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From was in Philadelphia, this is Fresh Air. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. On today's Fresh Air, we remember talking game show host Regis Philbin, who died last week at the age of 88.
His career in television included everything from being Joey Bishop's talk show, sidekick to hosting Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a career spanning nearly 60 years. He was credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as clocking more hours on camera than anyone else in the history of television. We'll also remember Annie Ross, part of the jazz vocal trio, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. She died Tuesday at age 89, and I review a new Muppet series on Disney Plus.
And Ken Tucker reviews Taylor Swift's new album. Regis Philbin, the popular TV talk show host and personality whose career spanned more than 50 years, died of a heart attack last Friday at age 88. He's credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as clocking more hours on camera than anyone else in the history of television.
He gained fame as Joey Bishop's talk show sidekick in the 60s, then co-host of a live syndicated morning talk show for 23 years opposite first Kathie Lee Gifford, then Kelly Ripa.
And in 1999, while still hosting his morning talk show, Regis Philbin almost single handedly propelled ABC into first place by hosting the primetime U.S. version of a hit British quiz show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
At a time when many talk shows we're going through a mean phase, Regis Philbin went high while they went low, he was a natural conversationalist and broadcaster like Jack Paar, Tom Snyder and David Letterman, who CBS Late Show had Regis on as a guest 125 times in 2011. Regis published his memoir, How I Got This Way, just as he was stepping down from Live with Regis and Kelly. I spoke with Regis Philbin during his final week of those shows that year about his farewell episodes, his new book and what might come next.
Regis Philbin, welcome to Fresh Air.
Thank you very much, David. Happy to be here. Your book, How I Got This Way is a great way for me to get into talking about your career, because you go through it chapter by chapter, but just by linking it to personalities or influences or inspirations along the way.
Right. And it surprises me how honest you are and sometimes self-deprecating, not in a calculated way, but in really saying how it is you felt, whether you were hanging with a celebrity and wondering whether you were really accepted by that celebrity or even dealing with your parents. Did you go in there just saying, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it? That honestly?
Well, I wanted people to know where I came from and what my feelings were as I grew up and and how I missed so many opportunities along the way to do what I wanted to do because I didn't have the confidence to even tell myself, much less anybody else.
Yes, this is the business I wanted to be a part of. And finally, at the conclusion of my naval service, because I befriended a couple of older Marine majors who had been through World War Two and through the Korean War and were tough guys.
And and I would in our conversations, I would tell them, you know, how I've wanted to do this, but I couldn't do it. On the very last day that I left, this one major, you know, came in to shake my hand and say goodbye and ask me what I'm going to do with my life. And I told him what I like to do is go on a television, but I don't know what if I have any talent, what I could do.
And then he boomed at me, do you want this? And I stopped to and gave him a salute and said for the first time, Yes, yes, I want this.
Then get in your car and go up to Hollywood to make it happen. And that's what I did. And that's how I got my first job that was offered me on the West Coast.
And before you decided to take that advice and and head down to try and make it in terms of television, you reveal something in this book that to me was such a touching story where you're graduating at Notre Dame and you you set up this thing to impress your parents and reveal to them your secret ambition. And it's based on loving Bing Crosby and wanting to be an entertainer and a singer. And so you got a rehearsal pianist and a little thing and went straight from graduation, I guess, with the cap and gown still on and more transparency in.
Was it that sort of a thing?
Well, you're very you're very, very close. Yes. You know, I had promised them all through high school and college because they were dying to know what business I got to go.
And what are you going to do with your life? And the only thing that that I that I liked very much was the sound of Bing Crosby's voice. So I used to listen to when I was in my, you know, six, seven years of age and the radio was on in my little kitchen in the Bronx and and at nine thirty at night on WTW, I would hear this this voice singing to me. And they had such a clear and pure and friendly voice that I that I became an abbot of this guy.
