Once a week I hike to the Starlight Ballroom in Nutley. It’s not an easy drive but I do it happily because I become Ginger Rogers for a day. Even though there are not too many Fred Astaires available, I manage to fully enjoy the music and dancing. Many of the songs played by DJ Peter Collins are arguably by the most important popular figure of the 20th Century. If I include the fact that the singer and film actor grew up on the streets of Hoboken I’m sure you’ll know that I’m referring to Frank Sinatra. Who knew that the skinny kid would grow up to define the classic American Songbook for decades with verve and panache! One of my dancing partners at the ballroom gave me a special issue from “The Inquirer” about “Ole Blue Eyes” and, wow, if true, Frankie Boy did indeed do it “his way.” He was born in 1916 and lived to 1998 and I mean really lived. He found unprecedented success as a solo artist followed by more success as an actor. In 1985 Sinatra was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan so I prefer to forget the booze, the broads, the bullying, and brawls, and simply enjoy the great music and films he left us. Francis Albert Sinatra is an American icon, a one-of-a-kind talent.
Here’s a surprise. As far back as 1973 there was a sitcom character that predated Angelina Jolie’s eye-opening news about her breast cancer. If you are of a certain age you might remember that the groundbreaking “All in the Family” television series included a host of social issues such as racism, sexuality, and life and death. One of the four leading characters in that sitcom found a lump in her breast. In the 1970s breast cancer was not talked about but was surprisingly addressed by the wonderful Edith Bunker, the “dingbat” wife of blue-collar bigot Archie Bunker. Played by an accomplished theater actress, Jean Stapleton, she gave her character a high-pitched voice and a penchant for malapropisms, but she was lovable and well-meaning with decent ways. Edith Bunker became a symbol of emergent feminism in American pop culture. Jean Stapleton, who died last month, was a great actress and a wonderful lady by all accounts. “All in the Family” was one of the most popular shows in the ‘70s. It was set in a well-worn home in Queens, the home of Archie Bunker, whose attitude toward anyone not exactly like him was condescending, smug, and demonstrably foolish. Archie, played memorably by Carroll O’Connor, bullied his wife, Edith, patronized his daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers), and infuriated and was infuriated by his live-in liberal son-in-law, Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner), whom he not so affectionately called “Meathead.” The lyrics of the song at the beginning of each episode included “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great, those were the days.” If you’re wondering what a LaSalle is, it’s a car built by General Motors in the 1940s. Currently I’ve been enjoying the television reruns of “All in the Family.” You can catch it on WEtv – that’s channel 42 in Bayonne. It’s far better than many of today’s situation comedies.
Like Irving Berlin, I love a piano (just like his song!) I never lived in a home without one. My mom worked her way through Columbia Dental School playing the piano including playing for silent films. For my sweet sixteen” birthday my folks gave me a small baby grand and that resulted in there being two pianos in our not-very-large living room, my mom’s upright and my wonderful present. That same piano is still with me. Wherever I’ve lived I always found room for my Hardman Peck. So, quite naturally, I was pleased to learn that last month 88 pianos were placed outdoors throughout all five boroughs in New York City. This is the third consecutive year of “Sing for Hope” pianos. They were placed in squares, plazas, parks, and other sites throughout the city, each painted and decorated by an artist. Every piano had a volunteer team of “piano buddies” who watched over them and anyone who wished to was invited to sit down and tinkle the ivories. Did I? What do you think! So there you have it, music soothing the savage breast over the ubiquitous sirens of the Big Apple, sparking a bit of magic since pianos are the most helpful of all instruments to pour out thoughts and harmonic adventures. Whenever I pass a piano, if it is not locked up, I don’t hesitate to give it a go. I almost feel as if it is saying “Play me, I’m yours.” I certainly feel that New York City does the coolest things. It’s my kind of town, with apologies to Chicago, for those who know their song lyrics.
You can e-mail June Sturz at firstname.lastname@example.org