The Baby Thing (The First Nine Months is the Hardest)

A new show cropped up on Amazon Prime recently that no fan I know had ever heard about, no biographer had ever written about or obscure list mentioned. I've come to call it "the baby thing."

Amazon Prime has been including some great old 1970s material lately, like all the Tattle Tales episodes and Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special and now this Sonny & Cher special from 1971. Most fans I’ve spoken to have never even heard of it, let alone seen it; which begs the question: what else is out there that we don't know about? Anyway, many thanks to Cher scholar Michael for alerting me to its existence.

The show is called The First Nine Months are the Hardest and Amazon lists the air date as 1971, but a few fans tell me it looks like it was filmed much earlier judging by how Sonny and Cher look.

And there is a lot of Sonny & Cher here doing skits and singing songs. I can't help but think this show might have helped sell TV execs on their ability to do a variety show.

The show is hosted by Dick Van Dyke (who I love!) and includes outfits by Bob Mackie (which seem oddly pedestrian for him) and an Emmy nominated score by Ray Charles. Whaa???

Cher scholar Robrt dug up an earlier non-musical version directed by Carl Reiner in 1964.

The show features three real celebrity couples. Michele Lee is lovely and amazing and her husband James Farentino is nice on the eyes but doesn't really pop out. Ken Berry and his wife Jackie Joseph are typical Broadway fare. The other couples have oodles of talent for sure, way beyond Sonny & Cher in song and dance ability, but somehow Sonny & Cher have such an interesting chemistry in comparison. They steal the show.

The tone of the show is a bit weird, nostalgic and retro even for 1971, as if its trying to convince bra-burning women to settle down. But really, it's all about the gas-company sponsor promoting fears in new mothers in order to get them to want to switch from electric or coal to “clean gas.” But aside from that, this is a gem of a new find for Sonny & Cher fans.  

Check it out on streaming from Amazon Prime. In the meantime, here's the play-by-play of the show (at the least the parts where Sonny & Cher appear).

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Cher in Show Biz 2020

ChertimeI went out looking for collages of Cher through time and turns out there are a ton of them! This was the best.

Anyway, I have a bunch of random thoughts today and couldn't figure out what umbrella to put them under. This is all about Cher in show-biz.

The Pop Star Crisis

My friend Christopher sent me this older article from 2017 from the Wall Street Journal. It's about an identity crisis with today's female pop stars. The article contains interesting statistics about what’s selling on streaming these days (R&B and hip-hop) and what’s not selling as well (rock, pop and even country is declining).

The article gets under my skin a bit when it talks about “the pop playbook” being unpredictable (you think?) and when it mentions that women are criticized for hosting hip-hop artists on their albums but male artists are not. (And the difference would be?)

And it confounds me that in the post-Cher and Tina Turner era music execs are still saying things like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus “may simply be past their hit making primes.” My friend Christopher tells me that female artists still disappear at the ticking time bomb of middle age! Oy. 

The 1% of Touring Acts

Here is another older Wall Street Journal article from Christopher about how large arena acts are eating up all the concert $$$. And due to the fact that streaming is making record-making less lucrative, smaller acts depend on concert revenue.

It feels so much like large corporations swallowing up their competition.

In any case, to consider Cher in this 1% list is downright bizarre. If you would have told me back in 1980 that Cher would be one of the 1% of popular touring acts in the late 2010s, I would have thought you were a crazy person. This is the artist who has been on a zillion record labels with a disproportionate amount of bomb albums and a bad reputation with just about everybody from hipsters to squares. Which is why it drives me nuts when people accuse Cher of being a mainstream artist. Where is this mysterious stream?

And yet, the people do come out to her shows in those ginormous, block-sized buildings. 

How. Did. We. Get. Here???

Although Cher is not listed as one of the highest grossing acts of the 2010s, she is named as #11 for highest grossing in 2019, ahead of Mumford & Sons, Michael Bublé, Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks and Ariana Grande. And I'm sure all of those acts are more popular than Cher is.

But why am I complaining. This is great. Finally, right? I’m actually very conflicted about it. Popularity: good. Monopoly: Bad.


