Thursday, March 10, 2011

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 long term band boy for Benny Goodman, the “King of Swing”.

In the early fifties the “Big Band Era” had come to an end and 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.

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 low price.

My husband, Dick, was working as a “Life” photographer in 1956 and he and Popsy became fast friends. When Dick started to free lance he would use the studio and darkroom when needed and, as payment, he taught Popsy some of the finer points of photography.

When Dick and I married in 1958 he had left “Life” and was free lancing full time. We would often meet Popsy in his studio and enjoyed many a take-out meal with him.

Early in 1959 we received a call from Popsy. He was very agitated and asked us to hurry over. It seemed that Benny Goodman was on his way to New York with his 10-piece ensemble that had been touring Europe. He was booked at “Basin Street East” for a three night gig and 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 handle the lighting for candid shots of this sort. I knew why he had called Dick, because this was his expertise.

The two of them formulated a plan and on opening night we arrived early and Dick set up his big strobe lights. We were seated at a large table in front of the stage and Popsy met us there.

When Benny came on stage with his ensemble the crowd went wild, the strobe lights came on and Dick and Popsy rushed around the room taking pictures from all angles. When the night was over we couldn’t wait to get back to the studio and process the film.

The pictures were wonderful, Benny was very happy with the results, Popsy was vindicated … and me? … I was just thrilled to be part of it all … especially when Benny and his 10 musicians sat at our table between sets !


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I wouldn't be surprised if you could recount dining with presidents -- even kings and queens. What a life you've led!

4:40 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

What anvil said! How fun to meet Benny Goodman. I met Dizzy Gillespie and Jack Teagarden, but they weren't as well known then.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

That is awesome Ginnie! I love Benny Goodman. I've been a fan since my early twenties. I had my grandmother to that for that. She had lots of big band albums and we would play them together.
It must have been so exciting to have the band sitting at your table, so exciting! Love Di ♥

3:41 AM  
Blogger Beatrice P. Boyd said...

The Big Band sounds are among the favorites that Grenville and I listen to all the time via Sirius satellite radio. We both well remember our parents listening to the music through WNEW and WOR out of NYC. What a great memory you have shared!

8:54 AM  
Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Wow you got to hang out with the king of swing. Such memories to live on and on.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Syd said...

What great experiences you have had! I would have liked to learn some photography tips from your husband as well. I am sure that he was a cracker jack.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Chancy said...

What a wonderful memory.

2:44 PM  

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