Monday, April 28, 2008

misty miss

My father was in the Marine Corps, stationed in San Diego, in the early 1950's. My Mother, his High School steady, flew out to California on a Lockheed Constellation four-propeller airplane after he proposed (by letter) in 1954. Her scrapbook contains her plane ticket, in flight menu, and even her American Airlines cocktail napkin. It had to have been paradise, to be in uncrowded and unspoiled San Diego in the mid-fifties.

One of the perks at the time was an outdoor theatre called the Starlight Bowl, in Balboa Park. In Mother's scrapbook are several programs from performances they attended there- mostly musicals but some orchestras as well. One of the programs was for a concert by the Stan Kenton Orchestra featuring vocals by June Christy. From that night, June Christy would be my father's favorite singer, and later on one of mine as well.

Born Shirley Luster, she auditioned for and joined Kenton in 1945. They immediately had a hit record with a slightly satirical novelty song called "Tampico", which would become Kenton's best selling recording of all time. It was in the band that she met saxophonist and sports car racer Bob Cooper, whom she married shortly thereafter. Tanned, blond, and casual, the personified the Southern California lifestyle. They were known to their friends as Christy and Coop.

Christy recorded a tune which became her signature piece, "Something Cool", in 1950. It's a slow paced jazz piece where her voice is as much of an instrument as anything in Kenton's band. It is credited with starting what was called the "vocal cool" movement of the mid 50's. She released several albums for Capitol in the 1950's which did well in the jazz world, and achieved some crossover success in the mainstream as well.

Not one for the spotlight, Christy's last major album was released in 1960, with a new stereo recording of "Something Cool", this time as the title piece of an album. She went into semi-retirement, gardening and raising their daughter, Shay. She appeared occasionally at Jazz festivals and nightclubs. She was most usually spotted in Sherman Oaks, driving her beloved white 1964 Thunderbird convertible.

Her most successful album, 1956's top 20 charting "The Misty Miss Christy" was Dad's favorite. He literally listened to it hundreds of times in my youth. I have it now, along with all his old Christy LP's. I gave him the CD versions so he is not deprived.

Here's Christy at her peak- recorded in 1958, she puts her inimitable mark on "I Want to Be Happy":

And for your misty cool listening pleasure, here is a 1965 appearance of the Misty Miss Christy, backed by Stan Kenton singing "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening":

More Christy? Click Here


Kat said...

Hi Jeff,

Thought I would share just a little more trivia with you. My grandparents were actors all their lives and began their careers in vaudeville. By the end of their careers, in the 50’s, they were at the Starlight. They had a splendid acting career, which included the Mississippi River Boat, many other traveling shows, and the Old Savoy Theatre prior to it burning down. They were older by the 50's, and I was a little girl who was so lucky to be able to go to work with them on the weekends. I spent hours back stage with the gorgeous actors at the Starlight. I loved being in the ladies dressing room while they put on their make up and fabulous costumes.

My Grandfather, Harry Hays, was the Stage Manager and an actor at the time, and my grandmother was an actress, Ruby Kisman Hays. That was the last home of both their careers. In fact, when my Grandma passed, San Diego adjourned court at noon in her honor. Yeah, I know, just love to share in that glory as if it were my own. Ha

There is an old story about the night my grandmother left her sewing box on stage and my grandpa didn't notice it before curtain went up, which was his job. Well, it so happened to be the biggest and best night in the history of the starlight up to that point. The sewing box became a lucky charm. To this day, that sewing box, while needing repair over the years, is still left on stage sometime during a scene in every show. In fact, it is known as the Little Red Sewing Box, and those that know of its history watch for it to see if they can find it.

My grandparents have been gone a long time now and I hadn't been back to the starlight in decades. One night a few years back my girlfriend and I went to see Evita. I was thumbing through the program and right there, before my eyes, was a two-page article, including a full-page picture of my grandfather, telling the story about the Little Red Sewing Box.

Jeff, that was not a coincidence! That was a little gift from God to me.

Thanks for sharing and reminding me of those days. BTW… love June Christy. I'm going to see if I can find something on Itunes for my Ipod.

Take good care,


BigAssBelle said...

oh i love that kind of music!!! my parents were depression era and preceded the very jazzy, trendy '50s by about 20 years. so glam, so fab, so marvelous.

i love these little vignettes from your past life. have to dash to work now, but i'll be back shortly to finish up what i've missed since planting my head up my ass a while back and then the trip to mexico. :-)

Barbara Canaday said...

Kat - Ruby and Harry were my great aunt and uncle; they lived just a few blocks from me in Linda Vista, and I spent many pleasant hours visiting with them and admiring Uncle Harry's sweetpeas! They were both terrific people!