Monday, June 27, 2011

Of Sages, Sweet Old Bats and Lost Little Girls..

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The Inimitable Mrs. Miller
Elva Ruby Connes Miller, who recorded under the name Mrs. Miller, was an American singer who gained limited fame in the 1960s for her out-of-tune versions of songs such as "Moon River," "Monday, Monday," "A Lover's Concerto," and "Downtown." She sang in an untrained, Mermanesque vibrato-laden voice. According to Irving WallaceDavid Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace in The Book of Lists 2, her voice was compared to the sound of "roaches scurrying across a trash can lid."
Miller's rendition of "Downtown" sounded like a bad karaoke performance as she sings over a professional instrumental section. During the recording session, she briefly breaks into giggling and makes bird whistles. Several times, she apparently forgets the lyrics and she giggles. Nevertheless, "Downtown" reached the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in April of 1966, peaking at #82. The single's B-side, "A Lover's Concerto," barely cracked the Hot 100 that same month at #95.
Connes said singing was "a hobby," but produced several records, mainly of classicalgospel, and children's songs. She self-financed and recorded at least one 45 ("Slumber Song"), and distributed it to local orphanages. It was while making such a recording that arranger Fred Bock heard her. He convinced her to try more modern songs, and took the recordings to different record labels.
KMPC disc jockey (and later Laugh-In announcer) Gary Owens featured Mrs. Miller on his radio program, as early as 1960, and around that time, she also appeared on a limited-run album of his comedy routines. Owens can certainly be credited to have first discovered her, as her later success on Capitol Records did not take place until late 1965.
Mrs. Miller was signed to Capitol Records by Lex de Azevedo, a young up-and-coming producer at Capitol Records. His uncle, Bill Conkling, was the then-current president of Capitol Records. Azevedo was also a member of The King Family. He is now a successful music producer in the LDS Church, and when approached, refuses to discuss his involvement with Mrs. Miller.
Mrs. Miller's success, like that of Florence Foster Jenkins and Wing, was due to the perceived amateurishness of her singing. Capitol Records seemed eager to emphasize it—in a 1967 interview with Life magazine, Miller herself claimed that during recording sessions she was deliberately conducted a half beat ahead or behind time, and claimed the worst of several different recordings of a song would be chosen for the finished album.
Her first LP, ironically titled Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits, appeared in 1966. Made up entirely of pop songs, it sold over 250,000 copies in its first three weeks. KMPC disc jockey Gary Owens wrote the liner notes. Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller?! followed, and The Country Soul of Mrs. Miller came a year later.
Mrs. Miller sang for US servicemen in Vietnam, performed at the Hollywood Bowl, guest starred on numerous television shows, and appeared in Roddy McDowall's film The Cool Ones. However, interest in Mrs. Miller soon waned. She was dropped by Capitol, and in 1968 she released her final album, Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing, on the Amaret label. She later issued several singles on her own Vibrato Records label, then retired from singing in the early 1970s.
She was apparently unaware at first that her musical ability was being ridiculed, but eventually realized it and decided to go along with the joke. She attributed her break with Capitol to her wanting to sing correctly and record ballads, while Capitol wanted to continue the "so bad it's good" style.
Miller spent her remaining years doing charity work and died on July 5, 1997, while living in a nursing home. Completely forgotten by the late 1960s following a short three year career, Mrs. Miller has recently been rediscovered through the magic of the Internet, and apparently has a throng of new fans. In her time, Mrs. Miller was a very big joke but she never took offense to those who laughed at her. She enjoyed her moment in the spotlight, made the most of it and took a considerable chunk of change to the bank. Mrs. Miller was most definitely a cool one and maybe - just maybe - the laugh was on us!
Re-blogged from Wikipedia with additions
Now, on to the sage...
Will Rogers
World-famous, widely popular American humorist of the vaudeville stage and of silent and sound films, Will Rogers graduated from military school, but his first real job was in the livestock business in Argentina. He transported pack animals across the South Atlantic from Buenos Aires to South Africa for use in the Boer War (1899-1902). He stayed in Johannesburg for a short while, appearing there in Wild West shows where he drew upon his expertise with horse and lasso.

While growing up on the family ranch Oklahoma, he worked with cattle and learned to ride and lasso from a young age. He became so talented with a rope, that he was placed in the Guinness Book of World Records for throwing three lassos at once. One went around the horse's neck, another circled around the rider, and the third flew under the horse, looping all four legs together. 

