Monday, January 23, 2006

JAN CLAYTON

How I got to thinking about Jan Clayton is too long to tell here, but suffice it to say, I watched an old "Lassie" TV show, (when, believe it or not, it was called "Jeff's Collie"....!) Jan Clayton played Ellen Miller, Jeff's (Tommy Rettig) mother, from 1954 to 1957....and though over the years, she did many many guest starring appearances on television, for many people The Lassie Show was what she was best known for....when, in fact, Jan Clayton had a big broadway career in the mid to late 40's....

And, before that, she starred in quite a few movies....yes, they were what used to be called B movies, (maybe even C movies) but, she did star in them...


But where I first became aware of her was in the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway Musical, "CAROUSEL", (the Original Company with John Raitt) in 1945.
She originated the role of Julie Jordon and had the opportunity to sing the great GREAT duet-song---a little musical play unto itself---"If Loved You". She recieved fantastic reviews and became the toast of Broadway...and the following year starred in the very first Revival of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical, "Show Boat"...again,
taking Broadway by storm and landing on the cover of Life Magazine. (Whch was a

a very prestigeous thing to happen, back then....just try to buy one of those original Life Magazines today....)


There are things that happen to you in your life that are so memorable they stay etched in your memory, forever...Maybe it's because my life has been devoted to the theatre and music that some of my memories have more meaning to me than they might to someone else...such a 'memory' came back to me as I watched "Jeff's Collie"...

In my World AIDS Day post, I spoke of my dear friend Carl Bostelmann,
and how he enriched my life in so very many wonderful ways, not the least of which were the glorious intimate party's that he gave...all were always 'happenings' of a sort...and all were always beautiful in every way...He had a knack for gathering people together and for making everything about the entire evening, perfection! Such a party was his 50th Birthday Gathering.

Everyone wore white, (a requirement for this 'special' occassion), and Cocktails were served in the front yard of Carl and his partner's unprentious home... Dinner was served in the back garden where they had six tables of 5 or six people, all chosen carefully, to compliment one another...Balloons and Candles were everywhere...Beautiful China and Glassware and Linen were all in abundance, and the Menu had been carefully planned considering the fact that this was August and it would be very very warm...everything, as I said was pefection which was always the case with any of Carl's party's...magical actually, with over 100 candles burning and all this exteremly beautiful china and glassware and linen adorning each table with special votive lights for each table, again, chosen with great care by Carl. He always created a warm welcoming atmosphere...using beautiful formal looking things, but there was never anything 'formal' about the way one felt being a part of these gatherings.


Part of his great gift as a host, was to bring people together who would make for a good mix because of their connections to each other. I was at the "mostly musical" table...my dear pal Betty Garrett was there at that table and a wonderful Composer/Lyricist--Billy Barnes,
who had written 6 very successful Musical Reviews and had also written 'special material' for a number of Musical Variety TV Shows...I had known Billy almost as long as I had known Carl....we had worked together in a piano bar where he played and I sang, early on in our friendship...

Then there was as a young man, Glenn Moore, who was a Musicologist Archivist. His special interest was The History Of The Broadway Musical--he knew every show that had ever been produced on Broadway and who was in it...Then there was a lovely man named Al Morley, who owned a Movie & Music Memorabelia store and who had been in and an around theatre in Los Angeles working on the Producing side for as long as I had been in L.A. And last but not least, was the lovely and talented Jan Clayton. The 'Musicologist' and I were the only two who had not met her before...and Carl had said that she might not even be able to come because she had only gotten out of the hospital a few days before and was still quite ill...But, she was indeed there, and Carl was excited, because her birthday was coming in a few short weeks and ever the thoughtful host, Carl had made this a double celebration. So, this was the mix at our lovely 'musical' table.

Everything about this party was a dream come true. Everything, except for one element...the pianist that Carl had hired to play for the evening. He was, in a word, Bad. In fact he was Truly Terrible. Perhaps it was just our table that knew how really really bad he was...Though no one would say anything to Carl about it, we, at our table, did kind of snicker among ourselves, everytime this guy hit a clinker, and there were many many clinkers throughout dinner. So, quite frankly, at the end of dinner when Carl begged Jan Clayton to sing, I really didn't think she would...not only because this pianist truly stank, but because she was still so very ill and in fact had hardly eaten any dinner, at all. But sing she did. and brilliantly, too, I might add.


There is a song that was written for the very first revival of "Show Boat" that Jan Clayton had starred in...in fact it was the last song Jerome Kern ever wrote...called "Nobody Else But Me"...a beautiful wonderful musically complicated song that Carl had requested that Jan sing on his special night. It was, I think the essence of Carl in many ways, and I think Jan Clayton knew that and so, she made this extra special effort for our Birthday Boy.

Here are the lyrics, by Oscar Hammerstein to "Nobody Else But Me". I think they are are worth notating:

I WANT TO BE

NO ONE BUT ME

I AM IN LOVE WITH A LOVER WHO LIKES ME

THE WAY I AM.

I HAVE MY FAULTS,

HE LIKES MY FAULTS,

I'M NOT VERY BRIGHT

HE'S NOT VERY BRIGHT

HE THINKS I'M GRAND THAT'S GRAND FOR ME!

HE MAY BE WRONG, BUT IF WE GET ALONG

WHAT DO WE CARE? SAY WE!

WHEN HE HOLDS ME CLOSE

CLOSE AS WE CAN BE,

I TELL THE LAD THAT I'M GRATEFUL AND I'M GLAD

THAT I'M NOBODY ELSE BUT ME.

This song has more key changes than almost any other song I have ever heard...the point being that it is a very very difficult song to sing and an even more difficult song to 'play'....(I'm sure you are getting the picture here...) Stinko Piano Player butchered this song so badly I honestly don't know how Jan Clayton sang it at all. Having someone backing her who sometimes was not even in the same key as she was (and he had the music in front of him,) had to be her worst nightmare come true. But because Carl had requested this song and it was his birthday, Jan Clayton, in her most professional 'trooper--the-show-must-go-on-way', finished this number and everyone was enthralled and thrilled, and truthfully, because of her professionalism, no one at that party except the 'mostly musical' table were really aware that the piano playing was absolutely dreadful !


So, here was this great performer, barely out of her sick bed from the hospital, singing her heart out under the most adverse of circumstances...and pulling it off without most of the people there knowing that she was in deep deep doo doo with the awful rotten accompanist, who wasn't!

I don't know if this means anything to anyone else...but this woman singing under those conditions on that night was such a moving and sweet moment in time, to me...a once Broadway Star now singing--years later, (maybe for the last time), in this little unassuming intimate garden here in Los Angeles, a song that landed her on the cover of Life Magazine....another memorable moment in her wonderful career.....and, in just a few short weeks, (and as it turned out, two days after her very own birthday), Jan Clayton would be dead. None of us there that night knew that this would be her very last 'performance'....the very last time she would appear in public and sing in a public forum, albeit, a very small forum. And, it was a 'freebie' at that, with a terrifingly awful piano player. Not a pretty finish to a truly distinguished caeer.

The twists and turns of a life in 'the business of show', in all it's wonderful and ironic glory. Truth really is stranger than fiction, isn't it?

This is a bit of a postscript: A dear and good friend emailed me this comment and I wanted to share it with you....

Read your blog about Jan Clayton, and wanted to let you know about "Jeff's Collie". "Lassie" was ALWAYS called "Lassie"... except when it went into syndication. THEN it was re-named "Jeff's Collie" to keep it from being confused with "Lassie", which was still on the air. Since the early "Lassie"'s had changed families with the introduction of "Timmy" and June Lockhart (as I recall, the series introduced Timmy as an orphan or something... there was a "flow" from one family to the next), it was easy to package the early ones as "Jeff's Collie"; but when they originally aired they were part of the "Lassie" series.










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31 Comments:
had this to say:

thank you. i have been to parties like this, although the guests were more mundane. We attended a party in the Portland West Hills with some local sports folks. mt friend, at that time, was still "in the closet", so he had me hostess parties in his home from time to time, to make everything appear "normal" to the community that he associated with. It was always great fun to mix and mingle and meet people of whom i knew so much about but never thought to meet. standing in front of a wet bar with Mike Bellotti (he is the football coach at the University of Oregon) talking about how monumentally BAD the band is... i miss those days. As pleased as i am that William finally "came out", hostessing for him was such a wonderful thing.

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 3:28:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

i forgot to say hi from michele, i am here on my own so often, it just slipped my mind!

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 3:29:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

As usual, your post is always so interesting! What a lovely memories you have!

