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BHC - Connie Martinson

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  •  March Schwartz

          Rupert Holmes has put an espionage musical in your hands when you read his novel Swing: A Mystery (Random House $24.95). He has also put a rip roaring adventure from 1940 when the San Francisco World’s Fair on Treasure Island was occurring. Based somewhat on his father’s life touring with the swing bands of the ‘40s, Ray Sherwood is a jazz saxophonist and arranger with the Jack Donovan band. A divorced loner, he is attracted to a young music student, Gail Prentice, who begs him to help her in orchestrating her composition Swing Around the Sun in time for the opening of the Golden Gate Exposition.
          On the day he meets her, he is caught in the fall of a young woman committing suicide. He notes that Gail is not quite lying to him but she is also not telling the truth, but this does not stop him from going to dinner at her house, where he is given a strange reception by her step-father and by her mother, Martha, who stabs him in the arm while serving him dinner. Later Martha will remind him that they met twenty years earlier, had an affair and Gail might be his child. That will put a damper on any sexual interest Ray had.
          Ray is suffering a grief without end for his daughter, Linney, who died in a childhood tragedy of being locked in an abandoned refrigerator while Ray and his wife, Nancy, were down the street at home in bed. They found the loss and guilt too hard to share. Rupert Holmes dedicates the book to Wendy Isobel Holmes (1976-1986) so it isn’t too hard to figure he knows grief when he writes about it. When I mentioned this as we taped, he was open and honest about what he and his wife endured and, yes, stayed together through this horror. For a man with great success in his career, life has not been easy.
          This is like a musical in that there is a CD in the back of the book with music and songs evocative of the Big Band era. All of the music and songs are written by, sung by and orchestrated, except track 5, by Rupert Holmes. If the name sounds familiar, he won the Tony for Best Book, Best Music and Lyrics for The Mystery of Edwin Drood and currently, he is represented on Broadway with Say, Goodnight Gracie. The man is more than a triple threat talent. And, as a gift to a fan, he sang a chorus of Pina Colada on the show we did. There are clues to solving the mystery in the book in the music on the CD. Did I find them? No. But I did enjoy listening to the music.
          For 25 years Phil Doran wrote and produced TV sitcoms, such as Sanford and Son, Who’s The Boss? etc. But that was then and this is now in 2000 and his agent isn’t returning his phone calls so fast. His wife, who is a sculptress, studying in Italy, calls him and tells him that she has bought a small, old stone house in Tuscany without a road leading to the house. Think Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House in Italian. Imagine a neighbor who owned all the land surrounding your new house who puts and “evil eye” upon you—and that is just the good part.
          Anyone who has ever added on, much less tried to do it in a foreign country will laugh as Phil portrays the legal problems and torment that they encountered. They can’t get a permit to build because the house does not have an address and therefore does not exist for sale or rebuilding. They hire a lawyer, they flatter the mayor that Phil is writing an article for the Los Angeles Times about this village, and finally, they find proof that their house exists. How? Thanks to aerial photos made by the US Air Force because their house was used by the Nazis in WWII.
          Painting a house in America can cause a divorce, think Italy and workers who don’t show up and the marriage was on shaky ground. It took a terrible car accident to make them realize what was happening to them. Meanwhile, Phil had returned to his beloved Brentwood home with swimming pool, when his agent called to say there was interest in his film script. He “took a meeting” with the interested parties, started to rewrite the script to their requirements, which meant changing the sex, the ethnicity, the period of the script and learning to write in a rap patois. Phil told me when we taped he had an epiphany, walked away from the deal and returned to Italy.
          Currently, the house is built with a swimming pool, the Brentwood home is sold and he has 1,000-lbs. of olives waiting to be put in brine. And, he and his wife had a remarriage ceremony to christen the house, which is a story for another time.
          TV stars from another era find welcome at gatherings of fans around America. At these fairs, they sign autographs and talk to the people. They now have autobiographies that they can sell to the fans. A lovely lady who many men wished they could be in Danny Thomas’ shoes is Marjorie Lord. She has written A Dance and A Hug: A Memoir ($15.95) which recounts her life in theatre, beginning with The Old Maid with Judith Anderson and Helen Menken. Her three marriages and her son and her daughter, the actress, Anne Archer, are integral parts of this book. It is a life in four acts, the last being the present as a widow who is turning her talents to writing. There is a touching poem that she wrote when her second husband, Randolph Hale died, that ends with the lines, “Stay, stay yet awhile—oh my love—linger, till I bear to let go of you”.
          Not a company to stay quiet long, Daisy Miller, the editorial director for Martha Stewart Weddings, has written and illustrated Our Wedding Scrapbook (Harper Collins $24.95) which includes pages for who traveled the farthest, the youngest and oldest guests at the wedding. Kitschy but an easy gift for a wedding shower. Combine it with Nigella Lawson’s Feast: Food To Celebrate Life (Hyperion $35) which really does have superb recipes as well as photos of the finished dish, and you have given quite a gift for their future happiness. You can even suggest they have you for dinner with the roast veal with rosemary and garlic on page 179. Lawson suggests this for Passover, but I think it is great for any time. Add to it her spinach with pinenuts and sultanas (golden raisins) and l’chaim!
          Remember April 10 at 2 p.m. at Kaufman Brentwood Library.

    • • •

          www.conniemartinson.com streamed 9am from SFGTV-ch26, 3 and 11:30 p.m. LA Cityview-ch 35 and UCTV-ch 35 in Beverly Hills. e-mail address: talksbooks@lycos.com

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