Returning to America, he brought his talents to vaudeville and by 1917 was a Ziegfeld Follies star. In 1918, Rogers began his film career and earned $150 a week ($2,365.00 in 2011 dollars) while filming Laughing Bill Hyde. By 1931, he earned $150,000 ($2,012,000 in 2011) for filming A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Over the years, he gradually blended into his act his unique style of topical, iconoclastic humor, in which he speared the efforts of the powerful to trample the rights of the common man, while twirling his lariat and perhaps chewing on a blade of straw. Although appearing in many silent films, he reached his motion-picture zenith with the arrival of sound. Now mass audiences could hear his rural twang as he delivered his homespun philosophy on behalf of Everyman. The appeal and weight of his words carried such weight with the average citizen that he was even nominated for governor of Oklahoma, which he declined.

In 1922, his weekly articles for the "New York Times" became so popular that they appeared in more than 500 U.S. newspapers daily. The articles dished out down-to-earth, biting criticism of politics, politicians, big business and the imbalance of the wealthy and the poor. In all, Rogers wrote more than 2,800 daily articles up until his death. H.L. Mencken labeled him "the most dangerous man alive" because of the power his comments had on an adoring public.

As host of the 1933 Academy Awards ceremony, he made a minor blunder when announcing the Best Director Award. After reading the nominees he told the winner, "Come and get it, Frank!" Frank Capra (nominated for Lady for a Day (1933)) was halfway to the podium before he realized Rogers meant Frank Lloyd, winner for Cavalcade (1933). 

Personal Quotes
Never squat while wearing your spurs.
Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco.
Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
There are two theories to arguing with a woman.  Neither works.
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
Always drink upstream from the herd.
If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back into your pocket.
There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. And, the rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
If you're riding' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.
Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier'n puttin' it back.
After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him.
The moral: When you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut.
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on Earth.

Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody else.
The movies are the only business where you can go out front and applaud yourself.
I never met a man I didn't like.
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.
Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.
We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
Nothing you can't spell will ever work.
You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.
I don't know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.

The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.
Will Rogers died in an Arctic plane crash in 1935. He was a true Renaissance Man - and one of the greatest political sages the world has ever known.   - Reblogged from IMDb with additions 
Little Girl Lost  Lena Zavaroni 
Lena Zavaroni was born on November 4th 1963 and was raised in a tiny town called Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, off the West coast of Scotland. Her surname was undeniably Italian, handed down from her immigrant grandfather, but Lena spoke with a rich and irresistible Scottish brogue. Her parents – Victor and Hilda – were also talented performers in their own right. Victor played guitar, and Hilda sang.
Lena had started singing at the age of two, but she was a mature six when she made her first public appearance. She took part in talent contests at the “Winter Gardens” in Rothesay. She won so often that the organizers asked her not to come back! Later she took part in a singing act with her father and mother.
Phil Solomon
It was during the summer of 1973 that the Lena Zavaroni success story really began. Record producer Tommy Scott happened to be on vacation in Rothesay and heard Lena singing in the “Athletic Bar” with the Zavaroni Family Band. Tommy’s old buddy; 60’s impresario Phil Solomon takes up the story.
“I was looking for a girl singer at the time. Tommy rang me up and said he’d found a sensational little girl up in Scotland, so we flew up to Glasgow and took a ferryboat to the Isle of Bute. On the boat, Tommy suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Oh, incidentally, the girl’s only nine!’ I could have killed him. He knew I’d dealt with kids in the past and had vowed never to work with them again because they are too much trouble. Anyway, Tommy kept insisting that this child was different, but I was in a dark mood by the time we got to Rothesay. We picked this little girl up and went to a deserted dance hall called “The Pavilion” to see her act. Her uncle and father accompanied her and suddenly I heard this incredible voice singing the theme from “The Godfather.” It took only eight bars, and I knew this was a fantastic talent.”
From this moment, under the management of Dorothy Solomon, Phil Solomon's partner, Lena enjoyed outstanding success.
Lena’s unique talent was introduced to the unsuspecting British public on Thames Television’s Opportunity Knocks at the end of 1973. For five weeks running she topped the viewers voting polls. She rocketed to fame with her recording of “Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me” in January 1974, which reached the number eight slot in the British chart. She was the youngest-ever artist to appear on BBC Television’s Top of the Pops show.


