Read You Fascinate Me So: The Life and Times of Cy Coleman Online

Authors: Andy Propst

Tags: #biography, #music

You Fascinate Me So: The Life and Times of Cy Coleman

Acclaim for
You Fascinate Me So


You Fascinate Me So
is an insightful and informative biography of Cy Coleman’s life and career.  I was a close friend of Cy Coleman’s for many years and worked with him on the Broadway musical
Seesaw
. Andy Propst’s honest reporting is extraordinary. He has captured the essence of the Broadway musical and the composer, Cy Coleman, who defined it! I highly recommend this book.”

— Lainie Kazan
, actress

“Composer Cy Coleman was as fascinating as the dazzling string of hit songs and Broadway shows he created. Andy Propst’s compelling biography captures both this multifaceted man and the creative journey he took—from eight-year-old child prodigy performing at Carnegie Hall to a night-clubbing jazz pianist to one of Broadway’s greatest.”

—David Zippel
, Tony-Award-winning lyricist

“The chapter on
City of Angels
made me smile from ear to ear! Thank you, Andy, for letting me in on all the stuff I didn’t know and for writing this long overdue book about our Cy with such love.”

—Randy Graff
, Tony Award–winning actress

“Cy Coleman, genius composer, friend, and human, deserves this thoughtful and caring homage. Thanks to Andy Propst for sharing things about Cy I didn’t know, always wondered about, or relish remembering!”

—Dee Hoty
, actress

“I never met a musician who didn’t love playing a Cy Coleman tune. Those of us who were fortunate enough to know him and play with him will never forget his chops, humor, sassiness, hipness, and the love he had for his fellow musicians. As far as deep cats go, Cy was one of the deepest. For those of you who never knew him, Andy’s book is damn close to feeling like you’re playing ‘Witchcraft’ with Cy himself.”

—John Miller
, bass player/musical coordinator

Copyright © 2015 by Andy Propst

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, without written permission, except by a newspaper or magazine reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review.

Published in 2015 by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
An Imprint of Hal Leonard Corporation
7777 West Bluemound Road
Milwaukee, WI 53213

Trade Book Division Editorial Offices
33 Plymouth St., Montclair, NJ 07042

Permissions can be found on page 489, which constitutes an extension of this copyright page.

Printed in the United States of America

Book design by Michael Kellner

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Propst, Andy.
You fascinate me so : the life and times of Cy Coleman / Andy Propst ; with a foreword by Shelby Coleman.
      pages cm
 Includes bibliographical references and index.
 ISBN 978-1-4803-5590-3 (hardcover)
1.  Coleman, Cy. 2.  Jazz musicians--United States--Biography. 3.  Composers--United States--Biography. 4.  Pianists--United States--Biography.  I. Title.
 ML410.C739P76 2015
 780.92--dc23
 [B]
                                                           2014046378

www.applausebooks.com

For Daddy, Mother, and John . . . and Susan, who started it all . . .

Contents

Foreword by Shelby Coleman

Preface

Acknowledgments

1. “Baby Dream Your Dream”

2. “Tall Hope”

3. “Hey, Look Me Over!”

4. “Be a Performer”

5. “It’s Not Where You Start . . .”

6. “Tin Pan Alley”

7. “I’m Gonna Laugh You Out of My Life”

8. “Witchcraft”

9. “In Pursuit of Happiness”

10.
Wildcat

11. “The Best Is Yet to Come”

12.
Little Me

13. “Poor Little Hollywood Star”

14.
Sweet Charity
Onstage

15. “In Tune”

16.
Sweet Charity
Onscreen

17. “After Forty, It’s Patch, Patch, Patch”

18.
Seesaw

19. “Bouncing Back for More”

20.
I Love My Wife

21.
On the Twentieth Century

22.
Home Again, Home Again

23.
Barnum

24. “Some Kind of Music”

25. “Good Intentions”

26.
Welcome to the Club

27.
City of Angels

28.
The Will Rogers Follies

29. “If My Friends Could See Me Now”

30.
The Life

31. “It Needs Work”

32. Finale

Coda

Select Bibliography

Notes

Photographs

I am delighted that Andy Propst has written this account of Cy Coleman’s life. And he has done it just in time. He was able to interview Cy’s contemporaries, collaborators, family members, friends, and me—his wife. Cy Coleman was the love of my life. So I am not the one to write an unbiased biography. Andy is. Out of the mountains of scrapbooks, demo tapes, interviews of Cy throughout his career, photos, playbills, and news clippings, Andy has created an entertaining and cohesive biographical work.

