For all of you to whom I am a stranger, I thought I’d give you a little view into my past that has brought me to this point of my life, as a singer, performer, actress, songwriter, wife and mother.
Some things I look back on now and laugh, others make me cringe, but for the most part I’ve been lucky and blessed even through heartache, pain, and struggles.
To Begin with, I am from Southern California and like most kids, grew up going to Saturday matinees and listening to my parents’ albums of the American Songbook. You might say I started my career directing roller skating musicals in my garage, singing in talent shows, and doing as many school productions as a kid could do. My real dream was to someday be Doris Day, Julie Andrews, and Esther Williams all wrapped up into one. In other words, a blonde virgin who could sing underwater!
Looking back, I never seemed to plan my life, probably because I wasn’t any good at making decisions...
so circumstances just led me from one thing to another, like how I got into beauty contests and wound up as MISS CALIFORNIA (funny story, another time). That led me to singing in a big band, regional theater, and crazy as it seems, going on tour with a five guy Rock & Roll band. Can you imagine the look on their faces when I said I wanted to sing “I Feel Pretty,” Of course I never did.
After nine months on the road I came home to mom’s home cooking and a new job on the small screen: a television series called “Here Comes The Stars.” It was so exciting to work with all those stars I grew up watching: Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, George Burns, Debbie Reynolds, Sid Caesar, Gig Young, Edward G. Robinson, Steve Allen and Mickey Rooney, to name a just a few. This led me to the wild town of Las Vegas. It was still the Rat Pack’s town and I got to see the very end of it and was blessed to have my first engagement with the great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. After that I became the opening act for some very funny men. Comedians like Don Rickles, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Benny, George Goble and Myron Cohen.
Then came my most rewarding tour, The Bob Hope World Christmas Tour, or as I liked to describe it: ‘Around the World in 14 Days, with a Brown Toothbrush.’ (Thailand water!) I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking out (in the 110 degree heat), at Long Binh, Viet Nam, Christmas day to sing my songs in front of 40,000 G.I.’s. CHILLS! They spoiled me forever. No critics, no cappuccino makers, just a sea of smiling faces, and deafening applause, all before I could sing a single note! It might have had something to do with them not seeing an American gal in a while, but still it was grand!
My life became all about touring, recording, singing and acting on television. When I was in New York doing “The Tonight Show and David Frost show, ” David Merrick called to ask if I would be in his “Two By Two” “musical. My dream!! New York!! Broadway!! NOT!! I was in a television series and couldn’t get out of my contract. Ah Life!
Forgot to mention having cancer at the ripe old age of 22.
Even though I was in and out of hospitals, nothing could stop me from accomplishing my next dream, singing the title song of a movie. I had been in the hospital just a few days before I was scheduled to leave for Rome. After begging and pleading I convinced my doctor to let me go. My concession to him was I had to stay in a wheelchair…but who said you have to stand to sing? Remember the Jane Froman Story? The song was “Till Love Touches Your Life” written by Arthur Hamilton and Riz Ortalani for the movie “Madron,” starring Leslie Caron and Richard Boone. I think 4 people saw it but the song was beautiful and ended up being nominated for an Academy Award. Yes it was worth it!!
All my dreams were coming true but I felt empty inside.
So what did the dumb blonde do? Quit her career at the high and search for a guy!! Why is it we gals think a man is the answer to what ails us?? Anyway down on my luck and pretty fed up with life, Christmas Eve after a candle light service, I found my car battery dead…and found a new life with a guy who not only charged my battery…. but who also introduced me to God at the same time!!
What followed was a new career in Contemporary Christian music and recording an album in Nashville for Sparrow Records. When the album was finished I realized that going on tour and promoting this record would take me away, months at a time, from home. I decided that since Doctors had said I could never have children and now I had given birth to a beautiful miracle baby, I decided to walk away from one dream to embrace another, Motherhood. So what can a mother do in this business without going on the road? Act on television and commercials and write songs.
