Found Sound Friday No. 9: Vocalogues

Q: What do you do if you’re an actor/celebrity who doesn’t sing or do stand-up comedy but you still want a career as a recording artist?

A: Vocalogues.

The word was coined by actor Murray Kash in the liner notes of his album “What Is A Boy?” to describe “songs performed in monologue style.” I’m strangely attracted to this type of record. I can hardly resist buying an album if the lyrics of the songs are spoken over the music rather than sung. Often the emotions are wildly over-the-top. Here are some prime examples from my record collection:

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1. Charles Boyer: Softly As I Leave You

Apparently this album by French screen idol Charles Boyer was Elvis’ favourite in his later years. He often ended his concerts with this song, copying Boyer’s dramatic recitation style.

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2. Murray Kash: Seasons In The Sun

Jacques Brel by way of Rod McKuen. Canadian-born actor Murray Kash appeared in British movies and television (including a brief stint on Coronation Street in 1973). He was also a major promoter of country music in Britain and wrote a book of biographies of country and western performers. Kash comes dangerously close to breaking into full-fledged singing a few times in the course of this song but I forgive him.

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3. Réal Giguère: Ne me quitte pas

More Jacques Brel. Giguère was a well-known Montréal TV host and scriptwriter. This song was known in English as “If You Go Away”.

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4. Walter Brennan: Old Shep

Three time Oscar-winning actor Walter Brennan recorded no less than four albums of songs despite not being able to sing a lick.

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5. Rex Harrison: Everybody’s Out Of Town

Harrison’s career received a huge boost from speak-singing the lyrics of My Fair Lady on Broadway and in the movies. This song is from Harrison’s first solo album, released in 1978. Written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, it was a hit single for B.J. Thomas.

West Side Story Then and Now

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There used to be a website that compared the San Francisco exteriors of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) with the same locations photographed recently. Watching West Side Story (1961) on DVD the other night, I had the idea of doing the same thing for that movie. Not the whole thing, mind you (much of it was shot on Hollywood soundstages anyway), just one brief aerial montage of Manhattan that happens early on, before the camera zooms in on the Jets and the Sharks and all their balletic leaping about on the mean streets of the Upper West Side.

Here’s how Ernest Lehman’s screenplay (included in the deluxe 2 DVD box set) describes the sequence:

“The big screen is filled with a SUCCESSION OF HIGH ANGLE DOWN SHOTS OF MANHATTAN ISLAND. They are a series of carefully composed, artistically photographed shots of the city of New York taken from a plane or helicopter. They are filmed both day and night, and give us an unusual glimpse of the many-faceted metropolis. All angles are highly stylized, almost abstract in effect, as the CAMERA floats over the city shooting straight down. While the result is a look at ‘real’ New York, the style is removed from documentary reality…”

They dropped the idea of night shots, but the rest of the description applies. The sequence was filmed in the late summer of 1960. It’s comprised of 19 helicopter shots which I’ve reproduced below followed by their contemporary counterparts (as close as I could make them). What was “an unusual glimpse” in 1961 is more mundane today – we look straight down on cities all the time (with the help of satellite map applications). I used Google Maps satellite views to source the contemporary shots. In most cases I’ve had to rotate the Google map images to match the movie stills since the aerial views were shot from many different directions.

Not being a resident New Yorker, or even all that familiar with NYC (I visited once, in 1980, for four days), I found it quite challenging to identify all the sites in this sequence. What I know of New York comes mostly from movies and TV (and sometimes literature).

On that singular visit so long ago I bought a book that has been very helpful. John Tauranac’s excellent (and long out of print) Essential New York: A Guide to the History and Architecture of Manhattan’s Important Buildings, Parks, and Bridges (1979) has been very useful for identifying many of the buildings in the stills.

Click on images to enlarge in a new window.

1. Lower Manhattan

Then:

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As the overture climaxes, the main title (at the top of this post), dissolves into this establishing helicopter shot of lower Manhattan. The color palette is warm, chocolaty and dark, as if shot through a filter of grime and cigar smoke.

Now:

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In contrast, the Google satellite maps are metallic silver-blue and sharply detailed (why does the water look so weird?). It’s Impossible to match the Google view with the movie still since the helicopter shot looks off toward the horizon and not straight down, but if you compare the shoreline around the southern tip of Manhattan you’ll notice some big changes. Most of the piers are gone, victims of containerized shipping (the container ports are in New Jersey). Where there were piers on the western side of the island, today there’s reclaimed land with buildings on it. I knew they did that kind of stuff in Holland but I had no idea they did it in New York. The new area is called Battery Park City, built on a foundation of soil and rock from various major construction projects and sand from the dredging of the harbor.

