Vail Valley Voices: Tony Bennett is one of the greats
I was reminded the other day of a pretty great man I knew for only a week and given all the tales about yahoos in the entertainment industry, I thought Id share a story.Some background: When I was 7, my parents took me to see the film version of the The Music Man. From then on, I wanted to be in show business.Before moving here, I spent 25 years working in the professional theater all over the country and in London as a director, producer, playwright, performer and publicist. I had some wonderful experiences and some not so wonderful ones. I was incredibly blessed to work with some of the nicest people from stage and TV, including Murder, She Wrotes Angela Lansbury, Law & Orders Jerry Orbach, Greys Anatomys Kate Walsh, Desperate Housewives James Denton, Frasiers John Mahoney and countless Broadway musical stars. My nastiest people list you can pry out of me some night over a bottle of wine. Im easy. In 1988, I was running a large Midwestern theater owned by a very rich but artistically challenged Italian man with questionable associations. He once asked me if I could get a hold of Charles Dickens to ask him to rewrite the ending of A Christmas Carol and make Tiny Tims leg better.It was rumored that there was a Teamster somewhere in the cement of the foundation of the theater and one afternoon, across a crowded lobby of blue-haired matinee ladies, he bellowed at the current union rep, You shut your @#$*^%# mouth or theyll be looking for you in a railroad car! I had some great times there.We were opening the musical Gypsy and needed a wardrobe person for the quick changes during Gypsys strip montage in the second act. My mother, now-Eagle resident Mary Lou Mosteller, had just lost her second husband, and I asked if she wanted to come and work in the theater. Life came full circle when we did The Music Man together there, starring WKRP in Cincinnatis Gary Sandy, who was wonderful to work with and wonderful in the show. Mom (who he called Maw), Gary and I still keep in touch and have dinner when were in the same cities. He was absolutely one of the good ones. Getting to the point, I was in a Denver music store recently and was reminded of one of the true greats. Im a big square where music is concerned. In high school, while other kids were stoning to the Dead, I was listening to Judy at Carnegie Hall. The first concert I ever saw was The Carpenters, and I still hold that Karen had the voice of an angel and no one can tell me otherwise. If you checked the CD player in my car, youd find the Broadway recording of Wicked. Anyway, there was a young kid in the store with long, stringy hair, tattoos and piercings, and I automatically assumed he was there to buy some ungodly metal racket or rap atrocity that would make me run screaming from the room. Instead, he asked one of the staff, Where would I find your Tony Bennett CDs? Then he turned to me and said, He rocks. When I came to, my friend picked me up off the floor, bandaged my head and I got to thinking how really and wonderfully remarkable this was. Tony Bennett appeared at our theater for eight performances. Mom was his dresser and still delights in telling people about how she was in his dressing room with him when he was in his underwear. For someone of his stature, who easily could have been haughty and unapproachable, he was the sweetest, most genuine man youll ever meet.Id seen him on TV, but in person he was unbelievably captivating. He gently held his audience in his palm as he caressed each lyric with unfeigned joy, love and appreciation and gave his all at every performance. The contractor for the musicians union had given the orchestra the wrong curtain time for opening night. They were told 8:30, but we had advertised and sold tickets for 8 p.m. As it approached 8 and there were no musicians, Mr. Bennett asked for a mic and a follow spot. The stage manager offered to make an announcement, but he replied, No, they came to see me at 8 oclock and theyre going to see me at 8 oclock. He walked onstage, apologized to the crowd, explained the mishap and assured them that he would start the moment the orchestra arrived. They stood and cheered. This was a man who respected his audience. After his first show, when he and Mom were in his dressing room, she casually asked why he didnt sing Rags to Riches in his act, as that was always one of her favorites. He explained that he wished he could do all the songs hed done in his career, but that would be impossible in an hour and a half.The next night, as the orchestra played his intro, Mr. Bennett took Moms hand, led her to the wings, said, Stand right there, and walked onto the stage. He opened with Rags to Riches, and he glanced at Mom and smiled. When he finished, he turned to the wings and said, Thatll be there every night just for you.This is a man of enormous generosity and talent, full of kindness, humility and class, whose career has spanned six decades and three generations, who you never hear a bad word about and who has never been embroiled in sleazy scandals. No easy feat in show business. In the 1980s, he found a whole new audience in the MTV generation and has won four Grammys in the past four years, bringing his lifetime total to 15. A few years ago, he toured with kd lang, an artist Sinatra would not perform with after learning she was a lesbian. Bennett didnt care. He respected her talent. For him it is all about the music. Only last week, he donated $100,000 for musical instruments for kids in New Orleans who couldnt afford them to keep Dixieland jazz alive. This is a genuinely good soul who loves what he does, who long ago found his spot on the mountaintop, and happily shows no sign of slowing down. And now, a stringy haired, tattooed and pierced young kid was buying his music. In these days of disasters like Britney, Whitney, Chris Brown and all the rest, this made me feel great. Sometimes we have little moments that refresh our faith in young people and teach us never to judge someone by their looks. I owe that young kid an apology.David Dillon lives in Eagle.