Thursday, January 27, 2011

Johnnie Ray-What Memories!



"Unlike Palin's book. There are no ghost writers. Also, it wasn't written within two months. Everything in this book is true." - Bill Dakota, author





THE BOOK HOLLYWOOD DIDN'T WANT PUBLISHED- 

THE WAIT IS OVER!


"THE GOSSIP COLUMNIST"


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ISBN  978-0-615-37758-2


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He inspired Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, but nobody seems to know who he was. He was a phenomenon around the world, Africa, South America, England and Australia.

Steve Allen said. "For some dumb reason, those favorite singers we grew up with, remain our favorites until they, or we die." For me, that's the case of Johnnie Ray. I remember I would get goosebumps listening to him when he sang his most famous song, "CRY." I have several tapes of him singing but few that capture his style when he first started. He would throw the mike down, slam the top of the Grand piano down, get on his knees and pound the floor, and even cry when he sang "CRY." The fans would all scream, when he sang. Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis all claim that it was Johnnie who helped them create their stage presence. A book on Johnnie written by another John...Jonny Whiteside, "Cry, the Johnnie Ray Story," was a fascinating, in depth book that I love. I bought over forty copies to send to friends. The following is a Ray profile that was published in the Hollywood Star.

THE FORMATIVE YEARS started, as with all sensitive artists, during early childhood, however, Johnnie's first stab towards a professional career came at 16 when he sang on an amateur radio show in his native Oregon. He became a regular on the Portland show, working during school vacations as a soda-jerk, lumber mill hand, and shipyard welder. Johnnie's first professional job was as a production singer in a Portland Burlesque house. In 1949 he left home to pursue the great Hollywood dream...movie stardom. He made the rounds daily, but never got past the studio gates. He landed occasional jobs, singing and playing the piano in obscure Los Angeles bistros, working for the tremendous sum of $4.00 per night plus tips...of which there weren't many.

Still hitting the studios daily, he worked nights as a bell-hop, waiter, soda-jerk (again) and finally landed a singing job in a theater. Discovering that the theater was another Burlesque house, Johnnie decided he hadn't come so far after all during the past year. It was just a temporary home coming. Reluctantly, he returned to his old job as a lumber mill hand, but only long enough to save enough money for another try at "showbusiness."

In 1950, he headed for the mid-east, hoping to end up in New York. Again he played small clubs for smaller incomes. "They were always the same," Johnnie recalled, "always telling me DON'T SING...just play the piano." He laughingly admits that some of those club owners might have, inadvertently, been responsible for part of his emotion packed, soul shouting style. "They kept unplugging the microphone so I wouldn't sing. I just screamed the words louder and louder so people could hear me." Things looked rosier when an agent thought he was good enough to book for two weeks in Ashtabula, Ohio at $150 per week. It was a fortune to Johnnie...he felt he was on his way.

He began attracting attention through singing his own songs. Word spread and he graduated to clubs that were a notch better. While working in Detroit he recorded two of his songs, "Tell The Lady I Said Goodbye," and "Whiskey and Gin." Disc jockeys liked them and played them, especially Bill Randall of Cleveland and Robin Seymour in Detroit who caught his act and began talking about Johnnie Ray, the performer, as well as Johnnie Ray the singer.

A recording company saw his potential when, "Cry," and "The Little White Cloud That Cried," were recorded. The rest is history. They called him an "overnight sensation."

His professional tours, to date in 1977, included fourteen in England and Europe; eight in Australia, plus New Zealand, South Africa, the Philippines, South America, the Near East, Far East and virtually every city in the United States. He held attendance records in some of the greatest show business emporiums of the world and headlined the prestigious London Palladium eight times...more than any other American entertainer.

Television guesting include not only the major shows in the U.S., but comparable video showcases world-wide. Among his hits and million sellers..some of which he composed are, JUST WALKING IN THE RAIN, PLEASE MR. SUN, WALKING MY BABY BACK HOME, BROKEN HEARTED, GLAD RAG DOLL, TELL THE LADY I SAID GOODBYE, WITH THESE HANDS, IF YOU BELIEVE, 100 YEARS FROM TODAY, LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL, WHISKY AND GIN, and of course CRY and THE LITTLE WHITE CLOUD THAT CRIED. For a while he even had his own television show.

