Ellie Greenwich 1940-2009

 1984 Publicity Photo. Copyrighted.

 

  

Who was Ellie Greenwich?  you might be asking yourself. You might not have known her by name, but you know her musical legacy. Her compositions and productions will be with us as long as there are people who listen to music.

Ellie started writing music in the 1950s and continued to the present day. Along the way she recorded songs, produced groups, performed as a group as well as a solo singer, and was 100% integral to the success of producers like Phil Spector. Labels like Spector’s Philles Records and Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird Records were enriched in countless ways by her contributions. There are myriad other details, but I am writing this post not to enumerate the many, many successes of Ellie’s legendary career, but to share what Ellie meant to me– though I will state that the lyrics and arrangements of Ellie Greenwich basically drove much of American pop music from 1962-1965.

You know her songs. Though she wrote with partners– e.g.,  Tony Powers, ex-husband Jeff Barry, Spector– these “girl-group” hits were practically always about girls pining for boys, so it’s Ellie’s name you remember as the songwriter.  The watershed years of 1963 and 1964  graced us with many of her unforgettable hits, which you know of– Da Doo Ron Ron  and Then He Kissed Me  by the Crystals; The Boy I’m Gonna Marry and Wait ’til My Bobby Gets Home  by Darlene Love; Be My Baby and Baby I Love You  by the Ronettes; I Wanna Love Him So Bad by the Jelly Beans; I Have A Boyfriend  by the Chiffons; The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget  by the Raindrops… the list goes on. The Raindrops’  That Boy John, released in November 1963, gives us a remarkable fusion of girl-group-meets-jazz , a harbinger of what was still to come, but John F. Kennedy’s assassination that year basically drove the song off the airwaves. Not enough people became familiar with it. And multi-faceted Ellie Greenwich basically was the Raindrops: multi-tracked thanke to her amazing vocal range, these studio compositions leapt onto the charts, leading to demands for personal appearances and record album photos. Ellie duly posed with husband Jeff and sister Laura, and made “group” appearances with various musical performers in the industry– all in a day’s work circe 1963.

I discovered her work beginning in 1970, when anything recorded in the 60s was already considered an “oldie.” I started collecting 45 RPM records that year and was given some by older cousins. Ellie’s name was on so many, like the classics I named earlier. Who can forget Chapel of Love  by the Dixie Cups? It  was HUGE in 1964, tossing the Beatles out of the #1 spot… and then there was a little number called Leader of the Pack, recorded by the Shangri-Las. Another Number One, and a golden feather in Ellie’s cap. Men ran Red Bird, yet Ellie had a major, equal hand in the production of their biggest recordings. She was basically a contracted writer, but she had the luxury to be able to work and think beyond the limitations of the working world circa 1963, and blazed a trail for many women writers and producers who came after her.

Going through what I was going through in those years– I was fourteen for most of 1970– these records helped me to realize that, though we all pine for something, we usually get what we want in the end, once we realize exactly who we are and what we need. Those songs were like butterscotch pudding pouring out of my little record player’s speakers, and they spoke to me about hope and love and dating and maybe even one day finding someone perfect for me.

I met her in 1984 while she was starring on Broadway in Leader of the Pack, a musical that traced her artistic legacy. Big and blonde, she enveloped me in a great big bear hug after the show and rocked me back and forth, thanking me profusely for coming up from Florida to see the show. I’d never met the woman, but had boldly called her at home once just to say hello– and she remembered it that night. Then came the cards each Christmas season, and the little occasional notes. Clearly, this was a woman who loved her fans. She was patient with us all, even when we wanted to know things like the middle names of the Butterflys’ grandmothers.

I will miss knowing that she lives among us, yet there are still hundreds of 45s and albums and CDs to listen to whenever I need some butterscotch. Thanks, Ellie, for all the music, and the memories.

