I began collecting when I was five years old. My parents would take me to second-hand stores in Columbus, OH where I could buy old 78 records for a nickel apiece; and even though I could barely read the labels, I would take home as many as my weekly allowance could afford and savor them in my basement lair. Admittedly at that age I was hardly a connoisseur, but even then I loved the sounds of those old songs and was captivated by the emotions and ideas and even the vibrations that emanated so magically from that plain black disk. As I grew older and began making music myself I became increasingly curious about where it came from. Who wrote it? How was it notated and arranged and published and recorded? Who were the people who performed it, and what made them so great?
Michael Feintstein's American Songbook airs October 6, 13 and 20 on PBS.
Recently recovered videotape of an NBC television special “Meet Cyd Charisse” from 1959, in actual “living color” – and this is the 2-inch color broadcast master, as opposed to a black and white kinescope. Here’s the opening number where Cyd welcomes her guest stars.
Michael Feinstein writes:
This two-inch videotape, untouched and in excellent condition, was in the storage area of my friend Tony Martin, the singer and actor who was married for nearly sixty years to Cyd Charisse, the beautiful actress and dancer who graced the screen in MGM musicals such as “The Band Wagon” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” Tony, who is now 96 years old and was still performing until recently, allowed me to go through a lifetime’s worth of music and memorabilia he and Cyd had accumulated during their remarkable careers.
This television special, “Meet Cyd Charisse” (with guest appearances by Tony Martin, Eve Arden, and James Mitchell) is a classic example of late 1950s variety shows, which tended to showcase the movie stars of an earlier era to the same audience that had been young with them–and were now at home tending families and watching those familiar famous faces on the small screen. The material was familiar too–songs from the 1930s and ‘40s, but with a ‘50s “deluxe” feel (less swing, more strings.) Most of these variety shows also featured Specialty Material, custom-made songs written by some of the great Hollywood composers and arrangers, such as this opening tune “Come Away With Me” which, until I had the chance to search through Tony’s and Cyd’s things, was uncredited.
But also in that storage area were all of the lead sheets and orchestrations Tony had piled up over the years–including the original manuscript of “Come Away With Me,” which I identified as being by Roger Edens, one of the musical giants within Arthur Freed’s production unit at MGM, during the heyday of glossy Hollywood musicals.
Of course, the most strikingly obvious thing about this videotape is that it is actually in color! We are so used to seeing the grainy, fuzzy black and white kinescopes of shows from early television (kinescopes were shot off the TV screen–they were not what went out over the air) and the clarity and quality of this is really breathtaking. Of course, very few people in 1959 owned color TV sets; Cyd’s flowing pink gown would have been a dull shade of gray, as would Eve Arden’s rose-colored dress and red hair.
One of the pleasures of collecting for me is the time-traveling aspect. As an “old soul” I find it thrilling to be able to roam around in different historical time zones. This is a rare look at something that was lost for fifty years and survived–looking and sounding better than before.