Friday, March 8, 2013

Monica Lewis



























For almost two decades, Monica Lewis was the idealized, wholesomely sexy sound and image of apple-pie America, lending a curvaceous, dimpled smile and melodious voice of hope to thousands of U.S. troops through two of the 20th century's greatest wars. She starred on the very first "Ed Sullivan Show" telecast, had numerous hit records including "Put the Blame on Mame", "A Tree in the Meadow", "A Kiss to Build a Dream On", "Autumn Leaves" and "I Wish You Love", and provided the memorable singing voice for the popular cartoon character, "Miss Chiquita Banana".

Monica's course to classic song-styling was set as a child. She was the youngest of three children born to musical parents: Her father, Leon Lewis, was a symphonic composer and pianist, and her mother, Jessica Lewis, sang with the Chicago Opera Company. After the Great Depression forced the Lewis clan to relocate from Chicago to New York City, there was no shortage of sibling rivalry: Monica's sister, Barbara Lewis, established herself as an accomplished concert pianist, while her brother, Marlo Lewis, co-created Ed Sullivan's landmark television show, "Toast of the Town" (1948).

Having studied voice with her mother since a mere toddler, Monica quit junior college at 17 to work as a radio vocalist. In the mid-1940s, she had her own program on WMCA. This and other early airwaves successes led to her debut at Manhattan's legendary Stork Club and subsequent discovery by the "King of Swing", Benny Goodman, who signed her to appear with his popular band. She quickly ascended as a radio vocalist and co-host on programs including "Beat the Band", "The Revere Camera Hour" and "The Chesterfield Show", sharing the microphone with Frank Sinatra. Monica became one of the country's highest-flying songbirds, working with record labels such as Signature, Decca, Jubilee, Capitol and Verve to create numerous timeless hits and classic albums.

Her TV appearances included Ed Sullivan's very first broadcast in 1948 and every major variety show opposite legends such as Bob Hope, Danny Thomas and the comedy duo of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, with whom she first appeared at New York's Copacabana.

Records and television led to movies and, in 1950, MGM signed Monica to an exclusive multimedia contract. She was groomed in true MGM style - given singing and romantic roles in such films as The Strip (1951) with Mickey Rooney, Inside Straight (1951) with Barry Sullivan and Excuse My Dust (1951) with Red Skelton. She also sang the title song in the Marge Champion and Gower Champion musical, Everything I Have Is Yours (1952), in which she became the only woman other than Marge to ever dance on screen with Gower. Additional appearances followed in Rendez-vous te middernacht (1953), starring Victor Mature and Jean Simmons, and The D.I. (1957) with Jack Webb.

Monica eagerly volunteered her talent for the war effort, becoming the darling of U.S. servicemen worldwide through the war bond drive, military radio broadcasts and a 1951 USO tour of South Korea with celebrated entertainer Danny Kaye. Back at home, she delighted the masses as a chart-topping jukebox chanteuse and Burlington Mills hosiery's "Miss Leg-O-Genic". Piel's Light Beer, Camel Cigarettes, Pepsi-Cola and General Electric were among the many other major companies which sold their products with Monica's visage and, for 14 years, she provided the tuneful voice of the animated "Miss Chiquita Banana" in a series of classic cartoon shorts which were shown in movie theaters.

From an insecure kid who could sing her heart out, and did, Monica matured into a woman of the world. When she married colorful and innovative MCA/Universal Studios production executive Jennings Lang in 1956, she not only became his partner but the mother of his young children: Michael Lang, now a jazz pianist, and Robert, an attorney. Monica and Jennings had a third child together, Rocky Lang, now a noted Hollywood writer, director and producer.

Monica herself became a featured player in several of her husband's blockbuster Universal movies, including Charley Varrick (1973), Rollercoaster (1977), Verdwenen in de Bermuda Driehoek (1977), The Concorde... Airport '79 (1979) and the Top 100 box-office hit, Earthquake (1974). In the 1980s and 1990s, Monica made a few choice cabaret appearances and recorded several new albums, among them "My Favorite Things", "Monica Lewis Swings Jule Styne" and "Why Did I Choose You?", a tribute to her 40-year marriage to Lang. Monica recently completed her photo-filled memoir, "Hollywood Through My Eyes," which is now available from Cable Publishing.
 (www.MonicaLewis.com)

1 comment:

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