With the recent death of screen legend Kirk Douglas, I immediately though about the two movies in which the veteran actor starred that included title theme vocals by Frankie Laine. The movies Man Without a Star (1955) and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) are not only great movies, but they are classics as well. Without a doubt, these movies tie the two legends of entertainment together for the ages.
I have always been fascinated whenever I hear the recollections of people who have been associated one way or another with Frankie Laine. Those I know who have been fortunate enough to meet or spend time with Frankie, always reinforce the truth that Frankie loved his fans. Everyone seems to relate tidbits about this legend of song that adds to our interest in defining the person—not just the star.
I continue to be captivated by my new friend Jim Lehrer’s Frankie Laine remembrances. I find it enthralling that I have crossed paths with someone who has such vivid accounts of a younger Frankie Laine. Jim’s memories give an interesting glimpse into the time when the Laines were young and close friends with Jim and his parents.
My recollections of weekends and vacations with the Laines at their beach house in Malibu Colony
By Jim Lehrer
As I recall, the Laines sold their house on Calle Vista Drive around 1960 and moved to a newer two-story beach house in the gated community of Malibu Colony. Celebrities have maintained residences in Malibu Colony for decades. Many of the houses are on the beach, facing the Pacific Ocean: residents can walk from their back porch right onto the sand. There are no fences or walls dividing the beach, so residents and their guests are free to walk the entire length of beach.
Between the ages of eight through eleven, I visited the Laines in Malibu many times, with my mom, Sammy, and my dad, Fred. We usually stayed with the Laines for three-day weekends and occasional holidays. Their beach house was compact compared to the Calle Vista house. Since there were fewer rooms to accommodate guests, I was relegated to a couch or the living room floor with pillows and a blanket. During the warm months they would leave the sliding glass doors between the living room and the porch open, so I could enjoy the salt air and the sound of the waves on the beach. I remember so well, lying there with a shaft of moonlight illuminating the oil paintings in the living room. The Laines had a beautiful seascape, and a metaphysical work which may have been by Giorgio de Chirico, or influenced by him. As I recall, it featured a lonely cityscape in strange perspective with long shadows and a mannequin-like figure. I was too young to understand the quality of these artworks, or the meaning of the metaphysical school painting; however, I was captivated by how they looked in the shifting beams of moonlight, as I was by the sea breezes and singing waves.
The Laines and my parents were “sun worshippers” and much of each day was spent on the porch and on the beach. The house had a fairly large porch, with room for chaise lounges and table and chairs, so one could stay close to the cool and shade of the house, in lieu of a towel on the sand. Frankie and my dad greatly enjoyed surf casting from the beach. I don’t remember them catching very many fish, but they sure enjoyed the sport. Being fair, I didn’t sunbathe much because I would burn, so I mostly divided my time between reading in the house, walking along the beach, and splashing around in the ocean. Nan sometimes stayed in bed upstairs, when her chronic back pain, which plagued her later years, acted up.
I don’t recall seeing Pam or Jan at the beach house very often, if at all. By then they were dating and involved in their respective social activities. I missed seeing them in Malibu, because I liked them both very much and enjoyed their company at the Calle Vista house. I remember Pam as outgoing and full of laughter, while Jan seemed introspective and serious. My mom and dad were close friends with Nan and her prior husband, jockey Jack Westrope. Nan, Jack, and the girls were guests in our house in the hills above the Sunset Strip. [Our house, which my wife and I still live in, once belonged to actress Angela Lansbury. According to a contemporary news clip, she purchased it when she was a contract player at MGM, about the time she starred in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945).]
Later, Nan and Jack were divorced, and Jack remarried. Jack’s death in 1958 after being thrown from a horse at Hollywood Park was a terrible blow to everyone, including my mom and dad.
I recall an informal party that Nan and Frankie hosted in the Malibu Colony house. I don’t remember who the other guests were, but I vividly recall Frankie singing to piano accompaniment for their enjoyment. He sang an acrostic song: the lyrics went through the alphabet with the letters standing for things. The last verse was “X-Y-Z sure bother me.” I was sitting either on the piano bench, or on the floor nearby. When Frankie came to the last verse, I chimed in with “S-E-X sure bothers me.” The guests laughed like crazy! I cannot recall who put me up to it, but I suspect it was Frankie. My mom and dad were surprised at this precocious lyric substitution by their little boy, but after a while the brouhaha settled down. — Jim Lehrer