LEE WILEY and JESS STACY ON FILM, 1943

Lee Wiley continues to fascinate us.  Her husky voice, her physical beauty, the legends of her personality, her sexuality.  But she now exists purely as a disembodied sound, a beautifully posed still picture.  How many people saw and heard her in her prime, or at the 1972 Newport concert that was her last public appearance?

HERE is an astonishing rarity — not known to exist before now — a minute of Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy on film.  In high definition, no less:

This brief collection of film clips (originally silent) is given to all of us through the immense generosity of Josh Rushton, son of bass saxophonist, clarinetist, and motorcyclist Joe Rushton.

The film was taken in California in 1943 — before Lee and Jess embarked on their unhappy marriage and brief musical partnership.  The other couple is Joe and Priscilla Rushton.  Josh told me, “The bookend shots of just Wiley and Stacy are probably from around June 1943 in San Francisco, and the ones with my mom and dad are probably from October 1943 on the roof of a Hollywood hotel near the penthouse exit.”

This is the only film footage discovered so far of Lee — who looks lovely and slightly plump, her hair dark, resembling the actress Patricia Clarkson.  If there are skilled lip-readers in the JAZZ LIVES audience, they can decipher the dialogue for us.  And if there are readers skilled in couples counseling, they can certainly say something about the Wiley – Stacy union through the couple’s gestures and body language.  Jess looks and acts like a man smitten; Lee seems much more intrigued by the camera, although if they had been happily married for decades, we would interpret this film more optimistically.  (The parking sign needs no explication but makes me nostalgic for 1943.)

For the camera, Lee and Jess enact flirtation, playful happiness, and romance, although the enactment soured quickly.  But I would be thrilled to see that couple coming down the sidewalk to me.  Jess remained a handsome fellow but never looked better than he does here.  And Lee, simply walking or swaying back and forth, shows why she captured hearts without singing a syllable of Gershwin or Robison.

We have still got a crush on her!

(Note: the sardonic soundtrack, Lee singing the E.Y. Harburg – Harold Arlen DOWN WITH LOVE, is a contemporary addition to the silent home movie.  The rueful comment at the end comes from Deane Kincaide, who knew the couple well.)

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19 responses to “LEE WILEY and JESS STACY ON FILM, 1943

  1. I keep thinking of her self-description to Artie Shaw…..

  2. Ross Firestone

    What a wonderful surprise! And a very perceptive commentary on your part. Thanks a million.

  3. Ida Melrose Shoufler

    You never cease to amaze me with your posts, NM! I admire the works of Jess Stacy, and the voice of Lee Wiley a great deal. Also, I just had another “history” lesson. Thank you…

  4. And on this, of all days, it is surely a good thing to listen to Ms Wiley’s rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s paean to Manhattan:

  5. wow–wonderful! Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Great clips!!

  7. A fantastic treat, Michael. Thanks!

  8. Thank you, Michael and Jim Denham (whom I do not know, my misfortune) for the beautiful imagery and music. Yesterday I, like many, spent time watching tv and crying… seeing the imagery of various 9/11 videos, one in particular of a NYFD ladder company INSIDE the last standing wtc tower. In contrast to that imagery and that of Jim’s “gift” I know I am living in a very, very different world- and wish I were not. Peace– and make all the good music you can, brothers. What was that tune Bunny recorded– “Rhythm Saved The World?”

  9. Very cool–thanks to all. I hadn’t seen the video posted by Jim before. The main photo/photo session that starts and ends it is beyond attractive: Michael, can you tell us more about it? I want to be in that photograph.

  10. All I know comes from Josh — these are his father’s home movies from 1943, when Joe Rushton and Stacy were in the Goodman band on the West Coast. Lucky Joe to have such friends . . . lucky us as well! Cheers, Michael

    P.S. Step One: start wearing double-breasted jackets.

  11. Dear Michael, Thank you for that one. Two of my favourite artists.
    For the record (pun intended) perhaps we should share the details of the musical soundtrack. A great record I had forgotten all about.
    “Down with love”. Lee Wiley (vcl) acc by Billy Butterfield (t) Ernie Caceres (cl/bar) Dave Bowman (p) Eddie Condon (g) Bob Haggart (sb) and George Wettling (d). New York, c. February 1942.
    Very kind regards, Bill.

  12. A Girl With Curves

    Thanks a million for this. When the beginning still shot begins to move it is literally stunning! Wonderful footage. Dare I hope that film of her singing will ever miraculously turn up?
    Yet, she quibbled, if this is “slightly plump” we’re all in trouble! She looks to be about a size 6 in the first shot an possibly a size or two larger in the next (but Jess also looks bigger so I think maybe the film is squatty.) Her face is a bit puffy in the first clip, but that can happen from a bad night’s sleep. If that’s plump, I’ll eat my hat, and hope it has few calories.

  13. Oops, I see my language has turned around and bitten me. In her still pictures, Lee looks more slender, less voluptuous — “plump” here is a synonym for “curvy,” not a suggestion that she needed to lose a few pounds. Please don’t eat your hat: it has no nourishment (unless it’s a vegan hat, made of kale and coconut) and it might get stuck in your throat. Then where would we all be?

  14. I just discovered this video 20 minutes ago and OMG, I am Lee Wiley’s number one fan and I had been waiting for this moment FOR YEARS. I never thought there was an actual clip of Lee, I dreamed of it but I just heard things like “nothing is known to exist” and things like that….and now this!
    I just want to thank Mr. Rushton. Today I am the happiest girl in this world!! This is seriously a dream come true!!

  15. Pingback: JOE RUSHTON’S JAZZ HOME MOVIES, 1943: HERBIE HAYMER, JIMMY McPARTLAND, MIFF MOLE, BILL PRIESTLEY, AND A FEW OTHER LUMINARIES | JAZZ LIVES

  16. Pingback: JOE RUSHTON’S JAZZ HOME MOVIES, 1943: HERBIE HAYMER, JIMMY McPARTLAND, MIFF MOLE, BILL PRIESTLEY, AND A FEW OTHER LUMINARIES | Jazz Music Trends

  17. I’m playing the recordings of Lee Wiley on UTube for my 86 year old Uncle. He’s beside himself with excitement, thank you!!

  18. Pingback: WHAT DOES THE CAMERA SEE? LEE WILEY’S LOVE LIFE IN PHOTOGRAPHS | JAZZ LIVES

  19. Pingback: GLIMPSES OF MISS WILEY and COLLEAGUES (1934-1953) | JAZZ LIVES

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