Gary-jerryEvil Geniuses

I recently came across a clip of Gary Lewis (of Gary Lewis and the Playboys) and his father Jerry Lewis singling together on the show Hullabaloo. That prompted me to look up what kind of relationship they had. As it turns out, Gary and all his siblings from Jerry Lewis' first wife were all disinherited (as a group!) and Gary has called Jerry Lewis "a mean and evil man." I don't know how Cher really felt about Jerry Lewis but I've read he was always nice to Cher on her variety shows and she seemed to like him. She's never came out with any trash talk about him in any case. Mr. Cher Scholar, like a large population of the country France, considers Jerry Lewis a comedy genius.

Likewise, Cher had no rough encounters with the homicidal Phil Spector, holding her own against his in-studio verbal taunts. Many consider Spector a producing genius of the early 1960s.

And that reminded me that Sonny’s running mate for the Palms Springs Mayoral race once called him a “mean little Italian.” Others have mentioned difficulty working with Sonny too, but Cher enjoyed working with Sonny. She even seemed to forgive him for his egregious business scams involving Cher Enterprises. Her beef with him concerned mostly personal marital and control issues. And on a recent Good Times movie DVD, the director William Friedkin called Sonny an unqualified genius. And although this is maybe not a popular view of Sonny, I would argue he was probably a promotional genius of the scrappy kind. A lot of his ideas about career longevity and independent/guerrilla promotion were before their time by at least 30 years.

And all these things taken together, you might wonder if Cher has a high tolerance for dysfunctional male geniuses.

Cherjerry Cherjerry Cherjerry


Thinking About the Cher Biography

Cher_oscars_6_a_h

Before I forget, Cher performed at the finale of this season's Dancing with the Stars. I don't know who won. I don't watch that show unless Cher or her peripherals are on it. But USA Today reported on Cher's appearance on the show. I found it striking she appeared on a 2019 show singing a 1967 song or rather she sang her own 52 year old song.

Dwts2019

I've been thinking recently about Cher's upcoming biographical projects: the Cher musical to travel in 2020, an upcoming biopic and her autobiography. 

I don't know if her book is in the can but I hope it includes music and artists she was influenced by aesthetically, interior design influences (and other "hobbies"), records she loved (and what Sonny thought of them), movies she loved, what the big mistakes were, who helped in little and small ways, and maybe even some dish on a few dramatic kindnesses and large slights. 

I think about the evolution of the Katharine Hepburn biographies (aside from Cher, I've read as much KH), and she got really reflective and reconsidered some of her earlier stances on issues (like boycotting the Oscars) toward the end of her life and it felt very human and enlightening. Actually, Hepburn's last opinion on attending the Oscars helped me show up at a book awards event this year. 

While I was making one of my unsuccessful attempts to find Cher's copy of Marie Claire, I picked up a British film magazine that caught my eye, Little White Lies, the Judy Garland issue. (I've read a few JG bios too).

Anyway, I liked how the articles in that magazine described the aims of her recent biopic:

“There is no two-bit mimicry here, no over-rehearsed tics or obviously detectable plummy accent. Both [Rene] Zellweger and [the director] understand that overzealous imitation in this type of film only serves to drive a wedge between audience and material. The ten-a-penny peacock turns by up-for-it chancers doing their best karaoke so often drains a movie of nuance and credibility, as all the focus is placed on, what is, a pageant for paid-for narcissism.”

In another article in the magazine Zellweger says

“We feared that the more you veer away from what is authentically you, the less likely you are to connect with the person you’re representing.”

Ironic but true.

And here's a quote that I feel sums up something unique about Cher. In a recent interview, Cher was telling the story again about the theatrical trailers for Silkwood and nobody knowing she was sitting in the theater. When her name came up in the trailer, everybody laughed and how painful that was to experience. 

The interviewer asks Cher if she felt a strong reaction at the time, like "they're all wrong about me!" and Cher said no, it was an organic response. "I never argue with reality."

What a quote, huh?  