Naked Jackie O, Andy Warhol’s Boxes, and MY Stuff

This week, a team of researchers, documenticians, and– I assume– forensics experts are sifting though hundreds of boxes of STUFF and THINGS that artist Andy Warhol collected over the span of his life. He started out making piles and messes in his apartment until there were no clear surfaces anywhere, until a friend suggested that he decant the contents of his daily gleanings into boxes and then seal everything up for posterity.

As we all know, posterity came early for poor Andy– him with the shock of white hair and eternally-bemused expression. Well, maybe not so much bemused as afraid. It’s like, very early on, he took a long look outside and then decided to become an Indoor Person, choosing instead to import those parts of the outside world that he could actually deal with, like Jackie O (a naked picture of whom surfaced in his stuff). Have you read his diaries? It’s like rooting around inside somebody’s underwear drawer after they’ve asked you to cat sit for a week. (I deny ever having taken part in something like that, and I’m sticking to my story.)

Reading about Andy’s boxes, and the tens of thousands of things he had salted away– including, but hardly limited to, leaky soup cans– I wondered what the world would do if, upon MY death, it was invited to sift through my stuff. Would my things end up on the Internet for legions of twentysomethings to remark upon ironically? Would they endlessly text one another regarding the contents of Box 43-B because the items spoke of a time and place that, for them, seemed like amusing bits of ancient history? Who can say? And I’m not really interested in the answers; I’m not interested in anything that people will say about me after I’m gone, because it won’t be colored by my perception of it all. Hopefully I’ll be somewhere looking at everything and then laughing uproariously at what I had to put up with for a few decades.

To save a little time, here is a sampling of what you can expect to find in MY boxes.

Joan Crawford 

BOOK: Joan Crawford, My Way of Life. Simon and Schuster hardcover, 1971. First Edition. 224 pages.  Dear Joan… she was her own best publicity agent, and this book attests to that fact. In it, Joan gives the details on how to achieve the near-perfect life- a life, I might stress, not unlike her own! It’s full of gems on subjects such as the nurturing of the manly ego:  “Make your husband talk about his work. Drag  it out of him, if you have to. But, you’re saying, my husband’s a cashier. How can I take an interest in that? Well, for openers, you might say, “Any holdups today?”     Color: “A red vegetable next to a yellow one looks unappetizing. Two white ones, like celery and cauliflower, look awful.”     Meat loaf: “I use two pounds of ground sirloin, a pound of ground veal, and a pound of sausage meat…thoroughly mixed with three eggs, a bottle of A-1, a good lacing of Worcestershire, a lot of seasoned salt, and finely chopped purple onion and green peppers. I hide four hard-boiled eggs inside the loaf  and before it goes into the oven I dribble over more A-1 and Worcestershire and seasoned salt so that a crust will form.”     And that is why Joan’s book is in one of my boxes.

Gestest FrogFIGURINE: Metal frog, stamped “Gestest.” Size about 2″ x 2″. Manufacture date unknown.  I acquired this frog during one of many childhood visits to the doctor for any number of ailments. Long story short: I was not a well child. At one point I must have decided that I deserved rewards for spending so much time in Dr. Gennarelli’s office– sort of a toddler’s version of Sky Miles.  This frog was given to me by Nurse Isabelle, who was tough and had lots of dark, curly hair under her starched white cap. (We loved one another.) I carried this frog with me everywhere, and one day Laraine Elder, her name should be preserved throughout eternity, took it and threw it into the depths of her garage. We found it months later, wedged inside a folded beach chair. And I just looked up “Gestest” online:  “A synthetic progestational hormone with actions similar to those of progesterone but functioning as a more potent inhibitor of ovulation. It has weak estrogenic and androgenic properties. The hormone has been used in treating amenorrhea, functional uterine bleeding, endometriosis, and for contraception.” Who knew?

