Chapter 18: Tradition
Music To My Years, Life and Love Between the Notes
by Artie Kane
Joan’s association with Leah and Larry Superstein and her longtime friendship with the Chapros, who were strong supporters of music in Los Angeles, prompted more invitations to attend celebrity gatherings at both homes, including one where Joan introduced me to virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz.
After hello, Heifetz made his way to the piano and played a note, then turned to me with a cold stare. Not sure what to do, I said, “B-flat.” Then he hit a fistful of notes, so I named them all. He turned to Joan and announced, “He’s got it.” Joan told me he was irritated that she had a “new friend,” especially a pianist with perfect pitch.
A week later, the Supersteins invited me to dinner where Heifetz told fans around the table, “My friends call me Mr. H.” Two women were fawning over him, “Mr. H this and Mr. H that.” So I joined in to inquire about his violin, “Mr. H …,” I said.
His head whipped around, his eyes glared at me, and he snarled, “Yes, Jim? It’s Mr. Heifetz.”
This kind of awkward behavior culminated in a summer buffet on the patio at Hannah Boorstin’s where, following Joan, I filled my plate from an array of fancy platters, and then joined her at the table. I discovered I’d forgotten my salad and circled back, but when I returned Jascha Heifetz had moved my plate of food and was sitting in my chair. I heard Joan say, “Jascha, that’s Artie’s seat.” Heifetz ignored her, so I said in a firm tone, “I was sitting there.” Joan pushed her chair back, stood, and said to me, “Honey, we’re leaving.” She apologized to Hannah and we left. I told Joan I never wanted to see that man again.
Such occasions made me realize you shouldn’t get to know the people you idolize; just buy their records and appreciate them from a distance.
Whenever I told my mother about meeting concert artists and super-stars, she would ask, “Did you tell any of them what you do?”
“No,” I’d answer.
“That’s right,” she said. “Keep it a secret. Maybe they’ll come looking for you.”
I explained to her that Heifetz couldn’t help me in my career, nor could others in that realm of the music world; however, my connections with studio music departments, such as the head of Fox Music, Lionel Newman, provided opportunities for me.
Lionel stayed at my house when his wife threw him out after catching him at the racetrack. Since I was spending a lot of time at Joan’s place and working at the lovely office she’d provided me, I told Lionel he could stay as long as he needed. About a week later, I called and warned him I’d be stopping by to pick up more clothes and some dress items for a black-tie event. He was lying on my queen-size bed, his arms crossed, watching me match up shirts and pants from my closet.”
“Artie, I know you’re with the Benny girl and have to dress up for dinner, but how long are you going to be?”
“Hey, it’s my house.”
“I know, but could you hurry up?” he grinned.
In addition to inviting me to celebrity parties, Leah Superstein asked me to her house to discuss several songs she had written. She had studied music and piano since childhood and wanted me to record an album of her compositions. I picked eleven songs I thought would record well and then set up a couple of recording dates. Evenings, I worked at my place, jotting down piano arrangements and preparing the material, running each one by Leah for her approval. What I didn’t realize at the time was how unhappy Joan had become over this working relationship. Joan and Leah’s friendship went way back. Still, Leah was a frightful flirt, and the two friends were always in competition over the attention of artists and stars. I was so obtuse that I didn’t notice the flimsy excuses Joan gave for not attending the recordings of her dear friend’s songs.
Playing and producing the album for Leah was a torturous experience for me. Larry was a genius businessman with only an appreciation for the arts, but both of them suddenly became music experts. They had countless suggestions during the sessions. Maybe it was payback for the arrogant attitude I’d displayed toward the backers of my first album. In the end, the final version of Leah’s album pleased her, and she was genuinely grateful, but during the process, a distance had developed between Joan and me. We’d stopped meeting for dinner because I was often eating at the Supersteins’ and writing arrangements at night.