Ma! He's Makin' Eyes at Me" on the Tonight Show


Lena Zavaroni chats with Johnny Carson

Easter 1974 saw her first performance before a major audience at the “Opera House,” Blackpool. In America, she pulled off a show-stopping performance in a Hollywood charity show starring Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. There, Ball commented; “You’re special. Very special – and very, very good.” Lena followed that appearance by guest starring with outstanding success on US television’s “Carol Burnett Show.” She even shared a dressing room with Liza Minnelli. She had become a world-wide star. 
  'Rock And Roll Waltz'
When you are 11 years old and the hottest thing in curls since Shirley Temple, life is child’s play, or so it seemed. Lena once gravely announced: “I’d like to be a grown–up star and retire when I’m an old lady of 30, then I’ll buy a caravan and travel all over the country.” That was her schoolgirl ambition.
Singing for the president
1975 proved to be an excellent year: Sell-out concerts at the “London Palladium,” extensive television appearances in the United States and Finland and a theatre tour of South Africa. She also appeared – needless to say with great success – in Japan, Germany, Holland and Austria, where her single “Ma He’s Making Eyes at Me” entered the charts at the number seven spot, only one week after its release. She also won a Silver Disc Award for selling more than 250,000 copies of this single, and at the age of 11 she was invited to go to the White House to sing for President Gerald Ford.
Other landmarks in her career include a memorable appearance on BBC Television’s “Morecambe and Wise Show,” appearances at two Royal Charity Galas, and in 1976 she performed in the “Royal Variety Show.”
A new chapter in Lena’s life also began in 1976 when she joined the “Italia Conti Stage School” in the London Borough of Stockwell, where she met child star Bonnie Langford. Later, the two starred together in a television show, Lena and Bonnie. Lena made extensive stage and television appearances in Britain, and was the youngest star ever to headline her own summer show at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, for the 1977 season. She also appeared in her own TV series called “Lena Zavaroni and Music,” the first of which was screened on BBC Television in May 1979.
By July 1977 Lena was said to be Scotland’s richest teenager. Talking about the impact of her overnight success she once commented; “Everything changed so quickly. I had never seen lifts or escalators or even traffic lights. I went from a council house on an isolated island to a posh hotel in Piccadilly, with shopping trips to Harrods.”

One of Lena’s BBC TV Shows, Lena Zavaroni on Broadway, was chosen as the BBC entry for the 1978 Golden Sea Swallow Festival in Knokke, Belgium, where it won the Silver Award. Despite all this success, Lena was a very troubled child who possessed talent most of us could only dream about. In the early seventies she had the world at her feet, until the press got to her and described her as somewhat “cuddly.” This started her on the downward slope of the deadly slimmer’s disease, anorexia nervosa. She was still a child, but was also somebody who had to grow up so very fast to cope with the pressures of fame. By the end of 1979, the strain began to show. It was at stage school that the first signs of cracks in her confidence appeared when her weight fell to 35kg. She explained the root of her illness.
“When they tried to fit me into those costumes, they would talk about my weight. I kept wondering how they expected me to fit into these dresses. I was a plump little girl and I was also developing into a woman. I wanted to be just right for them but I had to go to all these breakfasts, dinners and lunches.” She added: “I only became fanatical about not eating when the pressure became too much. I just wanted to have a nice shape.”
Thank you for the music - 1979
In the summer of 1979, when Lena was 16, she returned to the Isle of Bute to visit her parents. She’d been working hard in a summer season called The Lena Zavaroni Show which included the comedy duo Cannon and BallBerni Flint, and the outstanding song and dance team of the time, Second Generation. She was absolutely brilliant in her performances at the Spa Theatre in Bridlington.
'Done Somebody Wrong Song'
By the time she returned to the Isle of Bute she was looking very thin. Lena spent her 16th birthday at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital, complaining of a stomach upset and feeling listless. For the previous two months she had been suffering from “nerves.” Over the next two decades she would fall prey to anorexia. When in better health, she would talk enthusiastically of a return to performing full-time.
At 17, Lena was again starring in her own TV series. Her life was full of glamorous costumes and hairstyle changes supplied to her with the speed and efficiency of a team of stylists and make-up artists. Preparation for the series took a long time. Each show took a week to rehearse, starting at 10:00 a.m. and finishing at 5:30 p.m. It’s not surprising, in her free time, Lena enjoyed nothing better than relaxing quietly at home. “I’m not exactly a hermit” she said “but I do like to stay in.” 
In November 1982, at the age of 19, Lena was back in hospital recovering from her anorexia. She wrote through the Daily Mirror: “The reaction from the public to my illness has been tremendous. I am really very grateful for everyone’s concern and for all the kind thoughts.”

A certain Smile
Eventually the family moved to London because of Lena’s illness. Everybody was worried about her and sought help from various specialists – psychiatrists, hypnotherapists even acupuncture. They tried anything they could think of but it just didn’t seem to come together. Her illness had completely taken over her life. 