My friend Christopher alerted me to an old Entertainment Weekly review of Cher's album Love Hurts. Christopher says the magazine had just started when this review appeared. It isn't great at a B+ and takes so many attacks at her Geffen era that I almost feel protective of Diane Warren, Jon Bon Jovi and the decade of schlock rock:

"[This album] finds the warbler surrounding herself with the most formulaic hit songwriters alive (Diane Warren, Desmond Child). To boot, Cher has cannily stuck with the production style most lusted after by cynical radio programmers, stressing power chords that plotz all over the place, battalions of backup singers who scream their guts out, and keyboard blasts so resonant they sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon. Every song approximates that most reliably commercial of half-breeds, the part-rock, part-pop power ballad. So why, given this gluttonous buffet of calculation, is the album so much fun?"

Then going on to say,

“For all the fakery that surrounds her, Cher remains weirdly genuine.”

A common refrain of later-day Cher scholarship right there. What are the ingredients that made that?

  


The Influence of Movie Stars: Mae West and John Engtead Photos

MaewetitudeMy friend Christopher sent me a stack of books his grandmother had before she passed away. One of them was a thin book on the movies of Mae West. Immediately I recognized something about Cher in Mae West, a sort of Mae-Westitude. Did Cher borrowed anything from Mae West? It's an interesting idea. 

BreastdressFirst it was the dress from the movie I’m No Angel with the looks-more-revealing-than-it-is with its skin-tone material (so similar to Bob Mackie's dresses for Cher) and the cut-out breast plates similar to Cher's Take Me Home album cover.

Then it was Cher's Sadie Thompson but really Mae West impersonations (3:05).

It's also Cher's own sexual self confidence and personality.

Mae was said to be immediately recognizable and confident in her dresses, wigs and with her “insinuating sneer.”

Oh yes, and the wigs!

West is described in the book as tough, resilient, bold, self-mocking and good natured, all synonyms for Cher too.

Mae was also noted for her androgyny. Fans called her “Queen of the World.” The verb vamping was literally used in the book. So much in common.

Here are some other similar outfits...

Belle

Town

West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



West in Belle of the Nineties / Going to Town / Go West Young Man 

Pretty provocative.

Mae West also had a multi-faceted career from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood. And for those who bemoan Cher’s lack of commitment to any one facet of show business, Mae had something to say about that, too: "It wasn’t what I did but how I did it.” 

West was credited with bringing “an entirely new attitude toward sex on the silver screen. Before Mae, the Hollywood siren had been heavy and sinister, a wrench in spangles or clinging black velvet gown who lured men to their doom. With Mae, sex became breezy and humorous, a light-hearted activity without guilt, recriminations, or emotional involvement of any kind.”

I also recently found a book called “Movie Star Portraits of the 1940s” and there were some photos there by John Engstead. You might remember his photos of Cher photos circa 1975, when her promotional materials were black and white, very soft focus, glamorous and hearkening back to this very Hollywood era. 

Eng1 Cher-75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black and whites with light and shadow, soft makeup similar to his work stars like Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrick and Loretta Young, whose photo with flowers reminded me of his portraits for Cher in 1975. 

Bergman-eng Bergman-eng Bergman-eng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingrid Bergman / Loretta Young / Lauren Bacall

There's something about these images that is not weak or vulnerable seeming, but headstrong…just straight on, and as the book states these images contain “allure and glamour imbued with intelligence.”


Watch Moonstruck for Christmas

XmasmoonMeg Sheilds has a great article about Moonstruck and why it's a great holiday movie.

Although it's not about the holidays per se, it's good a holiday vibe. She calls it a “glorious late-80s comfort food” and she likes Cher’s “frumpy chic.”

First, there's the sense of cold and warmth in the movie, scenes of insight are "bathed in cold, lunar spotlight that gives [them] a chilled supernatural feeling." Alternatively, the ”inviting domesticity of the interior spaces…radiate a warmth [both] physical and emotional with coloring of “dark cherry, rosy glows and deep crimsons."