He became my friend. And even though I was in the Bronx and he was in Hollywood, I would still see him every night or at least hear him every night at nine thirty. And that's the guy I wanted to be. Of course, I never had a singing lesson. I was totally unprepared for anything. But two weeks before I graduated with my parents coming out to see the graduation at Notre Dame, I discovered that one of one of the guys I hung around with for four years could play the piano.
And I said, I can't believe you can play the do you know the song Pennies from Heaven?
Which one of Crosby's great songs, which as a kid I used to sing to myself.
Yeah, of course I do. And then my parents drove from New York. When they got out of the car, I said, don't say a word, mom, we're going I've got to tell you what I want to do. So I walked them through the campus and Gus was waiting at the at the piano when we entered the music hall and I went down to the room I know he'd be in. I opened the door. Gave them a cue and I sang Pennies from Heaven to them, it was it was ludicrous.
I know it broke their hearts. It was I knew I was wrong from the first note I hit, but I continued to sing the song because I had no place to hide.
Well, that's what I call a terrible David.
Well, what I love about the writing is so revealing of your personality that you knew right from the start that this was literally not what they wanted to hear. Absolutely.
We're talking with Regis Philbin, who's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person who has starred on more hours of TV than anyone else, period. You say in the book that you paid close attention to Jack Paar, and that's where with his monologue, you recognized what it is you wanted to do. But yeah, here's what I don't understand. Recognizing that Jack Paar is is really good at talking extemporaneously on television about his life and being entertaining.
It's one thing to recognize it. You know, it's a completely different thing to be able to duplicate it.
Will you want to know something? David, you express that beautifully. You're absolutely right.
But the fascinating thing is that that's exactly what I would do at the street corners of the Bronx. I would recreate maybe a ballgame game. We played a Bronx Park that afternoon.
And who made a mistake and who, you know, and it was it was always very funny. And so I remembered that. And I wished I could do that on TV instead of reading somebody's jokes, which I could never do. By then, I had seen Jack Paar do something that gave me the confidence that I also could do. It wasn't a matter of duplicating part. It was doing my version of it. And I can't tell you how many times I said that to Jack Paar.
Jack, you were the one that that told me what to do with whatever talent, if you have to call it that, that I had.
And he wouldn't hear it, of course, because he he was a great fan of television and he couldn't get over the fact that, well, by that time I had a co-host and that he couldn't get over the fact that we were working with each other, not knowing where we were going with that first 20 minutes. But that's the way I wanted to do it, because I felt that was the best way I could do it. Yes, I hope I answered your question.
I don't even know, oh, your question was better than my answer. No, no, no, I don't like that, David. You're fine. All right.
We're up to Joey Bishop now. And this is where a lot of people first learned about you and saw you nationwide was as Joey Bishop's announcer sidekick. Right. And he called you a good listener as your major talent.
But the the thing about the book that I did not know, it's one of the most famous episodes of the first round of TV, late night wars where you walk off and sort of leave the show.
It was after Jack Paar had famously done it for a few months, objecting to censorship on his program.
But this is the first time decades after it happened that I've learned that Joey Bishop convinced you to do it as sort of a ratings stunt because Johnny Carson was coming to town.
Well, that's exactly what happened, and frankly, this is the first time I've admitted that to anyone, I didn't want to tar Joey's name in any way.
He was the one that frankly made a little joke of it at the beginning. And yes, he was the one who he had watched me do an interview with Joe Pine, and he was looking for a man who, you know, Joe Fine.
You know, they don't know him. No one knows Joe Joe Pind anymore. But he was the toughest of all the radio guys in the world. And that's in the book, too. But anyway, Joey heard that interview and I went to him.
And as I walked in the door, he said, I saw you last night. You got a lot of talent.
I said, wait a minute, this is the answer to my question all my life, what is my talent?
And so he so he thought for a long time and I made a long time. But it was embarrassing because I had come in and put him on the defensive with a question instead of him questioning me and finally said, you you are a great listener.
And I said, well, you know, I'll take anything I can get, but that at least that's that's good for what I'm going to be doing here with you.
