Who will make me us laugh as much as Madelyn Pugh, who with her partner Bob Carroll Jr. wrote the I Love Lucy shows but, amazingly, never won an Emmy? Who will pen words of distinction after the final “The End” from playwrights Pam Gems (Piaf), Lanford Wilson (Talley’s Folly), Michael Hastings (Tom and Viv), Sidney Michaels (Tchin-Tchin) and Shelagh Delaney (A Taste of Honey), radio dramatist Norman Corwin, Southern novelist Reynolds Price, French resistance fighter Jorge Semprun, who wrote scripts for Costa-Gavras (Z) and Alain Resnais (Stavisky), screenwriter David Zelag Goodman (Straw Dogs) and the great Arthur Laurents, whose works for stage and screen include Gypsy, West Side Story, Rope, The Snake Pit, The Way We Were, Anastasia and The Turning Point, despite being both gay in the days of homophobic Hollywood and blacklisted during the height of the McCarthy witch hunts. Nobody will look as splendiferous without the costume designs of Theadora Van Runkle, whose berets, calf-length skirts and sweaters for Bonnie and Clyde started a fashion trend called “gangster chic,” and Ray Aghayan, who created spangled spectacles for Cher, Ann-Margret and Diana Ross made of ostrich feathers, rhinestones and 10,000 sequins. One gown for Carol Channing had 80 pounds of crystal beading and a scarf so heavy that when she flung it over her shoulder she damaged the scenery. And just in case there is still a future for show business, who will tomorrow’s bold-face headliners be lucky enough to hire, now that the legendary Sue Mengers has collected her last 10 percent? When she controlled the careers of Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Bob Fosse, Ryan O’Neal and Michael Caine, she was as famous as her clients. Wickedly dispensing caustic, quotable one-liners, she was as fearless as she was powerful. I was in her office one day when Steve McQueen threatened to sue her for some now-forgotten contractual sin. “I’m an Irish mick and I don’t forget,” he barked. Without batting a mink eyelash, Sue retorted: “I’m a Jewish princess and I don’t give a fuck!”
Music hit a few sour notes in 2011. No more tasty recordings of classic songs from the Great American Songbook now that the incomparable Margaret Whiting has folded her sheet music, unplugged her mike and joined her songwriter father, Richard Whiting, and her surrogate father, mentor and best friend Johnny Mercer, in that soundproof recording studio in the sky. When he founded Capitol Records in 1942, she was the first artist he signed to a record contract. She was 18 years old. Her career spanned seven decades. Among the younger generation of sophisticated song stylists who inherited the polish and style of Ms. Whiting’s artistry, it was eight bars and out for Mary Cleere Haran, crushed under the wheels of a car in a small beach town in Florida while riding her bike without a helmet. Among the most accomplished and critically acclaimed interpreters of Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Porter, Gershwin and Berlin, Mary was a darling of the cabaret world, in a class by herself, and the loss is devastating. No more swinging chords from jazz pianist George Shearing. Although sightless, he turned 88 keys into the sound of an entire orchestra, revolutionizing jazz for almost 91 years. Whenever anyone asked if he’d been blind all his life, he always said: “Not yet.”
In jazz, both Bob Flanigan and Ross Barbour, the last living co-founding members of the Four Freshmen, a vocal group who grew from warbling undergraduates in malt shops to millionaire recording stars groomed by mentor Stan Kenton, sang their final four-part harmonies. Pete Rugolo, the hip Kenton big band arranger-conductor who wrote some of the Four Freshmen’s best albums, joined them in the jam session in the sky, along with fellow jazz arranger-composer Russ Garcia, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, Dave Brubeck’s drummer Joe Morello, trumpeter Snooky Young and sax wizard Frank Foster, who shaped the sound of the Count Basie orchestra. On the other side of Tin Pan Alley, Bruce Springsteen’s jovial sideman Clarence Clemens played his last soulful riff, country singer Ferlin Husky left the Grand Ole Opry one last time, and there will be no more hit tunes by Jerry Leiber, who with his writing partner Mike Stoller, penned durable pop songs like Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” and Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” We won’t get any more brilliant songs by hip lyricist Fran Landesman, whose poetry in rhythm are passions for singers as diverse as Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and the late June Christy—all of whom recorded “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” I’m really dating myself now, but I’m downright nostalgic about Georgia Carroll, the stunning supermodel from Texas who sang with Kay Kyser, later marrying the bandleader and starring in many of his zany films in the 1940s. After her retirement she retired to North Carolina, where she became active in the restoration of Chapel Hill, and Kyser became president of the Christian Science Church. That girl could sing.
Film scores won’t be the same without five-time Oscar winner John Barry, and colorful movie songs have lost their zip with the sad passing of Hugh Martin, the last of the great songwriters from the golden age of musicals. Meet Me in St. Louis alone contained “The Trolley Song,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Boy Next Door,” all standards for 70 years. No more concerts by Kay Armen, lusty singer of Armenian descent whose rich contralto brightened many TV shows and record albums and whose rousing “Hallelujah!” was a highlight in the all-star MGM musical Hit the Deck. It was one final stanza by singers Phoebe Snow and Barbara Lea, whose dedication to esoteric songs by Alec Wilder and other classy composers made her a favorite of New York’s midnight cabaret crowd. No more arias by tenor Giorgio Tozzi, whose voice traveled successfully from the Metropolitan Opera to movies (he dubbed for Rosanno Brazzi in South Pacific) and theater (starring in a Broadway revival of The Most Happy Fella). On the opposite side of the scale, Amy Winehouse, a punk-rock singer who looked like a biker moll on Halloween, got more unfair publicity for her drug addiction and crazy antics than for her odd but transfixing voice. As a result, few people ever discovered her real talents, and her jazz-inflected songs went largely underappreciated by serious music lovers. But the year’s most bizarre music-related scandal involved Oscar-winning songwriter Joseph Brooks, who won for the tune “You Light Up My Life” and ended up facing 25 years in prison after being charged in 2009 with drugging and raping 13 women after luring them to Manhattan with the promise of phony auditions. The case was awaiting trial when Mr. Brooks committed suicide at age 73, leaving his son, Nicholas, to face his own charges of allegedly murdering his girlfriend last December.