He starred in the major motion picture, "There's No Business Like Showbusiness," along with Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Mitzi Gaynor, Donald O'Connor and Marilyn Monroe. He later played Sky Masterson, in the Dallas State Fair Music Hall production of "Guys and Dolls."

Johnnie had always wanted to act and those "firsts" spurred him to star in his non-musical stage role as the confused Bo in "BUS STOP" at the famous Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The result: Rave reviews for Johnnie Ray...the actor!

Whenever Johnnie traveled the probing interviewer invariably asks, "But, what was the real highlight of your career?" It's a difficult question for any seasoned performer to answer, but Johnnie points to the Spring of 1969. Place: Europe. Occasion: His co-starring concert tour with the late, great, Miss Judy Garland. Performing together as well as separately on the great European concert stages. The show was such a success (a standing ovation for each artist, per concert, was a normal reaction), that Judy and Johnnie thought over the offers to tour the world.
Tragically, their concert at Copenhagen's Falconer Centret in March of 1969 was to be Judy's final performance.

Johnnie didn't forget his silent years, spent as a child. In 1952 he established the Johnnie Ray Foundation for the Deaf. Johnnie could hardly hear but he could wail out a song. He had an accident as a child and lost the hearing in one ear. Johnnie, understandably, had an express purpose in his mind for his foundation: to supply underprivileged children (and adults) with hearing aids. His work reached even further than he had anticipated. Through Johnnie's personal donations and the donations of others, training devices for the hard of hearing children were purchased and given to deaf schools. Scholarship grants were obtained for the training of teachers for the deaf.

Here are some of the reviews for Johnnie, long after Judy died.

"WHAT A TRIUMPH! WHAT A SHOWMAN! JOHNNIE- MR. "fantastic"- RAY IS TRULY A GREAT PERFORMER. HIS SINGING IS AS ELECTRIC AS EVER. THE CAPACITY CROWD SCREAMED FOR MORE, MORE, MORE" - Stan Sayer, Daily Mirror.

"PRINCE OF WAILS STILL WOWS 'EM. What a show! What a comeback! Johnnie Ray-Crooner of the fifties, knocked 'em cold last night when he made a sentimental return to the London Palladium. This was 1953 all over again. The audience went wild. It was instant nostalgia. A huge WELCOME BACK banner fluttered from a box. Then the memories came flooding back. At the end they tossed red roses at Johnnie's feet and rushed forward to shake his hands, embrace and initiate a mature love-in. Oh what a night it was, it really was." -Evening News

"JOHNNIE RAY returned to the London Palladium after 18 years and received a 15 minute standing ovation from a packed house. Veterans of London's leading variety theater said they could not recall a reception for another performer to match the one Ray got." -Associated Press

"The applause was nearly deafening when he launched into his own "Little White Cloud That Cried," and the crowd rose to its feet at the conclusion of the inevitable "CRY" which Johnnie continues to belt in near hysterical fashion. A dynamic entertainer" - Greg Hunter

PHOTO SCREEN MAGAZINE: "Johnnie made a triumphant return to the Hollywood scene. And he's greater than ever, a genuinely deserved standing ovation at the end of his performance." -Lee Graham

LOS ANGELES TIMES: "How is it to hear Johnnie Ray's voice over Studio One's super-volume sound sytems?...so nostalgic it puts you back in high school for just a moment. Physically, Ray looks superb..audience approval explodes in shouts, whistles, and much sustained hand clapping. Stylized, Up Beat and Commanding." -Richard Houdek

Los Angeles Times:.."a showbusiness phenomenon..a well balanced repertoire, done with Johnnie Ray "sound" which is his and his alone..a nice bit of showmanship." - John L. Scott

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "Nostalgia plays a large part in the enjoyment of Johnnie Ray, with an appreciative opening night audience in Studio One's Backlot..obviously begging for repeats of "The Little White Cloud That Cried," "Walking My Baby Back Home," and of course "CRY." Ray didn't disappoint the crowd, while he acknowledges the past, the performer didn't dwell on it...repertoire includes many recent tunes well suited to his unique vocal styling..FINE VOICE..still delivers with the pleading urgency that gives special shading to his vocals" -Ron Pennington


SCANDAL-

Johnnie was hit by scandal and his career temporarily went downhill at the beginning of his career. He was arrested at Detroit's Flame Club, charged with an alleged homosexual offense with an under-cover vice cop. Then a few months later, another arrest in Detroit, with a different vice cop. They were out to get him. He was singing in a club that was primarily black, and they didn't like that. But, Johnnie's fans stuck with him and seemed to forget about the scandal and accepted him for the entertainer he was.

