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:
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.
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: