Transcript:

Speaker Mr. Chaplin, could you try to remember what Hollywood was like when you first went out there in the 40s?

Speaker Well, when I first came out there, they were in studios making like 40 pictures. And I started at Columbia Pictures. We made 40 pictures. Most of them were big pictures, but there were a couple of pictures. And among them and. For all of us, and luckily for me, one of the first pictures I did was a fish cover girl. I met Gene Kelly and I met his whole group. And that time was marvelous because she used to have parties every Saturday night at his house and everybody who had any kind of talent showed up. I mean, the first night I walked in there, there was Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and Lena Horne and on and on. I mean, you know, after playing host songwriters, everybody was there. And we worked very hard during the day and had great evenings together. And it always wound up with everybody around the piano.

Speaker What were people singing around the piano?

Speaker What was one, what were they singing and we saw playing the piano, doing all the old songs, I mean, all the show tunes. As matter of fact, the first time I heard the score, St. Louis, is when the and landed in Jane Kelly's house and one of those parties.

Speaker You know, in your book, you talk about one night when Judy Garland saying something and then tuning out saying sorry to come a little closer, look.

Speaker I'll tell you in a minute.

Speaker OK, in your book, yes, talk about that night that Julie did, the boy next door and then Johnny Mercer did one for my baby and Lena Horne did honey polysaccharides.

Speaker Tell me about that again. Well, what happened?

Speaker I think it was the first night I was over there and I walked in this crowd full of stars like I never expected to see in my life. I mean, I just come from Brooklyn, New York, or anyhow, I've been a songwriter York, and I'm passing all these people. And then suddenly in the middle of all the crowd of his singing. And it's I think it sounds like Judy Garland, sure enough, it was Judy Garland. And then he finished and she finished and then Sinatra sang. And then suddenly there was another voice and it was Lena Horne and then Sinatra and Garland and another together. Then I was playing in Martin. It went on for hours. And, you know, it's the kind of thing I don't think is not only done today, but you couldn't pay for it at that time. But I learned one thing that night, which I've never forgotten. The singers like to sing and there was no problem about asking someone to sing. They would always they would always oblige.

Speaker What was. I had such a good time reading about the parties and reading about the raids.

Speaker Oh, well, the thing that his house after the is almost like a regular routine. At one point somebody would yell out, let's play the game. I had no idea what they were talking about. They meant charades and he played in two teams. What happened was, I don't know if I can explain this. There was a person sitting with definitions in the middle and the two teams were on opposite rooms. They got a definition from the person in the middle, and as soon as they figured it out, the next person would come out and get the next definition anyhow. And there was a series game and she was the captain of one team and his wife, Betsy was the captain of the other. And then that will go on for several hours. And then we did that until it got light. When it got light, Jean and all the guys would go outside and play volleyball as backyard. It so happens I was came back. I left finally. I came back at one o'clock the next afternoon and there was still a volleyball game on. Now I have no idea why they stayed all night and played or whether this was a little girl I just started up, but that was a regular routine.

Speaker You talked in your book about how competitive everybody was, how competitive, how competitive.

Speaker Oh, Jane and Dachsie were two of the most competitive people I ever met. And boy, it was important to win to them. And it didn't matter how you did it, but you had to win. And I must say, it was a little mean because if you didn't get one of the definitions which you should have seen or bad, say, was not above making cracks, you know, we could have won a for you, that kind of thing.

Speaker Now, at MGM, the free unit had a special reputation. Could you tell me about the free unit of.

Speaker It's really strange, the fridge unit, Persay, really consisted of Arthur Freed, Roger Edens, who was the associate producer, and he had a sister named Layla. Among those three people were always with Fred. Now, he always had doing his orchestrations a man named Conrad Salinger. But that doesn't mean the contrast also works for other people at MGM. And the same went for four directors. I mean, he had a man named Chuck Walter. So he had brought to the studio doing some of his pictures. And of course, you know, the thing about Arthur, he had brought a lot of people to the studio, including Chuck Walters and Gene Kelly. I think I'm not sure about that. The thing about Arthur Freeh is the picture of him. There were always the most innovative. There were three musical producers, artificial pasternack and shortcomings, and they all made successful musicals.

