It seems like, thus far, 2016 has been a notable year regarding losing a large number of our famed celebrities. I’ve seen this expressed over and over on social media.
People who have grown up enjoying these performers most keenly feel this loss. These beloved stars have become part of the societal psyche.
We “baby boomers” have felt this loss most intensely because, within the past decade or so, we have lost so many singers and actors who had become such a meaningful part of our lives. And, we’re the first to admit that those late talented celebrities cannot be replaced from the younger, ability-lacking celebrity pool that currently exists.
Since publishing my book in 2005, most of the celebrities who accorded quotations about Frankie for my book have passed. Jo Stafford, Connie Haines, Teresa Brewer, and Gene Pitney are all sadly gone. Frankie’s movie co-star Jerome Courtland, whom I became friends with and wrote about in my book, has also passed. Others I mention who were alive when I published, but have since died are Lou Rawls, Patti Page, Jimmy Boyd, Herb Jeffries, and Benny Hollman.
As I commented in last month’s blog, it’s unbelievable to me that Frankie Laine has been gone for nine years. Not surprisingly, in my opinion, there has been no one within the current recording industry who has filled his shoes.
I would like to dedicate this month’s blog to all the dear entertainers we’ve lost this year. I cannot think of a more fitting song than “Up Among the Stars” by Frankie. I hope everyone reading this grabs the song from their music library, or locates it online, and plays it as a tribute to our beloved late entertainers.
“Up Among the Stars” was recorded December 19, 1963, in Hollywood. This was one of Frankie Laine’s final sides for Columbia.
My Friend Jerry
I interviewed and videotaped actor and singer Jerome (Jerry) Courtland in 2000 for Frankie Laine’s documentary, Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer, produced by Jimmy Marino. This was before I married my beautiful wife, Marlene. Because this was a great adventure for me, I wanted Marlene to come along, so she accompanied me to Chicago, where Jerry lived at that time.
We arrived at Jerry Courtland’s home right on schedule. I knocked on his door. After a brief wait, he opened the door. “Hi, Craig. I’m Jerry Courtland,” he said as he extended his hand. “Do you need help carrying things in?” In turn, I introduced Marlene to Jerry. We all three then carried in camera cases, bags, and other equipment for the interview.
It was exciting to be there. We also enjoyed meeting Jerry’s wife.
Jerry was still slender. He’s also extremely tall. His eyebrows arch toward his forehead whenever he smiles. His weight, height, and eyebrows mirrored the shy and awkward youth he’d portrayed in Frankie’s movies.
The similarities stopped there. Jerry’s hair was thin on top, and his face more filled out and weathered. He wore glasses. He conversed in a jolly fashion while asking us about ourselves, and he also spoke in a lower register than when he was young. Youth and innocence no longer belonged to Jerry. Film had captured his image and retained his youth, keeping him forever young.
As I was setting things up at the Courtland residence, we talked. I couldn’t believe I was in Jerry’s home preparing to interview him! It was all dreamlike. Jerry’s home was beautiful and comfortable looking. Simple, yet elegant furniture decorated the wooden floors.
“We have pastries if you’re hungry,” Jerry offered. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Gladly, I accepted a cup of coffee while asking Jerry where I could plug in my video lighting. After I took a few sips, I set down my half-finished coffee and continued to work setting up the equipment.
When I had things ready to go, I searched for my coffee. Seemingly, it had vanished.
“I can’t find my coffee,” I reported to Jerry.
“Oh, I drank it. I was afraid it would get cold,” he admitted.
I was delighted. Jerome Courtland finished drinking my cup of coffee!
I simply couldn’t fathom that I was in the presence of the tall, skinny kid, so charming in three of Frankie Laine’s movies. I’d watched those movies several times over and never dreamt that someday I’d meet Jerome Courtland in person, let alone be in his beautiful home sharing a cup of coffee.
Many people don’t realize that Jerome Courtland sang the title theme song in the Walt Disney movie classic Old Yeller. In addition to working with several great stars on film, Jerry later went on to work in television. Besides his numerous television guest roles, he also starred in two television series: The Saga of Andy Burnett and Tales of the Vikings. He later became a movie producer and a television director.
Before our trip to visit Jerry, I had arranged a telephone call with Frankie on the day I interviewed Jerry. I thought it would be great to allow Jerry to chat with Frankie. It would be a telephone reunion between two old movie pals. It would be my gift to both stars.
It was noon in Chicago when I told Jerry I had a surprise for him. “I’ve made it possible to telephone Frankie Laine at his home so that you two can chat,” I said, adding, “This will be on my dime.” Jerry was pleased.
I received permission to use his telephone and dialed Frankie’s number. When Frankie answered, I informed him he was about to speak with Jerry Courtland as my treat. I then handed the phone to Jerry.
As those two old friends chitchatted, I sat in a chair watching almost in tears. It was unbelievable. I’d made it possible to reunite two wonderful stars after all those years. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life.
Before the interview, as we were talking, I was entranced when Jerry reminisced about working with Humphrey Bogart in the 1949 Columbia movie Tokyo Joe. “He was just an older guy, and I didn’t think too much about it,” he said.
My interview with Jerry was very informative. When I asked him what it was like working with Frankie Laine, Jerry replied in a serious manner:
“I had started as just an actor—a non-singing actor. And when I had the opportunity to work with Frankie on those films, it was exciting for me. . . . I’d been a huge fan.”
I was mesmerized to hear Jerry’s feelings about actually getting the chance to sing with Frankie:
“To be able to watch him on the stage is one thing. But when you can work in a film with him and see how he rehearsed and did everything—“
Jerry added: “The story outline, as you know having seen those films, is about this big star, Frankie Laine, who helps this kid become a singer. In reality, it gave me the same opportunity. There’s a parallel there that’s pretty interesting.”
I was thrilled with Jerry’s reply to my question regarding an interesting story he might recall involving Frankie. Jerry’s answer was a classic portrayal of Frankie Laine’s generous nature. Jimmy Marino ultimately used a portion of the following in the finished documentary:
“The most memorable story was not on the set, it was when we first started rehearsing the musical numbers together. Frankie can sing a little higher than I can. . . . Frankie being the big musical star could have said, ‘The kid’s going to do it in my key.’ But he didn’t. He said to the musical director, ‘I’ll do it in Jerry’s key.’ That impressed me. As I say, I remember it to this day. He did it in my key to accommodate me—in both films in which we sang together.”
Jerry went on to say that he’d learned a lot from Frankie simply by observing him. He’d made it a point to attend Frankie’s musical rehearsals:
“Because he was so good—he knew so much. He was such a great musician. He gave me the opportunity to study him.”
Jerry’s favorite movie of the three was Sunny Side of the Street:
“We had more scenes together. Instead of singing one number as I did in Make Believe Ballroom or two numbers as in When You’re Smiling, in this one, I got to do three numbers. I got to sing with Frankie again; we did a duet. That’s why it was my favorite.”