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Subject: Re: Lily Pons
From: Rich Lowenthal <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Rich Lowenthal <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 10 Nov 2018 00:17:07 +0000

text/plain (146 lines)

Again, your approach to what were once known as "facts" forces me to 
question anything you say. "Prestige" is a nebulous concept; what we 
were discussing were popularity and sales. You may not want to "believe" 
that Bing Crosby was ever the top movie star, but in the reality in 
which many of us are based he was--he was the top movie star from 
1944-48, and a 2000 study based on ticket sales estimated he was the 
third most popular star ever, after only Clark Gable and John Wayne. His 
record sales are estimated to have topped 1 billion--probably even more 
than Lily Pons.

Rodgers and Hammerstein did not create "South Pacific" for Pinza--the 
show was announced months before his signing. Pinza wanted to appear on 
Broadway and contracted with the producer Edwin Lester to find him a 
show; just a week before signing the contract for South Pacific he was 
prepared to appear in a different show. It's true that they wrote 
Pinza's songs with his voice in mind, but then they did the same with 
Mary Martin's songs--it was how musicals worked.  (Incidentally, the NY 
Times article announcing Pinza's contract suggests that people might 
have heard of him--because he had sung duets on the radio with Bing 

And since you seem obsessed with the Hollywood Bowl figures for Pons, 
they are not particularly meaningful--like many in Hollywood, the Bowl 
has had work done over the years and its capacity has varied. For 
instance, during the war it was limited to 5000, to avoid overly large 
crowds. (And the largest attendance at the Bowl was actually a 1956 Jazz 
at the Philharmonic concert with Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.) 
Or did you somehow think that the Beatles failed to sell out their 

If you have data to support your beliefs about Pons or the others you 
suggest were bigger stars than Crosby, let's have it, but as has been 
said, you have a right to your opinion but not to your own facts. I hate 
to say who you sound like.

------ Original Message ------
From: "James Camner" <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]; "Rich Lowenthal" 
<[log in to unmask]>
Cc: "James Camner" <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: 11/9/2018 6:34:06 PM
Subject: Re: Lily Pons

>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 
>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 
>important movie career.
>Regarding the earlier diva, one can read in John Barrymore's 
>"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 
>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 
>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 
>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 
>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 
>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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