2. Bridge

Then:

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Now:

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There aren’t a lot of visual clues in the shot (the towers aren’t shown), but I’m pretty sure it’s the George Washington Bridge, based on the cables and the number of lanes.

3. Triborough Bridge (Harlem River Lift Bridge section between Manhattan and Randall’s Island)

Then:

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Now:

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Pretty much identical except, of course, for that big white structure at the base of the on/off ramp (what is that, a tent?). Officially called the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge since 2008.

4. Pier 86 (46th Street and 12th Avenue)

Then:

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Now:

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In the movie still, the luxury ocean liner SS United States is docked at Pier 86, the passenger pier of the United States Lines. The ship was the largest ocean liner built in the United States as well as the fastest (even to this day). She sailed the north Atlantic from 1952 until she was taken out of service in 1969. Today the ship is docked on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. A charitable organization is trying to raise funds to convert her into a (stationary) museum and mixed use attraction.

Since 1982, the pier has been the home of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The World War II aircraft carrier USS Intrepid is permanently berthed there. The museum is also the home (since 2012) of the space shuttle Enterprise. And yes, that’s a Concorde on the pier (on loan from British Airways).

5. Battery Park, Lower Manhattan

Then:

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Now:

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Most obviously, the stubby saplings of 1960 have really grown. The paisley-shaped garden in the very center of the picture is a community garden that was established in 2011 (actually the shape represents Zelda, a wild turkey that was discovered living in the park in 2003). The large building in the upper left corner is the U.S. Custom House (now called the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House), a “masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style” according to Wikipedia. Completed in 1907, it was abandoned in the 1970s and slated for demolition. Fortunately, it was designated a city landmark in 1979 and has since been extensively restored and preserved. Today it houses a branch of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The oval structure in the center is the roof of the rotunda.

6. Financial District (Broadway between Bridge Street and Exchange Place)

Then:

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Now:

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This shot overlaps the previous one; it’s just to the north (north being to the left in this case). The U.S. Custom House is at lower right. The building with the tower in the middle of the frame is 26 Broadway (originally the Standard Oil Building).

7. Financial District (Wall Street between Nassau Street and Pearl Street)

Then:

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Now:

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The massive new building at upper right is 60 Wall Street (completed 1989). In the enlargement you can see that the roof is covered with solar panels. Some of the many notable buildings common to both eras include:

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1. 14 Wall Street (originally the Bankers Trust Company Building), 2. Federal Hall National Memorial, 3. 40 Wall Street (originally the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, now the Trump Building), 4. 48 Wall Street, 5. New York Stock Exchange, 6. 15 Broad Street, 7. 55 Wall Street (National City Bank Building).

8. Financial District (Wall Street between Trinity Place and William Street)

Then:

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Now:

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Lots of overlap with the previous view. Notable buildings:

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1. Trinity and U.S. Realty Buildings, 2. Equitable Building, 3. 14 Wall Street, 4. 40 Wall Street (Trump Building), 5. 1 Wall Street (Irving Trust Company Building), 6. New York Stock Exchange, 7. 15 Broad Street.

9. Rockefeller Center (between 48th and 51st streets and Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas)

Then:

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Now:

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Notable buildings include:

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1. International Building, 2. GE Building (“30 Rock”, originally the RCA Building), 3. Radio City Music Hall, and 4. Time & Life Building.

10. United Nations (First Avenue between 42nd and 45th Streets)

Then:

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Now:

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The Dag Hammarskjöld Library (left) was added in 1961, but the iconic shapes of the Secretariat (the 39-story tower) and the General Assembly Building (with the dome) remain instantly recognizable from the air.

11. Empire State Building (from West 29th Street to West 37th Street between 6th Avenue and Madison Avenue)

Then:

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Now:

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The Empire State Building sure towers over its Midtown neighbors, doesn’t it?

12. East 51st Street between Fifth Avenue and Lexington Avenue

Then:

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Now:

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This is just to the east of the Rockefeller Center shot seen earlier (east is at the left side of the frame – the map is rotated nearly 180 degrees).  Notable buildings include:

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1. General Electric Building (not to be confused with the GE Building at Rockefeller Centre), 2. Waldorf Astoria Hotel, 3. St. Bartholomew’s Church, 4. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and 5. Look Building.

13. Port Authority Bus Terminal (between Eighth Avenue and Ninth Avenue from 40th Street to 41st Street)

Then:

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Now:

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The most significant difference between then and now (though not very visible in this framing) is the addition of the North Wing of the terminal (upper right corner), opened in 1979.

