In today’s world, it seems a new celebrity emerges every minute. But in surveys of ~1,100 Americans conducted weekly by E-Poll Market Research, the same old names keep popping up as the celebrities that are the most appealing.
And I do mean “the same old“: For the third year in a row, E-Poll Market Research reports that the most appealing celebrity is … Betty White. She’s the nonagenarian who’s been gracing the TV screens of America ever since the 1960s.
Who are the other celebrities who top the list of “most admired?” Reading the list is like taking a trip down Memory Lane:
Michael J. Fox
You might wonder which celebrity is gaining most in appeal when compared to the previous year’s surveys. That would be Aziz Ansari, the Parks and Recreation star who has also had quite a successful run in stand-up comedy.
Several other “up and comers” include Andy Samberg, Aaron Rogers and Melissa McCarthy. Clearly though, it’s the “old bulls” that maintain their sway over the American public.
The big takeaway from the research is this: However difficult it may be to accomplish, for those who do manage to break into the top ranks of celebrity appeal, it’s likely they’ll stay there for years to come.
This past week the music industry lost an interesting personality when Mitch Miller died at age 99. While not well-known to today’s audiences, to people “of a certain age” (myself included), Mitch Miller was a pretty major figure in the world of music. He led a very interesting life that reflected the very best tradition of “making it” in the industry from the ground up.
Mitch Miller’s musical journey, like so many others of his generation, started with the obligatory piano lessons – that familiar trapping of middle-class upbringing for youngsters in the early years of the 20th century. In Miller’s case, a few lessons taught by a piano instructor with a horrific case of chronic bad breath was all it took to inspire the young man to look for another alternative – any alternative.
Upon learning that George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company and a major figure in arts philanthropy (he provided the seed money to found the famed Eastman School of Music, now part of the University of Rochester) was donating a vast collection of musical instruments to be used by schoolchildren, Miller took quick advantage of the opportunity. But instead of being able to select a shiny trumpet or trombone as he had hoped, he discovered that the only instruments left to choose from were the lowly woodwinds.
Deciding on the oboe was a critical event in Miller’s musical development. It turned out that he excelled in playing the instrument, subsequently earning enrollment in the Eastman School in his hometown of Rochester, NY. A singular talent, he graduated from Eastman to perform in symphony orchestras under legendary conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Sir Thomas Beecham and Artur Rodzinski.
Miller also moonlighted by playing in the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in New York City – a studio ensemble – where he caught the eye of several CBS producers who commissioned Miller to compose arrangements of popular songs. Thus began Miller’s transition from classical to pop music.
Miller’s fame grew exponentially when he began a series of albums featuring an all-male chorus titled Sing Along with Mitch. The first album was released in 1958 and went on to sell more than 8 million copies. The series would eventually total some 19 LP recordings.
A companion television program broadcast between 1961 and 1966 became popular with millions of viewers across the country – that’s where the famous “follow the bouncing ball” originated. Critics may have sniffed at Miller’s saccharine or schlocky arrangements of the Great American Songbook, but the record-buying public loved them.
In addition to his highly successful career as a performing artist, Mitch Miller also worked behind the scenes, helping to produce the record albums of famous pop artists. One such artist was Rosemary Clooney … another was Jimmy Boyd (whose song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus sold over 2 million copies) … and Miller also produced the first record album for Aretha Franklin, effectively launching her star career.
Another famous singer Miller worked with was Johnny Mathis, whose albums he produced for many years. One time, Miller and Mathis discovered they needed to fulfill a recording contract by producing “one more” album – only to realize that they had precious little new material to record.
In yet another move that turned out to be fortuitous, Miller came up with the idea of releasing a Mathis “greatest hits” album consisting of nothing but already-released material. This album sold millions of copies, and sparked a whole new genre of “greatest hits” releases that would become a common practice for all the other popular artists of the day.
It’s no wonder the singer Tony Bennett has called Mitch Miller “perhaps the single most influential producer in the history of recording.” The music industry agreed, honoring him with a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2000.
With Mitch Miller’s passing, there are few performers left from the golden age of American popular music in the “easy listening” genre. A few artists such as K.D. Lang and Harry Connick, Jr. are carrying on the tradition, but it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll never again see the likes of a Mitch Miller.
This week, magazine publisher Condé-Nast announced the closure of four magazines, including two bridal publications plus the prestigious and well-known Gourmet Magazine title.
It’s an indignity for a publishing firm that has fallen pretty far pretty fast. For years, the company seemed by-and-large unaffected by the winds of change in the publishing industry. Even as other firms were belt-tightening and divesting themselves of low-performing magazine titles, the storied “in-your-face” Condé-Nast business style – replete with jet-setting executives and seemingly endless clothing and expense accounts – appeared to remain intact.
