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Subject: Re: Lily Pons
From: James Camner <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:James Camner <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 9 Nov 2018 18:34:06 -0500

text/plain (66 lines)

I finally read this (I'm just now decompressing after the election - yes we got our 
candidate Katie Hill into the Congress!!).

What you write shows that you have scant understanding of how prestigious an 
opera singer was in Pons's time.  Opera singers occupied a higher plane of prestige 
than any pop singer including Crosby. That of course is no longer true, but it was in 
the 1930s up through Pons's heyday although it ended just after. This is partly the 
reason why Pons drew more people to the Hollywood Bowl than even the Beatles 
would. But the main reason she drew so many people is that she was Lily Pons and 
in her heyday, she was at the pinnacle. 

In her time, Pons's name was synonymous in the United States with opera just as 
Caruso's had been in his time and as Callas was in hers and Netrebko's is today.

For someone like Lily Pons, or Lawrence Tibbett, or Beniamino Gigli making movies 
was a lark, something to do when they weren't at their main business of opera. The 
same went for an operatic supernova like Geraldine Farrar who did have an 
important movie career. 

Regarding the earlier diva, one can read in John Barrymore's autobiography 
"Confessions of An Actor" how he approached Geraldine Farrar nervously in order to 
ask for her autograph. At the time Barrymore himself, a member of an illustrious 
theatrical family was already a Broadway star. But opera singers had their own 
special divinity (although even the expression "Diva" now applies more correctly to 
pop singers today) None of us born after WWII can conceive of just how opera 
singers were worshiped by the public, even the parts of a public who had little 
interest in opera per se.

Here's another example of how opera stars were in a class by themselves, when 
Rodgers and Hammerstein heard that Ezio Pinza might be available, they created 
South Pacific for him. It was Pinza, not Mary Martin who was the catalyst for this 
masterpiece even though he barely sang more than 15 minutes of the music. 

Undoubtedly Crosby was the most ubiquitous and probably richest pop singer after 
Gene Autry (through his breath of activity), but I don't believe he was ever the 
number one box office movie star. That honor went to such as Shirley Temple, Will 
Rogers,  Rin Tin Tin (the dog), Deanna Durbin (in her prime far bigger than Judy 
Garland) and Ronald Reagan. 

The revisionist trashing of Pons's posthumous reputation was accomplished mainly 
(but not exclusively) through British writers who were jealous (and still are) of the 
United States's hegemony in cultural matters. Of course it wasn't just Pons. For 
example, the noted record collector Richard Bebb told me that Harold Rosenthal 
called Rosa Ponselle a "cow" (after she sang Norma at Covent Garden). I could also 
reference Scott's "Record of Singing" which also IMHO, endlessly distorts and skews 
the history of what he is supposedly chronicling. And so it goes. 

Here's a question: has any singer ever "dined out" more successfully on the basis of 
one (admittedly excellent) 78 RPM recording than Eva Turner? 

James Camner

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