When I was a child I love to see "Lassie". I miss so much this phase of my life ...

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:19:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

What a great story as usual Naomi!! Jan Clayton was a truly beautiful lady. How wonderful that you were at that party and got to sit at the table with her and hear her sing that last time. What a lovely memory!!

Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I enjoyed reading it, as always!!

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 9:37:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

WOW! What an amazing story! And quite a tribute, too. I am also a singer, so I can understand what a nightmare that awful accompanist must have been, but Ms. Clayton's professionalism and class must have made it a truly special experience. I hope some day I have memories like this.

Here from Michele's today.

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 10:25:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I get it. I do! I've never had to perform with a horrible accompanist (because I rarely sing with anyone but my hubby accompanying me) but I know how key changes can kill you if things aren't in sync. I don't think I could have gotten through that song under those circumstances. What an awesome professional she must have been. And even though it wasn't the best of times for her - at least her last performance showed what a truly gifted singer she was. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story!

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 10:44:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

My mom used to attend parties like this and even hosted a few. I can remember being a little kid and watching all these Hollywood people standing around the pool eating canapes and drinking what looked to be delicious cocktails.

Via Michele

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 11:51:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Great story...

Michele says Howdy!

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 2:07:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Naomi, how nice for you that you were witness to her last performance, and too bad that they pianist was so bad. Did anyone ever call him on it? I remember her on the Lassie shows.

Michele sent me this time. (I'm listening to "When Sunny Gets Blue"
on Pandora.

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 2:42:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a wonderful memory of a beautiful woman. As usual my friend, you held me captivated with your story! And I did "get it!" Having some musical background I know how important your accompanist is! Great story!!!

Also, thank you for your thoughts and prayers regarding my dad. I really appreciate them!

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 2:45:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I remember her on Lassie, too!

I miss those old black & white shows sometimes....

Nice to meet you! Here from Michele's!

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 4:04:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a memorable story - the party, the people, Jan Clayton's performance! I love how you added your perspective on your friends and this performer's final days. Amazing - truly amazing. Thanks for sharing.

Michele sent me!

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 4:38:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Great story!

As a kid, I always liked Jeff's Collie better. I liked Jeff better than Timmy, and I like his mother much better.

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:58:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

How serendipitous we were watching a show yesterday about the 50 best animal stars, I guessed Lassie would come in at number one and it did and during the montage they showed that exact same picture you used.
Another wonderful tale from you rich and colourful past Naomi, always such a pleasure to visit.
Michele didn't send me ;)

Monday, January 23, 2006 at 10:39:00 PM PST 

Anonymous mar
had this to say:

Another beautiful story, thanks for sharing it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:12:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

How wonderful to have been at that fabulous party and hear Jan Clayton shortly before her death. You and all the guests were truly honored to be there!
Too bad the pianist stunk!!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 10:33:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

totally off topic, but Zac was over at my home this morning and i posted a nice picture and a short update about him and his mom!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 11:03:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

She would have loved this sweet tribute you have given her from your heart! She showed spirit and professionalism when she carried on through that so badly done accompaniment. Although I watched the lassie shows as a child, I never really wondered what actors and actresses real lives were like, until I was an adult. And since computers have come on the scene, I can indulge in my curiosties.It is actors and actresses of the past that fascinate me. I had favorites,like Audrey Hepburn,Janet Munro, Margret Obrien, Cary Grant and so forth. And their real lives often surprised me. As a child I always wanted to be, Audrey Hepburn, Margret OBrien or especially Margret Munro. She was so full of beauty and life and it shined through her eyes (see her in 1959's Darby OGill and the Little People and she fairly sparkled!)although it could have been Sean Connery that put that glow in her eyes, he could put a glow in any girls eyes, ha, ha! But I found she had a tragic real life. And Audrey Hepburns early war years life before she became an actress, was unpleasant to say the least. We always like to think they all have a charmed life but that is not always the case! Angela Lansbury is also one of my favorite actresses, she has done everything!Her acting career is fascinating!I like to collect old movies, I even have the old movie, The Canterville Ghost with Charles laughton, Robert Young and Margret OBrien.And every movie Shirley Temple ever did and so on and so forth!Please excuse any mispelling, still not up to par!
I added some more photos from the rock shop for you!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 11:19:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I'd never heard of Jan Clayton before. You tell such loving & warm tales of stars that you've known. I'm sure she'd be deeply touched if she read this.