Now we're doing the job and, you know, we're on ABC. And ABC isn't as strong as NBC in those years. It was began after NBC.
Johnny had held the show down for a while. He had a great following. It was tough to crack the code there at eleven thirty at night. And so one day was walking up the street. They're taking our walk every afternoon. Joey said, you know, I have a great idea. A great idea. Yeah, but it involves you. I said, Really, Joey, what can I do? And he said, Here's what we're going to do.
You're going to walk off the show. You're going to be angry. What you heard in the hallway that ABC doesn't like you, that you know, you're not doing the job. But I'm going to bring you back because I think you're doing the job. In other words, Joey was, you know, making himself a hero and also getting some attention to the show. And maybe people would tune in to see what happens to this young guy who walks off the show.
Well, look, I'm working for Joey Bishop. I'm trying to to do my job. He said he would bring me back. And so I didn't want to do it, but I did it. And I walked off the show. And every day Joey would say, I went out looking for Regis. Today, I went down to the beach. I mean, he would say incredible, silly things.
You're very diplomatic about it. But reading between the lines, it really seems as though Joey Bishop hung you out to dry on that thing.
Well, when I when I reread it and when I think about it, he did, but he did bring me back. So it's just a showbusiness stunt to attract attention and build a rating. That's what it comes down to. And maybe he did.
But the way you look at it, you could read that into it. Sure.
So let me let me play something for you and see how you react to this. This is from one of your recent shows. Adam Sandler came on as a guest in you and your co-host, Kelly Ripa there. And everybody wants to sort of do what Bette Midler did with Johnny Carson and serenade you somehow or do some other. You're up. You're absolutely right.
That's what's been happening. And he had a poem, right? He had a poem. So let's hear the poem.
It's about 4:00 in the morning last night because I was so you know, I know this is my last time with you reach on the show. We're going to hang out in real life. But here we go. How could you leave us? Regis, you're quitting is simply egregious. That's a good word. We need your banter with collegiates, you to make us laugh till we produce. You've had so many co-host Kelly, Kathie Lee and even Cindy Garvey sat here with you and before them, Kitty Carlisle, Lillian Gish, Madam Curie, too, that's Adam Sandler serenading our guest, Regis Philbin, with Kelly Ripa standing by.
Are there any secrets for being a morning person and being on? How do you get so much energy in the morning?
Well, after a while, you develop it for the morning. It's the afternoons where you feel like you're going to die. You know. You know that you got to be up. And I mean, it's not that bad for me now. About 15 years ago or so, we moved into an apartment house that they built right across the street.
It used to be the home of all my children. And then then they tore that building.
Data was just a very small, short building. And they built this skyscraper. And I said, boy, this wouldn't this be nice?
This is one of the luxuries of working in New York to live across the street and walk across the street to your job.
And it was and I think it helped me a lot, continue to continue to do the job. It was great.
So in the morning, you wake up at seven thirty, you get ready, you take the shower, the shave, you jump into your suit, make a little breakfast for yourself. Look at the paper as it is delivered to your door, then come across the street already Tuesday, check whatever else is in the papers. You didn't see Gelman come sit around a quarter to nine. Ten to nine. We go down, get made up at thirty seconds tonight to knock on her door and she comes, we walk down the hallway and we do the show.
It's as simple as that.
I have one more clip that I want to play, but this one showcases you, which I'm sure you're happier about and. No, not at all.
No, but it exemplifies what I think makes you such a singular TV talent. All right, I.
I put you right up there with Jack Paar.
Thank you. In terms of when you are honest and unchecked and you just do it in front of the entire audience. And in this clip, this is from last week, you're talking to your co-host, Kelly Ripa. And the subject comes up of Andy Rooney, who retired from 60 Minutes just recently and then died a few weeks after that. So here is how you bring it up suddenly in the midst of the audience, all warm and excited about your, you know, announcing your impending retirement in the celebration that's going on now.