Experiences like these seem to happen in the industry when artists jump from one impassioned project to another, working intently each time with anew personality. They get distracted from everyday life and give their all to the endeavor at hand. Meanwhile, their main relationship or marriage suffers. That’s why Jaye P. had wanted me to go with her to all her performances, to ground her and be part of them. While working with Leah, I did notice Joan was becoming less available and that I didn’t spend as much time at her house.
Studio work filled the void. My colleague, Ralph Grierson, showed up one day with a bunch of two-piano arrangements of George Gershwin songs and scores. He asked if I’d like to record them with him for Angel Records. There it was, the elusive record album proposition. Should I try again? Ralph’s recording contact with Angel Records was solid, as he had recorded three previous albums for them, so we picked six popular songs, three preludes and a twenty-five minute arrangement of An American in Paris. I began practicing, seriously practicing, or woodshedding, in musicians’ lingo.
It was just before Christmas ’74 when I got a call from Joan, who’d returned from a Mammoth Lakes ski trip with her children, telling me her father was in a coma. I met her at her parents’ Charing Cross house. Mary looked disheveled, overwhelmed and upset, and for the first time I felt sorry for her. She asked me to answer the door and direct people into the living room, or for very close friends and family, up the stairway to Jack’s room. She trusted me to make the right decisions and to send anyone away who did not belong there. I took this assignment to heart and was firm in sorting through the stream of well-wishers. Word of Jack’s condition had travelled through the Hollywood community, and his friends poured in to pay their respects to a man they loved. Mary seemed unable to function in her usual social capacity, so Joan took over as hostess.
The gathering turned into a celebration of Jack’s life as people told stories and laughed through tears over remembered events. In the foyer, I smiled every time I passed by the fine antique table Joan had sent from Carmel for her father’s photos—all autographed to him from luminaries and dignitaries. He had complained to Joan and me months earlier that he wanted them downstairs where his friends could enjoy them instead of in his bedroom where Mary had put them. Joan and I made a special trip up the coast to find the perfect piece for his display. As guests lingered over them, I thought how happy it would have made Jack.
Some of the people were strange. Danny Kaye came to Jack’s room to kiss his feet. It was a fetish of his to kiss the feet of the dying. I also saw people admiring and handling photographs, trinkets and collectibles. I watched to be sure that they didn’t glom on to items for mementos or keepsakes. I recall speaking with Jack Lemmon’s wife, Felicia, when Jack spilled not a glass this time, but a whole bottle of red wine on the white living room carpet. There were gasps, then nervous laughter, then uproarious laughter, prompting more stories and shared memories.
Jack Benny died on December 26, 1974. At the Hillside memorial service three days later, Mary looked stricken. Unsure of herself and shaky, she stood clenching her fists so tight I was sure her long manicured nails would draw blood. She didn’t want to talk to people, so I stayed close like a bodyguard while I walked her to and from her assigned vehicle. It was one of the few times she liked me and depended on my help. For once, she forgot I had no status.
By contrast, Joan was greeting everyone, making sure all went as planned. She didn’t need my help or my shoulder. She was remarkable and admirable in her role those last four days before his passing and at the memorial. Jack had been the glue between the pages of mother and daughter. With his death, Joan lost the buffer between herself and her mother. She also lost her connections, her entrée, her celebrity and the man she most adored.
The day after Jack’s memorial, my calendar showed weeks of rehearsals scheduled in preparation for the Gershwin recording sessions in late March. Ralph Grierson and I practiced at his home studio where he had two grand pianos placed so the curves of each humped into the other so that we faced one another while playing. There, we worked out the complicated arrangements and decided which parts we’d each play. I found it nerve-racking to go over and over the material. I was used to studio jobs where if I noticed a difficult piano part, I worked on it mentally during breaks or on cues when I was tacet. But this recording project required much more than that.