Speaker But you could tell authors, because they were the most innovative of the three of them and they had a special look to them and he had the use of all the people on the contract, like all the other producers did.

Speaker The only thing his projects, the properties he picked, were better or not better, but nor anyhow.

Speaker MGM had a special reputation for musicals, had a special reputation for musicals.

Speaker Yes, they did, because that well, the way I can tell you is like every everybody who was anybody in musicals, with a few exceptions, was under contract. And my favorite story is, is the parade was supposed to be with Gene Kelly and Gene Kelly. And fishery's well, Gene Kelly broke his ankle skiing, so they substituted Fred Astaire, who was also under contract, and Cyd Charisse got pregnant. So they substituted Dan Miller, but they had the best people. And that also I think this is arguable, but I think they had the best music staff in Hollywood. And I think that's what made them better. And all the author, actors, everything else.

Speaker Now, Lennie Hayton was on that music staff. He certainly was. Could you tell me about Lennie Hayton with an enormously talented man?

Speaker I think I first met him in New York. I think he worked at CBS and I met him during my songwriting days. But he was an ace orchestrator and a wonderful conductor and he had great taste. And I you know, unless we had phonograph records, I don't know how to demonstrate that. But his arrangements were marvelous. And he was he was one of the guys, but nobody was singled out as better than anybody else, you know. But Lenny was terrific. I don't know how else to tell you.

Speaker I wonder if you could explain for laypeople what made a Lennie Hayton arrangement so good.

Speaker Two things, first of all, Rangers, it was choice of figures, that means the music that's played under the singer and also his method of orchestration, where to use the brass, where to use the woodwinds, the combination of both and making those kind of choices. I mean, anybody knows that a violin doesn't sound like a clarinet, even though they might play in the same range.

Speaker Those are the kind of choices he made that made him better than a lot of the others.

Speaker As the ranger, he was noted for hating singers, not everyone hating singers.

Speaker He felt that he absolutely hated singers because they got in the way of his accompaniment.

Speaker And he you know, it's like everybody looks out for his own thing. I mean, he had made the arrangement. He wanted to hear what he erased. Unfortunately, in the final analysis, the singer was more important than his arranger.

Speaker You talk of what?

Speaker Lenny had this great taste and, you know, when he was with Lena, he well, let me ask you this. What do you think Lenny added to Lena? How did Lenny, Lenny and Lena?

Speaker They were absolutely, definitely complimentary each other, because Lenny, despite the fact that he hated singers, knew how to accompany, by the way, on the piano when she was a wiz and with an orchestra, probably better than anybody else.

Speaker People will argue about that. But that's how I feel about anyhow. And the other thing he had, which is wonderful, is a record. I said good material for Lena and I don't know this for sure, but I have a feeling that from the time they started, he picked most of the material she was going to sing. And that's very important because if he ever saw Lena Horne, Zac boy, she does some incredible songs. I mean, they know they're fresh and they were the range that the old songs sound like I'd written yesterday. And the new songs, of course, they sound very exciting. And they're as I say, they found each other and we were all very lucky.

Speaker Did it was there any flap when it became known that they were married, you know something, I know nothing about any of that.

Speaker I. Maybe I knew they were married or I didn't care, but they were together, that was good enough for me and I wasn't aware of any kind of consternation or any repercussions. I hear there were some, but I didn't know about it. Excuse me. I'm sorry, I can't hear you, but that's my problem.

Speaker But you've answered me like you heard me.

Speaker You've got to shout, OK, in your book, you tell you tell about this time when you were playing for a while, the rush of relief.

