A Song for a Summer Day

As my friend Michel just remarked, “It’s a real scorcher out there!” As indeed it is: 31c (89f) but with the humidity it feels like 38c (100f)!

Now before I get too shirty about it I must recall that only a few weeks ago I was complaining that summer wasn’t doing it’s number and bemoaning the lack of warmth. So I should just STFU and enjoy the moment with the sure and confident knowledge that within two months I’ll be bitching about the cold once again.

Since I don’t have access to that Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Link that people have been taking about – can’t afford it nor is one to be had, something about some woman in England having one – I decided to listen to the cool voice and cooling advised of Noel Coward for anyone who “stays out in the noonday sun.”

July 30th is National Whistleblowers Day and National Cheesecake day??? So get out there, expose corruption in the workplace and then pig out on cherry cheesecake as you sit at home cooling your heals after you’ve been fired.

Mercoledi Musicale

I’m sure this applies to no one I know or to anyone currently on this cruise but I’ve always loved Elaine Stritch (singing????) this little Noel Coward ditty. A trifle dated but….. it’s Stritchy and it’s Coward.

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On this day in 1932: The Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd is renamed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Lunedi Lunacy

 

To some she was Lady Peel; to others she was Beatrice Lillie; but at one time to everyone she was simply known as “the Funniest Woman in the World”.

Born in Toronto in 1894 she made her way from 86 Davenport Road to Drayton Manor House, Staffordshire with stops en route on the stages of London and New York.   During a 50 year career she appeared in over 40 revues and plays but strangely only one musical – High Spirits by her old friend Noel Coward.  It was her last stage appearance.

She only had a handful of movies to her credit – her style just didn’t work that well on celluloid – but her appearances in the early years of television were many.  From variety shows to talk shows her wit and madcap routines made her a welcome – and unpredictable – guest on Jack Parr, Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan.   She had the singular honour of being the only star that Sullivan devoted an entire show to in the 23 years he was on television.

There are Fairies At the Bottom of Our Garden was a popular children’s poem by Rose Fyleman that was set to music by Liza Lehmann in 1917.   By the time she sang this on Ed Sullivan it had long left the nursery, entered the realm of the cabaret and lost all innocence in the process. (And this goes out to my friend Ron with big hugs – its me!)

She was having her hair done at Elizabeth Arden in Chicago when the wife of the founder of the Armour meat-packing company entered, noticed her, and complained loudly that she hadn’t’ realize there would be chorus girls present or she would not have come. Soon thereafter, as Lillie was leaving and saying goodbye to the manageress in the waiting room, in that voice that carried to the back row of the Schubert, she said, “You may tell the butcher’s wife that Lady Peel has finished.”

She appeared briefly on Broadway as Auntie Mame taking over from Greer Garson and then played Patrick Dennis’s indomitable Aunt in the West End premiere in 1958.   She clocked up 301 performances at the Adelphi in what was her first non-revue performance in many years.

She loved telling this story on her friend Noel Coward:  Noel and I were in Paris once. Adjoining rooms, of course. One night, I felt mischievous, so I knocked on Noel’s door and he asked, “Who is it?” I lowered my voice and said, “Hotel detective. Have you got a gentleman in your room?” He answered, “Just a minute, I’ll ask him.”

In 1924 Queen Bea made her Broadway debut in André Charlot‘s Revue of 1924 and introduced a number that had been a great success in the West End: March with Me. This clips captures that madcap number as well as a glimpse of the wonderful Ed Wynn.

During the Second World War she was an inveterate entertainer travelling throughout the various theatres of war.  It was while preparing to go on stage one evening in April 1942 that she learned of the death of her son Robert Peel.  He had been killed in action aboard HMS Tenedos in Colombo Harbour.  She refused to postpone the performance saying “I’ll cry tomorrow.”  And indeed she did and for many years refused to accept the fact that he would not return.

Al Hirschfeld captures the indomitable Bea in one of her funniest sketches:  MiLady Dines Alone.
She ate the entire meal – corn on the cob, asparagus, lobster without taking her gloves off.

Though she left Toronto while still in her teens she recalled the city with a great deal of affection.  In her book Every Other Inch a Lady she, perhaps with that Irish love of hyperbole inherited from her father, said:  A little bit of heaven had fallen down from the sky onto the shores of Lake Ontario. So they sprinkled it with stardust and called it Irish Toronto.  You have to wonder if her tongue wasn’t pushing itself firmly in her cheek while she penned that sentence?

In another passage she recalls being feted by Mayor Sam McBride (“with a brogue as thick as Irish coffee”).  At the reception he said: Your singable beauty has endangered you to thousands. “I thanked him from the bottom of my galoshes.”

And here’s our Bea, one more time, doing another of her signature pieces – sadly without the visual of her perched on a stool with her long string of pearls.  Noël Coward composed this song after he and Beatrice attended a beach party given by Elsa Maxwell in the south of France in 1937 or 1938 and was sung by Bea the the 1939 revue Set to Music The lyrics in the first stanza are based on a real life party:  Coward and Lillie were invited to “come as they were,” but on arriving they discovered the other guests were all in formal attire.  Perhaps this explains why the singer claims it was hell to “stay as we were”.  “Poor Grace” is a reference to opera singer and movie star Grace Moore who was also a guest. 

It was during the making of Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1966 that it became apparent that Bea was suffering from the first stages of Alzheimer’s.  She died in January 1989 and the lights in theatres in the West End and on Broadway were dimmed in tribute to “the Funniest Woman in the World!”

February 10 – 1920: Jozef Haller de Hallenburg performs symbolic wedding of Poland to the sea, celebrating restitution of Polish access to open sea.

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Mercoledi Musicale

As well as having a way with a patter song Noel Coward knew how to sell – and write – a ballad. He constantly plays around the beat of the song, sometimes holding back and at other times anticipating. He had no formal music training although he did take singing lessons to work on his technique. He was a self-taught pianist and if I remember correctly from one of his biographies, would work out his music on the piano then have someone else copy the notes down.

23 aprile – San Giorgio

Lunedi Lunacy

He was the epitome of the effete Englishman – all surface polish – silk dressing gown, cigarette holder and clipped diction. But his recently published correspondence reveals more: Noel Coward was a British spy during the Second World War. The fact that much of the world viewed him as a bon vivant playboy-entertainer allowed him access to high places and highly-placed people who often talked freely in front of him.

But primarily he was an entertainer who self-deprecatingly said his only skill was “A Talent to Amuse.” But it was one of the most brilliant talents of the 20th century – song writer, playwright, stage director, screenplay writer, film director, actor, singer, dancer and raconteur. There is a good reason he was called “The Master.”

This clip is taken from a live 90 minutes special he and Mary Martin did on CBS back in 1955 – he said it was the most nerve-wracking 90 minutes of his life.

21 aprile – Sant’Anselmo