Saturday, December 16, 2006

POPSY Lights it Up at BASIN STREET EAST, 1959

They called him Popsy because it was near impossible to spell, remember or pronounce his long Greek name. He had been the Band Boy for Benny Goodman, the “King Of Swing”, for all the years of the “Big Band Era.”

In the early fifties Benny broke up the band but he didn’t leave Popsy high and dry. He set him up in his own photography business in New York City. Now, Popsy would be the first to tell you that he was no artist when it came to taking pictures, but he had the basics and his studio was conveniently located near the theater district. The actors and actresses flocked to his studio because of his proximity to famous musicians and because they could get promotion pictures for their portfolios quickly and at a reasonable price.

My husband was working as a “Life” photographer in 1956 and he and Popsy became fast friends. Dick was also free-lancing and he would use the studio and the darkroom when needed. It worked out well for them both. Dick would teach Popsy the finer points of photography and, in turn, Popsy would not charge Dick for the use of his studio.

I met and married Dick in 1958 and we would often meet at Popsy’s and enjoy a take-out meal with him. Early in 1959 we received a call from Popsy. He was very agitated and he asked us to hurry over...he had something he needed to discuss.

It was at this time that Benny Goodman was touring Europe with a 10-piece ensemble. This was much smaller than his original big band but Benny was still a great box office draw and he was packing them in. The news that Popsy had was that Benny was on his way to New York. He was booked at “Basin Street East” for a 3 night gig and he was offering Popsy the chance to take all the publicity shots.

Popsy was fit to be tied. He didn’t want to let Benny down but he had no idea how to take candid shots of this sort. I knew why he had called on Dick, because this was his expertise. We told Popsy not to worry and we formulated a plan.

The opening night we arrived early and Dick set up his big strobe lights. We were seated at a large table right in front of the stage and Popsy met us there. The plan was for Dick to take the pictures but Popsy would take some too, making sure that Benny would see him. I couldn’t believe how well it worked.

When Benny came on stage with his ensemble the crowd went wild, the strobe lights went on and Dick and Popsy did their thing. When the night was over we couldn’t wait to get back to the studio and get the film developed and print the pictures. They were very good ...even some of the ones that Popsy took.

Benny was very happy with the results, Popsy was vindicated and me?...I was just thrilled to be part of it all...especially since Benny & his 10 musicians sat at our table between sets!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've got the best stories, Ginnie! What a thrill to be sitting there hearing Benny Goodman and what a nice gesture on the part of your husband to help out Popsy like that. Loved this story!

6:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do seem to have some geography in common, where in VT do you visit?
Love this story, your life certainly has been diverse and interesting.
Are you familiar with Moseleys on the Charles? I think it's in Dedham, but it's been a very long time and it may not be there any more. You could go there to dance to big band music on a roomy dance floor and I believe the band was an off shoot of the original Benny Goodman band.
Glenn Miller is another favorite.

7:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Benny Goodman, I am impressed. I've heard that big bands are on the way back. Young people today don't know what they missed.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

Pam: My mother was born & lived in Brattleboro and I have many relatives all over Vermont. I don't remember Moseley's...but did you ever go to "The Totem Pole" where they had lots of Big Bands & dancing? There were dance floors on two levels and couches between them with little tables for drinks, etc. I only got there once but it was fun.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Pam. Your life has been very diverse and interesting. It is a pleasure to read your reminiscences. :)



12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fun story. Can it be that life was more interesting then, or am I simply romanticizing things? It also sheds even more golden light on your wonderful husband. The part that touched me in this story was the idea of GOING BACK to the darkroom to develop the photos. Both of my parents developed their own photos. It was much more magical than any digital camera I've seen.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tremendous tale. I always wanted to be Weegee.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have had a full, rewarding life. You make it all sound so exciting and fun. I am a little too young to remember the big band era but my older foster sisters often played the older records and danced to the big band music while I sat and watched them. I would not be caught dead doing it cause the beatles were in then and, well, I just would not be caught dead dancing to big band music. LOL Now alot of college kids are dancing to it and they love it.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ginnie. You should be proud of your 5 month blogging experience and here's to the next 5 years! Your grandchildren will be in awe of your wonderful memories and what a great role model they have in their grandmother. Have a great Christmas!

6:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well how cool is all that! And I can only imagine the thrill of sitting with the band when they went on break, much less the thrill of seeing Benny and the boys.

5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is always so fun to come and visit you. You have the most wonderful memories to share.

Your husband was a sweetie...


5:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh m'God, the Totem Pole! Yes, I went there a number of times. Talk about a flashback!
Hurrah to Dick, a great tradition and fun story.
And now, off to the kitchen, your picture made me hungry.

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating...New York in the 50s! :)

5:06 AM  

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