It didn’t hurt that parent company, Advance Publications, also owns cable TV properties that could help prop up the print publication segment of the business – at least for a time.
But with plunging ad page revenues from its luxury goods advertisers on the order of 30%+ throughout 2009, it was only a matter of time before the day of reckoning would arrive. And the sense of impending doom was only heightened when McKinsey & Co. consultants started roaming the halls, poking around the company’s headquarters like a nosy relative, asking all sorts of questions and taking notes.
And now, a few short months later, we have this announcement.
Accompanying the news of magazine closures and personnel layoffs, Condé-Nast reported that it is shifting its priorities to digital properties even while focusing on a fewer number of “core” magazine titles.
Will it be enough? One unnamed company executive was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, “We’re going to make a go of everything else.” But I think that’s doubtful. McKinsey has recommended that nearly all of the remaining publications cut their budgets by upwards of 25%. Whether or not that happens – or whether it will be enough to save the remaining titles – is something we’ll be able to judge pretty quickly.
UPDATE (11/7/09) — The New York Post is reporting that Condé-Nast has now hired Michael Sheehan, the famous crisis manager and media coach, to help the company with PR. Sheehan has coached presidential candidates from Clinton to Obama, as well as handling AIG Insurance’s PR during its financial meltdown in late 2008. Reportedly, Gina Sanders, publisher of Lucky magazine, prodded top brass to bring Sheehan in, citing deep morale problems at the company. Considering the dramatic events at the publishing house over the past year, this news is not at all surprising.
Since this is the fourth survey of its type conducted since 1982, the latest data can be compared against earlier NEA surveys. Here’s one choice statistic: In 1982, the median age of adults who attended a live jazz performance was a youthful 29. In this year’s survey, that median age has grown to a paunchy 46.
Moreover, the proportion of adult Americans who have attended a jazz performance over the past year (fewer than 10%) is down nearly one-third from the previous NEA survey fielded in 2002. That degree of decline was seen across all sectors – including college-educated adults who have typically been the most jazz-inclined audience segment.
The new NEA survey confirms that the median age of the jazz audience is now comparable to the audiences for opera (48), ballet (46), classical music concerts (49), and non-musical plays (47). This is the first time this has happened, and it underscores the significant aging of the jazz audience.
What this means, of course, is that jazz has finally “grown up.” Once an emblem of a more hip and outré culture than those represented by the (stuffy) other arts, jazz seems to have lost its edginess and has settled into comfortable middle age.
… A comfortable “elitist” middle age, actually. Terry Teachout, a drama critic for The Wall Street Journal, notes that in recent decades many jazz artists have been disinclined to present music in a genuinely popular idiom, and instead have focused on creating a form of “sophisticated art music.” It seems that some jazz artists don’t care at all whether their music is understood or appreciated by the “popular masses.”
Indeed for some artists, it may even be a strike against jazz music if it has broad popular appeal. In this sense, the parallels of jazz to modern art and modern classical music are uncanny. It’s all very important and terribly sophisticated … but who’s listening? Who’s looking?
When George Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue was premiered by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra at New York City’s Aeolian Hall back in 1924, the conductor Walter Damrosch famously declared that Gershwin finally “made a lady out of jazz.” Of course, that statement was a few decades premature. But it we’ve certainly gotten there now – in spades.
Which brings us to the final question: What – besides an audience – has jazz music given up along the way?
The American author Sandford Dody died a month ago. You’re forgiven if you don’t know who he is – and not just because, at age 90, he was a throwback to another era.
Mr. Dody was, in fact, the author of numerous autobiographies of American stars of the stage and screen. But the public never really knew that, because his name didn’t appear on his books.
Dody was a ghostwriter. Acclaimed “autobiographies” that in actuality he authored of celebrities like Bette Davis (The Lonely Life) and Helen Hayes (On Reflection) became best-sellers, with readers delighted to find out how “good” Miss Davis and Miss Hayes were as authors – almost as great as their acting abilities!
Most would never learn the truth – that Sandford Dody, as confidante and gentle interrogator, was the person who coaxed and teased these great stories out of his subjects.
How did Dody end up becoming “Ghostwriter to the Stars”? Like so many people who made their careers in the field of entertainment and arts journalism “back in the day,” the native New Yorker started out wanting to be in show business, perhaps as an actor or a writer. And like many others with stars in their eyes, he made the trek to California to try his luck in the film industry.
Back in the 1940s, it wasn’t so hard to meet the famous as well as not-so-famous who inhabited the then-relatively small world of the Hollywood film industry. Even as he dreamed of becoming a playwright, Dody took bit parts in a few films.
But as it became clear he would never ascend the heights either in front of the footlights or on the marquee boards, and in need of money, Dody turned to ghostwriting beginning in the 1950s. His first project was authoring the autobiography of a now-obscure silent film star, Dagmar Godowsky. (One could assume Miss Godowsky was obscure even then, some 30 years after her film career had ended!)