Had a great time doing the Sanyo commercials. Got to act, sing, dance and go home at night. The Muriel commercials were a kick to do, also. I want to thank AT & T, TWA, Chrysler, Canada Dry, Folgers, Kraft Cheese, Tide, Exlax (yet another fun story for another time!) among hundreds of others, for furnishing my home and keeping my family happy.
But now is time for this mom to do her thing once again...
Clifford Bell, a phenomenal stage producer, or as he likes to be called, Mr. “Cabaretbia,” started me off with a performance at the Hollywood Roosevelt Cinegrill, with Michael Orland at piano, (who incidentally plays for “American Idol” now) and Ed smart on reeds & keyboards. It felt great to be in front of an audience again, but I was a nervous diva! Checca’s was fun with John Boswell, and another engagement with Shelly Markham at the Esmaralda Hotel in Palm Desert helped get my feet a little wetter. I continued with shows of my own originals at the famous Blue Bird, in Nashville, at Largo, in Los Angeles, and a special songwriters Night sponsored by ASCAP at Luna Park also in Los Angeles.
I went back to the Cinegrill to celebrate my new CD and Show entitled “Something Old, Something New,” with Jeff Lass and Ed Smart, to great reviews and houses. Then I had the great experience of playing the historical “Pella Opera House” in the college town of Pella, Iowa. That’s where the tall corn grows and appreciative audiences are. It was a treat to sing again with a big band and balcony full of enthusiastic college students. I got back in town just in time to be included in a tribute to Jack Segal at the Jazz Bakery. My mentor and co-producer of his own original songs “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “More Love,” on my album. Check out the discography CD’s tab
Just before the world changed in 2001 I sang on a Silversea Cruise Line through the Middle East, or as I like to say now, all the “hot terrorists” places. I feel blessed that I got to see the amazing ruins of Egypt. Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and Jordan. To travel up the Suez Canal, Red Sea and sun bathe on The Nile were beyond my dreams.
Since then I taped the Dennis Bono Show, which brought me back to LasVegas, which in turn got me booked into the Plaza Hotel there. It brought back lots of fond memories. I sang in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and Buenos Aires, which was an amazing trip and adventure. Then had the opportunity to open for the Four Aces. I remember dancing to their hits in school! At one of the shows, a Broadway producer (My Fair Lady & more) pitched me a show called The Follies, which was going to Branson. I wasn’t really interested but in the end I am so glad I agreed. I learned to tap dance, and had a wonderful experience. Being in this business it’s sometimes nice to know you have a two shows a day for 5 months. It was a great cast and I had the privilege to work with the “grand dame” of Broadway. Carol Channing. One of my all time favorite comedians is David Brenner. I think he still holds the record for the most guest appearances on The Tonight Show. What a great time I had opening for him in Florida for 21 days.
Sometimes life brings you back full circle. I got a call to star in a new musical called ”Funny, You don’t Look Like a Grandmother,” adapted from a best selling book of the same title. I really didn’t like the idea of playing a grandmother, but the book was so funny the way it explained how the “new” generation of grandmothers are so different compared to our own. I couldn’t resist the music and best of all playing the lead with Barbara Minkus and Zina Bethune. This year I was handed the “role of a lifetime!” Playing the lead in The Showgirl of 52nd Street” with Kleban-award winning book and lyrics by Charles Leipart and music by John Kroner, as part of Theater League’s Festival of New Musicals at the Thousand Oaks PAC and Colony Theatre. Internationally known, Cate Caplin, our director, who offered me the role was a dream to work with, along with Dean Mora as musical director. I played a homeless woman who had been a showgirl earlier in her life. I was honored to be included in such an excellent cast. There is word that it might go to Broadway. That would complete my “full circle” for sure.
This last decade has been made up of many blessings and sorrows. I watched the passing of my mom and dad, five dear friends with cancer, two brother-in-laws and this year, divorce that ended my 30-year marriage. Being single is a new chapter in my life and one that I am enjoying even more than I expected. I’ve learned so much about myself, people, and life in general. It is during the hard times that we grow, and as an artist I know I have more to give now. I thank God, my family, friends and the gift of singing and writing to get me through the day in one piece. I feel like I have been given a new life so “Here to “Life” and it’s many adventures, may it bring us hope, joy and peace.