Ralph was nervous, too. He admitted that my ability to sight-read difficult music, learn it quickly, and grasp the essence of a phrase intimidated him. On the other hand, Ralph’s practice habits and his approach to learning serious repertoire cowed me. Listening to Ralph talk about his earlier recording experience of playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with the internationally recognized pianist and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas brought back memories of my ill-prepared concert playing Rhapsody in Blue with the Columbus Symphony. I wished I’d had a teacher coaching me. Instead, I had no choice but to learn it on my own in a week. Ralph’s study habits were more like that of a concert pianist, woodshedding passages, trying various dynamics and way, way too much discussion.
Shortly before the recording date, we got an offer from Mickey Nadel to perform the Gershwin selections for a live audience at a pub called the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks. A former symphony bassist, Mickey, and his wife, Ann, turned the place into a popular hangout for musicians. Ralph had played a concert there and thought we would get good feedback from a performance. This prospect of a public performance added a layer of angst to my mounting tension over rehearsals and the upcoming recordings. We decided to break up the piano performances for the tavern with some Gershwin vocals that would add variety to the show. We needed a vocalist.
As my relationship with Joan Benny waned, I occasionally had dinner with Sally Stevens, who was a vocal contractor for recordings and film music, as well as a lyricist for songwriters. Sally was the daughter of Ken Stevens, the manager of Holiday on Ice when I was with the show in the fifties. As I mentioned earlier, I’d hired Sally to write lyrics for my first film assignment, It Lives by Night. When Ralph and I approached her to sing Gershwin between our two-piano numbers, she jumped at the chance. I accompanied her. Sally had a classy style, a versatile voice and could have been a recording star in her own right.
The night of our performance, colleagues and friends packed the room and cheered us on. Their support played a big part in my confidence about the upcoming recording sessions scheduled at Capitol Records in Hollywood.
I invited Joan to one of the recording sessions. She agreed to come, but I sensed it was a duty for her rather than an interest in me or the project. I felt I couldn’t do much to win her admiration in my profession. I was never going to be a concert artist and though some doors were opening up for a shot at film composing, I would never secure the credentials to be her status symbol and earn her respect. I never knew if she was dating other men, but I assumed our relationship was over, though we still talked occasionally.
During the mixing of the album, I was excited because I thought we’d done a great job, and I was ecstatic with the product. Angel Records and the producers were also pleased—a relief after my prior experience. This time I kept away from the producing team and concentrated on the music, something I knew. Keeping quiet and out of trouble drove me nuts, and I started smoking again after seven years of clean living. Luckily, through Ralph’s insistence, all our rehearsing, working out fingering and marking page turns paid off. The end product showcased the work we’d done and the Grammy nomination we’d earned.
A few weeks later, Sally arranged a surprise party for my forty-sixth birthday at a small restaurant in Studio City. She had invited close friends; the food was good, friends were fawning, I was uncomfortable. It was a nice gesture on Sally’s part, but I was drunk and ungrateful because I hate surprise parties and being the center of attention unless I’m performing. Despite my boorish behavior, Sally and I remained friends and maintained a good working relationship.
Life and music were terrific and I was cookin’ with work. My composing career moved along in the right direction with better and better projects. The only trouble was I never heard from my agent, Al Bart. He didn’t bother to keep in touch with me because I wasn’t an important client like Hank Mancini or other celebrities. Therefore, any new television contracts I got came from people I’d worked with before.
I made an appointment with Al. “Why should I pay you 15 percent for doing nothing?” I asked. He was incensed that I’d take him to task for not calling. I fired him on the spot. Al played the hurt card, like a dumped girlfriend, but I was determined to find a new agent.
When Lionel heard I’d dumped my agent, he recommended his brother, Marc Newman. Well connected in the industry, Marc represented an impressive crop of composers from John Williams to Dave Grusin. Marc knew which pictures were in production at each studio. He had personal relationships with the heads of music, had breakfast with the producers and got information even before Al did, who depended on flirting with the secretaries to get the scoop. Marc and Al had a contentious association that stemmed from Al’s aggressiveness in stealing clients and his churlish treatment of women. Al fought hard for his clients, but he was brash, whereas Marc was a good salesman with excellent connections through his film dynasty family, the Newmans. Five of Marc’s brothers had significant ties to film studios.