Secondly, there's an emotional abandon about the movie, “the willingness to be emotional, both in bombast ('CHRISSY BRING ME THE BIG KNIFE') and in subtler, gentler ways ('I love him awful')…”tapping into that special kind of existential upheaval that runs rampant during the holidays when your routine is shaken and you discover new parts of yourself.”

She says, “Moonstruck loves it’s characters and refuses to reduce them to punchlines.” The movie has dark, wintery parts “of hard ground, dead trees, and precipitous existential dread.”

MoonstruckeggsFinally, there's family, a family which “feels terribly, terribly real…homey as those eggs that Rose makes.”

Oooh. I love that fried egg scene. I also love how the dish formerly known as Eggs in a Hole is now very often called Moonstruck Eggs.

Cher just gets into the cracks of culture, even the food. 

Which reminds me, why isn't there a Sonny cookbook out yet?

 


The Clinger Sisters on The Danny Kaye Show

Clinger1The Christmas season is upon us. And this reminds me that two years ago my friend Natalie spent Christmas in New Mexico. We watched one of her favorite movies, White Christmas with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. Natalie, turns out, is a big Danny Kaye fan. So we watched a lot of his clips on YouTube that month, including one with some young girls named The Clinger Sisters on Danny Kaye's variety TV show (1963-67).

I don't know why, but I looked them up on Wikipedia to see what became of them. Well, Peggy Clinger became a songwriter and wrote a song for Cher on her 1971 album, the song "I Hate to Sleep Alone."

Cherlp

 

In other news, check out this cool Christmas photo shoot with a Cher doll.


The Definition of Kibitz

KibbitzRemember this scene in the movie Good Times? Sonny is playing chess with their pet monkey? This is shortly after Cher orders out for "chicken delight" while saying, "You knew when you met me I wasn't the domestic type." 

I often say this phrase at home.

Anyway, Sonny, Cher and the monkey are waiting for their takeout and Cher is watching the chess game and making suggestions for Sonny, who is losing the game to the monkey. This annoys Sonny and he complains to her, "Don't kibitz."

Well, I've always wondered what that word meant. Like from the year 1981 when I first saw this movie at age 11 until this year. So for like 38 years I've been sitting here wondering. 

Recently I was listening to a Way with Words podcast and they explained this was a Yiddish word meaning "meddlesome bird." This is awesome because I love Yiddish.

Practically, it's defined as "to speak informally, chat, kibitz with friends" or alternatively "to look on and offer unwelcome advice, especially at a card game." (Google)

Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino also use the word in a recent GQ interview:

GQ: I wonder if you guys are friends in part because so few other people can really relate to your respective life experiences.

Pacino: We get together. And there’s a trust there. There just is. We understand this thing together a little bit better. And you go there sometimes just to get some feedback. We talk about things.

De Niro: Kibitz. I don’t know if you know that word.

GQ: I do.

Pacino: We kibitz.

They kibitz. That's adorable.


Bob Etsy RIP

TakemehomeOne of Cher's major producers from the late 1970s recently passed away.

Bob Etsy also produced big disco classics such as Donna Summers' "Last Dance." Here's his obit in the Hollywood Reporter.

And here's an interview where he talks about working with Cher.

Bob Etsy was a big part of the two 1979 Casablanca albums, Take Me Home and Prisoner.  He produced Prisoner entirely and shared production of Take Me Home with Ron Dante.

From Take Me Home he and with Michelle Aller wrote "Take Me Home," "Wasn't It Good," "Say the Word," and "Git Down (Guitar Groupie)." FromPrisoner Prisoner he and Michelle Aller wrote "Shoppin'," "Hell on Wheels," "Holy Smoke," and "Outrageous." He also co-wrote "Mirror Image" with Michael Brooks.

These Prisoner songs contained one-of-a-kind biographical lyrics meant to give people a view of Cher's life at the time. 

 

 

 


New Perfume Just in Time for Christmas

Eau

So as you may know, Cher's new perfume is available in time for all your $$$ stocking-stuffer needs, Eau du Couture. Does the name have to have so many vowels in it...so hard to spell. 