It's scaring me a little bit is Andy Rooney passed away two weeks after he left, after he left Paltridge.
Now, first of all, after tonight's Let's Get Right, let's talk about God. And a tough little guy he was. That's not going to happen.
I don't know. But Andy used to say to the gal Mika, you know, Mika, who walks on on with the what's this morning, Joe? Morning Joe Scarborough, who I think that's terrific. But we've talked about that. But anyway, Mika has said she once worked with Andy over at CBS and he said, when I leave my job, I'll die.
Yes, but you have never said that. You said when I leave this job, I'm going to be a movie star. That's kind of what you said that I say that. Yes.
Yes. Or you said you're going to be a sports broadcaster or something. No, no, no, no, no. Not movie star, movie star, whatever. I mean, you you've said a lot of things, but death has never been an option. So let's not think about it scares me a little bit. You know, I've been competitive with Andy Rooney, so I just think that's such an honest exchange.
Are those the sorts of things that you plan at all to say beforehand or regret afterwards?
No, not really. You know, there have never been any writers, so neither one of us know what the other one is going to say. That's the whole point of working with me. I think I function better like that.
And so whatever flashes through your mind and I forget what preceded it, you're right. The audience seemed to be in a good mood. But anyway, Andy's passing two weeks after he he left his job after so many years, did flashed through my mind and it just popped out.
And I thought Kelly handled it very well in these last few weeks when when the show has been making such a big deal about your departure, do you have a lot of input into what guests are allowed on and not on and what segments or do you like to stay away from that so that you're not culpable?
No, I don't have much input into it.
I think, you know, I'm kidding around with them now saying, you know, Gelman is there is there maybe too much a farewell to Regis that people are subjected to with all this? It wasn't my idea to Stephen, stay this long.
I thought I was going to get out of the end of my contract and in August. But ABC asked if I wouldn't mind. And spending a few more months, I don't know, for the last ratings month of the year, perhaps read you very much.
There you go, David Bianculli. You're probably right. That's all a part of our business. As I said, fine, I'll do it. And so that's what we're doing. But no, I have very, very limited input. But I'm kind of pleased with the way it's going, I hope. But, you know, it couldn't go much longer than the two weeks or on doing it. But other than that, everything's good.
Oh, listen, my last question is about something else. From your book, you end each chapter with little morals or or fables or epigrams. I don't know.
Yeah. Life's lessons, they call it.
Well, the one the one that I want to quote to end our conversation is one chapter says ends with one that says, if you are grateful to someone who's brought your life, you know, even a little joyfulness and if you have the chance to tell them, so, do it. It just takes a second and you'll never regret it.
So thanks. Well, thank you very much.
And I, I agree with what you just read because that pertains to Bing Crosby, who I never called, who I was afraid to call, who I didn't think it was. I was important enough to call.
He never did know what he meant to me as a as a little boy growing up in the Bronx and as a guy trying to break into into our business.
Well, I'm glad I got a chance on your final week on this show to say thank you for. I remember when I came to New York, I wrote about your program and identified it as a guilty pleasure. And you complain like, what is there to be guilty about?
And I never forgot that I was very well, you know, people have said that like they're ashamed that they spend any time watching the show in the early days. I used to hear that, but nevertheless, they were watching it. I was glad to hear it, whether I was guilty or innocent. I'm glad you were with me, Diane Cooley.
I still am. Listen, Regis Philbin, thanks for being on fresh air. Thanks, buddy. Regis Philbin visiting Fresh Air in 2011. He died last Friday of a heart attack at age 88.
A personal note. He was one of the nicest people I ever knew in show business. And like Fred Rogers and very few others, was exactly the same off camera as he was when the TV lights were on.
After a break, we'll remember Annie Ross, who died Tuesday at age 89, she was a member of the inventive jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
Rock critic Ken Tucker will review the new Taylor Swift album, and I'll review the new Disney plus series, Muppets. Now, I'm David Bianculli. And this is Fresh Air.
