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“To Keep My Love Alive” – Deliciously Murderous Song by Rodgers and Hart, from “A Connecticut Yankee”

richardrodgers_marktwain_viviennesegal-aconnecticutyankeeSeveral years ago, I read Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. It was an unintentionally hilarious book. Damosels (that’s how he spells it) show up randomly and either get beheaded (a surprisingly common occurrence – for the woman, anyway) or abducted or seduced or vamp the men or ask for help or offer adventure. And men lay in wait for suspecting knights to fight, seek adventure, constantly visit hermits to hear prophecies they ignore and receive absolution for their manifold sins (which they go out and commit again), seek revenge (it’s practically a living), and generally pursue their highly fatalistic way.

Every knight is worshipful and every damosel rides a white palfrey. And the knights behead a lot of woman (sometimes accidentally) and for some reason no one seems to mind it nearly as much as killing other knights. It’s more like a secondary offense, murder in the second degree.

And for some reason Morgan Le Fay spends the entire book attempting to abduct Lancelot (who only has eyes for Guinevere). She always sends twenty (or was it thirty) knights to lay in wait for Lancelot and he always manages to defeat them…barely. Why couldn’t she ever send twenty-one knights? That should have done the trick. Anyway, I always found myself rooting for her to succeed. She never did, and I knew she wouldn’t, but I was incorrigible and kept on hoping she would capture Lancelot, anyway…or do something like take over all of Camelot and kill the knights. Alas, she never did.

It’s enough to make a feminist out of any woman.

“To Keep My Love Alive,” then, is a song for those women who find themselves wishing the woman would defeat the men. It was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for their 1943 revival of their 1927 hit “A Connecticut Yankee,” which was a musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. At this point, Lorenz Hart was drinking extremely heavily and their long partnership was shaky. Unable to rely on Hart, Richard Rodgers teamed with Oscar Hammerstein for the groundbreaking “Oklahoman.” But Hart was in an extremely bad way and Rodgers and Hammerstein thought that if Hart continued to work, it would help him. So, Rodgers and Hart decided to revive “A Connecticut Yankee” and add some new songs.

Vivienne Segal as Morgan Le Fay and Dick Foran as Martin, Sir Boss

Vivienne Segal as Morgan Le Fay and Dick Foran as Martin, Sir Boss

One of the changes was to give Morgan La Fay more to do and to sing. In fact, she practically runs away with the musical with her extremely witty songs. One song is “Can’t You do a Friend a Favor” (the favor being to fall in love with her) and another is “To Keep My Love Alive.” This latter song she sings upon first appearing in Camelot. She is explaining exactly how she has managed to keep her love alive – without divorcing any of her husbands, or cheating on them. She achieves this by simply killing them and the song is a hysterically funny list of all her husbands, their names, their crimes and how she disposed of them.

Hart would die during the running of the musical and Vivienne Segal, who played Morgan Le Fay and was a good friend of his, had to flee the stage during her performance of “To Keep My Love Alive” because she was so distraught over his death that she couldn’t remember all the husbands’ names. She took a moment and then came back out and finished the song.

I really do believe that Lorenz Hart was one of the wittiest, most poignant and best lyricists of the American popular song. He led a very tragic life, dying when he was only 48 years old, but with composer Richard Rodgers, he wrote some of the best songs of the Great American Songbook. If you are at all interested in his life, his songs or the era of 1930s Broadway musicals try A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart, by Garry Marmorstein. The cast recording – one of the earliest cast recordings that were ever made – is also available and is extremely fun. The CD also contains various other songs of Rodgers and Hart sung by Hildegard and Shirley Ross.

Here is Vivienne Segal’s version. It’s a full 6 minutes long and contains a truly impressive list of husbands. One wonders how she found time, but one also can’t help being impressed at her ingenuity in disposing of each and every one of them, without ever repeating a single method!

A somewhat shortened version is sung by Ella Fitzgerald in “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook.” I love this album. Not only do I love Ella Fitzgerald, but it also is the most comprehensive introduction to the duo’s work.

 
 

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Movie and Book and What If It Was I Who Had Traveled Back in Time?

A_Yankee_in_the_Court_of_King_Arthur_book_cover_1889Some time ago, I read Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and recently watched the 1949 film of the same name with Bing Crosby. The movie is quite a bit more light-hearted than the book, with Bing Crosby singing his songs with his trademark easy-going humor. The book is oddly serious at times; it starts out as a biting and often hilarious parody of chivalrous fiction, specifically the Arthurian legends, only to end with an exceedingly bleak indictment of modernity.

