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January 18, 2007

TT: Cameo appearances

- I must have watched It's a Wonderful Life a half-dozen times, and every time I notice the piano player who pounds out a smoking-hot stomp tune at Nick's, the boisterous speakeasy in which Clarence, Jimmy Stewart's hapless guardian angel, makes the mistake of ordering mulled wine from the tough-guy bartender ("We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint ‘atmosphere'"). Yet it never occurred to me to wonder who he was until I happened to see the film again a couple of weeks ago. This time I looked him up on the Internet Movie Database, and guess what? He's Meade "Lux" Lewis, whose 1927 recording of "Honky Tonk Train Blues" is one of the half-dozen greatest examples of boogie-woogie piano on record.

Who knew? Not me.

- I also watched Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It, the movie that made Jayne Mansfield a star. Not only had I never seen it, but I'd never seen any of Mansfield's other movies--she was only a name to me--and I found her unexpectedly charming.

This inspired me to take a look at the BBC documentary on Mansfield that airs on Ovation from time to time. To my astonishment, it included a snippet of a Fifties kinescope in which Mansfield can be seen playing the first movement of Vivaldi's A Minor Violin Concerto, Op. 3, No. 6. (You can view a poor-quality transfer of the same snippet by going here.) This concerto is often played by students--I played it in high school--and though her performance isn't very good, it isn't hopelessly bad, either.

How strange that so touchingly earnest a creature should have gone to Hollywood and become a big-chested blonde bombshell! Only in America...

Posted January 18, 2007 12:00 PM

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