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The release of Taylor Swift's folklore, her new eighth studio album caught fans by surprise.
There had been no reports that Swift was working on a new release. And yet here it is, recorded in coronavirus lockdown. It contains 16 new songs into which she poured.
She said on social media, quote, All my wims dreams, fears and musings, unquote.
Rock critic Ken Tucker says he approached the new album very skeptically. Betty, I won't make assumptions about why you switched to homeroom, but I think it's clear to me that it wasn't that I was riding on a skateboard when it past your house.
It's like I could embrace. You heard the rumors from the that you can't believe a word she says most times, but this time it was true. First thing that I did was what I did to you. When I heard that Taylor Swift was rushing out an album she'd completed over just the last couple of months, my inner eye roll with sarcastic dubiousness, Swift usually prepares her album releases with the scrupulous deliberation and elaborate technology of a NASA moon launch. So when I saw that the album was called Folklore and that the album package featured misty black and white photos of Swift walking in the woods, I thought, oh no.
Is this going to be like when Justin Timberlake put on a lumberjack shirt and lost his rhythm on Man of the Woods?
Nope, I was wrong vintage t when I was on cobblestones. When you are young, they assume. And I said. Sequence, small black lives. Sensual politics, when you are young, they assume you know nothing. Are you dancing in your strong industry that I know you and I know Mwencha, is it that's. Again, under someone's but you called me on and said I was. That's Cardigan, the first single off the album, this collection was recorded working remotely with producer Jack Antonoff and a new collaborator, Aaron Dessner, the multi instrumentalist member of the indie rock band The National, with whom Swift co-wrote 11 of 16 songs.
Nevertheless, every composition sounds like a Taylor Swift song. Take, for example, this one called Madwoman, in which she addresses the eternally irritating way men call women crazy and angry as ways to diminish them.
Every time you call me crazy, again, more crazy. What about that? And then you say you seem angrier and more angry. And there's nothing like a man with a Shimshi. No one likes a map for me. You mean like. And you go back to class, come out and you find something to rub your nose around and listen like a mad. Interestingly, being isolated has made swift songwriting less self-absorbed, the lyrics are not stuffed, for example, with the usual Easter eggs filled with the rotten candy of revenge for her various pop world rivals.
Instead, she's more interested in describing other people's lives and the world that we all used to walk around in so freely. One striking example of this is the last great American dynasty. It's a story song about Rebecca Harkness, the eccentric wealthy widow who used to occupy the big house with moved into some years ago in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Rebecca wrote up on the afternoon train, it was sunny or saltbox house on the coast, took her mind off S.O.S.
Bo was the heir to the Standard Oil name money. The town said how to middle class to say, do it. The wedding was charming, if the little girl is only so far, no money goes, they picked out a home and called it a holiday house. The parties would taste a little loud. The doctor told them to settle down. It must have been her fault is hurting, even though they say there goes the last great American D'Asti.
One of the best songs on folklore is called Mirrorball, a lovely pop song.
It's like a tune you'd hear from the Bangles or the Mamas and Papas, but slowed down to render it a ballad, even as it remains groovy and catchy. Oh, I see. We'll go see. How excellent it is that Swift hasn't spent her quarantine days penning Ernest's thumb suckers about the state of the world, but rather cooking up a yeasty kind of sugar free pop that rises above much recent music making. The song Cardigan has the refrain, When you are young, they assume you know nothing.
Which reminded me that Swift turned 30 this year and folklore feels like a dividing line, a marking off of her past as she and we enter our uncertain future.
Ken Tucker reviewed Taylor Swift's new album called Folklore.
Coming up, we remember Annie Ross, one third of the acclaimed and innovative vocal jazz trio known as Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
She died Tuesday of complications from emphysema and heart disease. She was 89 years old. This is fresh air.
Everyone loves pistachios and pistachios, love water, and California doesn't have enough water. So how do farmers figure out who gets to grow which nuts? Economics, of course, on the next episode of Planet Money Summer School.
