Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I always love it when Andrea Marcovicci sings for our Tuesday luncheon group at the National Arts Club. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since I was in high school and she was Betsy on the now long-defunct soap “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”
She performed selections from her current engagement, “Skylark: Marcovicci Sings Mercer,” at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, a fitting tribute to conclude this year’s centennial celebration of that great songwriter’s birth. Marcovicci spent a year and a half studying his life and work. Her interpretations, along with her striking good looks and sparkling personality, lit up the room. As Variety has said, she is “the epitome of elegance and showbiz savvy.”
In a nod to our afternoon’s speaker who had preceded her, William D. Cohan talking about his best-selling book House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, she led off with Carolyn Leigh’s “If You’re Young at Heart.” “Fairy tales can come true . . .” was a ironic comment on the greedy visions of the executives responsible for the financial crisis that began with the collapses of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
Then she stepped out into the audience to sing “Something’s Gotta Give” and it is was on to Mercer. Andrea also shared anecdotes about the man who collaborated with most of the geniuses of his time. “It was said he would write a song with the first person who showed up in the morning,” she said with a laugh.
She didn’t just sing and tell stories, though. She allowed us to sing along -- as if she could have stopped us -- to “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” and she concluded with a song Mercer didn’t write but which was one with which he had a connection, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The song is forever associated with Judy Garland, who sang it in “Meet Me in St. Louis” and who had a long-running affair with Mercer.
Johnny Mercer is one of my most loved songwriters. If you’ve ever been to Savannah, Mercer’s hometown, you know why he wrote the songs he did. It is a romantic town, in a gothic sort of way, and spawned the man who would go on to win four Academy Awards and receive 18 nominations. My favorite of the winners, and one of my all-time favorite songs, is “Moon River.” I love watching my all-time favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn, sing it in one of my favorite movies, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” sitting in the window beside her fire escape, with gorgeous George Peppard looking down on her. The movie’s producers had wanted to cut the song, which Mercer wrote with Henry Mancini, but Audrey said, “Over my dead body,” and the song stayed in and won the Oscar for best song.
It’s funny how I spotted Andrea Marcovicci and became mesmerized by her as a junior in high school. She was one of only two fictional heroes I’ve ever had, and surprisingly both were television characters. The first was Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie on That Girl. Both Ann and Betsy appealed to the independent little feminist in me. Thomas’s role was historic in that it marked the first time a female TV character had ever lived alone and had a career. Before that women had always been somebody’s wife, mother or daughter. I knew right then that’s what I wanted. I had never been interested in getting married and having children.
Unlike Ann, Betsy didn’t live alone -- she lived with her boyfriend, Joe. I thought, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind that.” Betsy was a social worker, someone with a passion to help people. That also appealed to me, so much so that I started requesting college catalogues with an eye on majoring in social work. I think it’s interesting that the characters I was drawn to at such an early age were both strong, independent career women who were unconventional for their time. I guess that’s how I grew up to be a strong, independent, unconventional career woman myself. Thanks Ann and Betsy!