Eli's Corner

Just One More -- P. G. Wodehouse's Grave


This has absolutely nothing to do with Mad Magazine, or for that matter, with magazine gag cartooning.

While I was searching through my son's blog, Literary Kicks (literarykicks.com, or litkicks.com) for my review of the biography of Mad Magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee, I came across another article I wrote for Litkicks back in 2005. It's about the famed British humorist, P. G. Wodehouse. I'd like to share it with you, so I'm putting it into Eli's Corner and here it is:

Wodehouse in Remsenburg

Eli Stein • September 22nd, 2005

 

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the British author of cultishly-popular humorous novels, short stories and plays (Jeeves and Bertie Wooster are probably his most famous fictional creations, and he worked on musicals with composers like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern) became unexpectedly controversial at the height of his popularity.

He was residing in France in 1940 when the Nazis over-ran the country. As a British citizen, he was interred as an enemy alien. The Nazis knew they had a prize catch, however, for Wodehouse was famous throughout the world, and they were anxious to use him for propaganda purposes. They transferred him to a prison in Berlin and made him an offer: he would be treated decently if he would just make a few pro-German radio broadcasts. He agreed to do so -- to save his skin, he would later say -- he would also claim that they were harmless broadcasts in which he simply joked about his imprisonment.

But he didn't anticipate the repercussions. After the war, the good-natured comic author was branded as a traitor and collaborator by most Britons. He was never actually tried for treason, but in effect he was "drummed out" of his native land.

He came to the U.S., eventually settling in Remsenburg, Long Island, where he resumed his interrupted literary output. He became a U.S. citizen in 1956 and was eventually forgiven and even knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975. He died in 1975 at the age of 94 and was buried in Remsenburg.

Why this history lesson? Well, my daughter and I were recently visiting the Hamptons, near Remsenburg, and decided we had to take time out to pay a respectful pilgrimage to P.G.'s gravesite.

Easier said than done. If you research it on the internet, you will learn that Wodehouse is buried in the "Historic Remsenburg Cemetery", and you will even find a photograph of his gravestone. Remsenburg is a small (but very affluent) town near the Hamptons -- we figured it would be a cinch to find the gravesite.

Three of us set out to do so -- me, my wife and our daughter -- one day this past July. Arriving in Remsenburg, we drove around the largely residential community for a short time, hoping to get lucky. We sighted no cemeteries and finally decided to ask directions at the Remsenburg Post Office. An elderly woman was just leaving the Post Office, carrying her mail -- obviously a local resident -- so we asked her for help (remember, Wodehouse was Remsenburg's most famous resident for many years). She said, oh, sure, he's buried in the "historic cemetery" and we could walk there from the Post Office. She gave us directions, we thanked her profusely and walked off, relieved that our quest would be over so easily.

In a few minutes we arrived at the cemetery, and, believe me, it was "historic". First of all, it was tiny, about the size of my living room/dining room area. And second, every stone there looked like it was from the Revolutionary War era. With one glance, it was obvious that P.G.'s gravestone was not going to be found there.

Dejected, we searched around the immediate area carefully, walking a few blocks in each direction to make sure we weren't missing anything. Then, back to the Post Office.

This time we went inside and spoke to the clerk (no other customers were around). She called her boss in from the back for additional help. They both agreed that Wodehouse HAD to be in the "historic cemetery". We assured them that he was not there and wondered if there were other cemeteries in the area. They couldn't think of any, but referred us to a community center across the street, where people might be able to help us. After more thank you's, we went across the street where we were lucky enough to find five people of various ages who were planning an upcoming social event. After we explained our quest to them, they went through the "historic cemetery" routine with us. When we explained that we just came from there, they began to seriously try to locate other cemeteries in town, using ancient wall maps that were hanging in the room.

Gathering all the info we could from the maps, and with many thanks, we continued on our way. To make a long story just a little shorter, in the end we couldn't locate any of the cemeteries that were indicated on those old wall maps -- don't know what happened to them, but they simply weren't where they were supposed to be.

By this time, we were getting antsy -- who needs this aggravation, it's only a gravesite! But a quest is a quest.

What we decided to do was drive out of town slowly, keeping a sharp lookout for anything that might hide a cemetery. We were at the point of giving up in defeat, when we passed a church building we hadn't seen before, the Remsenburg Community Church. With hope all but gone, we walked behind the building and saw gravestones! Not just a few, but many, and lots of new ones, at that. The graveyard extended in a thin line behind the church and went back a long way. What the heck, we all agreed, let's give it a try. Slowly we made our way back, checking stone after stone. Toward the rear of the grounds, there it was -- P.G.'s gravestone.

We spent about fifteen minutes at the site (big photo opportunity) and then happily returned to our car, our Wodehouse pilgrimage successfully completed.

 
5 Responses to "Wodehouse in Remsenburg"

 

by Billectric on Thursday, September 22, 2005 12:11 pm

Enjoyed this!Some interesting history topped off with an exciting modern-day search/adventure. Nice report.I was caught up in the suspense of wondering if you would find the grave. Glad you did!It's hard to know what one would do if captured by an enemy and ordered to say things on film. One likes to believe they would blink their eyes in Morse code, like Jeremiah Denton did when he was a prisoner of war in Viet Nam, spelling out "torture" when he was made to speak on camera - but damn it, I don't even know Morse code.

 

by brooklyn on Thursday, September 22, 2005 09:54 pm

more about wodehouseThanks, Eli. One reason I find this story amusing is that everybody was sure he was buried in the Historical Cemetery. I've written a bunch about P. G. Wodehouse on LitKicks ... it's my personal theory that his stuff can be read as more subversive and multi-layered than is commonly thought. I really dislike the whole "Ask Jeeves" trivialization of Wodehouse's sharp sense of humor. It's similar to the cliche that Sherlock Holmes has become -- Holmes is another character written with a lot more depth than his eventual cartoon image would show. My favorite twist on the Jeeves mystique is the film Remains of the Day. Which would lead into another question: if this is Bertie Wooster's grave, where would Jeeves be found?

 

by Stokey on Sunday, September 25, 2005 03:01 pm

Beech from Wodehouse's Blandings Castle is actually a better butler than Jeeves, I think. He drinks, gambles, doesn't like aristocrats; he only rescues Lord Emsworth from scrapes because that's his job.

 

by john shirley on Wednesday, October 16, 2013 03:56 pm

Am a fan of Wodehouse. How can these rather silly people in the town he's buried in be so misdirected? Wodehouse is probably their most, or one of their most, famous "residents"...Interesting piece...

 

by Niraj on Thursday, September 4, 2014 02:18 pm

Thanks for this - My entire family (well almost) loves Plum's work! I recently moved to Long Island and my dad is coming to visit. We thank you for doing the ground work and writing about it as it will make our pilgrimage easier

 

 

 
 





The Decline and Fall of Mad Magazine (continued)


My son, Marc Eliot Stein (also known by his pen name of Levi Asher), has a blog that will soon be celebrating its 30th anniversary. It's called Literary Kicks (literarykicks.com, or litkicks.com). A few years ago, he asked me to review a new book by Mary-Lou Weisman, a biography of Mad cartoonist emeritus Al Jaffee, entitled "Al Jaffee's Mad Life". My son posted the review on litkicks on November 11, 2010 -- and here it is:

Al Jaffee's Mad, Sad Life

Eli Stein • November 11th, 2010

 

(Whenever a book about classic cartooning comes in, I ask my father Eli Stein to review it. This time I bought him a copy of the book as a birthday present -- I wanted to keep my own copy -- to help seal the deal, and he came through. Enjoy! -- Levi)

Al Jaffee's Mad Life is Mary-Lou Weisman’s heartfelt biography of her friend of many years, cartoonist Al Jaffee. Jaffee, now 89 years old, is still going strong, still producing his famous “Fold-In” page for MAD magazine and still coming up with “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and other humorous features.

Ms. Weisman devotes about two-thirds of her book to Jaffee’s childhood, roughly from when he was six years old to his high school days. And what a dysfunctional childhood it was! (More about this later). I only bring up this fact because, in choosing to read this book, I was hoping to learn all about Jaffee vis-à-vis the glory days of MAD magazine and William Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder et al.

As Ms. Weisman says:

Due to a coincidence of longevity and talent, Al Jaffee has been with MAD magazine longer than anyone, staff or freelancer. He was there nearly from the beginning. In a sense, he was there before the beginning ... One might even say, at least in retrospect, that given his artistic gift, Al’s mad childhood seems to have led him inevitably to satire and to MAD. For more than 50 years he has spoken to the awkward social outcast and the nerd in every MAD reader.

 

I was slightly disappointed that I had to wait until about page 165 of this 224-page bio for Ms. Weisman to get around to the 1950’s and for MAD magazine to finally make its appearance. But I have to admit that, for me at least, the comparatively few pages devoted to the MAD years were worth the wait. They were enlightening and entertaining.

Aside: My interest in MAD magazine is more than casual. In 1967, as a fledgling magazine gag cartoonist, I submitted an unsolicited two-page spread to MAD. It was fully written but only sketchily laid out. It was a gag idea that I couldn’t adapt to a single-panel magazine cartoon format, but I had the feeling that it would make a pretty good spread for MAD. To my utter amazement, I soon received a letter from Nick Meglin, one of MAD’s editors (his name comes up frequently in the book -- he was one of Al Jaffee’s editors). He said he was interested in the basic concept, and the writing, but wanted to assign it to one of his staff artists to draw. Since I had sent it to them as a complete package, they wanted my permission to do so. I estimated what my chances of success would be if I insisted on drawing the spread myself (absolutely zero), so I agreed. The spread appeared in the October 1968 issue, drawn by Joe Orlando. I was credited as the writer. And that’s how I became one of MAD’s “usual gang of idiots”.

But I digress. I promised to get back to Al Jaffee’s dysfunctional childhood, and the reason the author decided to devote so much of her book to it.

At one point, Ms. Weisman quotes Al Jaffee as saying “I am a reverse immigrant”. Al was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1921. His mother and father were Jewish immigrants to the U.S., both from the same small town, or shtetl, in Lithuania. Al was the oldest of four siblings, all boys and all born in Savannah.

When Al was six years old, his mother inexplicably decided that she had to return to her home town in Lithuania. Her husband, well-established in Savannah, couldn’t agree to that. Mrs. Jaffee left her husband and with the four young children (six years old and under) made the arduous trek back to her old country. She apparently made no plans to ever return to Savannah.

A year passed. Mr. Jaffee suddenly showed up in Lithuania to reclaim his family and bring them back to the U.S. Al’s mother reluctantly agreed and there was another long trek (three weeks or so) to return to America. But the dysfunction continued. The reunited Jaffee family settled in the New York area, but Al’s father was forced to go out of town to find work and he was away most of the time. After another year of this arrangement, Mrs. Jaffee once again decided that she much preferred living in Lithuania. Al was now eight years old. Once again, sans husband and with the four children in tow, she made the long trip back to her beloved home town.

Four more years passed. Once again Al’s father showed up to reclaim his family. This time his wife refused to leave, but agreed that he could go back to America with the three oldest children (Al was 12 years old at this point). She insisted on keeping her youngest son with her. Mr. Jaffee took charge of three of his sons and again traveled back to New York.

Life in America was difficult in 1933 -- the depression was raging. Al found himself being shuffled between relatives in the New York area, under near-poverty conditions and often separated from his siblings. His father tried to scrape out a living as best he could.

Long story short, Al eventually got accepted to the High School of Music and Art in New York, where he befriended Will Elder and Harvey Kurtzman. Both of these future cartoonists figured prominently in the early years of MAD magazine.

Al Jaffee obviously had to do a great deal of adapting, adjusting and assimilating during those incredibly difficult childhood years. He had to come to terms with traumatic events in his life that were absolutely out of his control. I understand why Ms. Weisman focused her biography on that period in his life and I feel she succeeded very well in letting us know some of the influences in his life’s work.

On a sad note, the Jaffee family could never learn for sure what ultimately happened to Al’s mother and brother, but the assumption is that they were both victims of the Nazi holocaust.

“Al Jaffee’s Mad Life” includes plenty of new colorful illustrations by the artist, as well as many reproductions of previously published work.

 
 
7 Responses to "Al Jaffee's Mad, Sad Life"

 

by Gary on Thursday, November 11, 2010 02:28 pm

Great review - it's now on my list of books that I want to read.

 

by Dan on Thursday, November 11, 2010 05:42 pm

Excellent review! I will read the book - was a Mad fan for many years. Levi, you should let your dad write more reviews....

 

by Frank on Thursday, November 11, 2010 07:16 pm

Very informative review that will be appreciated by Mad magazine readers.
It is an interesting human interest story and one I would like to read,

 

by Kelly on Friday, November 12, 2010 08:44 am

Great review. What a bizarre childhood. Can't wait to read the book.

 

by Bill_Ectric on Saturday, November 13, 2010 03:31 pm

I read Mad Magazine for years and Jaffee was one of my favorites. I had forgotten about Mad's phrase, "usual gang of idiots" when referring to their staff. I used to make my own "fold-ins" when I was a kid. Good book review, Eli.
Tell that clod son of yours to let you write for Litkicks more often (remember in Mad, they were always calling someone a "clod"?)

 

by Sharon on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 03:10 am

Thanks for a great review!

 

by Brandt on Monday, March 14, 2011 08:45 pm

Nice article... Al is one of my favorite illustrators and I commemorated his 90th birthday this past weekend with a portrait on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/03/al-jaffee-master-of-fold-in-t...

 

 






The Decline and Fall of Mad Magazine


Everybody in the press and social media has been commenting on the recent announcement of Mad Magazine's projected demise, so why not me? As one of "the usual gang of idiots", I certainly have the credentials to at least make note of this sad turn of events on my blog/archive.

Below is a reprint of my posting, dated August 29, 2006, which told of my brief involvement with Mad. In the next few days, I will reprint another Mad-related posting. Sad news indeed.

Posted by Eli on August 29, 2006 - 2:39am

Gagwriting is one-quarter of the thrill of being a gag cartoonist. The other three quarters are drawing the gag, selling it and finally, seeing it in print. In 1968 I came up with an idea that I couldn't seem to develop into a cartoon, but it occured to me that it could possibly become a pretty good spread in Mad magazine. I roughed out a layout, wrote a lot of copy, and sent it out.

I soon heard from Mad Editor Nick Meglin, who said he was interested in the concept and the writing, but he wanted to farm it out to one of his regular artists to draw. (See my posting about Tom Wesselmann -- the same proposal was made to him by The New Yorker.) I pondered for a while about what leverage I had if I were to insist on doing the artwork myself (absolutely none, I decided), so I said OK to Mr. Meglin's offer.

The two-page spread appeared in the October 1968 issue, illustrated by Joe Orlando. The images below were taken from the reprint of the article in the paperback book Steaming Mad, which appeared years later.

So I got paid the writer's fee instead of the artist's fee, and that's how I became one of Mad's "usual gang of idiots" and a hero to my little kids. mada1068.JPGmadb1068.JPGmadc1068.JPGmadd1068.JPGmade1068.JPGmadf1068.JPGmadg1068.JPGmadh1068.JPG

   






Computer problem


 

It looks like computer problems will delay the start of the next Cartoon Caption Contest for a while.

In the meantime, I'll try to continue to keep posting my published cartoons every few days, as I've been doing all along, to keep my archive going. 

I don't know how long it will take to resolve the problems -- hopefully it will just be a matter of days -- so please keep checking in. The Contest will be back as soon as possible. 






"We All Have To Start Somewhere Department". Case in Point No. 19


Case in point Number 19 in this very irregular feature is . . . me.

In 1946, at the age of 14, I sent a letter to cartoonist Stan MacGovern at the New York Post. The Post in the 1940's was New York City's politically-liberal newspaper, owned and published by Dorothy Schiff, and it had a huge circulation all over town. That's just the opposite of what the Post is today, under the ownership of Australian Rupert Murdoch.

Anyway, one of the Post's exclusive comics at that time was Stan MacGovern's daily and weekend strip "Silly Milly", which ran the humor gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. MacGovern had many "Departments", and in my note to him I suggested an idea for one of his running gags. In my exhuberance, I even sent him a drawing of the gag so he could see how it could work. 

The next thing I knew, the letter, the drawing and my gag appeared in a Silly Milly weekend strip and MacGovern built the rest of that day's strip around it. Here it is, and I guess I should mention at this point that Eli is my middle name and Isidore is my first name!  

Of course, I was delighted to see the strip and, as they say, the rest is history. So thank you, Stan MacGovern, wherever you are.

I usually finish my "We All Have To Start Somewhere Department" with a photo of the cartoonist, so here's one of me at age 14, give or take a year or two.






Medical Economics, November 27, 1995


In the mid-1990's, the monthly publication Medical Economics started running a feature called "Funny Bones", in which the editors showcased the work of some of the cartoonists who had been gracing their pages. As one of their featured contributors, I was invited to be a part of the running series. It would involve them purchasing a bunch of new cartoons from me, and would also include a photo and a short bio. Of course I was glad to accept and my wife took many photos of me at my drawing board (the photo they used is the one that I still show at the top of this archive/blog).

Here is the two-page spread that appeared. Note that the publication removed my signatures from the individual panels. 

Hopefully, you'll be able to zoom in on the pages for easier reading.






A Word of Clarification about Eli's Cartoon Caption Contest . . .


I generally start a new contest every three weeks, and it runs for a one-week period. I announce it with a post headed "Eli's Cartoon Caption Contest No. --".

In the gap between contests, I continue to add to my archive of my own published cartoons (identified with a heading containing the name of the publication and a date or year), and I also sometimes post other cartoon-related items. So far I've archived over 1,500 of my published cartoons.

Lately, several people have been erroneously sending in captions for my archived/published cartoons. I just want to make it clear that the new contest starts only when you see "Eli's Cartoon Caption Contest No. --" at the top of the posting.

I hate to see anybody wasting his or her caption-writing talent! Thanks again to all of you for participating.






Very, very sad . . .


My dear wife, Lila -- the love of my life -- passed away early this morning, after a protracted illness. She died peacefully, at home, 77 years young.

Please indulge me as I go through a mourning process -- I will not be posting any cartoons or Caption Contests for a short period of time.

This is us in happier times:

 






Tom Wesselmann ". . . and Hank"


A short time ago I wrote about Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann and classic country music. That story took place in the early 1950's, when Tom and I served together in the Army. This is going to be another Wesselmann/country music story, but it takes place about forty years later, in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Background: In 1988, when this story starts, Tom Wesselmann was already well-established as one of the pioneer artists in the "Pop Art" movement. Today his pieces regularly sell at the big auction houses for millions of dollars -- they don't command the astronomical prices of an Andy Warhol or a Roy Lichtenstein, but they do respectfully well.

Tom's art studio was in a multi-story building that he had purchased (again, for millions of dollars) in downtown Manhattan. I, on the other hand, was living and working the suburban Long Island life, which meant that by train or car we were about two hours apart. So our friendship was pretty much reduced to telephone conversations or mail.

Once a week, we would monopolize the phone line, sometimes for hours at a time. We would mostly go over our usual topics of classic country music and gag cartooning. As I mentioned many times before, Tom, like me, was a frustrated "New Yorker-cartoonist-wannabe", and he was still sporadically submitting cartoons to The New Yorker. He would do this mostly under a fake name, so as not to get his cartooning aspirations mixed up with his Pop Art celebrity. Anyway, one of the most important things we did in our long phone conversations was to analyze that week's issue of The New Yorker, page by page, with particular emphasis on the cartoons. We always had plenty to say about each cartoon, about each gag, and even about each cartoonist.

As for the country music part of our conversations, Tom, like me, took his country music fun quite seriously. But, unlike me, he had the resources to follow up on his dreams. First of all, he wrote many original country songs, some in a humorous vein, but others that were quite serious. I have the names of about 25 of his original compositions, but I'm sure there were many more. Current biographies of Tom state that he composed more than 400 country songs, but I find it hard to believe that he actually completed that many -- song titles, maybe, but not finished songs.  Second of all, every week Tom hired a small band of musicians, along with a professional singer and recording equipment, so that he could have private recording sessions of his songs right there in his studio.

Okay, that's enough background, now I can get on with my story. During one of our long phone conversations, I casually mentioned to Tom that I had what I thought was a great idea for a new Hank Williams "tribute" song. Over the years since his death in 1953, there have been, literally, hundreds of Hank Williams tribute songs -- if you don't believe me, just check out Wikipedia or Google. And while you're at it you can check on the enormous influence that Hank Williams had on Bob Dylan and a host of other performers. One of my favorite tribute songs is "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?", written and recorded by Waylon Jennings.

I told Tom my song title was ". . . and Hank" (over the phone I just said "dot, dot, dot and Hank", and Tom knew immediately what I meant). And then I told him my concept for the song, which was for each verse to name a whole bunch of legendary country music stars and for each verse to conclude with ". . . and Hank". Tom expressed an interest in the idea, and I told him he could do anything he wanted with it, because I certainly wasn't going to be following it up myself.

Time passed, and I all but forgot about ". . . and Hank". Then during one phone conversation, Tom mentioned that he'd been working on it, and soon after that he sent me a copy of his first hand-written draft, words and music. By the way, all our correspondence was by old-fashioned snail mail -- no email, Twitter, Facebook or texting in those days. Once I had the song in my hands, we spent a lot of time on the phone tweaking the words, with me suggesting ever so slight changes and Tom mostly disagreeing vehemently. Mind you, I'm in no way saying that I had anything to do with the writing of the song. Aside from the title, the basic premise, and the very last line (more about that later), the lyrics and music were all Tom's.

More time passed . . . years, in fact. Then one day I received a small package in the mail from Tom. It contained a cassette tape of Tom singing ". . . and Hank", backed up by his musicians. Later on, he sent me another cassette with a version of ". . . and Hank" performed at one of his recording sessions by a hired singer, a fellow named Duane Gray, I believe (but I'm not positive -- it could very well be someone else).

Here are the two audio cassette tapes. Tom first, then "Duane". There are multiple changes in the lyrics on the "Duane" version, so it must have been recorded a considerable time after Tom's version.

 

 

 

 

And here are Tom's lyrics, pretty much as he originally wrote it:

When I'm asked what country music is,
I reply by running down the rank.
I say it's Waylon, Willie and Liz,
Emmylou. Roy, Kitty . . . and Hank.

They've been stars in countless country shows,
You just can't find better, to be frank.
Such greats as Ernest, Charlie and Rose,
Wilma Lee, Webb, Leftie . . . and Hank.

That just names a few, there's more to go,
Touching men and women we all thank.
Rosalie, Marty, Melba and Moe,
Billy Crash, Tex, Hawkshaw . . . and Hank.

It's a sparkling history that they've forged,
East and West, the Rebels and the Yanks.
Just think of Conway, Tammy and George.
Little Jimmy, Tom T. . . . and Hank.

It's so moving when their voices crack,
Touching men and women we all thank.
Norma Jean, Dolly, Faron and Mac,
Whisperin' Bill, Carl, Stonewall . . . and Hank.

They sing songs of girls down on their luck,
Songs of cheaters and poor souls who drank.
Great songs by Porter, Patsy and Buck,
Gentleman Jim, Jeannie . . . and Hank.

They helped make this place a better world,
Touching men and women we all thank.
Loretta, Ferlin, Skeeter and Merle,
Jerry Lee, Red, Wanda . . . and Hank.

Mickey, Jimmy . . . and Hank.
Bobbie, Bonnie . . . and Hank.
Boxcar, Cowboy . . . and Hank.
Jessie, Eddie . . . and Hank.
All those other Hanks . . . and Hank.

About that last line, "All those other Hanks . . . and Hank.". Tom wrote his first draft with the song just trailing off after "Jessie, Eddie . . . and Hank". In our phone conversations, I kept insisting that an additional last line was called for, mainly because of all the other Hanks that were recording classic country music (Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Hank Locklin, etc.). I felt that the whole point of the song would be lost if it didn't include some respectful acknowledgement of them. Tom was totally against it, but I guess I was very insistent, and he finally came around to my way of thinking.

Tom tried very hard and mostly unsuccessfully to get his songs recorded professionally. I followed closely as he told me of all his contacts with the "Nashville" crowd. There were many such contacts and interviews, both with recording artists and record labels. At one point, I'm pretty sure he told me that someone had optioned a few of his songs, including ". . . and Hank", but in every case the deal fell through.

I also have a CD that Tom sent me much later, entitled "double xx posed". The blurb on the cover says, "DOUBLE XX POSED is a compilation album of original songs written and performed by nationally recognized artists living in New York, Nashville, Kansas City, Scottsdale, and Tucson. The album exposes another creative side of each artist, be it music or art". Tom sings three of his own songs on that album: "Let Someone Hurt Her Once For Me", "He Kept His Secret" and "I Love Doing Texas With You". I don't know too much about the album, or what its distribution might have been.

 

The photo on Tom's audio tape was taken in February 2003, a year before he passed away. The photo below is from July 1986. Me on the left, Tom on the right.

Eli Stein and Tom Wesselmann

The photo of Tom Wesselmann at the very top of this posting was taken on November 1, 2000. Yes, that is Kermit the Frog hanging from Tom's shirt pocket. My wife Lila snapped the picture, and in the year 2000 every photo she shot had to have Kermit the Frog in it. But that's another story, isn't it?

 

All of my previous postings about Tom Wesselmann are easily available. All you have to do to find them is click on my category of "Eli's Corner".






Tom Wesselmann and "Release Me"


As I've written about on this archive/blog in the past, I met Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann in the early 1950's when, as draftees, we served together in the same unit at an army base in the deep South. Tom, who passed away in 2004, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but we hit it off immediately when we discovered our mutual interests in humor, gag cartooning and "classic" country music. This story concerns country music. 

Here's some background information, so that you'll be able to follow what I'm writing about. First of all, Tom's hometown, Cincinnati, is right across the Ohio River from Covington, Kentucky, where there was a very popular and powerful radio station, WCKY (CKY = Covington, Kentucky). WCKY served up country music to a good portion of the U.S.A. -- I could even pick it up at night in Brooklyn.  The station is still on the air, but with a completely different format. So Tom grew up very well-versed in the country music genre, much more than I was. But I found country music fun to listen to, was anxious to learn, and Tom taught me well.

By "classic" country music, by the way, I'm talking about the King, Hank Williams (not his son, Hank Williams, Jr.) and other legendary performers such as Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Hank Thompson, Faron Young and Marty Robbins, to name just a few.

In those days, country music was going through a phase of "sequel" songs. Example: Hank Thompson came out with an extremely popular song called "The Wild Side of Life", in which he lamented that "I didn't know God made honky tonk angels". Before long, Kitty Wells recorded "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", which went viral, as we would say today. That megahit was the main reason why Kitty Wells eventually became known as "The Queen of Country Music". Another example: A hit song by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Huskey, "A Dear John Letter", created the sequel "Dear Joan" (sung by Jack Cardwell) and still further, another sequel, "Forgive Me John" (sung by Shepard and Huskey again). So the country music scene at that time was being flooded with sequels.

One more bit of background material before I get to my story: At that particular time, all the Hollywood studios were fighting off the juggernaut of Television -- and they were hanging in there by re-releasing their old hit movies. Not re-making them, just re-releasing them. So a first-run movie in those days could easily have been an "M-G-M re-release" or a "Paramount re-release", and so forth.

That's about it for background information.

In the early 1950's, country music star Ray Price came out with a wildly popular song called "Release Me". It was a classic that was all over the radio stations. It was also a crossover hit that has lasted to this day. You can still hear many versions of it today. Tom and I enjoyed making fun of it. I particularly loved the ingenuity of the rhymes in the song. Here are some of the lyrics:

"Please release me, let me go.

I don't love you any more.

To live together is a sin.

Release me and let me love again.

I have found a new love, dear--

and I'll always want her near.

Her lips are warm while yours are cold.

Release me, darling, let me go."

(Well, at least "near" and "dear" rhymed)

But I digress. At some point Tom got a furlough approved and took off for a week. When he returned and wanted to know what was new, I excitedly told him that the radio stations were all playing a sequel to "Release Me", and that it was called, naturally, "Re-Release Me". I told him that in the sequel the man and woman had gotten together again . . . but it didn't work out . . . again . . . and now the guy wanted out . . . again. I said that I had heard the sequel so often on the radio that I already knew some of the words. And I sang a verse to him (I was well-prepared -- I had written my phony verse during the week and had it memorized).

It went like this (to the tune of "Release Me"):

"Re-release me just once more --

Like you did that time before.

To stay together isn't right.

Re-release me and set me free tonight." 

Tom's reaction was incredulity at first. Then he listened attentively to my lyrics, laughed appreciatively, nodded his head and said, "Yep, that sounds just stupid enough." 

He had bought it! The whole shebang! It was only the next day, when he wondered why he wasn't hearing the song being played on the radio, that I confessed.

You can read more about Tom Wesselmann and me, and also about his brief career as a gag cartoonist, by checking out my previous postings about him. I've done a few over the years and you'll find them all under the category of "Eli's Corner".

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