We explain how we all get along classes every Wednesday on Planet Money from NPR. Annie Ross, who was best known as a solo jazz singer and as part of the groundbreaking jazz vocal trio, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross died Tuesday of complications from emphysema and heart disease.
She was 89 years old in the 50s and 60s. She and Dave Lambert and John Hendricks were one of the most popular jazz vocal groups of their time. They specialized, in vocalese, adding words and vocals to jazz instrumental arrangements and improvisations.
Annie Ross herself wrote the lyrics and sang lead on her most popular song, Twisted, based on an improvisation by tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray.
She recorded it solo in 1952 and then again in 1960 as a member of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross when Terry Gross spoke with Annie Ross in 1990. They started with the trio version of that song.
My analyst told me that I was right out of my head the way he described it. He said I'd be better dead than alive. I didn't listen to his job. I knew all along he was all wrong and I knew that he thought I was crazy. But I'm not. Oh, no, no. My analyst told me that I was right out of my head. He said I need treatment, but I'm not that easy, he said. I was the type that was most inclined, went out of his sight to be out of my mind.
And he thought I was nuts. Not no more. Sorry about. Oh, no, no, no, no. They say as a child, I appeared a little bit wild with all my crazy ideas, but I know what happened. I knew I was a genius. What's so strange when you know that you're a wizard or three? I knew that this was meant to be for some of the people that at the market one night my powers got frantic, didn't know what to do, but I saw some crazy scenes before I came to.
You think I was crazy. I may have been only three, but I was waiting on a day on the floor. That's what I saw so much. And I felt sorry if I just couldn't understand the logic that going on in my head. When I refused to ride on all the double decker buses because there was no driver on the road to my analyst told me that I was right out any race.
Welcome to Fresh Air. Thank you. We just heard Twisted. Yeah. I just need to ask you if you were in analysis when you wrote that.
No, I was not and have never been. The title Twisted suggested to me the whole story of a woman going to an analyst. But no, I wasn't. I wasn't an analysis. So how did you team up with John John Hendricks and Dave Lambert? Well, I had come over in this review, Kranks with Anthony Newley and I happened to be at a friend's house. They got a phone call from Dave, I think it was. And he said, I have this idea about putting words to account.
Count Basie album, can I come over, bring John and demonstrate what we have around? They came they played one of these numbers. They both sang the solos. I thought, that's great. And the next thing I knew, they asked me if I would come down and conduct. Some session singers that they had engaged to record about, I think, four or six tracks and they said, you know, that the women, they wanted me to give the women the basic feel.
Well, that was a laugh in itself. I mean, you can't teach that to anybody. You have to be born with it, be brought up with it. And I tried. But like I said, you can't just teach that and especially not in, you know, half an hour or whatever. They had no more that they could do because what they had was not good. They were going to scrap it and the producer was tearing his hair out and saying, my God, we've lost this money and blah, blah, blah.
And Dave Lambert said, well, what about if we multitrack? I said, of course, I didn't know what multitracking what I figured I'd better not show my ignorance. So he said what we have to do and he will get rid of the singers. You, John, and I'll go into a room, we'll rehearse, we'll learn all the harmonies so that we multi-track four times. So I said, OK. And I mean, you know, we all had great ears.
And it was, I think, one of the great moments of my life because we heard the first track back and that was fine. That was the melody. Then we recorded the second track. They played it with the first track. Well, that was something other than the third track. Unbelievable, the fourth track was mind blowing and we knew we had something absolutely great, you say.
Stop the blues, those blues will be better for you. Now I can watch you make every day. What about it? Soon as I'm waking. Blooms every dawn, and I take that away every day. Oh, every day I have to move. What are you going to get for two? I wish that I could help you, baby. You do worry, baby. I got a feed cause it's you I hate to. A man, nobody loves me well, nobody seems to care, babydoll.