It's Only A Paper Moon

This was also an unhappy time for Lena because of family pressures. Her Mother was drinking heavily and eventually her parents separated. Lena continued to get worse. Between 1982 and 1984, Lena hardly worked at all. It seemed that at age 19, her career was over. But, in 1985 she made a comeback in a summer season in Blackpool. She even claimed to be cured, in a television interview with Terry Wogan, but only a year later, her anorexia forced her to stop working again.
Lena became obsessed with the idea of living a “normal life.” She met Peter Wiltshire, a computer consultant, and on Saturday, September 30th, 1989, they married at St. Mary’s Church, Finchley. All she wanted from him was love, lots of hugs and kisses and to lead a normal life, but the marriage lasted only 18 months. This was also when Lena’s Mother, Hilda, committed suicide. After her divorce, Lena moved to Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, to be near her father and his second wife, Christine. In 1987, she announced she was giving up show business.

Lena Zavaroni - interview 1989

In 1993, Lena made a rare TV appearance. She was 27, and by now it was impossible to hide the punishing affect anorexia had upon her body. Following the television broadcast, relatives persuaded her to come live with them. She stayed with them for a year and, during this time she put on weight and even sang with her father, at a family New Year’s celebration. Although her health had improved, she refused to get professional help, saying she had been to too many clinics with no results. Eventually she did agree to enter the Montreux Clinic in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in a last ditch effort to lift her chronic depression.
The philosophy of the clinic was to build patients’ self-esteem. Lena appeared happy at the clinic and quickly put on weight. However, she began to worry about her weight gain and told her therapist, Peggy Claude-Pierre that something else was wrong with her; something an anorexic clinic could not cure. She often referred to it as “static.” She described it as a “veil of grayness” and noise that she couldn’t see or hear past. She often said she believed she couldn’t feel a hug or hear a kind word. “I feel as though I’ve given away my soul. I don’t have it any more. I’m dead inside.”
After leaving the clinic, Lena returned to her flat in Hoddesdon and quickly fell into her old ways. Living alone, claiming disability allowance and receiving help from the show business charity The Water Rats, she became more and more obsessed with her “static.” She was convinced her last hope was to undergo neurosurgery. Eventually, a surgeon at the University Hospital of Cardiff agreed to perform a Leucotomy on Lena. This is still a controversial operation and only carried out in extreme cases of depression.
The procedure involves inserting a probe into the brain to sever nerve pathways which control emotion. The singing sensation, who had battled anorexia nervosa from age 13, said she could not live with the increasing distress and suffering from her depressive illness. She said she was “depersonalized” – with no feelings, no future. She described her state of mind as torment.
On the September 7th, 1999, Lena Zavaroni underwent the operation. However, no one will ever know whether or not the surgery was successful because three weeks later, on October 1st, 1999, she succumbed to bronchial pneumonia. At 35, Lena Zavaroni died of natural causes. A screenplay based on the life of Lena Zavaroni is currently in development.
Re-blogged from Lena Zavaroni Biography with additions    
A selection of Lena Zavaroni's recordings can be found HERE
In Memory of Lena Zavaroni
To add your comments click on Links to this post here or below. It will take you to a stand-alone copy of this page. There, you'll find the comments box, so feel free to let 'er rip.

What lies beneath...
'Pennies From Heaven'
Lena Zavaroni


  1. Am I just farting in the wind? It would bre really nice to get a comment or two once in a while. :{(

  2. Could I pls obtain the link to download
    this album? I love Lena's singing - bless her soul.

  3. Hi Barney.
    Try this link
    Beyond that, the best idea I can offer is to download her songs on YouTube.
    Cheers, Nealbo

  4. I'm truly sorry that Lena Zavaroni never achieved the level of recognition and success both in her own private life and her professional singing career.Truly,she had an incomparable talent for singing and performing any song from any genre! Sadly,Lena's level of extraordinarily incomparable talent happens only once in a lifetime!I'll never forget her appearance on the tonight show when she first sung "Help Me Make It Through The Night" for Johnny Carson.I firmly believe it's the best version of the song ever performed and or recorded!That said..."Could you please tell me where I can find a copy or a video of Lena Zavaroni singing the "Theme song from The Godfather",I believe she sang this song when she auditioned for her future agent/manager.I would really like to hear it,if a copy of her singing this particular song exists anywhere.

  5. Hi.
    Try this link
    Have you searched the Net for her version of the "Theme from the Godfather?" That's the best advice I can offer.
    Cheers, Nealbo