Everybody knows Cy Coleman’s music, but now, thanks to Andy, readers can get to know the man. Cy had a shelf full of Tonys and Grammys and received just about every accolade an artist can receive, but he never became a household name. Why? His theory was that he wasn’t easily categorized and that critics couldn’t figure out who he was. That’s because he wanted to experiment in every genre, including classical, jazz, pop, and musical theater. He said, “I want to use all the colors in my palette.”

Cy’s life was never boring. As his wife, I had a front-row seat to that life, and I want to mention a few things that aren’t in the book.

Cy was the King of New York. Presidents and movie stars, as well as waiters, ushers, and the mounted cop who policed Broadway, called him Cy. His easy smile for everyone was real.

He had a razor-sharp wit and was never at a loss for a quick retort. Once, while practicing scales in his rented apartment on Fifty-seventh and Third, an upstairs neighbor called and said, “If you don’t stop that piano playing instantly, I am going to jump out the window!” Cy replied, “My, you are a good sport.”

People would ask him, “How do you write a song? Inspired by nature or emotion?” He would say, “No, it’s not like the cliché of a composer sitting in front of the piano, pencil in hand, plinking out notes.” He’d point to his temple and tap it as he said, “It’s all right here, Opus 1, 2, 3. It’s already in my head.” Cy was great at avoiding the “secretarial work” of putting the notes on paper. Pruning his trees at the beach house or helping me rearrange bookshelves was a good enough excuse.

He told me he had at least three hundred songs in his head that he hadn’t written down yet, just waiting for the right place. “A few of them are pretty good,” he said.

When working on a show or preparing to play in public, he became completely absorbed in the task and wasn’t easy to live with. The people around him became invisible; his temper and his patience ran short. He always felt bad about it and made amends—
after
the show.

Cy worked and played hard. Sports cars, gambling, and playing jazz late into the night eventually gave way to beach vacations, travel, and reading big books by the pool. He could relax and forget about work better than anyone I ever knew.

I don’t believe there was any separation between Cy’s everyday life and music. Upon landing in Paris, Cy told me to be very quiet and listen to the beat of the city. “It’s very different than New York. Do you feel it?” He heard music and rhythms everywhere. No one could get the drop on Cy. He swore that he could hear the criminal intent in someone’s footsteps. Very useful in New York City.

Cy’s workday started in bed; he never scheduled anything before noon if he could help it. He read all three daily papers, in bed with his coffee and me, and later our baby, Lily Cye. From there he worked the phones, lingering as long as possible. His call list was long, and he made sure to touch on at least three projects every day. “You have to keep a lot of balls in the air; you never know what is going to pop first,” he said. I learned everything I know about show business from listening to his morning calls.

Among other things I learned:

Never say “never,” especially in show business. You are bound to work with the same people again, like it or not.

Always call the losers after an awards show. No one else does.

Return every phone call right away, no matter how much you don’t want to.

People always like their own ideas best.

Don’t worry so much about what people think about you, because so few people do.

Cy knew exactly what he wanted to do from the age of four. He honed his craft with laserlike ferocity and created a life built on one thing: music. Cy told me shortly before his sudden death that he couldn’t have married any earlier than he did: “Wouldn’t have been fair to the woman. Music was my mistress.” I am glad that he felt he had finally achieved enough in music to settle down and enjoy a family life. He brought the same engaged, focused, and brilliant mind to being a husband and father.

Having a baby really tickled Cy. He welcomed her in the office and the theater and showed her off at every opportunity. The last day of Cy’s life found him sitting in a miniature chair, built for kindergartners, boasting lovingly about his four-year-old daughter to her teachers.

I was lucky enough to know Cy pretty well. Now Andy Propst has written a book that will give you a window into the world of a great and good man.

