Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Claudine Longet – Dreams That Don’t Come True

It’s not as if I am a big old fag, but…certain women (I will not say “divas,” a term I reserve only for women who sing Puccini, Verdi and Wagner, and few of whom were born after 1900) from the past that hold a great fascination for me. Libby Holman, Kay Thompson, Ida Cox, Vashti Bunyan – the more obscure the better. And when certain ones make very unexpected comebacks (Vashti’s appearance last week in San Francisco being a good example), I have very mixed emotions. On a charitable level, I am pleased that they have found an audience and paycheck again. But on a personal level, I feel I have lost a personal muse.

One that has been on the periphery of a comeback for a couple of decades is one of my favorites, Cl
audine Longet. Claudine figured huge in my household as a child. Half German-Jewish (my dad’s side) and half French-Canadian (my mom), I was educated from an early age that there were two kinds of women in the world, the bad ones (a.k.a. blondes) and the good ones, dark haired, intelligent women. The more ethnic, the better. But the absolute most intelligent were dark haired French-speaking women. So we watched in anticipation and dread as we weathered the sappy wholesomeness of the Andy Williams Show until we saw little Claudine sing a ditty in that age of Dippity-do and those new-fangled Doritos.

Never mind that Claudine sang in a little baby-girl voice, she was held up as a femini
ne ideal in my house, the essence of what a woman should be – dark-haired, thin, demure. Only the foolish dismissed her as shallow and weak. Just don’t give that little Parisian flower a gun…And it was not with a sense of remorse or surprise when, a decade later, that we learned that she might have had a dark side when she had that little accident with Spider Sabich. Ah, Claudine, where did you go? Her tunes have shown up a number of times on such hip venues as the Gilmour Girls and a Dimitri of Paris album. But where, oh where is the real Claudine? She has not made a public appearance in over 30 years. I am especially fond of her version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," translated into French. Midway through at the big break where others belt it out and yelp, it sounds as if she's doing her nails while she let's the back-up singers do the hard stuff. Now that's a star, knowing when to let your hired help do the dirty work. I would love to hear her revive “Nothing to Lose,” the Henry Mancini tune from Blake Edwards’ The Party. It has a wonderful lyric about not wasting time on dreams of lifetimes in the sun that don’t come true. Isn’t that the best kind of celebrity, all washed up and recounting dreams that crashed? Or is that just a confirmation of me being a big old fag?

I would just love it if Claudine could find a second life in Branson, Missouri, where her ex Andy Williams still performs as well as several other entertainers who could never find a gig in the legit entertainment industry. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they opened the Claudine Longet Theatre and she could feature entertainers who've fallen on the wrong side of the law -- biggies like O.J. and Robert Blake but also a side show with those who've had minor infractions such as Za Za and WInona.

A friend of mine, we’ll call him “Bryce,” has just launched a site featured in my links called JudyMeat. As I like to say, “You just can’t beat JudyMeat!” I must admit that I resisted the appeal of Judy for many, many years. As a kid I always cheered the Wicked Witch of the West. She was, after all, a woman of color (green) mourning the death of her sister and simply didn’t have time to deal with the ills of a girl whose life ambition was to return to…Kansas? But the latter era Judy is compelling – all crazy and messed up on drugs. Looking like a gaunt, punkish boy in drag. From aro
und 1967 to 1969, she is pretty fascinating, especially in her final TV appearances. One of my favorites was on the Tonight Show around the time of her final Christmas when she sang “Til After the Holidays.” It’s pretty gripping TV and was on YouTube for a month or so, and I managed to record the audio. One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by her rendition of this song. You can hate Christmas, hate gay divas, hate late night TV, even hate Judy, but this song is all about begging for a tiny glimmer of hope before the candle is extinguished. Come on, give it up for Judy just this one last time before she goes over the dimming rainbow one last time. How sadly fitting that Judy would never see another holiday, never shoot the breeze with Johnny one last time. If you want to see if I really love you, ask me to make a CD of this amazing broadcast. Even spookier than this, is a spot still on YouTube, Judy's July 1968 appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, where she sings "For Once in My Life." Here the paper thin edges of two eras briefly overlap, and the woman from the earlier era holds her hand out to a future that she know she will not realize, a dream that will not come true.

Her official final TV appearance was as the host of The Merv Griffin Show on December 23, 1968. For some really fascinating and spooky images, check out this site.

Oy, vey, that is way too much trivia on someone I supposedly don’t like. Vashti Bunyan, take me away...