Tourist, Lost in La Mancha.
Johnny won fans in many lands
When he played Edward Scissorhands.
He has bit parts in The Source and Platoon,
But stars in Cry-Baby and Benny & Joon.
Johnny frequently commits crime,
But is a good guy in Nick of Time.
Sometimes he does or does not marry—
Like, Ichabod Crane or James M. Barrie,
Dead Man and Cannes Man and The Libertine,
The Mad Hatter with Bonham Carter’s Red Queen,
Black Mass, Chocolat, Deep Sea, Don Juan DeMarco, Gonzo,
The Professor, Public Enemies, Secret Window, Rango!
I love the films of Johnny Depp;
(We love the films of Johnny Depp)
He acts with vigor and lots of pep;
(He acts with vigor and lots of pep)
He plays Jack Sparrow as rather fey,
And Willy Wonka must be gay;
(Come on, right?)
But not Johnny,
Not Johnny Depp—
Appears in 21 Jump…
And finally, to all you kemo sabes out there–“Hi-ho, Silver, away…on the Orient Express. Into the Woods, Mortdecai!!”