So the group stuck together, but most of your stuff was not a track like that. It was mostly straightforward. Trio. How would you come up with the arrangements? How are those done? Well, they were actual arrangements from the the bands of that era.
We would take like Horace Silver, maybe a quintet. A somewhat scaled down version. We just didn't do the the Big Bang things that much, except we did do Ellington. Now we play a song that you recorded before you teamed up with Lambert and Hendrix. This is from a 1957 session that you made with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. The title is Annie Russ sings a song with Mulligan, and I'm going to play the decent short song. I guess I'll have to change my plan.
Well, I guess I have to change my plan. I should have realized I'd lose my favorite man who I love and find completely until the little affair began, before I knew where I was and I found myself on a shelf and that was that. I tried to reach the moon. But when I got there, all that I could get was the end my feet up, back up on the ground because I lost the one man that I found. My guest, Danny Ross, recorded with Gerry Mulligan, you came to America from England when you were, I think, six years old, Scotland, Scotland from Scotland, five and a half.
OK, no, four and a half. I was four and a half when I arrived. Now, once you got to America, didn't you stay there with your aunt, the singer, Ella Logan? Yes, I did. I came to New York with my mother and father and my elder brother and I won a contest, a radio contest. The prize was a six month, really a token contract with MGM. And I went out to L.A. with my aunt because my aunt started doing films and then my mother left.
My father and mother and brother all went back and I was raised in Beverly Hills in L.A.. How did you feel about being raised by your aunt and your parents behind? When I say that she was really my guardian, my aunt was really in New York doing shows and I was raised by a nanny. And it it wasn't great. Did your parents have any reservations about leaving you? I'm sure they did. Did they want it that way or was it you?
I think they probably felt that it was best for me to do that, that maybe through doing that I could become a star. But they already had stars. You mean California already has stars? Sure. They had Shirley Temple and Jane Withers and, you know, many, many young kids. Well, how are you groomed? What kind of image were you given? The Shirley Temple image, but with a kilt. Oh, because you were Scottish.
Yeah. Oh, boy. I have a Scottish accent. Who did have those little curls?
Oh, sure. Absolutely.
And did you have to be cute as a button? Well, I mean, I had no thought of not performing. I mean, I would perform at the drop of a hat, you know, I could swing and I could sing well and I could move. And I loved all the attention. I mean, very few children don't like that. Now, you also did some Hourigan comedies. Oh, I only did one. Yeah. Oh, OK.
And what kind of part did you have in there? Well, it's a little girl with a kilt who comes out and they're producing a show and she sings a swing version of Loch Lomond.
I should have guessed that, shouldn't I? Yeah. So how did you start listening to and then performing jazz?
Well, my aunt gave me a record of Ella Fitzgerald singing A Tusked A Tasket when I was four, and I learned it and I could do it. And a wonderful thing about my aunt was that in our house in L.A., there were always a lot of musicians who hung around and they were musicians from Duke Ellington's band, indeed, Duke Ellington himself, Roy Eldridge, Earl Garner. And so I moved toward modern jazz as opposed to Dixieland.
Well, I wish you the best, and I thank you very much for talking with us. Oh, you're very welcome. Annie Ross visited Terry Gross on Fresh Air in 1990, the jazz vocalist and film actress died Tuesday at age 89.
Coming up, I review Muppet's now the new Disney plus attempt to revive the spirit of the classic TV series The Muppet Show.
This is Fresh Air.
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Today, Disney Plus premieres a new series with a very old lineage, Muppets, now a six episode comedy show from The Muppet Studio. It features many familiar characters and a few new ones. So the Muppets are back, they're not better than ever, but at least they're back. I have wonderful memories of Jim Henson's goofy creations, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, the Swedish chef and the rest.
And I don't know anyone who doesn't.