The assignments with Bette Davis, Helen Hayes, the Metropolitan Opera star Robert Merrill, and members of the Barrymore family came along later, in the 1960s. (The Davis autobiography was particularly successful, and is credited with leading to a late-career renaissance for the aging movie star.) And while these projects would prove to be financially lucrative for Dody, it is clear from his own writings that the author was somewhat ambivalent about the whole business of ghostwriting.
In fact, he stopped doing it after his book on Miss Hayes was released. Why? In his own autobiography, published in 1980, Dody gives us a clue. “The most suitable way to view stars is from a long way off,” he declared.
For Dody, it seems that spending so many hours with his subjects as he prepared to write his manuscripts, experiencing their egotism and petty vanity “up close and personal” inevitably came as a letdown. “Let the next star write her own damned autobiography,” is how he would sum it up after he retired.
In later years, Sandford Dody returned to New York City, where he resided quietly in Lower Manhattan, living off his royalties and indulging in his passion for the musical and visual arts. For those of us who know New York as a “walker’s city,” it will come as no surprise that Dody kept up a nearly-every-day regimen of walking an eight-mile loop from his Greenwich Village apartment to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and back. It’s an important clue as to how he was able to reach his tenth decade despite having battled asthma from the earliest years of childhood.
Ironically, it is a poignant passage from his own autobiography, Giving Up the Ghost, that illustrates the uncommon talent Dody possessed as a writer – and hints at what he might have produced had he taken a different literary path:
“When a ghost’s job is done, he wanders, unheeded, unseen in a half-world and in circles now too grand for him. Unseen by everyone – except on rare occasion by the subject who pretends blindness but winks conspiratorially when the unfamiliars are looking the other way – I have been able to slip through closed doors and between locked mortals as they engage in their earthly affairs. Impossible to be heard, I for one have cried out in protest, in joy, in vain. Isn’t that what death is all about, finally?”
André Previn turned 80 years old earlier this month, which gives us cause to reflect on the incredible life of this highly interesting, very creative man. In his musical life, he’s demonstrated a versatility and catholicity that surpasses even Leonard Bernstein’s reputation.
Born in Germany, raised in the United States and truly a citizen of the world, Previn has lived out his life in the European capitals of London, Paris and Berlin … and here in the U.S. in places as diverse as Hollywood and Pittsburgh. A true wunderkind, he burst onto the musical scene back in the early 1950s, recording fine jazz piano arrangements that were released on 10” RCA Victor 78-r.p.m. and LP records … then soon migrated over to MGM Studios, writing musical scores for more than a dozen Hollywood films.
I own a few of Previn’s early jazz albums. His song arrangements are little gems – each one their own special musical adventure. Listen to his rendition of Stella by Starlight, for example, and you’ll immediately understand his special way with the music.
Previn’s pop music career masked the fact that he had studied classical music at the Paris Conservatory, and in San Francisco under the tutelage of the great French conductor Pierre Monteux. By the 1960s, Previn had moved from pop back to his classical roots, issuing a series of critically acclaimed recordings with the best symphony orchestras of London. His interpretations of the symphonies of Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Sir William Walton … along with recordings of the important British choral masterworks Belshazzar’s Feast and The Rio Grande remain touchstone performances, nearly 40 years on.
In his later years, in addition to guest-conducting the world over, Previn has penned a steady stream of memorable compositions, including several concertos for his ex-wife, the celebrated violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Even more impressive is Previn’s foray into the world of opera. His 1998 composition A Streetcar Named Desire has received more than 20 productions – an almost unheard of feat for a contemporary opera. And today, he’s busily at work writing a new work for the Houston Grand Opera to premiere next month, based on Noel Coward’s 1938 play Still Life (later made into the movie Brief Encounter).
At age 80, André Previn shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. And why should he? Musically speaking, he still has much to say … and the arts world is richer for it.
The information is starting to trickle out. YouTube is hemorrhaging red ink. Credit Suisse estimated recently that YouTube will make approximately $240 million in advertising revenue – revenue that has come from a cavalcade of different forms of advertising, licensing and partnership deals.
Advertising Age magazine has just reported that YouTube is now selling advertising against 9% of its video views. That’s up from 6% a year ago. But those figures are still paltry. And it’s really no surprise since so much of YouTube’s content is user-generated, devoid of any significant interest and thus not really “monetizable” for advertising purposes.
No one – not even parent company Google, with a market capitalization of over $100 billion – is going to put up with such a scenario forever. The question is whether YouTube will ever be able to generate enough ad revenue to offset the huge bandwidth and storage costs associated with managing a humongous repository of video material. It’s a question that, even if Google’s own senior management doesn’t ask, the company’s shareholders should.