Meanwhile, when I was scoring at Warner Brothers, I met Carol Faith, Charlie Fox’s agent. Carol had taken over her husband, Peter Faith’s composing agency after he died unexpectedly. Carol was smart, had a fabulous sense of humor and an enviable family that seemed caring and close-knit. I always thought she could have been a comedian or written television sit-coms. Her clever repartee amused me, and her foibles were familiar because she had lived on the outskirts of Beverly Hills and had friends around the fringes of the industry. I thought about signing up with Carol, but I went with Marc.
My mother had serious thyroid problems, but Uncle Joe said she was doing well in treatment. I was traveling back and forth from Columbus to see her when Joan and I had our last disagreement. She wanted to go with me to see my mother, but our relationship had not been close for months, and she’d never met or talked with my mother, so I thought her visit would be inappropriate while my mother was unwell. Maybe Joan was offering a shoulder to lean on as payback for my assistance during her father’s last days, but she’d been distant before Jack’s death, and when she made that reluctant appearance at the Gershwin recordings, I could feel a stiffness had crept in and replaced the comfort we once shared.
During the next few months, Carol’s and my relationship evolved into daily communications, meals and meeting her family. We rented a house together on North Beverly Drive, the not so pricey part of Beverly Hills. I got the idea that all my love troubles would be solved if I married a nice Jewish girl. On one of my calls home, I said to my mother, “I’ve got some good news for you.” I thought I might cheer her up and make her feel better, or at least get a laugh out of her.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’ve met a nice Jewish girl.” I held my breath for her response.
My mother never dropped a beat when she replied, “You’ll spoil it.” I should have known better, but I said, “What kind of a reaction is that? How will I spoil it?”
“Another skirt will come along,” she predicted.
While I always kept in touch with Uncle Joe, I called one day and found Mother was much worse. I got worried. Joe was like the rest of the family; he never wanted to spread bad news—like the time my mother failed to tell me Joe had been hospitalized after suffering a mild heart attack. I yelled at her for not telling me sooner so I could fly in to see him.
Joe finally admitted that my mother had cancer and the treatments had failed. I cancelled all work and flew out again. During the flight, I resolved to apologize for disappointing her. When I got to the house, I went to her room. Propped up with pillows, sitting in a chair, she looked drawn and colorless. I got down on my knees, took her hand and said, “I love you, Mother, and I just want to apologize for not being the son you wanted me to be.”
With empty eyes and through clenched teeth, she said, “It’s too late.”
I couldn’t speak. I cried … and cried. Joe tried to comfort me. I’ve never gotten over it. I left Columbus that night remembering those were her last words to me.
Two weeks later, I drove home from work. Carol stood in the driveway. She put her arms around me and said, “Your mother died this morning. I packed a few clothes and a jacket for you. Your flight leaves in an hour.”
I was grateful she didn’t garbage it up with “I think you should sit down for this … blah blah.” She instinctively knew how to treat the situation. No drama, just the necessary information and the means for me to handle it.
Mother died on September 15, 1975. So happens, it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar year—a day reserved for atonement and repentance. By sheer will, my mother was determined to live until that day so I would never forget the significance of her death. What I’ve never forgotten is the career she gave me, along with her brand of love. She always did what she thought was best for me and aimed all efforts toward my success. I am grateful to her, and I love her for all of it.
Returning from the cemetery to the family home on Plymouth Avenue, I found several cousins in my mother’s room rummaging through her dresser drawers and closet. “What are you doing here?” I demanded. They said they were looking for things of hers they’d like to have. I asked if they might wait a few days. Honestly, I thought my family was barbaric, but nine months earlier, I had been through Jack Benny’s death and witnessed even stranger behavior.
Life with Carol was full of humor, family and business. She had an office in Beverly Hills where she met with clients and made deals. She drew up contracts for several composers who stayed with her when she took over her husband’s agency after he died.