Since 1969, children have grown up watching and loving Bert and Ernie and Big Bird on Sesame Street. And even before that, in the 50s and early 60s, Henson and his fellow puppeteers were familiar fixtures on television. They presented their own local children's show in Chicago called Sam and Friends and went national as furry and felt covered guests on TV's earliest talk shows hosted by Steve Allen and Jack Paar. But their true TV masterpiece to me came in 1976 with the premiere of their syndicated variety series called The Muppet Show.
Kermit was the always exasperated producer trying to put on a weekly vaudeville style revue while everything around him threatened to spill into chaos.
The new Disney plus series Muppets now adopts a similar format.
Except the producer is Scooter, not Kermit. And the program these Muppets are making is being uploaded to the Internet.
But like the classic Muppet Show, this new one features some spoofs of TV shows and celebrity guest stars and even some new Muppet characters, like the show's corporate attorney, who's a real weasel.
Well, a Muppet weasel named Joe.
You're watching Muppets now streaming directly with the click something.
Greetings and salutations. I'm Joe from Legal with a notice regarding the pending uploads for Muppets now. Well, yep, they're all ready to go now without prior audience testing. They're not. Oh, no, no, no, no. This de facto focus group. No, no, no, no, no. That is de facto. Oh, that is the fact of the matter.
Oh, I really wanted to love Muppets now, but after seeing half of the episodes that will be rolled out weekly this season, all I can do at this point is like it.
That's because as I watch Muppets now, I remember Muppets.
Then back when the writing was super sharp and the guest stars were great, it was one of the first shows I ever reviewed and raved about as a TV critic.
It was a perfect program, fast moving, loaded with lovable characters and featuring big name guest stars who were as entertained by the Muppets as I was.
Linda Ronstadt showed up to sing Blue Bayou in a swamp filled with Muppet frogs as her backup singers.
Even Milton Berle, who brought vaudeville to TV in the first place, showed up on the Muppet stage to do his comedy routine and was heckled mercilessly by a pair of senior citizens in the balcony, two old codgers named Statler and Waldorf.
Hey, bro. What? You know what I've just figured out your style. Really? You're working with Gregory Peck? I was. Gregory Peck is not a comedian. Well. Now, just a minute, please. I have been a successful comedian half of my life.
How come we got this half? Did you come in here to be entertained or not? That's right. That's right. We came in here to be entertained and we're not. I'd like to see you come down here and be funny you first. The new series Muppets Now isn't nearly that funny.
The jokes aren't as crisp.
The individual TV show sketches go on much too long and there are no musical segments which are sorely missed.
Trying to recapture the old Muppet magic isn't easy. The first Muppet Movie managed to pull it off, but that was when the original Muppet Show was still in production and when Jim Henson and Frank Oz were still the heart and soul of the operation.
But ABC failed with more recent revival attempts in 1996 and again in 2015. And Muppets now also is a very mixed bag. Its celebrity guests aren't given enough to do, though they try.
Linda Cardellini is a good sport without any good lines, and the best sketch in these early episodes presents the Swedish chef as a sort of Iron Chef doing battle with guest star Danny Trejo, who takes the battle part a bit too seriously.
Today, we will be pairing the morally Tocal traditional Latin meal very, very delicious. Probably better than anything in Sweden.
All sides in the episode in which Joe the Legal Weasel makes Scooter preview the show to a focus group before uploading it in this case, that's actually not such a bad idea, especially since that focus group turns out to be a pair of very familiar and very opinionated Muppet characters.
Enjoy the audience survey focus group. Can't be any worse than that guy.
Oh, no, our thoughts. Exactly.
What did we do to deserve this? Don't worry. We'll tell you. Oh, I can't look. Oh, is that an option? My own criticism is short and sweet.
My advice if the staff of Muppets now convenes for a second season is simple. Cut the sketches by half, sharpen the writing, keep the weasel and by all means, bring back the music.
On Monday's show, since 2004, more than 2000 American newspapers have gone out of business.
Our guest will be Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, who discusses the decline of local news coverage. It's a crisis she says is as serious as the spread of disinformation on the Internet. Her new book is Ghosting the News, Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy. I hope you can join us. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.