Follow by Email

Saturday, May 4, 2013



Commentary © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

The TV Guide listing for the December 3, 1956 Stars of Jazz program highlighted the appearance of Frances Bergen, noting that she was the wife of Edgar Bergen, the ventriloquist who was a beloved fixture in the entertainment world along with his wooden pal, Charlie McCarthy.  Frances Bergen had recently embarked on a recording career and her newest album, The Beguiling Miss Frances Bergen (Columbia CL 873) was promoted on air by Bobby Troup who noted that Miss Bergen was backed by three different instrumental groups: The Matty Matlock Orchestra, the Art Van Damme Quintet and the Johnny Eaton Quintet.

The George Shearing Quintette did not appear on this edition of Stars of Jazz as noted in the TV Guide listing and announced by Bobby Troup at the close of the previous weeks program.  The Shearing group was appearing at Zardi's Jazzland in Hollywood.  Stars of Jazz paid musician scale to the jazz artists appearing on the program and perhaps Shearing chose to decline appearing on the program.

This Sept. 30, 1978 file photo shows dummy Charlie McCarthy crossing his legs on the lap of actress Candice Bergen as her father, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, points at Caesar's Palace Hotel in Las Vegas at Edgar Bergen's farewell performance before his intended retirement. He died in his sleep later that night. A spokeswoman for Candice Bergen says the actress is developing a film about her late father.

The following short biography from Wikipedia supplies a brief synopsis of Frances Bergen’s career.

Early life
Bergen was born in Birmingham, Alabama, the daughter of Lille Mabel (née Howell) and William Westerman. Her paternal grandfather Frank Westerman was German. In 1932, her father died of tuberculosis, when Frances was ten years old. Shortly after, her mother moved the family to Los Angeles. In 1936, she suffered a skull fracture in an auto accident, at age 14. While recuperating, she was given a Charlie McCarthy doll to cheer her up.

While in New York City, she became a successful John Robert Powers model. She was "the Chesterfield Girl" and "the Ipana Girl" in magazines and on billboards. She was thereafter professionally known as Frances Westcott.

As an actress, Bergen had supporting or minor roles in a number of films. She made her debut in Titanic (1953), after which she appeared in Robert Z. Leonard's Her Twelve Men (1954), and Douglas Sirk's Interlude (1957). During the 1958-1959 television season, Frances became the recurring love interest on the cult western show Yancy Derringer as Madame Francine, the strong willed but beautiful owner of a members-only gambling house in New Orleans set in 1868.

Frances also made numerous other appearances on television, with guest starring roles on The Millionaire, The Dick Powell Show, Barnaby Jones, MacGyver, and Murder, She Wrote.

She returned to films in the 1980s, with small roles in American Gigolo, The Sting II, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Morning After, and Made in America, among others. She had a major part in Henry Jaglom's independently made film Eating (1990). She also appeared on two episodes of Murphy Brown, her daughter's hit show, including Part One of the series finale in 1998.

Personal life
In 1941, Westerman met Edgar Bergen after a radio program when he was 38 and she was 19. Westerman, who graduated from Los Angeles High School the year before, was in the audience of Edgar Bergen's radio program as the guest of a member of his staff. Sitting in the front row, the young fashion model's long legs caught the attention of Bergen, who asked to meet her. The two were married in Mexico, after years of a long distance courtship, on June 28, 1945, and remained happily married until Edgar's death in 1978 at age 75. 

Film footage of this early edition of Stars of Jazz has not survived.  Frances Bergen appeared on the Jack Benny Show on February 12, 1956.  She did not sing but appeared with Jack Benny and actor William Holden in a sketch.  The program supplies a glimpse of television variety and comedy that was on the air waves at the same time as Stars of Jazz. The first advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes is a prime example of animation ad work that was popular on television at the time, typically produced by a firm like Ray Patin Productions.  The clip can be viewed on YouTube at the following link:

Red Nichols and Bobby Troup with back projection of Red Nichols and Miff Mole

The TV Guide listing concluded with a brief mention that the George Shearing Quintette would be playing on this edition of program as well.  If this was the planned line up for the show the arrangements must have fallen though as Red Nichols was the guest jazz artist.

