If memory serves me (and very often it doesn’t!) I remember FDR. If you don’t know who that was, you’ve gotta be very young or historically unaware. As kindergarteners we were ushered out of the classroom to stand on the sidewalk because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s caravan was passing by. I even recall doing as I was told – to clap and cheer. I brought other memories to the movie “Hyde Park on the Hudson.” There were Roosevelt’s fireside chats that my folks never missed. Also there was great excitement when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the first British rulers to visit the U.S.A., joined FDR for a “typical” American weekend, complete with hot dogs. In “Hyde Park,” actor Bill Murray gets some of FDR’s charm. He’s so good at the physicality of the part, pulling himself along with his hands, or greeting the day with his famous chin up and that cigar-holder (I guess no one told FDR that smoking was bad for his health!). It was a different time in the late thirties – so different that the press played down the president’s disability and his serial adulteries were a blank page (my parents would have been thoroughly shocked). “Hyde Park on the Hudson” gives us a sense of that very different era – better than today when so many unimportant things intrude and keep more important things from being accomplished. This film forces one to peer into bedrooms so we get to watch FDR and Cousin Daisy fooling around. Frankly, I don’t need to see all that. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of the towering figures of the 20th century, but his accomplishments scarcely register in this amorphous movie. So-o the two cousins, Franklin and Daisy, did more than kiss. So what?
Do you ever find it hard to understand yourself? I do and here’s a good example. As readers of “In Tune…!” know, I prefer romance, music, songs, and dance. My favorite category is escapist entertainment. So why did I watch every episode of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”? It’s a gritty, oftentimes terrifying, cringe-worthy program. There are so many shocking scenes. The story is set in Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era and it follows the life and times of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson expertly played by Steve Buscemi. Nucky’s a political man who rose to power acquiring mobster friends, historical acquaintances, and an increasing interest from the federal government along the way. Atlantic City is one of the show’s stars as it progresses from a quaint seaside town to a gambling mecca where anything can be obtained and anything goes. The HBO drama highlights its descent from legitimate resort town to a Prohibition counterpart driven by greed that comes from powerful men. “Boardwalk Empire” takes the viewer mercilessly to the beginning of American gangsters during that era. The raw storytelling is filled with shocking and uncomfortable moments. It isn’t shy about knocking off characters. I had to avert my eyes at more than one episode. Especially the last one this season, since it was one long bloodbath. So-o why did I watch it every week? Am I a glutton for punishment? Well, not really. I had an added interest in “Boardwalk Empire” because my favorite bandleader, Vince Giordano, and his Nighthawks provided much of the music. Vince is an expert when it comes to music of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Wisely, the creators of the program engaged him and his wonderful group. Vince and the Nighthawks did the accompaniment to vintage songs such as “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” “What’ll I Do,” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” Of course, I found myself wishing for more of Vince’s music and less bloodshed. No one forced me to watch all three seasons and even to look forward to the fourth. But one thing I know – not to watch it before I go to sleep. I don’t enjoy nightmares. HBO does repeat each episode at earlier hours. I guess I’ll have to play some soothing music at bedtime.
If we were playing a game of word association and I said the name “Carnegie,” most folks would reply, “Hall.” Not me. I would say “Dale.” Dale Carnegie? Yes, the expert on salesmanship and public speaking. In my early years I was an explorer executive for the Boy Scouts – no kidding. Well, the Boy Scouts sent me to one week of classes that taught public speaking – and those Dale Carnegie classes were most enjoyable and I did learn a lot. Now, here’s the surprise: Dale Carnegie, the author of the perennial best-seller “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (1936), was born Dale Carnagay on a Missouri farm in 1888. A salesman and failed actor, he moved to New York and began teaching public speaking. In time he opened his office in the Carnegie Hall building and the teacher adopted its name. Today Dale Carnegie training programs offer courses in 25 languages and in 80 countries. His 1936 classic has sold more than 15 million copies, according to my research. But wait, Dale Carnegie was not the only famous person believed to have taken the name of the industrialist. Andrew Carnegie, who financed the construction of Carnegie Hall, had a mansion on 91st Street and Fifth Avenue which is now the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. And here’s another Carnegie: Henrietta Kanengeiser, who moved to New York from Vienna and became one of the country’s foremost fashion designers in the 1930s and 40s, took the name Hattie Carnegie apparently after Andrew, according to the Encyclopedia of New York City. Hattie Carnegie and Dale Carnegie were their businesses’ own best advertisements. So-o what’s in a name? Apparently something. How does “June Carnegie” sound? No, I prefer “Sturz.”
There was a time when Michael Feinstein was simply a very popular singer/pianist. One had to make reservations well in advance to enjoy his performances at a posh restaurant. Then he graduated to performing at venues like Carnegie Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center. His Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein’s at the Regency, was too pricey for the average person, so I never went to see the cabaret entrepreneur there. Of course, I never will because it closed last month. Not to worry about the multi-talented showman because one of his many new endeavors is to be the lead conductor of the Pasadena Pops (succeeding Marvin Hamlisch, who died unexpectedly on Aug. 6). A dedicated proponent of the Great American Songbook, Feinstein got his start as a very young man cataloging Ira Gershwin’s extensive collection. That is why the music archivist is well-qualified to write a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book entitled, “The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs.” It’s a hefty volume and includes a bonus CD in a vinyl flap on the inside book cover, offering Feinstein’s voice and piano renditions of, you guessed it, 12 Gershwin songs. In addition, there are numerous photographs and antique sheet music covers (I myself own many of those). From Feinstein’s book, I learned that both Gershwin brothers painted as a hobby and the large book includes their reproduced paintings and drawings. It’s lavishly filled with bright colors and wordy written material. Knowing about this book, it’s easy to feel Michael Feinstein’s genuine passion for the Gershwins’ songs. Clearly Feinstein is a showman and I’d rather hear him since and play those wonderful timeless songs than read about them. In fact, I too enjoy playing and singing them.
You can email June Sturz at email@example.com.