In the book, the man who goes back to King Arthur’s time, Hank Morgan, is from Connecticut and was a supervisor at a weapon’s factory. In the movie, Bing Crosby’s Hank Martin is a blacksmith. What both these men have in common, however, are some basic skills, the ability to build modern devices, often weapons, but also other useful devices (like a safety pin). And in both versions, Hank is handy with a lasso and can bring down a knight in a joust without having to resort to actually wearing armor and using a lance. They also both use their special knowledge of an approaching eclipse to pretend that they are wizards who can make the sun cease to shine and Crosby’s Hank has matches and a piece of glass to create fire.

Mark Twain wrote his book in 1889 and in his book Hank Morgan is clearly more enlightened than King Arthur and his knights. He introduces baseball, democracy, shows the king his realm and the suffering and slavery within. But all his knowledge is ultimately of no use. He restructures the kingdom, only to have it all undone when he takes a trip and Arthur discovers Lancelot and Guinevere’s love affair and the kingdom disintegrate into war. When Hank comes back, the people have deserted him and he and a faithful few are besieged by knights. He puts up electric wires all around his refuge and every last knight is electrocuted en masse (because of their armor). The besieged are surrounded by a wall of fried knights and cannot get out because of their own electric fence and the electrocuted men. It is truly an appalling end and although the war was brought about by medieval ignorance (a big theme in the book), it seems as if Twain negates his parody with such utter destruction, which critics have often likened to what was to come in the trench warfare of WWI. Superstition and ignorance versus soulless machines, but it is the final scene that really stays with the reader.

connecticutyankee2The movie, made in 1949, completely omits the bleakness and is sheer good-humored, Technicolor fun – the kind of film where people seem so happy to be living that they have to sing.

Bing Crosby’s Hank Martin is still more enlightened than the medieval people, but mostly because he’s more cool (Bing Crosby generally plays people who are very cool and sing cool songs). Crosby sings, woos Alisande (Rhonda Fleming – known as The Queen of Technicolor for how well her red hair filmed in color), shows the musicians how to play cool music, has a wizard battle with Merlin, hangs out with Sir Sagramore (William Bendix), lassoes Sir Lancelot, takes King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) on a trip to see his kingdom and makes a gun. He does die at the end, but he is translated back to the future and meets Alisande’s descendent (or possibly her reincarnated self).

I watched it with my Nana, who remembers seeing it when it first came out. She was walking to school the next day and met her friend, who had also happened to see the film that weekend. She recalls that there was no one on the street and the two of them walked to school, all the while singing the film’s most infectious song “Busy Doing Nothing.”

In some ways A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court makes me think of The Court Jester in its medieval comedy, jousts, and fun with medieval language, though Bing Crosby’s character has things a little more together than Danny Kaye’s.

I was also rather struck by the fact that they chose to set the beginning of the film in 1912 as opposed to the 1940s. I think they did this so that he could reasonably be a blacksmith and therefore have some useful skills when he was sent back in time. And that got me thinking. Many people in American have such specialized and specific knowledge that if we were to be sent back in time, we might be of no earthly use in the past. I wondered, if I were sent back in time, what could I do? I could never build a gun, let alone a safety pin.

Bing Crosby at his blacksmith's ship, sharpening a sward with William Bendix

Bing Crosby at his blacksmith’s ship, sharpening a sword with William Bendix

I can play the piano, but pianos hadn’t been invented yet. Not even the harpsichord was in use (which wouldn’t be until the fourteenth century). And I couldn’t build one. I could, possibly, explain our modern musical notation to them and musical theory. Music in the 6th century (when Arthur was king) was monophonic, which means a single line of melody, and was generally vocal. I suppose I could try to scare the living daylights out of people with my harmony, though I am not sure if I would survive such a performance.

One thing I’d have is my phone. (Bing Crosby had matches on him when he was sent back, I would probably have a cellphone). I could play alarming music and shine the screen at people until my battery died.

I could also teach sanitation, washing hands and such, but I couldn’t really help with the plague or other diseases. Nor do I think writing or blogging would be especially useful. My best bet might be to employ my mediocre juggling skills and become a court jester.

What would you do if you were sent back into King Arthur’s day?

For anyone interested, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court can be seen on youtube.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2014 in Fiction, Movie Musicals

 

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