Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Time for another musical interlude, and this song has a JFK connection, which I’ll explain. First, I think it’s the prettiest song ever written to a woman by name. The woman was Laura; the song is Laura; and the movie was Laura, from 1944.

Except: in the movie, it was the musical score, not a song.  And, it was an integral part of the story.  Laura was a beautiful woman who had been brutally murdered. A police detective, played by Dana Andrews, was assigned to investigate, and he quickly finds out that Laura cast a spell over every man she met. Young or old, they fell madly in love with her.  And then it happens to him; he falls madly in love with her. He starts buying her possessions as they become available, including a large portrait of her. He keeps listening to this music, the score, over and over because he was told it was her favorite.  And he hangs around her apartment because it makes him feel close to her. And he also descends into alcoholism because of the hopelessness of being in love with a dead woman. 

So, there he is, sitting in her apartment alone, listening to this haunting music, half-drunk and half-asleep, and suddenly, Laura walks in. It turns out that another woman had been murdered, not her.  

The beautiful score was written by David Raksin, who went on to teach film score composition at USC and UCLA.  And, after the movie came out, they brought in famed lyricist Johnny Mercer to write lyrics for it.  The very palpable, visual lyrics that Johnny Mercer wrote are some of the most inspired I have ever heard.

Laura is the face in the misty light,
Footsteps that you hear down the hall,
The laugh that floats on a summer night,
That you can never quite recall.

And you see Laura on a train that is passing through,
Those eyes, how familiar they seem,
She gave your very first kiss to you.
That was Laura, but she’s only a dream.

The song Laura went on to become one of the most widely covered of all time.

Now, the JFK connection is this: the actress who played Laura was one of the great screen sirens of Hollywood’s Golden Era: Gene Tierney.  And she had a romantic relationship with JFK.

And it was more than just a fling. They were contemplating marriage; at least, she was. They met in Hollywood in 1945 during the making of her next film, Dragonwck. JFK arranged it. He sought her out; not vice versa.  And I’d be willing to bet he saw the movie Laura, and she had the same effect on him that her character had on all the men in the movie.

It was a whirlwind romance, with them meeting in California, New York, Washington, and Paris.  She was estranged from her father, but she took him home to meet her mother and brother.  That didn’t go too well, because her brother Butch knew JFK at Harvard when they were both students, and he wasn’t a fan.  Gene knew of Jack’s intention to enter politics, and she agreed to drop everything to become his wife. And yes, the thought of becoming First Lady did cross her mind. But, as you know, it was not to be, and I think it was Papa Joe who nixed it, not regarding Gene as a proper political wife for Jack. At the time, she was separated and headed for divorce from dress designer Oleg Cassini (who went on to become Jackie Kennedy’s favorite designer), but divorce was considered scandalous in those days.  And, he being Catholic and she being Episcopalian was another problem.  As you know, he wound up marrying Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953- with his father’s blessing and approval.

For Gene Tierney, it was a difficult life. Her daughter Daria was born deaf and nearly blind, and she was also severely retarded mentally.  It came about from Gene doing volunteer work during WW2 when she was pregnant, and she contracted German measles from a female soldier. Daria had to be institutionalized her whole life, and that was ongoing when Gene met Jack.  In fact, Jack shared with her his family’s heartache over his mentally ill sister Rosemary to commiserate.  And Gene went on to experience severe, debilitating depression and had to be institutionalized herself. She underwent many brutal electro-shock treatments. The stress of it all, plus heavy smoking, took a toll on her looks. But, she was considered one of the most beautiful actresses of her day, and even today, she is considered one of the most beautiful of all time. And she was perfectly cast in Laura as the breathtaking woman who could dazzle any man, including the future President of the United States.

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