The writers and producers of Stars of Jazz endeavored to present a balanced view of jazz with the very first program that featured Stan Getz, a leading exponent of the modern school and Kid Ory, a founding member of traditional or New Orleans style jazz.  Subsequent programs featured Matty Matlock, Red Norvo, Teddy Buckner, and The Firehouse Five Plus Two to further portray facets of the traditional school.  The modern school of jazz was upheld by guests artists Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, Dave Brubeck, Buddy DeFranco, Dave Pell, Hoard Rumsey, Hampton Hawes, and Art Blakey among others.

Red Nichols’ career, like Kid Ory’s, spanned several decades of jazz.  The Red Hot Jazz and Wikipedia entries for Nichols follow:

Ernest Loring “Red” Nichols [1905-1965]

Red Nichol's style of playing cornet was greatly influenced by Bix Beidebecke, but he was a better overall musician and an excellent sight reader. Nichols learned to play music from his father, a college music teacher. After moving east from Utah he teamed up with a Midwestern band called The Syncopating Seven. After that band broke up he moved to New York in 1923. He soon teamed up with the trombonist Miff Mole and the two would go on to make a great many records together under a variety of names such as, Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, Arkansas Travelers, The Red Heads, The Louisiana Rhythm Kings, The Charleston Chasers and Miff Mole and his Little Molers. Usually these sessions featured the same or similar personnel. Red did a series of recordings for the Brunswick Record Company under the name of Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, although the bands were often quite a bit larger. These sessions at first featured trombonist Miff Mole and Jimmy Dorsey on alto and clarinet, and later in the decade featured a who's who of great White Jazz musicians, such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Adrian Rollini and Gene Krupa among others. Red appeared on over 4000 records in the 1920s. Nichols survived the Depression by working in Broadway shows, even leading the pit orchestra for two of George Gershwin's shows; "Girl Crazy" and "Strike Up the Band". In 1934 Red fronted a band for the radio show sponsored by Kellogg's Cereal and led many studio orchestras including one for the Bob Hope Show. In 1959 Hollywood made a highly fictionalized picture of his life called "The Five Pennies", starring Danny Kaye as Red.

Early life and career

Red Nichols is a name which comes to us from the jazz of the 1920s, a time when Nichols was a fecund recording artist. But that name got a second lease on life when Hollywood made a movie, The Five Pennies, (starring Danny Kaye) very loosely based on Nichols’ life, in 1959.

Ernest Loring (“Red”) Nichols was born on May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah. His father was a college music professor, and Nichols was a child prodigy, because by twelve he was already playing difficult set pieces for his father’s brass band. The young Nichols heard the early recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (which was not in fact “original,” but was the first “jazz” band to record), and later those of Bix Beiderbecke, and these had a strong influence on the young cornet player. His style became polished, clean and incisive.

In the early 1920s, Nichols moved to the Midwest and joined a band called The Syncopating Seven. When that band broke up he joined the Johnny Johnson Orchestra and came with it to New York City in 1923. New York would remain his base for years thereafter.

In New York he met and teamed up with trombonist Miff Mole, and the two of them were inseparable for the next decade. 

Jazz was still comparatively young then and consisted of two racially separated streams. The musicians of both races mingled, listened to each other, and played together at least in after-hours jams.

Brunswick Records Era

Red Nichols had good technique, could read music, and easily got session and studio work. In 1926 he and Miff Mole began a prodigious stint of recording with a variety of bands, most of them known as “Red Nichols and His Five Pennies.” Very few of these groups were actually quintets; the name was simply a pun on “Nickel,” since there were “five pennies” in a nickel. “That was only a number we tied in with my name,” Nichols once explained. “We’d generally have eight or nine [musicians], depending on who was around for the session and what I was trying to do.” 

Under that band name Nichols recorded over 100 sides for the Brunswick label. But he also recorded under a number of other names, among them, The Arkansas Travelers, The California Red Heads, The Louisiana Rhythm Kings, The Charleston Chasers, Red and Miff’s Stompers, and Miff Mole and His Little Molers. Nichols and his bands were making ten to a dozen records a week in some weeks. 

His recordings of the late 1920s are regarded as the most progressive jazz of the period, in both concept and execution, with widely-ranging harmonies and a balanced ensemble. But they were small-band Dixieland groups, emphasizing collective improvisation and playing. They were very different from Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives of that period. 

