Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mom's Birthday Present

The other evening, I was watching a movie on TV, Summer Vacation staring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold. Included in the cast was comedienne and actress Imogene Coco as Aunt Edna – the crotchety old lady who expires while being returned to her home in Phoenix. So as not to ruin the already disastrous vacation, Aunt Edna is carted seated on a chair on the roof of the family station wagon to her home and left on the door step as the Griswold’s make tracks for Wally World.
Seeing Imogene Coco reminded me of the summer days of my youth and our neighbor Alice Bevin. Mrs. Bevin, as I have previously noted, was an accomplished artist who owned the 3 story Second Empire style house on the crest of Barton Hill. She also owned an apartment in the upbeat Gramercy Park section of New York City. From her wide social network, Alice met many Broadway and nightclub entertainers who were often summer weekend guests at her home in East Hampton – one being Imogene Coco!
I also remember there being a nightclub entertainer / owner Hugh Shannon, who stayed frequently during those summers. On one of those lazy Saturday summer afternoons, Betty Benson, Alice’s daughter called my mother, Pauline and a couple of her friends and neighbors, Beth Hitchcock and Muriel Bailey, to come over to the house to meet a guest. When they arrived, this swarthy gentleman, Hugh Shannon, asked them to join him by the piano where he began crooning a number of popular tunes – you know – the ones a Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Johnny Mathis would sing.
I still chuckle today at the vision of these ladies hovered around this singer, cigarette smoke curling about his head, and the captivated small town girls who couldn’t have bought a ticket for a better show. Happy Birthday Mom!

Post Script - Hugh Shannon, born 1921 in De Sota, Missouri, died 1982 in New York City. While attending the University of Southern California, he played in a campus club. After military service in the US Navy during World War II, he would up in New York City where he met Billie Holiday, who encouraged him to become a singer. He took her advice and began working in bars, gradually developing his skills until he was able to find work at leading New York nightspots including the 22 Club and Le Perroquet, before travelling to Europe to take a job in Capri. From there he went to the south of France, then Paris, where he worked in a club owned by Ada "Bricktop" Smith. During the late 40s and through the 50s, Shannon became hugely popular with the smart set, numbering millionaires, film stars and royalty among his fans. He became a regular in clubs in the Virgin Islands, alternative with Capri and occasional appearances in New York. For the rest of his life, he continued working in fashionable resorts for audiences of the rich and famous. An engaging and idiosyncratic style and an enclyclopaedic knowledge of songs, helped make Shannon one of the leading cabaret artists of his generation.

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