14. Yankee Stadium, East 161st Street and River Avenue, South Bronx

Then:

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Now:

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What the…??!! Somebody stole Yankee Stadium!

Not being a New Yorker or a baseball fan, I had no idea that a new Yankee Stadium was built just across the street from the old one. This caused me a great deal of confusion when I was trying to overlay the film still onto the Google map. The new stadium looks enough like the old one to fool me, but when none of the surrounding roads matched up no matter how I rotated or resized the still, I knew something was fishy. The original Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, renovated in 1973 and demolished between 2008 and 2010. The new stadium opened in 2009 across the street on what was public parkland. The site of the old ballpark is now Heritage Field. The baseball diamond in the center of the “Now” image is not precisely where the old one was located; the original home plate was approximately where second base is now.

15. Columbia University (West 114th Street to West 120th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue)

Then:

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Now:

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There are a few new buildings at the north end of the campus (to the right in the pictures above), including Uris Hall (the D-shaped building, centre right), built atop the old University Hall.

16. Stuyvesant Town (Between East 14th Street and East 20th Street from Ist Avenue to Avenue C)

Then:

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Now:

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More than 600 buildings in an 18-block area known as the Gas House district were demolished to create this privately owned housing project for veterans and the middle class after World War 2.

Sure the trees are bigger and there’s a fountain ‘n stuff, but the biggest difference between then and now is something you can’t see: In 1947 the first residents paid between $50 and $91 a month; today monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment starts at about $3,000.

17. Central Park North (from West Drive, Central Park to West 113th Street between Frederick Douglas Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard)

Then:

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Now:

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This one was a little hard to find. I suspected (correctly) that the treed area at the right was Central Park. I took several “walks” around the perimeter of the park on Google Maps looking for that square structure (top right corner) that looks like it might be some kind of stone foundation or ruin, but couldn’t find it. When I concentrated instead on matching the shapes of the buildings facing the park I found it right away. The street bordering the park is West 110th Street (which runs east-west). The stone structure turns out to be the Blockhouse, a small fort that’s the oldest structure in the park (completed 1814).

Everything’s remarkably similar today – topographically at least. It looks like the school at the far left has added a building where there was playground, and one building on 111th Street is gone – it appears to be a grassy lot.

18. Harlem (Frederick Douglas Boulevard and St. Nicholas Avenue between West 122 Street and West 118 Street)

Then:

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Now:

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From the air, this section of Harlem looks practically unchanged from 1960, but I understand that there’s been considerable gentrification and many of the original brownstones and tenements have been renovated or replaced. On the tiny triangular island at the lower left corner of the frame (where Frederick Douglas Boulevard and St. Nicholas Avenue meet 122nd Street), a statue of Harriet Tubman was erected in 2008.

19. Harlem (West 150th Street to West 145th Street between Eighth Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard)

Then:

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Now:

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This one was really hard to find. It’s a pretty generic tenement neighborhood. Unlike the rest of the images in the montage, there are no notable landmarks or distinctive street patterns to look for. I used what clues I could: long, unrelieved blocks of tenement apartments with alleys but no yards. The only distinctive structure is that H-shaped building (just left of center) that spans the width of the block. I scoured the entire map of Manhattan, searching residential areas, and found it only after many tries. The building is the former PS90, an elementary school built in 1910 and converted into condos in 2010 (I like the diamond-shaped garden in the courtyard). Notably, a number of buildings have been demolished for parking and green space.

20. Playground (East 110th Street between Second Avenue and Third Avenue)

Then:

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Now:

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The screenplay again:

“And now the series of shots is narrowing down in scope to the little world of our story, the WEST SIDE of the city. The CAMERA has arrived over a PLAYGROUND surrounded by tenements, and slowly begins to ZOOM DOWN towards that playground.”

Except that that playground is in Spanish Harlem on the East Side, because there wasn’t one where they were shooting on the West Side (most of the exteriors in the Prologue and the Jet Song were shot around West 61st Street in a “blighted” neighborhood that was being demolished to make way for Lincoln Center and Fordham University). It looks like the playground (behind what is now the Bilingual and Bicultural School) has been greatly expanded to the east (right) – in 1960 it was only about 8 car-lengths wide. Some of the apartment buildings across the street are the same today but there’s a strip of townhouses that are are new. The school itself was built in 1964, so it’s not the same building that Robert Wise mounted his camera on to shoot this high angle view before zooming in on the Jets, huddled by the fence, snapping their fingers and spoiling for a rumble.

Here’s the first part of the Prologue courtesy of YouTube:

Here’s a map of Manhattan with all the locations:

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