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This article was prepared for the August 8, 2001 edition of U.S. 1

Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Between The Lines

U.S. 1 doesn’t often get into the party business, but

once a year we make an exception to toast the contributors to our

annual Summer Fiction issue. The writers — who contributed poems

and short stories — have all been invited. Now we turn to you

— the readers.

Please join us after work on Tuesday, August 14, at Micawber Books

at 114 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. We will be there from

5 to 7:30 and you are welcome to join us for all or part of the

evening.

We will have refreshments, introductions of the writers, and some

selected readings.

Some readers may be especially interested in Micawber Books itself.

As the New York Times reported on July 23, in a feature story about

the novelist Larry McMurtry and his burgeoning second hand bookstore

in a tiny Texas town, second hand books are a dwindling portion of

the book market. People come from far and wide to check out McMurtry’s

huge store, called Booked Up, in Archer City, population 1,748, which

happens to be his hometown.

Our readers need travel no further than Nassau Street to check out

one of the few remaining troves of used books. Micawber has an entire

side of its store devoted to them. Browse through the books and enjoy

the party. After all, what’s a party for writers without readers?

We hope to see you there.

To the Editor: 2 Views of Gershwin

It is not my practice to respond to reviewers of my

work. However, when a reviewer plays fast and loose with the facts

(U.S. 1 review of "George Gershwin Alone" at the Helen Hayes

Theater in New York, July 11), I am left with no choice but to correct

them.

Lawrence Stewart, chief archivist for the Gershwin Estate, former

professor of English at Cal State Northridge, but more importantly,

Ira Gershwin’s private assistant and archivist for 16 years, talked

about a great sense of proprietorship among New Yorkers of George

Gershwin. He also said that every student should see this production

and that I "portray exactly the way Ira saw George through his

own eyes…"

The brash singing — the very forward, and sometimes too-staccato

piano playing — the conceited, but heart warming self-indulgence

are all part of that. You do not know how I sing or play, just how

I imagine George to have sung or played.

But most importantly, the facts of George Gershwin’s life are reported

in so many books — from Lawrence Stewart to Robert Kimball, from

Gregory Suriano to Ed Jablonski, from Joan Peyser to E. Gilbert —

Abram Chasens, Charles Schwartz, not to mention the old timers that

were interviewed as well as all the documents available at the

Gershwin

archive at the library of congress.

Although there are a number of discrepancies in the material —

the story of how "Swanee" came to be a hit, is not one of

them. "Swanee" was performed at the Capitol theater —

with some 70 girls with electric lights in their shoes in a big

production

number. It didn’t go over too well. When George went up to Harlem

to a party that Jolson was hosting, and was at — it was actually

to a brothel — he played the tune. More to the point, the script

never refers to George playing the tune at a "swank penthouse

party," which is how you report that I tell the story. The actual

text is "it was in Harlem in a dingy joint with booze and women,

let’s just say it wasn’t in a school for girls." Those same words

have been used at over 500 performances, so how did you come up with

a "penthouse party?"

Ultimately, thank you for at least reporting that the audience gave

the performance a standing ovation. They always do. A critic’s view

of the quality of a performance remains his or her own, however it

is unacceptable to attribute error to a playwright when such error

simply does not exist.

Hershey Felder

U.S. 1 drama critic Simon Saltzman responds:

Mr. Felder has implied that I played fast and loose

with the facts in my review of his solo performance as "George

Gershwin Alone." While I might argue that he, indeed, was the

one playing fast and loose with some of the greatest popular music

ever written, I would respectfully like to respond to the portion

of the play that appears to be most in contention.

The question is where Gershwin’s tune "Swanee" was first heard

by Al Jolson. In his letter, Felder quotes from his text: "it

was in Harlem in a dingy joint with booze and women (Bessie Bloodgood,

proprietress), let’s just say it wasn’t in a school for girls."

This line, which I admittedly missed, evidently comes from "The

Memory of All That" by Joan Peyser, a writer whose decidedly

provocative

slant and biographical data has been questioned by the Gershwin

estate.

My apology to Mr. Felder for questioning his source right or wrong.

(Sic.)

Two sources I have at my elbow — "George Gershwin" (Alan

Kendall), and "The Gershwins" (Robert Kimball, Alfred Simon),

only make reference to "a party" (no location); a third source

"The Gershwin Years" (Edward Jablonsky, Lawrence D. Stewart)

says the party was at Sylvia Joslyn’s. Neither anyone I know nor any

of the researchers at the Library of Congress could find out anything

about the elusive Ms. Joslyn. And a fourth source —

"Jolson,"

a biography by Michael Freedland — says about the night Jolson

heard "Swanee:" "Like all of Al’s parties, it was to be

an evening of his singing. Guests brought other guests and those

people

brought more strangers."

"There were so many unknown faces that it was impossible to tell

who had been invited and who was gate-crashing." Perhaps I was

in error in recalling it as "a penthouse," but does this sound

like a brothel?

A fifth source, and one that only I can personally verify, is from

my Dad (who died at the age of 100 two years ago), who played theater

organs in New York movie palaces during the heyday of stage and screen

shows in New York. His recollection went like this: Jolson was

performing

in his own musical, "Sinbad," at the Wintergarden Theater,

directly across the street from the Capitol Theater where

"Swanee"

was featured in the show. Jolson (who was spotted at the theater)

heard the song there and requested it be played again at his party

and that the relatively unknown composer be brought along too. This

was the story among musicians at the time. As one investigates

further,

it is easy to find even more conflicting stories. All in all, the

song is here to stay while Mr. Felder’s show has closed.

Top Of Page
News from Netilla

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Reginald Best

Netilla Networks Inc.


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