Of Big Bands and Brando

High up a winding road in the hills of Hollywood on a summer day in 1956, I drove my little gray ‘49 Pontiac, trying to ignore the tannish ribbon of smog obscuring the view of the city spread out below me. Finding the address I’d been given, I parked, then mounted steep stone steps to the wood-carved front door of a white stucco, Spanish-style house. I rang the bell and was greeted by a slim, blonde man who smilingly beckoned me to follow him down a few Mexican-tiled steps into a sunken sala, heavy with oriental rugs and wrought-iron and leather furniture.

“Hi. I’m Leighton,” said the man. “Have trouble finding the place? Brando likes his privacy so the place is somewhat hidden.”

Brando!? “Oh, no. Thank you.” I stood, smiling nervously, my portfolio of music held tightly to my chest. “My agent gave me good directions.”

“I get lost myself sometimes,” he said with a grin. “I’m just renting here while Marlon is away on a film.” He sat down in a brocaded chair and fiddled with some knobs on a reel-to-reel tape recorder on a table beside him. “You’re very pretty and petite. I like that. What are you singing for me today?”

Okay, I thought. Looks like I’ll be singing a capella. Won’t be the first time. I set my music down on an over-stuffed chair, stepped back a few feet and faced him, my heart beating like a castanet.

“Just a few bars. A ballad maybe. ‘Foggy Day’?” He pushed a button on the recorder and gave me a start-up signal with a wave of his band-leader hand.

So, thought I, this is the great Leighton Noble. Not the biggest band in the business, but well-known and respected, so if he likes me … I kept what I hoped was the right tempo, warbling, “But the age of miracles hadn’t passed/ ‘Til suddenly I saw you right there/ And in foggy London town the sun was shining … “

“Good! Good! How about a jump tune?” He tweaked a dial or two on the tape recorder.

I managed to bop through part of “Sunny Side Of The Street”. “The age of miracles hadn’t passed” ‘cause the sun DID shine! I got the job on the spot on that Smoggy Day in Tinsel Town. A week later, I fronted a full orchestra, resplendent and glamorous in blue tule and taffeta, singing my heart out at the Screenwriter’s Ball in the huge ballroom of Los Angeles’s Biltmore Hotel as Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh danced by smiling up at me. A few more gigs like that, plus an AFTRA card, not only put bread on the table for me and my two dear young children but gave me proud membership in the League Of Big Band Singers ‘way back in the 50s!

Thanks to Mr. Brando and his talented tenant Mr. Noble, I’ve been happily singing ever since!

Publicity Shots, Hollywood 1956:





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