Lassie brought back some childhood memories. I was the youngest of 5 & I would cry during every single episode because I was afraid Lassie was hurt or would die. My siblings grew to resent this as my parents made them turn off the television so I'd stop crying. As a result, they never got to watch the entire show. Thankfully there are reruns. :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 1:10:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I am sorry, that just show I am not yet myself, I meant Janet Munro NOT Margaret!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 1:13:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Nice to see Jan Clayton get her due in the blogosphere! I've heard her on the original cast recording of "Carousel" and of course remember the Lassie reruns with her. Did you see her in "Follies" in the 70s? The "Jeff's Collie" thing confused me too, I figured it was always "Lassie!" I'm curious about Billy Barnes. I looked him up and saw his two revues that played on Broadway, "Billy Barnes Revue" (1959) and "The Billy Barnes People" (1961). Did you see either of those shows? I've seen some of the cast at Kendall's mom's house over the years but I never heard of this man!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 3:44:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

You weave your experiences in such an engaging way, Naomi. Thank you!
I was born in the wrong time, because I adore musicals. The ones you speak of in such fond detail are ones I saw years later as a movie, but not on Broadway.

(We did just see a Broadway touring show of, which is my 2nd to most recent post, but it just doesn't compare to Rogers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, etc..) It's different and enjoyable but how I miss every having the opportunity to see and hear the singing and dancing. Thank you for bringing these times to us with your personal flair and enthusiasm. Delightful!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:03:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Hello, Michele sent me!

I'm glad I followed you, I really enjoyed reading that. Think I'll stick around and read some more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 11:42:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I felt like I just had a little vacation...reading about the garden party. I'm fantasizing now what while clothes I have to wear to it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 12:55:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

Cheers!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:53:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Very nice tribute. Thanks for sparking some fond memories from childhood.

michele sent me

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 10:11:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Thanks for the story, how did she die? My daughter is very music savey and she once went to see a version of South Pacific. She said that the lead could hardly sing the part, it was disappointing to her.

Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 12:41:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

She truly was a star. Your entry showed us the depth of her appeal.

They truly don't make them like that any more.

Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 1:06:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Unbelievable blog. I can hardly wait to vist this
site again.I'm consistently looking up blogs like
this.
Stop by and look at my va virginia house cleaning blog site.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006 at 8:29:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

After reading your article on Jan Clayton. I feel we have the same appreciation of this little lady though mine may have began a bit earlier.I was a teenager in the mid forties and saw a MGM b&w film called "This Man's Navy" which stared Wallace Berry. The female lead was an actress, who was unknown to me, by the name of Jan Clayton. By the time I left the theatre I had a teenage crush on the little redhead. Within two weeks, while on the subway in NYC, I spotted a poster at the end of the car that had a young girl on a merry-go-round horse holding up a pack of cigarettes. After stareing at the photo for minutes, wondering if that was who I thought it was, I got up and walked to the poster at the end of the car and was surprise to see it was Miss. Clayton, now the star of "Carousel"
Of course, within days, I got a ticket to see the production and this would be the very first theatre ticket I had ever purchased. From that moment on, I would be a lover of the theatre. Not long after, Miss. Clayton left to star in the revival of "Show Boat" at the Ziegfeld Theatre which I attended three times. The last time, my sister and I found out that Miss. Clayton was getting wed on the following weekend.We brought her a simple gift and met with her at the stage door. She was very gracious and gave us her autograph and later I recieved a beautiful signed photo from her, both of these, though a little faded, I still have. As can be expected, time goes on, one grows up and with a time in the Marines, Korea and then higher education, other young ladies enters one's life. I was saddened by her death and by an odd coincidence I discovered years later that an old classmate of mine was the script superviser on "Lassie." By that time, Miss Clayton had passed away. Last year he told me of a sad tragedy that occured while doing "Lassie." And this year, Miss June Lockhart told me of her illness. This makes one wonder if you could have been be of help at any time. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Miss. Jan Clayton.
Will D.

Monday, July 23, 2007 at 7:42:00 PM PDT 

had this to say:

hi Naomi......have been reading your archived stories and loving them all! This one touched my heart. the lovely nostalgia feel to it.....the sense of comraderie.....the story behind the event.....and the magic of the moment unfolding.

Monday, February 4, 2008 at 1:14:00 AM PST 

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