Georgia Mud

 MUD from Georgia, dried; March 1974, Acquired on-site.  My friend Eugene is one of my best friends in all the world; I know him since high school, having been close to him since 1971. I learned many things at his house: how to drink coffee and stay up until 3 AM with him and his sisters while discussing the finer points of the Shangri-Las’ Greatest Hits LP; how to appreciate Newport cigarettes; and how to look at people through a lens that wasn’t necessarily rose-colored. I tended to trust everyone; they basically made fun of everyone. When his father Joe was en route to Georgia for a business trip, I asked him to bring me back a bottle of red Georgia mud. (I was VERY into Gone with the Wind  in those days.) And he did.

Tara

 Tara, the O’Hara Plantation in Georgia. Premiere issue in the Hawthorne Collectible Gone with the Wind  Collection. 5.5 x 4.5 inches. December 1994. The book and the movie REALLY influenced me, irrationally so, and I’ve written about how I threw a GWTW  party in college and made my sister Gina dress up as Prissy and serve my guests. When this little model appeared in an ad in Parade magazine fifteen years ago, I HAD to have it. Imagine… a model of Tara! There it would proudly sit, perched atop my television set for years to come. And while I was still basking in its glow, I received a mail offer for another  offering: a model of Twelve Oaks, Ashley Wilkes’ neighboring plantation house. (For the unschooled: Scarlett O’Hara nurtured a lustful crush on Ashley for many years, much to the detriment of her own happiness. Was it love? Probably not.) How could I own a model of Tara and NOT Twelve Oaks? Case closed. Little did I know that there were a dozen other little models in the series, all of which I felt compelled to buy. Oy! Things like Aunt Pittypat’s house… the saloon where Rhett Butler cavorted with Belle Watling and the prostitutes… Melanie and Ashley’s cottage… the train station … the newspaper office… the restaurant in New Orleans where Scarlett gorged herself after marrying Rhett… it went on and on. At that point in time I would have been loath to nip a series of anything in the bud; now I know better. Other than Martha Stewart Living magazine, I don’t horde anything. But thank God the series stopped, finally.

Shark's Teeth

 Bottle of sharks’ teeth. 1970-1995. The bottle I got at an antiques shop in Connecticut during one of those family trips to the New England coast; let’s just say that we saw a lot of women in Colonial garb dipping candles and working at looms, and a lot of blond young men in tight-fitting breeches brandishing their muskets. During that same vacation I found a 45 RPM copy of the Cookies’  “I Want A Boy for My Birthday,” which I played and pined over all that summer: ‘It doesn’t matter if he’s short or tall /  Just as long as he gives his all.’  Please. How ridiculous was that? Sweet, but ridiculous. Years and years later, when I started going to Venice beach with Kirk, the sharks’ teeth we collected went into this bottle. All you do is root around in the surf line, and you find plenty of teeth. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you find really big teeth, specimens as large as two inches. They wouldn’t fit into this little bottle, of course; I’d probably have to put those in Tupperware.

 

Italian Rock 

Some sort of Italian rock, millions of years old. Acquired 1984 along the Lima River in Tuscany.  Which is a lie. When my sister Gina and I were in Italy that year, our cousins took us down a vertical incline so that we could find rocks like the one you see pictured. Now, when your Italian cousins tell you “we’re going hiking down a vertical incline,” you don’t quite understand what they’re saying, so your sister puts on a dress and strap-on heels, thinking that she is going to spend a day eating lunch at the old family homestead perched safely atop  the vertical incline. WRONG. Down we went, me in my big saddle shoes and tight, stylish  jeans, but we managed to find a rock large enough to carry back up with us. Which I did, and promptly dropped back DOWN the vertical incline because the slim tree trunk I was holding onto decided to uproot itself from Mother Earth. My cousins felt so bad that they gifted me with the rock you see pictured. It has sat on a bookshelf for twenty-five years, occasionally giving off dust and often mocking me with the fact that my agility leaves much to be desired.

