Tag Archives: Bert Lahr

“THE WOOF SONG” (1937), or A WOOF A DAY KEEPS URGENT CARE AWAY

Everything I know about alternative medicine at home I learned from the gifted practitioner Dr. Winston Comba of Richmond, Virginia, so this post is a small thank-you to him.

For those of you wondering why such a post is on JAZZ LIVES, which should be properly devoted to hours of coverage to your favorite band or musician, whom everyone knows is the greatest ever, be patient.  (Or don’t.)

Thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen, the hardest-working woman west of the Rockies, for pointing me to this: Bert Lahr’s “The Woof Song,” from the 1937 film LOVE AND HISSES.  Some sources say that the sequence was deleted before the film’s release, although not everyone agrees.  Lahr was cast as “Sugar” Boles, which should give an idea of the film’s comic subtleties.  LOVE AND HISSES depicted the feud between columnist Walter Winchell and bandleader Ben Bernie, with, alas, forgettable songs by Gordon and Revel and dubbed singing by Simone Simon.  It is not a film I feel a deep need to see, but Lahr’s bit is wonderful, and relevant here.  “The Woof Song,” misheard as “Wolf,” on one site, was written by Norman Zeno and Will Irwin — a vaudeville turn full of hot-music references.  See if you catch the most prominent ones:

Immediately, it’s clear that Stuff Smith’s I’SE A-MUGGIN’ (the second side, with the counting game) is being referenced, as is Cab Calloway, TIGER RAG, SWEET AND HOT, YOU RASCAL YOU, and more.  Perhaps Jolson is being evoked on SHOE SHINE BOY, and there’s the obligatory high-note trumpet passage (the band is Ben Bernie’s, according to Mark Cantor).  It’s a Wonderful Woof, isn’t it?

May your happiness increase!

FINDING MISS WILEY

Readers will have noticed my fascination with used bookstores.  When it’s hot, they offer the promise, sometimes illusory, of being dark and cool.  “Fine” books means everything is clean but costly; “old” books sometimes means 1846 town registers, intriguing but irrelevant.  What we require is a large stock of gardening books and cooking pamphlets for the Beloved, who is very selective, and sheet music mixed liberally with old records for your correspondent.  We found both yesterday at Owl Pen Books, 166 Riddle Road, Greenwich, New York. 

Here are my latest treasures, both 10″ long-playing microgroove records, to call them by their proper name:

Lee Wiley 003

You might not recognize Miss Wiley, especially if you have in your mind’s eye the late Thirties picture of her, her hair long, straight, and dark, wearing a while blouse and a dark vest.  Fashion photographer Peter Marshall gave her the full VOGUE treatment: a low-cut ruffled strapless dress, a necklet, a formal hairdo, and what look like false or mascara-ed eyelashes.  The music inside has been issued on Mosaic, I believe, and the idea of putting Miss Wiley alongside Stan Freeman and Cy Walter doesn’t entirely work — too much piano-busyness in the background.  But the picture is worth a great deal, and I wonder if Miss Wiley approved of her temporary makeover.

Lee Wiley 001

Lee Wiley 002

The caricatures on the cover are by John DeVries, who wrote the lyrics for WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE, and on this issue Miss Wiley is surrounded by Bunny Berigan, Joe Bushkin, Sid Weiss, and George Wettling for four selections, and a small group with Bushkin, Berigan, and members of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, arranged by Paul Weston. 

Should you wonder, the other records for sale — at a pittance — at Owl Pen — were classical and Broadway show music.  I bought these and two more (a bootleg collection of Bert Lahr on stage, screen, television, and radio) and a UK compilation, annotated by Brian Rust, of early Irving Berlin songs recorded before 1922 — for a modest amount.  It made me quite happy to acquire these, but also to imagine someone who loved Miss Wiley as much as I and others do.  I saw her only once, at her last public performance in 1972, but she was a magical presence.  And she remains so.

For another perspective on Lee Wiley — one I find quite touching — here is an excerpt from a documentary about the Japanese actress, Nobuko Miyamoto, who starred in the film A TAXING WOMAN, and her visit to the United States in search of “her” Lee Wiley.  She was fortunate enough to meet — and sing with — the memorable vocalist Barbara Lea, who knew Miss Wiley well.  There is a good deal of untranslated Japanese in this clip, but it’s all understandable:

And here are two YouTube clips, posted by “leewileyandfriends,” who generously offer 78 videos of Miss Wiley — looking lovely — and her gorgeous sound.  The first comes from the Irving Berlin sessions, a jaunty RISE AND SHINE; the second is the wistful LOOKING AT YOU, from her Cole Porter recordings: