Thursday, December 28, 2017

Jackie Green & the Five Spirits of Rhythm, "Alabamy Bound"

I recently ran across a soundie with an Alabama connection. 

What's a "soundie", you ask? Well, according to Wikipedia, soundies were  "three-minute American musical 16mm films, produced in New York CityChicago, and Hollywood, between 1940 and 1946, each containing a song, dance and/or band or orchestral number." They were shot live and distributed around the country for showings on coin-operated film jukeboxes in nightclubs, bars, restaurants, factory employee lounges and similar spaces. In other words, they were an early form of what we call music videos. A similar performance technology, telescriptions, was used from 1950 until 1952.

The soundie I have in mind is a 1941 recording of "Alabamy Bound", which features the 1924 Tin Pan Alley song by that title. Music for the tune was written by Ray Henderson and lyrics by Buddy DeSylva and Bud Green. All three of those men were highly successful in popular music for decades beyond their collaboration on "Alabamy Bound."

Their song was first recorded in 1924 by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Since then numerous other groups and individuals have put their spin on it. Some surprising singers include Dean Martin and Bobby Darin. Bing Crosby recorded it twice, first in 1957 and again in 1975 on his album A Southern Memoir that also includes "Stars Fell on Alabama". Al Jolson and Ray Charles also recorded it. The song appears in various films, as noted in the Wikipedia entry, including Woody Allen's 1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo, where it's sung by actor Jeff Daniels. 

Most relevant to our "soundie" is another popular performer of the 20th century, singer, actor, comedian, etc., Eddie CantorThe singer in the soundie is a Cantor impersonator named Jackie Greene. Cantor himself performed the song a cappella in the 1944 film Show Business

Beyond his appearance in this film, I've been able to learn almost nothing about Greene. He did appear as Eddie Cantor in the Broadway musical "You'll See Stars." The show lasted 5 days, December 29, 1942 through January 2, 1943 at Maxine Elliott's Theatre in New York City. The show was essentially a gimmick revue in which other actors played performing stars of the day such as George Jessel, the Marx Brothers, Cantor, etc. 

The 1941 soundie opens aboard the Santa Fe Special train. Greene begins the song in the lounge car among various passengers appreciatively tapping along. Then the instrumental break features a long sequence in which four of the Five Spirits of Rhythm do not sing but perform stereotypical bits as train porters shining shoes. Then another lengthy scene features four young women in a sleeping car showing off their long, bare legs. The short film ends with Greene singing and surrounded by all Five Spirits of Rhythm.

The Spirits of Rhythm was a jazz string band active for about a decade beginning in the early 1930's. The number of members varied, but the five in this soundie are playing on the soundtrack. Unfortunately, we do not get to see them play. Guitarist Teddy Bunn was a member at this time.

This soundie was produced by Sam Coslaw and directed by Dudley Murphy. The two men were both active in the film industry for several decades. Coslaw was also a well-known singer and songwriter in the early years of his career. 

You can find videos of "Alabamy Bound" performed by an incredible number of musical artists here. And don't let those heebie jeebies be hangin' round!

Sleeping berths aboard the train are mentioned in the song's lyrics and are thus perfect spots for several shots of bare female legs. 

The real Eddie Cantor [1892-1964]

Source: Wikipedia

Alabamy Bound

I'm Alabamy bound
There'll be no Heebie Jeebies hangin' 'round
Just gave the meanest ticket man on earth
All I'm worth, to put my tootsies in an upper berth
Just hear that choo choo sound
I know that soon I'm gonna cover ground
I'm gonna holler, so the world will know
Here I go, I'm Alabamy bound

Just hear that choo choo sound
I know that soon I'm gonna cover ground
I'm gonna holler, so the world will know
Here I go, I'm Alabamy bound
I'm Alabamy bound

Source: LyricWiki 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The EOA & Yours Truly

The Encyclopedia of Alabama defines itself as "a free, online reference resource on Alabama’s history, culture, geography, and natural environment." The EOA has been around for some years now, and contains numerous articles related to the state. I've been able to write a few of those articles, and here's a list.

All but one of these pertain more or less to the state's medical history. 

  1. Lloyd Noland

    Physician Lloyd Noland (1880-1949) served with Alabamian general William C. Gorgas in the Panama Canal...
  2. Cornelius Nathaniel Dorsette

    Cornelius N. Dorsette (1852?-1897) is often identified as the first licensed or certified black physician...
  3. Halle Tanner Dillon

    Halle Tanner Dillon (1864-1901) was an African American physician who became the first woman certified to practice medicine in Alabama.
  4. Southern Research Institute

    Established in 1944 as the first independent scientific research center in the Southeast, the Southern...
  5. Octavus Roy Cohen

    Octavus Roy Cohen (1891-1959) was a journalist and prolific author of fiction who published more than...
  1. Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA)

    Organized in 1847, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA) became the first statewide...
  2. Graefenberg Medical Institute
    The Graefenberg Medical Institute, founded in 1852 in Dadeville, Tallapoosa County, was the first functioning...
  3. Arthur McKinnon Brown
    Arthur McKinnon (some sources give McKimmon) Brown (1867-1939) was one of the earliest African American...

Birmingham Medical College

Birmingham Medical College (BMC) was a for-profit educational institution that operated in the city from 1894 until 1915.

John Webster Kirklin

John Webster Kirklin (1917-2004) was an important figure in American medical history.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Movies with Alabama Connections: SpaceCamp & Space Warriors

Both of our kids spent a week at Space Camp in Huntsville back in the 1990's, so I've been planning a post on these two films for a while now. I recently watched Space Warriors for the first time, so here we are. I've also seen SpaceCamp, although not in a good while.

SpaceCamp was released on June 6, 1986, advertised as "The Summer's Greatest Adventure". The film cost somewhere north of $18 million and box office was only about half that, no doubt a disappointment to production company ABC Motion Pictures. The film had the bad luck to be released less than six months after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in January. A tie-in novel by Joe Claro was published by Scholastic.

The film was the first feature directed by Harry Winer. The cast includes such then or soon-to-be well known actors as Kate Capshaw [star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, etc., and future Mrs. Steven Spielberg], Lea Thompson [star of Back to the Future and many other films] and Kelly Preston [star of Twins, Waiting to Exhale, etc and future Mrs. John Travolta]. Also appearing are Joaquin Phoenix [as Leaf Phoenix] and veteran actor Tom Skerritt. The music was composed by John Williams of Stars Wars and many other films; the cinematographer was another industry veteran, William A. Fraker

Some filming was done at the Huntsville Space Camp, but the film is set at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Astronaut Capshaw, who has not yet worked on a shuttle mission, is instructor of four teens who come to the camp. Various romantic, robotic and other hijinks ensue in addition to training until the group boards the shuttle Atlantis to experience a routine engine test. A problem that only movie magic can create requires the actual launching of the shuttle. After a visit to a space station to pick up extra oxygen, one of the female campers safely lands the shuttle. 

Space Warriors came out in 2013 and follows two competing Space Camp teams as they vie for a chance to visit the International Space Station. A lively group of young actors play members of the two competing groups. Several veterans also appear in the film including Mira Sorvino and Dermot Mulroney, who play the parents of the precocious Jimmy [Thomas Horn], leader of the Warriors team. 

Jimmy has been denied permission to go to Space Camp. His father is a former astronaut and his lawyer mom worries about disaster in space. So Jimmy comes up with an elaborate scheme to fool his parents and take the spot he has won in a world-wide competition. Josh Lucas plays Col. Roy Manley, a friend of Jimmy's father and the one in charge of the competition.

Another veteran, Danny Glover, plays the Space Camp Commander, who notes in his opening remarks to the competitors that he welcomes them to his home state. The credits for the film declare, "Filmed in Huntsville, AL and at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center." Early in the film "Huntsville, Alabama" is noted onscreen as well and mentioned several times. 

Both of these films are far-fetched, but fun to watch especially for those of us from Alabama. The cast members are appealing and the special effects are well done. Too bad neither film made much of a dent at the box office.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: IMDB

Source: IMDB

A third movie, A Smile as Big as the Moon, was also filmed at Space Camp and released in 2012. The Hallmark film is based on the memoir of the same title by teacher Mike Kersjes and his co-author Joe Layden.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The 1835 "Alabama Waltz"

A standard feature of this blog has been postings about nineteenth and early 20th century songs with some Alabama connection. One example can be found here. I recently ran across the earliest song I've located so far, and here's what little I know about it.

I came across this 1835 composition by Wilhelm Iucho on the Hathi Trust digital site. The piece was published in New York City by William A. Pond & Company at 547 Broadway. After some research I've been able to find only a bit more information about Iucho and nothing about Pond.

One of the few references to Iucho I've found appeared on a web page about Kentucky politician Henry Clay and his wife Lucretia. In her journal Lucretia's great-granddaughter wrote, "Two time-stained pieces of music, The Lexington Grand Waltz and The Ashland Quadrilles, dedicated to Mrs. Henry Clay by Professor Wilhelm Iucho, are tributes to her musical ability." 

The title "Professor" may have been earned or one Iucho bestowed upon himself to upgrade his teaching status to potential patrons or employers. Via I did find him listed as Professor of Music at the Brooklyn Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies in their 1830 catalog. 

Also via Ancestry I found a marriage notice for Iucho. "In Brooklyn, on Tuesday evening, July 26th, by the Rev. Mr. Milnor of New York, Mr. Wilhelm Iucho of Hucho to Miss Julia Ann Baldwin, daughter of the Rev. Isaac Van Doren, all of Brooklyn." The year was 1831. The Rev. Isaac Van Doren was one of the principals of the Brooklyn Collegiate Institute.

"Alabama Waltz" is dedicated to "Miss  Harriet M.(?) Turner from Huntsville, Alabama". I have been unable to find anything about her. I wonder if Iucho met all these ladies in New York.

See below for two examples of other pieces composed by Iucho and dedicated to single women.

Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections

A couple of Iucho's other compositions are below; I found them here. He seems to have dedicated his works to the ladies, often single ones. Perhaps Miss Griffith had family connections with Scotland. "Come Where the Violets Blow," a "Duet for Two Voices" is composed and arranged for a married couple but dedicated to a pair of single ladies. Iucho got a good bit of mileage out of that tune. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Birmingham Photo of the Day (61): Eddie Rickenbacker's Visit

The city of Birmingham has hosted appearances by many famous people over the years. I recently did a blog post on two by John Philip Sousa early in the 20th century. This time up it's Eddie Rickenbacker

The Alabama Archives gives the date of this photograph as sometime in the 1939 to 1943 range. Rickenbacker accepted an offer to lead Eastern Air Lines by its original owner General Motors in 1935. He held that position until 1959 and remained on the board of directors until 1963.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Rickenbacker [1890-1973] won the Distinguished Service Cross eight times in World War I as a flying ace with 26 victories. In 1930 one of those awards was converted to the Medal of Honor. France also awarded Rickenbacker the Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre.  Thus began a life of extraordinary achievement.

After World War I Rickenbacker designed and raced automobiles and served as a military consultant. In the late 1930's he promoted airplanes in both civilian and military spheres by writing two popular comic strips, Ace Drummond and The Hall of Fame of the Air. In February 1941 he survived a near-fatal plane crash, and in October 1942 spent over three weeks adrift in the central Pacific after another crash. He made a trip to China and the USSR in the spring and summer of 1943 on a fact-finding mission. Thus by the time he appeared in Birmingham Rickenbacker was a well-known and popular figure.

Several prominent men joined Rickenbacker at the dais as he spoke to members of the Birmingham Aero Club and individuals from other areas around the state. Governor Frank Dixon was there; he served from 1939 until 1943, so that is the possible date range for the talk. Also present was R.H. "Bob" Wharton, who served as President of the Jefferson County Commission.The arched, sandstone bridge forming an early cloverleaf intersection at U.S. 31 & Lakeshore Drive in Homewood is named after him. George A. Mattison, Jr., was a Birmingham industrialist. Charles E. Oakes was listed in the 1942 Birmingham City Directory [found via] as the President and General Manager of the Birmingham Electric Company. The other dignitaries--James A. Simpson, J.W. Morgan and W.J. Wise-- remain unidentified at the moment.

The Birmingham Aero Club had its beginnings in 1922 as a company by that name founded by Glenn Messer. The firm was not successful, and Messer turned the name over to Steadham Acker. He and others developed the organization that still exists today and is the sponsor of the Wings and Wheels Air Show, one of the longest running aviation events in America. The club was also responsible for early development of what is now the city's Southern Museum of Flight.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Alabama Author: William Chambers Morrow

In 1985 Doubleday published Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural : A Treasury of Spellbinding Tales Old & New, 650 pages of stories, many written by giants of literature ranging from Bram Stoker to Tennessee Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien. Tucked in among these works is "His Unconquerable Enemy" by W.C. Morrow, who just happened to be born in Selma on July 7, 1854. Another of his stories was adapted for the "Young and the Headless" episode of the Monsters TV series broadcast on November 25, 1990, and starring Karen Valentine. "An Original Revenge" appears in The Mammoth Book of Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories published in 1995 by Carroll & Graf. 

Morrow died in 1923. Let's investigate. 

Morrow's Wikipedia entry and his information on the Tellers of Weird Tales site offer some information about his early years in Alabama. Wikipedia's source is a critical essay on Morrow's work in S. T. Joshi's book The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004). Terence Hanley, who maintains the Tellers site, does not give a source for most of his material, although he does quote another book by Joshi on Ambrose Bierce and his remarks about Morrow's writing. I've also done a bit of research in the U.S. Census and elsewhere, so here's the scoop so far.

Wikipedia notes, "Morrow's father was a Baptist minister and the owner of a farm and of a hotel in Mobile, Alabama. The American Civil War meant that the family lost its slaves and by 1876 the young Morrow was running the hotel, having graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham at the age of fifteen." 

Hanley says, "William Chambers Morrow was born on July 7, 1854, in Selma, Alabama, son of a slaveholder. The Civil War and Reconstruction put an end to that of course. In 1870, when the census enumerator found them, Morrow's father and mother were keeping a hotel with their sixteen-year-old son in residence. Morrow graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) at age fifteen and moved to California in 1879. "

Apparently Hanley also relies on the Joshi essay about Morrow. I have not found the family in the 1860 U.S. Census, but I did locate them in the 1870 one. Father William Chambers Morrow and wife Martha are included, as well as daughter Georgia (20), W.C., Jr. (16) and younger sister Dozella (7). The occupation of Morrow's father was given as "Hotel Keeper"; the mother was "Keeping Hotel." They were living in the town of Evergreen in Conecuh County. 

Via I found Morrow and his father listed in Mobile city directories for 1875 and 1876. The father was Manager of the Gulf City Hotel; his son was the "Proprietor". Both lived at the hotel. So far I have not found the name of the hotel in Evergreen or anything about the Gulf City Hotel in Mobile except it's listing in the 1878 city directory which placed it at the southeast corner of Water and Conti.

 In addition, I've found nothing about Morrow's time at Howard College, which was incorporated in Marion in 1841 by the Alabama Baptist State Convention. The college did not move to East Lake in Birmingham until 1881. If the elder Morrow had indeed been/remained a Baptist minister, he may well have sent his son to Howard.

Morrow apparently left Alabama behind for good in 1879 and moved to California. Why the move there and how he began writing remain mysteries, but from the 1880's until about 1908 he published a number of stories. Listed below are those pieces currently included in the FictionMags Index. Some of his tales and novels were published in newspapers, including William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. 

Many of Morrow's short stories are science fiction or horror. One of his best-known tales is "The Surgeon's Apprentice" (1887), later published as "The Monster-Maker" in his collection The Ape, the Idiot and Other People (1897). A 2000 collection of Morrow's horror and science fiction stories is The Monster Maker and Other Stories. The title story tells of a doctor/mad scientist who has a patient wishing to die. The doctor removes the patient's head and then keeps his body alive. His stories "Over an Absinthe Bottle" [p. 473-4] and "His Unconquerable Enemy" [p. 628-629] are discussed in Jess Nevins' Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (2005).

Morrow also published several novels and other works. His first novel, Blood Money, came out in 1882. The work is based on a land title dispute that took place in May 1880 on a farm in the San Joaquin Valley near Hanford, California. A clash between settlers and a U.S. Marshall and others representing the Southern Pacific Railroad resulted in seven deaths. The incident, known as the Mussel Slough Tragedy, later became the basis for Frank Norris' novel The Octopus (1901) and May Merrill Miller's novel First the Blade (1938). Ironically, Morrow began work in public relations for the Southern Pacific Railroad almost a decade later. 

His suspense novel A Strange Confession appeared in the Californian newspaper in 1880 and 1881 but has not been reprinted. Much later he published two adventure novels, A Man; His Mark (1900) and Lentala of the South Seas (1908). He also wrote some non-fiction, such as Bohemian Paris of Today (1900), from "notes by Edouard Cucuel", and a short travel booklet, Roads Around Paso Robles (1904). In 1889 he drew on his youthful experience for a 32-page pamphlet, Souvenir of the Hotel Del Monte, Monterey, California. A history of that hotel can be found here.

Morrow seems not to have published anything after 1908. Almost a decade earlier he had begun to teach writing. The Tellers of Weird Tales site notes

"Ambrose Bierce mentioned his friend W.C. Morrow in an essay entitled "To Train a Writer" from 1899. Bierce observed that "Mr. W.C. Morrow, the author of 'The Ape, the Idiot and Other People,' a book of admirable stories, is setting up a school to teach the art of writing. If he can teach his pupils to write half as well as he can write himself he may be called successful." (Quoted in Ambrose Bierce, A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (1998)."

What Morrow did for the remaining years of his life is unknown. He died on April 3, 1923, in Ojai, Ventura County, California. In 1881 he had married Lydia H. Houghton; she is listed with him in the 1920 U.S.Census. The couple is said to have had a child that was either stillborn or died in infancy and no other children. 

Various other questions about Morrow remain to be investigated. Where is he buried? What happened to his wife and his parents and siblings back in Alabama? Did he ever return to his home state before he died? Perhaps one day a fuller biography will be written. 

Morrow lived and worked in San Francisco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at a thriving time for the city's literary scene. Majors writers such as Bret Harte, Jack London and Frank Norris as well as many lesser known authors plied their trade alongside Morrow. And this group, which preceded the San Francisco Renaissance and west coast Beat writers in the city by many decades, had an Alabama connection.  

Source: Wikipedia

Frontispiece to A Man: His Mark

Artwork by Elenore Plaisted Abbott, a well-known book illustrator and painter of the time

William Chambers Morrow listing at the FictionMags Index

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Guy Morton, the "Alabama Blossom"

I recently did a post on the town of Joppa, the hometown of major league baseball pitcher Jack Lively. He played for the Detroit Tigers in the 1911 season. His son Buddy played for the Cincinnati Reds for several years during the late 1940's.

In researching Lively, I came across another father-son pair of major league players, Guy Morton, the "Alabama Blossom", and his son Guy, Jr. The state has produced numerous professional baseball players over the years, and I plan to return to this topic in the future.

The elder Morton was born in Vernon on June 1, 1893. I found the family in Vernon in the 1900 U.S. Census via indexed as "Mortin". No father was listed, so he was either deceased or otherwise absent. Mother Mary and 12 others made up the household. Ten of these individuals are Mary's sons and daughters. Two are grandchildren--the sons of daughter Eliza Guin. At 7, Guy is the youngest child. 

A lengthy biography of Morton has been written by Chris Rainey for the Society for American Baseball Research. He notes that Morton's father was Dr. Martin W. Morton, son of a doctor, who died a few days before Guy's birth. According to Rainey, Guy was playing baseball for the Columbus team in the Cotton States League in 1913. He ended that season with a 5-5 pitching record, and a scout recommended him to the major league Cleveland Naps (later Indians) team. 

In the spring of 1914 he played in the Eastern Association, but was soon called up to Cleveland and pitched his first game on June 20, 1914. His final game in the majors came ten years later, on June 6, 1924. At the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, Guy and his wife Edna were living in Vernon. Guy's occupation was listed as "baseball player." Guy and Edna had married the previous year in Birmingham.

Morton ended his major league career with a 98-88 record and 830 strikeouts. Rainey's biography gives many career highlights, including pitching against Babe Ruth in 1917. He won ten games in four of his seasons pitching. The Indians sold his contract in 1924, and he played seven more seasons in the minor leagues, including five in the Southern Association for teams in Memphis, Mobile and Birmingham. 

Morton and his wife moved to Sheffield where he went to work on the Wilson Lake Dam in the TVA system. He pitched several years on semi-pro teams in Florence and on the TVA team until his death by heart attack on October 18, 1934. He is buried in Sheffield; his gravestone notes his 2002 induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and declares that he was "Alabama's First Great Major League Pitcher." In 2001 he was named to the greatest 100 Cleveland Indians list. 

Many major league baseball players have had nicknames over the years. Rainey does not give the source of Morton's "Alabama Blossom" nickname; perhaps Morton was a rare player from Alabama at the time. 

The couple had one child, Guy Morton, Jr., who was born in Tuscaloosa on November 4, 1930. More about "Moose" Morton is below. 

Guy Morton

Guy Morton

Source: Wikipedia

Guy "Moose" Morton, Jr.

Source: Baseball Reference  

After his father died, the Guy, Jr.'s mother moved to Tuscaloosa to work in a University of Alabama museum, and he was sent to live with grandparents in Mississippi. His mother married Vaughn Shirley when Guy, Jr., was 11; his stepfather owned a grocery story in Mobile. The young Morton played for Murphy High School for two years, but graduated from Tuscaloosa High School in 1948 after his stepfather bought a grocery store in that city.

Moose started college at the University of Alabama on a scholarship, but tryouts led him eventually to a contract with the Boston Red Sox after his freshman year. He played a number of years in the minors as a catcher. He was called up by the Red Sox for one game, on September 17, 1954; he had one at bat and no hits.

After his baseball career ended, Moose coached youth teams in Alabama and Ohio where he eventually moved. He became a Baptist minister and served for many years; he died on May 11, 2014. Bill Nowlin has written an extensive biography for the Society for American Baseball Research. "Moose" is included in Richard Tellis' 1998 book, Once Around the Bases: Bittersweet Memories of Only One Game in the Majors (pp. 166-176). See the Nowlin link and the obituary link for more about his many achievements on and off the baseball diamond.