Paul Anka, Peggy Lee, Diana & John WayneWednesday, August 26, 2009
I'm so young and you're so old
This, my darling, I've been told
I don't care just what they say
'Cause forever I will pray
You and I will be as free
As the birds up in the trees
Oh, please stay by me, Diana
Paul Anka, 1957
In 1982 I landed the lucrative job of taking the publicity stills for the Paul Anka Show produced by the CBC and performed in the cavernous Studio 40 of the corporation’s then pretty snazzy Paul Merrick building on Hamilton and Georgia.
If someone had told me this back in 1957 I would not only have been incredulous but I would have uttered, uncharacteristicaly, several four-letter words. Uncharacteristically, as in 1957 I was a fairly saintly and correct boy in a Catholic boarding school in Texas.
For a short while our very large neo-Gothic dorm (50-plus boys in bunk beds) was invaded by a love struck boy who was assigned an upper bunk next to mine. I believe he must have been sent to the boarding school by his girlfriend’s parents who must have given the boy’s parents a grim alternative, send him away from their girl to the Catholic boarding school or a shotgun.
Such is my effort to forget the whole incident that in spite of my extremely good memory I cannot remember the boy’s name or face. I can remember he did not cease to talk about her and that her name was Diana. He insisted on playing a song, Diana, over and over, loud on the his 45RPM record player. Diana was my introduction and my first intimation of an intense dislike for a young Canadian called Paul Anka who was the composer. How was I to know then that Anka and Canada would one day be part of my life?
Somewhere below I will make the connection between Anka and Frank Sinatra. I loved Frank Sinatra’s films but I have always been selective about the song of his I like. Most of the ones I like are the ones he sang with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. I absolutely hate the very big band Sinatra songs with him holding a microphone. For me he was an early version of the Las Vegas I have avoided most of my life. I need not add, but I will, that I cannot stand New York, New York and My Way.
There is no room here for my opinion (it would be a long venomous diatribe) on Paul Anka’s (You’re) Having My Baby.
So in 1982 for a whole spring I shot stills of Anka’s CBC variety show almost every day. He would open most shows with New York, New York (I will never know why he chose this song since he did not write the lyrics or the music). I became de-sensitized to the song but when Anka would sing Diana every once in a while I became a staunch Catholic all over again, believing, without a doubt, in the existence of hell.
Anka had clout and he was able to get many American celebrities to come to his show as guests. Two are permanently inscribed in my memory. One of them was a 21-year-old Wayne Gretzky the other was a permanently high/low (but mostly low on downers) Peggy Lee who had a special assistant who held her purse and handed her pills every time she asked for them. Lee’s volume was so low that the CBC sound engineers must have been having babies while adjusting the frequency response of their recording equipment.
I tolerated Peggy Lee (I am an Ella Fitzgerald and Annie Ross fan) as a singer but unfortunately my taste for her had been ruined by the parents of my friend Robert Hijar, back in the Mexico City of 1962. His parents were operatives of the CIA and they had a back garden little coach house-like structure where they kept their massive and costly reel-to-reel tape recorders. In their leisure time (how busy would CIA operatives have been in a Mexico run by the institutional party the PRI?). Robert and I listened to 60s West Coast Jazz (Mulligan, Getz, Bud Shank) the Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. He would occasionally make me listen to his parent’s collection of Peggy Lee and Henry Mancini. If any who read this have ever seen the film Hatari (Howard Hawks, 1962) with an out-of-his-element in deepest Africa John Wayne (which proves how genetically apart a horse is from a zebra) you will understand why I am not going to lambaste Mancini’s odious Baby Elephant Walk. There was no meat to this film. Elsa Martinelli was all beautifu bones, but bones, nonetheless.