Nichols’ band started out with Mole on trombone and Jimmy Dorsey on alto sax and clarinet. Other musicians who played for a time in his bands were Benny Goodman (clarinet), Glenn Miller (trombone), Jack Teagarden (trombone), Pee Wee Russell (clarinet), Joe Venuti (violin), Eddie Lang (banjo and guitar), and Gene Krupa (drums) – a veritable Who’s Who of important white jazz musicians in the following decade. The Five Pennies’ version of “Ida” was a surprise hit record.

During his Brunswick career (1926–1932) a virtual who's who of great jazz musicians were members of Nichols' studio recording sessions; see below for more information.

Other labels Nichols recorded for included Edison 1926, Victor 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931 (individual sessions), Bluebird 1934, 1939, back to Brunswick for a session in 1934, Variety 1937, and finally OKeh in 1940.

The next decade was the Swing Era, and swing eclipsed the Dixieland Nichols loved to play. He tried to go along with the changes, and formed a swing band of his own, but his recording career seemed to stall in 1932. 

Michael Brooks writes:
What went wrong? Part of it was too much, too soon. Much of his vast recorded output was released in Europe, where he was regarded by early jazz critics as the equal, if not the superior of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. People who make fools of themselves usually find a scapegoat, and when the critics were exposed to the music of Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and others they turned on Nichols and savaged him, trashing him as unfairly as they had revered him. Nichols' chief fault was an overly stiff, academic approach to jazz trumpet, but he did recognize merit as far as other jazz musicians were concerned and made some wonderful small group recordings.

Later career
Nichols kept himself alive during the first years of the Great Depression by playing in show bands and pit orchestras. He led Bob Hope’s orchestra for a while, moving out to California. He’d married Willa Stutsman, a “stunning” George White “Scandals” dancer, and they had a daughter. She came down with polio (misdiagnosed at first as spinal meningitis) in 1942, and Nichols quit a gig playing with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra and left the music business to work in the wartime shipyards.

Unable to stay away from music, Nichols formed a new Five Pennies band and began playing small clubs in the Los Angeles area soon after the war ended. Before long the word was out and musicians began showing up, turning his gigs into jam sessions.

Soon the little club dates were turning into more prestigious bookings at the chic Zebra Room, the Tudor Room of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, and Pasadena’s posh Sheraton. He toured Europe as a goodwill ambassador for the State Department. Nichols and his band performed briefly, billed as themselves, in Quicksand, a 1950 crime film starring Mickey Rooney. And in 1956 he was the subject of one of Ralph Edwards’ This Is Your Life TV shows, which featured his old buddies Miff Mole, Phil Harris and Jimmy Dorsey, who praised Nichols as a bandleader who made sure everybody got paid.

In 1965 Nichols took his Five Pennies band to Las Vegas, to play at the then-new Mint Hotel. He was only a few days into the date when, on June 28, 1965, he was sleeping in his suite and was awakened by paralyzing chest pains. He managed to call the front desk and an ambulance was summoned, but it arrived too late. That night the band went on as scheduled, but at the center of the band a spotlight pointed down at an empty chair in Nichols’ customary spot. Red’s bright and shiny cornet sat alone on the chair. Around it swirled the “happy music” Nichols had loved all his life.

SHOW #23
DECEMBER 3, 1956
Red Nichols and his Five Pennies: Red Nichols, cornet; King Jackson, trombone; Bill Wood, clarinet; Joe Rushton, bass sax; Allen Stevenson, piano; Rollie Culver, drums. Frances Bergen, vocal, backed by Bobby Hammack Quartet: Jerry Friedman (vibes); Bobby Hammack (piano); Irv Edelman (bass); and Milt Holland (drums).

Production credits for this show:
Host: Bobby Troup
Producer: Jimmie Baker
Writer: Bob Arbogast
Director: Norman Abbott
Audio: Chuck Lewis
Cameramen: Jack Denton, Sal Folino
Technical Director: Gene Lukowski
Lighting Director: Vince Cilurzo
Video: Geroge Hillas

The Stars of Jazz photo that greatly enhances this presentation has been provided courtesy of the Ray Avery Estate.  The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Ray Avery Photo Archives.  Please note that these photos remain the property of the Ray Avery Estate and are used here with permission.  Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to:  Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.