I kept a breakneck schedule composing and recording weekly Wonder Woman episodes. Unlike other studios and production companies that had a stable of composers revolving around their television shows, I was the only composer on Wonder Woman. Consequently, I only accepted studio calls during the show’s hiatus. One night I watched an episode to see if I was doing justice to my assignments and was shocked to see the screen credit for the theme and underscore attributed to me. I called Charlie immediately, horrified that my benefactor was being slighted.
“Don’t change anything,” he said. “I’m getting paid correctly for the theme on the royalty statements, and it’s good for you to get the credit.”
That’s the kind of guy Charlie is, generous and encouraging. I did fix his credit with the studio because I couldn’t accept the mistake.
Charlie Fox and Dominic Frontiere helped me join Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), a royalty organization that collects performance fees for composers of songs, film music, TV shows, etc. The first year, BMI sent me a stipend, a kind of good faith payment betting that I’d continue working in the industry. The next year, when I got my first check based on performances, I thought they’d made a mistake. I had no idea that in addition to my negotiated fee from the production company, I’d receive a healthy royalty collected quarterly from networks broadcasting over 196 prime-time national and international markets.
I was feeling good about my music composing and financial opportunities, and I had a good relationship with Carol and her parents. Her father, one of the sharpest guys I ever talked with, procured goods for men’s clothing companies. Abe was up on every aspect of life and had a well-thought-out opinion on most subjects, including money and politics. We had good discussions. I learned from him and I respected him. Carol’s mother, Adele, could have been a stand-in for Gracie Allen. She was unconsciously funny. One afternoon, Abe came home and said, “Adele, the bank called today and claimed you were overdrawn in your checking account.”
Adele looked surprised, “That’s not possible, Abe, I still have blank checks left in my book.”
Abe and Adele were accepting of me. So was Carol’s brother, Bob, the inventor. He sold his clever gadgets to companies like Bell and Howell, and Seiko, and then started his own business called Think Outside, Inc. All of us, including her extended family, were together at dinners, get-togethers, events and parties. It was a little too much family for someone like me who’d shunned all that when growing up, but I had a feeling of belonging. The next logical step was for Carol and me to marry. I asked her; she said yes.
We bought a house in Beverly Hills. Its impressive location didn’t stop Carol’s father from making myriad suggestions. “This is wrong; this needs fixing.” He’d call in the morning on weekends with an idea about remodeling, or say, “I’ve been up all night thinking about the walls.” He wanted everything to be wonderful for his daughter, who had been dealt a troubled hand when Peter Faith died so young.
Our wedding was at the renowned Hotel Bel Air. My dear Uncle Joe, my cousins Phyllis and Marvin and his wife, Sue, all flew in from Ohio. None of my family had ever come to my marital unions before. Friend and benefactor, Dominic, attended with a few other colleagues. This union seemed like the real deal. We had a small ceremony with a rabbi, then a dinner for twenty-five friends and relatives at the hotel. Yes, we went on our honeymoon to the Mauna Kea hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii. Yes, Carol’s parents came along. Truthfully, it was terrific because I really enjoyed her parents. Life seemed settled, and though my mother couldn’t be there to rejoice in my newfound happiness, which had all the appearances of normalcy and stability, I felt comfortable. I was a member of a fine tribe of Jews. Oy vey!
All photos from the Kane Family Collection unless stated otherwise.
- Lionel Newman, head of 20th Century Fox Music Department
- At Hillside Memorial Cemetery December 29, 1974. Photo by Cal Montney ©1974, LA Times. Used with permission.
- Artie Kane and Ralph Grierson, rehearsals and recordings for the Gershwin album
- Artie Kane and Ralph Grierson, Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful”
- NARAS award, Artie Kane and Ralph Grierson
- Sally Stevens and Artie Kane
- Carol Faith
- “The Tribe”
- Carol and Artie marry at the Hotel Bel-Air
[Music To My Years, Life and Love Between the Notes by Artie Kane, ISBN 978-0-9836550-3-9, Amphora Editions 2017]
Amphora Editions is the publishing division of TheScreamOnline.