There are many, many other things in my boxes which the public might find fascinating, but I’ll have the luxury of not knowing. I’ll be in a place far, far away. To me, Heaven will be a big arena where we all sit, entranced, as the secrets to the mysteries of the ages are unfolded on giant screens: how the pyramids were built; how and why a few narrow parameters composed of just a few years suddenly exploded with discovery and thought; whether or not visitors from distant space landed in Africa and mated with the existing races to form modern man; and why Eleanor Parker  decided to take the role of Constance in Return to Peyton Place  when it seemed like it should have been played by Lana Turner, who originated the role of Constance in Peyton Place.

And those unforgettable movies will be in one of my boxes, too.

I Never Watch TV

Courtesy of TV Land

Courtesy of TV Land

Remember when people who claimed that they NEVER watched television would be branded as snobs… un-American… or even Communists? Well, maybe not Communists, but you know what I mean. It’s so out of the loop to claim to not watch television that anyone claiming to do so is immediately suspect. I remember, for example, being aghast at the fact that a dear friend of mine didn’t know who Lucy was. Lucy! Everyone loved Lucy!

Well, the years have passed, and I have become one of those people who never watch television. I can’t remember the last time I actually turned on a program. I’ll admit to having been a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and Desperate Housewives, but that was way last year. And they annoyed me after a while because they became something that I had to force myself to remember to watch, even when I wasn’t in the mood. And when they decide to change nights and times, well, that really drove me crazy. Who could keep up?

And you know how this has affected me? It seems that I am out of the cultural loop. I’ve spent considerable time in group conversations not knowing who everyone was talking about so intensely. American Idol? Dancing with the Stars? Lost? The names of the characters and stars were bandied about as if the speakers lived next door to them; I don’t even know my own Mother that well.

Reality shows really drive me up a wall; the whole voyeuristic concept seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel of entertainment. I mean, who really cares what these people are doing? Bachelor, bachelorette… who cares? And didn’t that Paris Hilton and friend have to deal with farm animals on one reality show, acting as if only the lower classes should be destined to such drudgery? Honestly!

There was a time when I could always be found in front of the TV. Bozo the Clown, Romper Room, Chuck McCann, Sonny Foxx… Spunky and Tadpole, Davey and Goliath… Super Car… I loved them all. The Little Rascals, the Three Strooges… Donna Reed, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Patty Duke… there I was, following their antics day after day into teenhood, when I graduated to Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Phyllis, Maude, and the like. At least these were good, but I also grew up in an era of televised talking cars, horses, and tiny lady genii living in bottles. The Brady Bunch? How did we ever sit through that show when it was first run! And how come there was never an episode that featured the entire family inside their burning house, a crazed Alice laughing maniacally on the front lawn? And the Munsters were entertaining, if only to see cinema beauty Yvonne De Carlo presiding over her dusty mansion.

Now you can watch all the reruns you want on You Tube. Have you looked at what’s on there? You can re-live your whole TV-watching past– and all at the risk of missing out on the present day!

We went to see Kathy Griffin at Bob Carr Auditorium here in Orlando recently. (Sorry, the sound system bites, so it’s an auditorium– hardly a theatre.) I’m surprised that I caught all her references to the pathetic characters currently mucking up popular culture, but I don’t have television to thank for that– I get all my information from staring at the covers of the tabloids while sweating in the express lane at Publix supermarket.

While I do have a television in the house, it was inherited, and it’s not hooked up to cable because… well, let’s just say that I couldn’t imagine searching through dozens of channels for something to watch. It would make me very anxious. Not only would I feel that I was missing something, but I would probably sense that there might be something better  on. So the television basically acts as a monitor for new and unseen (by me) movies that I rent from Netflix, or that I play from my vast collection of Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis staples.

So yes; I guess I’m officially one of those un-American snobs. I won’t be tasting the offerings of the new television season, nor will I be wondering what’s happening to Bree, Susan, Gaby, and Lynette. I’ve got too much else to do around the house, and there are books to be read and magazines to catch up with. I don’t judge anyone their choices, however; I am the last person to judge. And I’m human, so don’t be surprised if, sometime next April, I phone you in the night to ask if Drs. Mc Dreamy and Dr. Grey are on again or off again. Just remind me of this column– and then hang up.