Friday, July 28, 2017

From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies, Part 3

With the realization that From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies, Part 2 posted way back in March, it dawned upon this blogger that a number of music and showbiz luminaries did not make it into Parts 1 and 2. This is quite a lengthy list without extending to such international stars who crossed over from music to movies as Danielle Darrieux and Pedro Infante.

Today's post starts with Julie London (September 26, 1926 – October 18, 2000), both a talented actress and among the great singers of standards by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and others. She was also married to actor Jack Webb and (later) musician Bobby Troup. What Ms. London had in common with Hazel Scott, the creative powerhouse and activist who started this From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies series, was success as a recording artist, concurrent with roles in movies and TV, including a starring role in a television series decades later. In some parts, such as her role in The George Raft Story, she also sang.

Here's Julie, performing her signature song "Cry Me A River" and other classic standards in her customary elegant and sultry style, hitting those notes with power and style.

Among those who are not music aficionados, Julie London is very likely best remembered for her role as the intrepid and ready-for-anything Nurse Dixie McCall from the television show Emergency!

There are tributes on YouTube to Julie London the actress which strike this correspondent as completely, entirely apart from Julie the songstress who recorded 29 studio albums. Taking nothing away from Ms. London's acting talent, this seems astonishing for those who primarily know Ms. London from her excellent recordings of the 1950's and 1960's.

Once Julie's recording career began to falter due to the utter dominance of rock music in the 1960's - her last album, still recalling Lauren Bacall's smoky vocalizing in Howard Hawks' To Have & Have Not, included a slowed-down Louie Louie and a surprisingly compelling Nancy Sinatra-esque take on Yummy Yummy Yummy, the bubblegum pop hit by The Ohio Express - the gig was up.

Ms. London only left acting for music briefly and would have key roles in many TV shows, as well as such movies as the epic Anthony Mann western Man Of The West, starring Gary Cooper.

Her many guest appearances in series television included a part on the popular 1960's spy show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. She and Bobby Troup both appeared in Emergency!

In the 1960's and early 1970's, pop, rock and country stars frequently found themselves acting in films, very likely as a direct result of how the charm, humor and joie de vivre of The Beatles translated to the big screen.

The Richard Lester movies A Hard Day's Night and Help exemplify not just The Fab Four's musicianship, but their charm, personal magnetism and abilities as wry comic actors.

The fact that the camera loved John, Paul, George and Ringo was key to why their movies were so enjoyable.

The one Beatle who did tackle a serious acting role was John Lennon. After making the two Beatles features , John showed acting chops in a supporting part in director Richard Lester's 1966 anti-war satire of the war movie genre, How I Won The War.

Other rock stars got into the mix and soon into the movies. Privilege (1967) featured Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones. Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones starred in Nicolas Roeg's Performance and Tony Richardson's Ned Kelly.

There was also Ken Russell's larger-than-life big screen adaptation of Tommy, the rock opera by The Who. The legendary rock and soul vocalist Tina Turner rose to the occasion in no uncertain terms and demonstrated acting mojo in her turn as The Acid Queen. This does not come as a surprise, as she was famous for incendiary performances headlining the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, the act nobody wanted to follow. Had Tina opted to explore a screen acting career, she very likely would have conquered it as she did the world of rock music as the face of one of the hardest working touring bands in show business.

Kris Kristofferson parlayed his country music stardom into an acting career that specialized in movies directed by Sam Peckinpah, a guy with one foot in old-school western shoot 'em ups and the other planted deeply in the grimy, gritty soil and anticipating to the genre-bending likes of Quentin Tarantino. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid co-starred none other than Bob Dylan.


A number of musicians who may have not been actors, but made memorable one-shot appearances in movies and television. Pianist, singer, bandleader and host of his own TV show Nat "King" Cole very likely did not fancy himself as a character actor at all, but there he is beside Stubby Kaye (from Guys & Dolls), playing a troubadour and Greek chorus in the western comedy Cat Ballou.

Among the more remarkable of those one-shots was an episode of the popular early 1970's series Kung Fu. The guest stars: the mighty jazz bandleader and alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and vocalist/guitarist Jose Feliciano.

Crooners hit the movies in the 1930's and 1940's. One present day Sinatra style saloon singer and bandleader turned actor, Harry Connick Jr., who started his career in the 1990s, has enjoyed a wide ranging career in show business including - as he was recording albums and touring - numerous roles in high profile movies and television.

As the 1960's brought rockers into the movies the latter 1980's and 1990's chronicled the successful transition of hip hop and pop artists into feature films and television. Director John Singleton would be a key catalyst for this with his films, especially Boyz n the Hood and Poetic Justice, featuring recording artists Ice Cube, Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur; since pop and hip hop headliners are often performance artists who write and craft their own recordings, expanding into movie and television acting, producing and directing would seem a seamless transition.

If anything, it's a bit surprising that there were not more feature films that capitalized on the ability of artists in music to bond with audiences. Perhaps the greatest surprise to this writer is that pop icons Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury did not, as Prince and David Bowie did, branch out into acting, given the theatricality of their music. In addition, as Michael Jackson was an avid classic film buff and a move into acting-directing-writing feature films would have been a natural for MJ. His sister Janet ended up being the Jackson family member to cross over into movie acting.

Even given that as the writer of this blog tends to be immersed in entertainment from several decades past, much produced before he was born, and not too keen on anything after 1980, there shall be a Part 4 of From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies devoted to The Rat Pack, which will expand upon - or reprise parts of - Part 2. Makes sense - Frank, Sammy and Dino all recorded for Reprise Records.

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