—Shelby Coleman

 

“Why Cy Coleman?” It’s a question that I’ve been asked hundreds of times while I have worked on this book.

My answer always began with something like “Well, the first musical I ever saw was
Sweet Charity
. . . .” And it’s the truth. When I was just in third grade—making me nine, I guess—I was taken to see a production of the first show Cy wrote with Dorothy Fields.

The tale of the dance-hall hostess with a heart of gold may not have been exactly kiddie fare, but it captured my imagination, and my ears. I still have the program that Colleen Dodson (who played Charity and went on to appear in shows like
Nine
on Broadway) and her castmates signed and plastered with big red lipstick kisses. It even became my show-and-tell that week, which, unsurprisingly, resulted in some pretty brutal kidding from my classmates.

Soon the original cast recording was getting repeated plays on the small portable turntable in my bedroom, and I was dancing—a bit maniacally and not at all Bob Fosse–like—to “Rich Man’s Frug” and singing along with songs like “Baby, Dream Your Dream” and “There’s Got to Be Something Better Than This.”

That’s the basic answer to “Why?”

I’ve come to realize, however, that the impetus behind the book stems from something much deeper. The reason I, as a young person, gravitated toward
Charity
, and later Cy’s other shows, like
I Love My Wife
,
On the Twentieth Century
, and
Barnum
, was that they managed to be theatrical while also sounding like “real music”—you know, the things I heard on the radio or songs my folks liked.

My dad might have been trying to instill in me a love of Gilbert and Sullivan and Scott Joplin (this was, after all, the era of
The Sting
), but I was turning to these shows because Cy’s operetta for
Century
and his rags for
Barnum
didn’t feel like antiques. They had (and have) a modern vibrancy to them. With
I Love My Wife
, I heard contemporary-sounding music, but it also told a story.

This sense of the “why” behind the “Why?” only dawned on me while I was immersed in Cy’s music and his life while working on this book. In the 1970s, however, I only knew I responded on a gut level to what I was hearing.

Beyond having always liked Cy’s work, there was another reason for my wanting to delve deeper into his life. I was curious about the man whose career could have so many distinct facets.

Cy didn’t just write Broadway musicals. He started off in the classical arena before moving to jazz, and before he was twenty-one he was appearing daily in the then-emergent medium of television, even while he was doing radio programs and nightclub appearances. Furthermore, at two points in his life (first in the mid-1960s and later in the 1980s), he scored big-budget Hollywood pictures.

This remarkable elasticity has allowed me to journey into nearly fifty years of theater history while also taking excursions into America’s pop-cultural history from mid–last century forward.

It’s been a genuine privilege to travel alongside Cy down so many different paths, but there’ve been hurdles. It probably will come as no surprise that memories of events from seventy or eighty years ago have blurred over time, and so there will be moments when this book may become rather a collagelike representation of actual events. Whenever necessary I will point out contradictions in the historical record or the accounts I’ve gotten from the people who knew Cy.

Almost a constant in the interview process were people’s descriptions of the music that seemed to emanate from him. Terri White, who was in two of his shows, imagined him sleeping: “All you’d see is floating notes everywhere.” Lyricist Marilyn Bergman also remembered his flair at the piano: “There was a showman thing about Cy which also made him such a man of the theater, because he understood showmanship and . . . he wasn’t hunched over the piano playing discreetly. He was out there.” And during conductor Fred Barton’s time on
City of Angels
, he asked Cy about his work and what compelled it. Cy said simply, “Fred, I like to entertain.” As Barton put it, “In those five words, he summed up Cy Coleman.”

It’s the predominance of these qualities, as well as Coleman’s own guarded approach to his personal life, that have informed the book. Personal anecdotes do appear, but as Shelby says, music was Cy’s mistress until late in his life, and so this book primarily concentrates on his career as a composer and performer, with occasional excursions into his private life.

Ultimately, what I hope is that this book will bring Cy Coleman—in all his various incarnations—to life for not only fans like me but also for those who have never experienced his music or known that he was the man who penned the melodies for such songs as “Witchcraft,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” and, oh, that number from
Sweet Charity
, the one with that instantly recognizable vamp: “Big Spender.”

—Andy Propst

 

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