Speaker Yes. Tell me that story. There was a benefit health Russia war relief, I think was in the serros of a or something. And there was a rehearsal this afternoon and Lyric and little one came walking in on crutches and she said to the man who is running and she said, look, I came down here with crutches. I broke my leg. But I know if I phoned you, you might not believe it was true. So I came to show you. Besides all that, my pianist Fillmore's gone off to New York, so I'm going to play with me now. I was there to play for Phil Silvers. And Phil said, why don't you try Solley, meaning me. So we sat down and I told me the tune. I forgot what it was. And I accompanied her and she gave me one of the greatest compliments I ever had in my life. She said he's the blackest white man I ever heard.

Speaker And that night I played for her. And as a matter of fact, we became friends from that time. And I've known her before, but not like that. And this part is I went on a chess house, stopped when he went into the Navy and they shifted to my house. And Lilly used to come over. And I remember the nights where I played and she sang, it seemed to me, for hours, and she loved it. We had great times and then let us sit down after we were finished and he would play he'd ever play tools, but he played progressions and chords and stuff like that. It was fascinating to me, but the rest of the people didn't like it very much. But Leonard would have gone singing Gone Forever. Yes, it's a great time.

Speaker You know, it's funny that Lena sometimes says that she didn't enjoy singing that much, but well, listen, I've heard that also I can tell you what happened, that, you know, if that's true and it's happened recently because in those years, I must remember, it's almost 50 years ago, it was 50 years ago.

Speaker We were all quite different then. It's true.

Speaker But I must say her speaking of Lena, I've always considered Lena and Lenny that act that they did together. Absolutely. The perfect nightclub singers act in the world. Everything was perfect. The song she sang were perfect for her. The way she sang the most perfect. The orchestration was perfect. The choice of the song was terrific. And how she looked, how she her gowns were incredible. And then, of course, we come to the way she moved. She was fantastic. The matter of fact, since I spoke to you last, I remember that she was about to put together what they were about to get put together a new act. And we all went up to Las Vegas on Friday and we saw every show Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And she did all different songs to decide which ones to use for the act that she was going to go out on and had a great time. And it was a whole group of us went up and I don't think it happened. Only was I think that more than one.

Speaker Later in Las Vegas, huh? What, Lena in Las Vegas, what was that like? What was her act like?

Speaker I have no idea what react like that. Like we have seen her now.

Speaker I mean, I don't I don't mean now when when she was at a height, it was always the same way. I mean, the she had the light and she had these orchestrations and she did song after song, you know, the same thing. There's nothing she didn't do anything, especially if you have to remember, it was not Las Vegas of today. I'm talking about when I say 50 years ago. So it wasn't this crowd and it wasn't all that neon. I think they're only like a half a dozen hotels up at that time.

Speaker Let me go back to that one. I want to go back to the benefit for the Russian war relief, because there's one very important thing you mentioned in your book about how those of you who participated in things like those of us who want those of you who participated in things like the Russian war really would then later called communist sympathizers.

Speaker Oh, yeah, that always amuses me. This thing was for Russia war relief. And there were our allies. And later the un-American Activities Committee called it a pro communist organization. Well, of course, it was a pro communist organization. It was Russian war relief. But Russia was communist. And I always thought that was really strange.

Speaker Well, Lena suffered later, but by being listed in red channels for that.

Speaker Oh, yeah, I remember that. Yes, I know a lot of people will listed, you know, as you know, but I never know US politics, although I know them now. It's.

Speaker I have to tell you, when you're a musician, which I wasn't totally, but I mean, I was in music all the time, but when you're truly a musician, they're just to kind of people, good musicians and bad musicians, nothing else mattered. It didn't matter what color, didn't matter what your politics were that was it good or bad musician.

Speaker So I don't know. I don't know about politics season.

Speaker I think my voice is going OK, but I haven't got much good.

