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“Some of us just go along . . . until that marvelous day people stop intimidating us — or should I say we refuse to let them intimidate us”-Peggy lee
You give me Fever when you kiss me, Fever when you hold me tight. Fever in the morning, Fever all through the nightâ€¦
Everybody caught the Fever of a gal named Miss Peggy Lee. She was the bubbles in a glass of champagne. A dame who made men weep with her sultry voice and curvaceous body. She had a style all her own and never let anyone tell her how to be. She just was and that was that.
Norma Deloris Egstrom was a small town girl from North Dakota who starred in her own radio program, sponsored by a local diner. Her salary was paid in food.
I’ve always been drawn to Peggy because so much of her story mirrors my own – skyrocketing to glamour and fame from the depths of a world unaware and unappreciative of our extraordinary gifts (though I’m certain Peggy didn’t leave home reeking of herring and haddock, being the daughter of a railroad worker and not a fishmonger as I was). She left home at the age of 17 for Los Angeles (by way of Chicago) and ended up singing for Benny Goodman who appreciated her enormous talent. I came to Hollywood (by way of a lesbian juke dive in New York City) and was discovered by Russ Meyer who appreciated my enormous knockers. Unlike Peggy, though, who stayed with Goodman for two years, I was dropped by Russ after one film.
On the very afternoon that Russ had dropped me, I saddled up to the bar at the Beverly Hills Brown Derby to drown my sorrows in a rum and coke. As I swung myself around to look out the window I saw a limo pull up and a woman draped in a flowing pink chiffon caftan popped out of it. She glided through the door with clusters of diamond rings clanking against the glass and an ostrich feather boa flowing behind her.
I thought that is was an awfully grand outfit for 1pm. To my delight she sat right next to me and asked for a double vodka martini, that familiar, cool and silky voice cooing â€œmake it dirtyâ€. The bartender fumbled a bit and replied â€œright away Miss Leeâ€. She then removed her large round sunglasses and flung them onto the bar hitting my glass. I moved it slightly and she said â€œWhat in heavens are you drinking?â€ I told her it was a rum and coke; she smirked and quickly gestured to the bartender to make two and he returned with dirty martinis for us both.
â€œDo you know who I amâ€, she asked. I replied â€œOf course, you’re Miss Leeâ€ She proceeded to tell me that she’d had an awful rehearsal for an upcoming show. I told her that I’d been dropped from my second film at which she quickly rambled over me saying that I was young and would bounce back but â€œme I’m getting old and music has changed. The Beatles, goodness meâ€, she sighed.
â€œI’m not much of a Beatles fanâ€, I admitted â€œbut I adore Peggy Leeâ€. She laughed out loud and ordered two more martinis and then looked me in the eye â€œKid, you’re something of a smart ass but I like youâ€. We talked for hours over drinks and in the end she told me she thought I was right â€œYou can’t beat the Beatles, so you join â€˜emâ€. She then shared some advice that I still live by today.
â€œNever drown your sorrows in rum and coke, a dirty martini looks much more glamorousâ€ And kids, because of Peggy’s advice I get more and more glamorous every year.
She then glided out of the room in a whirlwind of feathers and flash as I thought to myself â€œwhat tremendous timingâ€. I was just thrilled and ready to tackle the world again until I realized she hadn’t picked up the check. Not to worry kids I’d used nature’s credit card to settle a bar tab before and I couldn’t think of a better reason to use it again. I didn’t mind because what Miss Peggy Lee gave me that day was something more than money could buyâ€¦she gave me confidence. Shortly after that meeting I started landing some of my most legendary extra roles and Miss Peggy Lee had her first hit in years with the song Is that all there is. Her first Top 40 hit since â€œFeverâ€, 11 years earlier. I like to imagine I had a little part in that success.
I’ll tell you, tremendous timing and confidence is what kept Peggy Lee singing, writing and working for over 60 years. Peggy was way ahead of her time, as she not only sang the standards of the day but also wrote and performed her own songs. Two of my favorites written by Miss Lee are Don’t smoke in bed and I love being here with you. Peggy gained acceptance and respect from her contemporaries like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. Miss Lee is also widely regarded as one of the most influential jazz vocalists of all time and her album Black Coffee is considered one of the great jazz albums ever recorded (I love to put that one on as I sip dirty martinis and shimmy around the roof deck in my silk caftan and turban on those hot summer nights in New York). She is also cited as a mentor to diverse artists such as Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Madonna, Bette Midler and Dusty Springfield.
When you listen to Peggy Lee sing, she brings you to a place of comfort and beauty even when singing about the darker side of emotion and life. It’s like gliding on a cloud with a light breeze keeping you off the ground or like a warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold winter evening. She is truly amazing!
There was also another side of Miss Peggy Lee, the one that was insecure and obsessed with perfection; the true diva, always maintaining her looks with plastic surgery and various wigs. Yet even after becoming frail and ill she insisted on performing, sometimes from a wheel chair. She once said in an interview â€œRetire? Not on your life. I have no plans to stop singing. What are you going to do when you love music? It’s a terrible disease. You can’t stopâ€
Peggy Lee never did stop and she was a pioneer as well as a fierce representative for musicians and songwriters. She bravely sued and won a judgment against Disney for video royalties she rightfully deserved for her work in the film The Lady and the Tramp. She cared deeply for the musicians and collaborators she worked with over the years including Duke Ellington, Dave Grusin and Quincy Jones to name a few. She was a great dame.
There have been many times over the years that I’ve thought about my chance meeting with Miss Lee. Usually when I’m mixing my dirty martinis and listening to Fever or I love being here with you (unless it’s the holiday season when I’m mixing my vodka/tequila/rum/bourbon egg nog and listening to Don’t forget to feed the reindeer). I put on those sunglasses that she left behind that day and look through the rose colored lenses and imagine having all that talent. I sing out loud right along with Peggy but then realize I’m simply MargOH! and think â€œIs that all there is?â€ Well maybe, but because of her I break out the booze and have a ball!!!
Happy birthday! Angels on your pillow, Miss Peggy Lee
Peggy lee ” Fever”
Peggy Lee “Is That All There Is? ”
Jackie Beat’s Parody ” Beaver”
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