You can buy it here: https://scentbeauty.com/products/cher-eau-de-couture

I really like mine, which isn't a big surprise (and yet it kinda was when I opened it) because I liked Uninhibited and this smells very, very similar. My friend Christopher remarked that this is comforting, the idea that Cher has a one-stop smell and not a perfume opportunist like other celebrities. 

I'm not alone in my assessment either. Early reviews from frangrantica are making similar comparisons. And to remind you, here are the old reviews of Uninhibited. Or current reviews of it, as the perfume is still selling on eBay used. 

The commercial isn't quite as romantic as the last one from the 1980s and they lack her son Elijah or current boyfriend in them, but this making of the commercial was very lovely. 

MakeupHere's also an interview to go with the launch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkM8REYt6Iw.  I love the tour they take her through the decades.

Cher-side-stareHave you seen those videos of people quietly doing things on YouTube? They're called ASMR videos and they tap into our audio sensory fetishes. Here's an article explaining ASMR. There's a subset of Youtubes around opening boxes. A Cher fan gets into the act in this video of hands opening the bottle. We didn't have that in the time of Uninhibited. It's oddly addictive. 

And here's the straight-out commercial which I've only seen online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voRq6jdl6FE

At one part of the making-of video, we get the very intense Cher Stare (eek!) albeit a side-glance one. The Cher stare always makes me feel like I'm trouble for something, like in this case only buying one bottle of Eau de Couture so far!

I promise Cher, I'll buy the gift set when it comes out!! I swear!


Murder in Music City

Murder2So I finally had a chance to watch Sonny's 1979 movie, Murder in Music City, sometimes known as The Country Western Murders (I don't know where or why two titles were used or needed). And I never realized before now that this was an NBC TV movie. It aired on January 16, 1979.

Is it me or does his head look Photoshopped (or whatever they called it back in 1979) oddly to his body in that ad below. 

It opens with Sonny running from some bad guys. He plays a songwriter named Sonny Hunt (you hear two lines of a song) with a very spunky, likable girlfriend, a supermodel allegedly. They get caught up in a murder mystery because Sonny is so successful as a songwriter that he needs to put his money somewhere and his manager suggests a failing detective agency.

It could happen.

These two kids actually have chemistry and this would have been a better series, like a Hart to Hart. It's not as bad as you might think. Sonny does a pretty good job. He just doesn't have that elusive 'it' as an actor but this performance is far from embarrassing. The script was pretty much what you'd expect a TV movie in the 1970s to be. And considering this is Sonny's only starring movie role, it's worth a watch.

MurdersHe's shirtless multiple times. I should come up with a Sonny-shirtless-in-movies scale chart because he seems to be shirtless quite often in movies.

And remarkably (since this is a movie about Nashville after all), there are lots of country cameos including Mel Tillis (singing AND stuttering…I love me some Mel Tillis!), Barbara Mandrell (adorable per yush), Ray Stevens singing with Ronnie Milsap, Larry Gatlin, and an unrecognizable Charlie Daniels. Plus you get Morgan Fairchild, Claude Akins, Lee Purcell and that adorable character-actress Lucille Benson as the kooky secretary.

Even more remarkably, this flick was directed by Leo Penn, father of Sean, Chris and Michael.

The interactions between the country singers and Sonny are interesting and unusual. You had to wonder what everyone was thinking. Sonny was a fading hot commodity post breakup with Cher and their TV shows. You got the idea that Cher was more of a country music fan than Sonny (who was all R &B and Soul) and Barbara Mandrell was flying high on her hits "Sleeping Single on a Double Bed" and "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)" and on the cusp of her own variety show. There's a hilarious interchange between Sonny and Barbara where his character doesn't know who Mandrell is. Okay, Sonny Hunt. 

The Thrilling Detective website had this to say about the movie:

Murder1“Full of logical inconsistencies (Sonny has to break into his own business), wisecracks that don’t so much crack as slither, and a slew of country music celebrity cameos that pretty much define “gratuitous.”

This is the 1970s. Gratuitous has no meaning here. And it was very funny when Sonny broke into his own business. Therefore a fan of Rifftrax, I submitted this movie for their astute consideration.