Speaker Just one moment for a moment. Mr. Choplin. Yes.

Speaker You mentioned that the night that you played for Lena at the Russian war. Relief.

Speaker Oh, the changing the case. Yeah. Would you want to think about it or. I played for Russia worthy of concern and I had just come off a USO trip with Sinatra, which we went all through the Italy in Africa.

Speaker I must have done 100 shows and whenever I play something and the key was too high in the middle of the song, I would switch keys to the lower or higher to make it easier for the singer and we never even thought about it. I just naturally don't want to rehearse with Lina the afternoon of the Russian walleyed and certain keys. Then when I got out, when she got out there to sing, if I played the first I thought I was aware it was a little too high. So I just changed the key during the seventh and eighth bars of people who know the music well, understand what I mean? And I made a little more. Well, she was knocked out by that, which at the time surprised me because I've been doing it right along with Frank, you know, but she appreciated it.

Speaker And I always appreciated good musicians and those who made all the time to love good musicians.

Speaker All right, could you the last thing I want to ask you about is Lenny when he died. Oh, Lenny Hayton. Yeah. You were there at the funeral.

Speaker Oh, yes. I Lenny moved to Palm Springs. Lenny moved to Palm Springs, and I didn't get to see him for the longest time. And then the next thing I heard as he died, I had heard that he died in an operation. Then I heard later he died of a heart attack. Neither one is. It doesn't matter which one is true. He did pass away. And then there was a funeral. Well, of course, I went to the funeral and the family stood on one side of the grave and then a motion to me to come over to where the family was. One of the reasons for that, by the way, is I produced a film called Star with Julie Andrews. And I hired Lenny as a music director, by the way, not because we were friends, but because it was the best man for the job and did an incredible job. Anyhow, Linda, I was very pleased that she felt that way about it.

Speaker When you were friends with Lena and Lenny, yeah, and when you were together with them, what was Lena like offstage?

Speaker You know, she was funny. I also remember I keep saying this. This is in the late 40s. She was funny and she was interesting, I'm sure. Nice to talk to. She's very friendly. So an easy laughter. You know, it was she was fun to have around. And Lena Lenny, the only thing to talk about Lenny, the thing that identified him and if you ask anybody to do an imitation of Lenny, this is what they would do. But he always had brandy glass. This was after dinner. And I kept doing this with the brandy glass and all they had to do among a certain group of people and say, who am I imitating? And you did this. And they said, Lenny, no, but I thought that was fine.

Speaker It was not they were fun to be with the when I say martinis and Lenny, does that bring about.

Speaker Oh yeah. Oh, that's the other thing he wants in is a science with him. I mean, that had to be just a certain way.

Speaker And I must say they really tasted different, different from anybody else's when he made them. Don't ask me what he did because I don't know. And I didn't drink martinis. I did drink several at a time, but they're a little strong to me. But anyhow, it was a size that was almost measured, like a scientific formula, like a chemical formula.

Speaker Did you ever go to their house when they had their parties where Lenny would have his bartenders book and just makes all kinds of exotic drinks and everyone just sat around?

Speaker No, I never I never was. I thought I was a strange I was at the house once. I can't even tell you the circumstances. But as I arrived, Lena's first husband and her son were leaving. So I met them for like three minutes. And I can't even tell you the circumstances, but I do remember meeting them.

Speaker Were you ever in Paris with them? No.

Speaker Well, I think I have everything that I need. Good, I'm glad. Thank you so much.

Saul Chaplin
Interview Date:
1996-02-22
Runtime:
0:21:38
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-g15t72820g, cpb-aacip-504-q23qv3ct2w
MLA CITATIONS:
"Saul Chaplin, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 22 Feb. 1996, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/888
APA CITATIONS:
(1996, February 22). Saul Chaplin, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/888
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Saul Chaplin, Lena Horne: In Her Own Words." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 22, 1996. Accessed December 01, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/888

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