Monday, December 31, 2012

LIZ SMITH: Happy New Year!

Detail of The Guardian Angel by Wilhelm Von Kaulbach.
The Angel of Media ... (sorta) Quoting Napoleon ... CHRISTMAS is over, but Harvey Schmidt is just getting started.

Monday, December 31, 2012
by Liz Smith

HAPPY New Year! An unnamed tutelary angel is called the Angel of Media. This angel became corrupted through "national bias," or so it says in The Dictionary of Angels.

Such a thought makes a lot of sense but an Angel of Media would be too cynical to react to “national bias.” He’d already know how to get around any kind of bias, just as he’d know his way around PR statements and political PACS, etc.

An “Angel of Media” would pretend to be even-handed, to be open-minded, considering every option and pay little mind to something like “national bias.”

We find many naughty angels in the “Dictionary of Angels.” Why, Satan himself was a favorite of God, who got much too big for his wings.

He has, as a result, evidently wreaked a lot of havoc ever since. And maybe God thinks He should not interfere but we, the people of Earth, should be banishing the bad angels of our nature.

I’m just browsing among many ideas as we approach the new year. I’d love to hear from anybody who is still reading columns on the Internet and in the newspapers who has anything to offer from their holiday musings.
WHEN I think of the new year, I wish that at the very minute of midnight, I might be somewhere near that great restaurateur of our time, Daniel Boulud, because when it comes to opening a bottle of champagne, he just takes a short saber and strikes the cork right out of the bottle.

Then he quotes Napoleon and if I didn’t have a bad head cold, I could remember what Napoleon said. He said something to the effect that he “needed the champagne more than anyone else did.”

Happy New Year, M. Boulud.
CHRISTMAS is over but I did receive a fabulous gift from my longtime University of Texas schoolmate — Harvey Schmidt. Here is a man who went on to write important parts of the longest-running musical ever on or off Broadway — “The Fantasticks.” (He wrote the music to the genius song “Try To Remember”)

Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones.
Harvey was/is a musical genius and artist. He also wrote the music to another big hit, the Mary Martin-Robert Preston play “I Do! I Do!” But he escaped Broadway and went back to live down in Tomball, Texas, near Houston. There, I gather, life isn’t so demanding of Harvey.

He told me a story I’d never heard. As an art major at U of T in Austin, he joined friends in the Drama Department’s Curtain Club and began to sit in on weekly meetings. The drama students were busy performing songs from hit musicals and Harvey listened:

I had a good ear and people thought I played the piano well. I couldn’t actually ‘read’ music but I learned the songs by borrowing cast albums and listening and eventually I could play along with them, matching notes with notes on the piano.

One difficulty was up till then I had only played in the key of C, which uses just the white keys. The black ones had always remained a mysterious irritant for me. But in working on familiar show tunes, I began to see that they provided notes I often needed that were not available on the white keys. So that’s how I first began experimenting with learning to play the piano in other keys.

When the annual Drama Department party rolled around I was asked to accompany Hugh Martin’s ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!’ (I had loved it when it first appeared in the movie ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ — 1944 — and felt certain it would become a holiday standard). I was surprised it hadn’t. However, since then, decade by decade, it had steadily gained popularity.

And a few years ago I read in the morning papers that ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ had just eclipsed Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ which had occupied the best Christmas song spot since 1942.

By this time, Hugh and I had become telephone friends so I called his home in Encinitas, California to congratulate him and to my surprise he’d not heard the good news. But we talked about the amazing journey the song has taken. This brings back memories of him and of that special room at the U. of T. where I spent some of the most important and wonderful times of my college years.

All of this came with Harvey’s brown pen illustrations and kind of architectural drawings in which he sums up our U. of T. days right after World War II.

This touched me so much. Harvey’s partner in “The Fantasticks” is the energetic Tom Jones who is still in New York hustling new ideas for theater. I was so lucky to meet these guys and I wish them a Happy New Year in their separate parts of the nation.

Contact Liz Smith here.

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