With Johnnie's hearing problem, he had to wear a hearing aid. He had endured many operations to restore his hearing, but they were all failures. With a hearing aid Johnnie could hear as good, if not better than the average person. At a night club in the east, Johnnie once stopped singing and apologized to his audience about the club's lousy sound system.

My favorite album was "JOHNNIE RAY AT THE DESERT INN." I wore that baby out. It is one of ten Johnnie Ray CDs recently distributed by the Bear family. It had been recorded live in Las Vegas, at the famous Desert Inn, (recently demolished and a new one built). Johnnie had a sincerity in his voice and mannerisms, that no other singer had. In many ways he seemed like a bashful little boy. And listening to him sing, "Cry," gave me goosebumps. He also recorded a few songs with Doris Day. "Candy Lips," was my favorite.

When Johnnie was featured in the movie, "There's No Business Like Showbusiness," I loved that movie and a favorite scene is the production number, "Alexander's Ragtime Band." I first saw the film in Flint, Michigan, at the Capitol theater, (before I worked there), with Paul Mauk, his sister Nancy and my sister, Phyllis, when they were visiting from Ohio. Johnnie had his own television show and also appeared in a couple of television dramas. During the fifties, he had been a guest on everybody's television show. He must have appeared on Ed Sullivan's "The Toast Of The Town," television show, a couple dozen times.

I was fortunate to meet Johnnie when he appeared at the Vine Street Bar & Grill in Hollywood, (later called Daddy's, but razed for a new W hotel being built there.) It was during the Olympics in Los Angeles. And due to the Olympics, there wasn't a very large audience. The fans that were there, were in awe of him. Everyone seemed to be saying, "I can't believe it's Johnnie Ray." He didn't have any back-up band or group, just a pianist, yet, he sounded great. He had been such a big, big, star in the fifties and I was finally getting to see him in person.

His voice was as good as it had been thirty years before. He was a little heavier around the waist and of course his hair had grayed, but he was in good shape.


The owner of the club, took me to his dressing room and introduced me to Johnnie. He autographed a picture for me, "To my friend, Bill...Your Buddy, Johnnie Ray." I treasure that photo.

Johnnie died at the age of 64, too young an age to die. I don't think he really knew how much he was loved by his fans, and I used to write him, at his home on Marmont Avenue, in Hollywood, telling him this. Elvis had said Johnnie had been an inspiration to him and I guess this is where Elvis picked up on "shaking his legs" and body on stage, at the beginning of his career in 1956. Elvis's first Las Vegas appearance had been a flop. He left the Casino where he was appearing and went to the Casino where Johnnie was having a smashing success.

In the early sixties, I had the opportunity to book him in Flint at The Poodle Lounge, (through General Artists Corporation in Chicago), New Year's Eve for $5,000. But, he backed out at the last minute stating he never wanted to appear in any club in Michigan again, due to the problems he had had in Detroit, many years earlier. (I often wondered if he knew his arrest, showing his sexuality, had encouraged many others to come out of the closet?) He was a hero to many people. And the Harmonicats, which were booked to replace Johnnie at the Poodle Lounge, couldn't compare with Johnnie Ray, although they did attract a large audience.

The only contemporary actors who could portray Johnnie on the screen (in my opinion) would be either Leonardo DiCaprio or Kevin Bacon. I spoke with Leonardo's step-mother, Peggy, (prior to TITANIC), and she said, "They didn't want Leo to do anymore screen bios." The two he had made were flops,"Total Eclipse," and "The Basketball Diaries." I wondered why...."they" were making decisions for Leo? Then recently he won a Best Actor Award at the Golden Globes for portraying......Howard Hughes and another bio is in the works. That's Hollywood!

(link:the-gossip-columnist-10.blogspot.com) The IMA auditorium in Flint

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