Thursday, May 22, 2014

Actors Sing!

When movie stars get bored or feel they need to reveal more talent than what’s already been exposed by cameras, they might venture into other art forms, and occasionally different professions.

The first, and the most popular "expansion" of talents is directing films (Cornel Wilde, Mel Gibson) which could be the toughest too. Some might try painting (Kim Novak) and some might become equally famous for gardening or cooking (Vincent Price). In boredom, one feels the urge to write poetry (James Stewart). Some have acted in a slightly different field such as politics (Ronald Reagan, Sergiu Nicolaescu). And of course many famous stars have become singers.

The list I've compiled here is featuring some of the “better” actor-singers who have tried singing not in response to necessities of a certain cinematic role but simply because they wanted to sing. It was something of the heart if you like. This is a case for "singer, not the song."

The result in many cases is disappointing, yet it strikes me as interesting because one could see the recorded music as an extension of the artist's screen persona. As for the music goes, the degree of success varies, but what most of the actors-turned-singers have in common is using the popular format of the day and diving into deep waters of romanticism with little success.

With exception of a few, the rest of these actors didn't give singing a second try so these are probably the most whimsical recordings in popular music.

As for the rules of the selection, I have excluded actor/singers such as Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Yves Montand, Frank Sinatra who were singers first. And also ignored names like Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood whose interest in music wasn't whimsical at all and it had deeper roots in their past, or even their present.


Sophia Loren

Surprisingly, Sophia Loren happens to be one of the most adept singers in the bunch which is a bonus to her other talents. Singing French songs in the 60s was fashionable and here Sophia follows the trend by singing De Jour en Jour.

Anthony Perkins

Another song in French. Tony Perkins, whose Norman Bates character was the subject of an intense study by French cinephiles, decided to sing a couple of love songs in adopted language and RCA's usual tight arrangements helped to elevate his average voice. He was so encouraged that recorded an entire album of George Gershwin tunes!

The tune is Ne Dis Plus Rien.

Dirk Bogarde

Another Gershwin connection. This time the English matinée idol, Dirk Bogarde, gives his interpretation of a Foggy Day (in London town). Decca Records hasn't specified if lovers of the same sex can enjoy it equally, but they have provided a lavish string section which feels like silk and velvet.

Jeff Chandler

The man of Hollywood war films, westerns or anything with a good dose of action in it was another sexually ambiguous movie star (he was a cross-dresser) who sang his heart out. Here, his Las Vegas pleasing performance of I Should Care could be a movie scene from the 50s with him serenading an aging Lana Turner.

Anthony Quinn

This is an embarrassing recording, yet one can still recognize the laid-back, earthly and humorous Quinn in declamation. Well, in his own way...he sings.

Yul Bryner

He loved to sing gypsy songs and old Russian songs. Bryner was also a reasonably good guitarist and before arriving in Hollywood had sung in Parisian nightclubs. In 1967 Vanguard Record, which five or six years earlier had rejected Bob Dylan, released an album of Yul and Aliosha Dimitrievitch (his mate from Paris days). Additionally, he can be heard singing on films such as The Brothers Karamazov.

My selected song is The End of the Road.

Rock Hudson

He was the co-star of one of the best big band singers of the 40s, Doris Day, but his own interest was more in intimate love songs. Alas he never recorded with Velvet Underground.

Jerry Lewis

No funny stuff here. A straight-ahead big band performance of American songbook which topped the charts in 1956 and stayed there for three long weeks. Maybe Jerry was in a bet with Dean Martin? Who knows.

Listen to Sometimes I'm Happy.

Richard Harris

The most flamboyant, ambitious and successful of singer actors who was lured into singing after appearing in the movie Camelot. Between 1960s and 70s he recorded more than 6 albums - one of which went "gold", - and became a strong rival of the Beatles. Listening in retrospect, his work is a case of over-arranged, overblown conceptual LP craze of the 60s but one can always find some tracks to enjoy.

This is his Hariss' classic MacArthur Park.

Robert Mitchum

The master of invisible acting was a good honky-tonk singer and loved calypso rhythms. In 1958 he sang the title song of the film Thunder Road which later became a huge influence on Jim Jarmusch. Here, Mitchum singing You Deserve Each Other is absolutely cracking.

Fred Astaire
Although Fred Astaire was singing all his songs in Hollywood musicals, it took a long time until a devoted Astaire fan, the jazz impresario Norman Granz, decided to record him with a stellar line up of jazz musicians to prove the man can swing. The result is probably the most interesting recordings by a film actor which feels like water-colour painting where the edges are smoothly dissolved.

His accompanist include Oscar Peterson, Charlie Shavers, Flip Phillips, Ray Brown and many more and the song is Nice Work If You Can Get It. Astaire got it immediately

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