Part 33: Burgess Meredith and The Gold Rush
It's July 12th, 2020. There's been a surge in Coronavirus cases, especially in Florida, Texas, and Arizona. The southern states are seeing a surge as well. The new focus is on "droplets" that can get into our lungs. Droplets from our breath or a cough or sneeze can stay in the air for hours, and even our eyes are a vulnerable point. Finally, some states that resisted science are telling people to start wearing masks, but maybe they should suggest eye glasses as well. Frankly, it's probably so late for some of these states I don't know what is going to happen. There are also "silent spreaders", people with no symptoms but have the virus. I continue to live as a hermit.
It's a relief to think about another era, even if it means going back to my Dad's kooky-ass life in show business. In 1960, Riley made an album with Burgess Meredith called "Songs and Stories of The Gold Rush." Riley used the pen name Dickson Hall, and worked on this album with Gary Romero, his lifelong friend. The album is a potpourri of songs and poems, (not all original content) songs and narration by Meredith. The "back up singers" are The Quartones, and they're listed on other albums by various artists, they got a lot of work back then. I don't think this project was a big money maker, and I wonder what kind of income Riley had in 1960. Around this time, Riley was already borrowing money from his in-laws, and also taking money from his mother-in-law's bank account-- until he got caught.
The above letter was pasted on a page with this other newsy bit, with Dad's last name spelled "Shepherd" but he kept it anyway.
Burgess Meredith stayed in contact with my father. I remember the two talking on the phone when I was a kid. Later, when I was away at college, Dad went to a Fourth of July party at the actor's house in Malibu. Not long before, there was terrible news from a dentist, my father had to have all his teeth removed. All those years running from the law as a young man, then riding the rails during the depression, rarely seeing a doctor or a dentist, (he also had a serious sugar addiction) finally cost him all his teeth.
I remember he was upset by the whole ordeal, and he wasn't sure if he'd go to the party or not. We had a long talk on the phone, and I could tell he was devastated, both by the horrible procedure, but also because of how he looked without any teeth. Dad was considered attractive throughout his life, and getting old really sucked for him. To top things off, his dentures weren't ready in time for the party. I felt bad for him. Having all your teeth out is traumatic, plus, we're all a little vain. He felt awkward about socializing, but he went, anyway.
My father wrote me piles of letters, especially back in the 1980s and 1990s, and I've saved all of them. None are boring. In this one, he describes the party at Burgess Meredith's house in Malibu, and meeting the actress Liv Ullman.
Reading over my father's letters to me, I realize that I was, at least for a time, the one person he felt he could be honest with. We were closer when I was miserable and struggling. Later, when my life became more comfortable, he became more secretive and evasive, and began borrowing money from me. He also married a woman who was his number six wife, if you count my mother (they were just shacking up, not legally wed) and Jo, his fourth "wife" (sans license).
I have no idea if he and Burgess Meredith and Gary Romero made a dime off this album. Or The Quartones, for that matter. My sister and I only have the sleeve for the record, not the actual album, but there are several on eBay for sale. There are a few songs online, too.
I'm reading a book by Nicholas Carr that was published ten years ago, but has had a bump in popularity. It's called "The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains". One of the chapters talks about "hyperlinks" in online text, and how it breaks up the flow of reading, and how all this popping around online is changing our brains. I'm going to put all the online links relevant to each blog at the end, rather than in the body of the text. Here they are, incase you want to listen to some of the tunes. The word that comes to mind for the songs on this album is "jaunty".
This site has links to two of the songs: WFMU's "Beware of the Blog."
Here's an oddball Youtube site, just don't look at the spinning photos in the video, you might just have a seizure.