Today would have been Phillipa Fallon’s 87th birthday. To mark the occasion, here’s a tribute video…
…The biography will resume shortly…
And now that eminent poet of Pokeyville reading his latest masterpiece – The Big Switch…
The world was a world of kings and men –A couple of days later, in a yellow “changes” section of the January 15, 1958 version of the screenplay, the poet is identified as a “serious looking young colored boy.” After the same line of introduction is delivered by Mr. A (as quoted above), the following stage direction text is found:
And we like hooded falcons.
Don’t dig it anymore – don’t dig
Such fancy tales
Don’t dig that crucifix…
Ever been cold on a summer’s night –
And coughed up the blood of dawn?
Then you’re hep to the Big Swich, friend
The world’s a world of dollar smokes
And when you find the loot?
The kings they all pushin’ weed –
I take me off my hood
The grass is green no more –
Crazy, man, it’s red.
The nights grow narrow, doll
You tune me in?
The streets are wet –
I got no shoes
You think there’s a way to run…
Sure there is –
The curve of the Big Switch, friend
Poet steps forward into tiny space in front of the combo to read – the combo beginning to play rhythmically behind him, making the reading poetry with a jazz beat. During the following the kids listen intently, seriously, lost in the words and rhythm.By the January 20, 1958 draft of the script, the sex (and presumably the race) of the poet had changed, but the verses of the poem were essentially the same. It was not until the February 11, 1958 edition of the screenplay—produced just days before principal photography began on MGM’s Culver City lot—that the poem (with one slight change), as seen in the completed film, finally appeared in print. There is no description in the script of what the poetess character is supposed to look like or how she is supposed to act. The novelization of High School Confidential! by Morton Cooper published in 1958, however, does offer a portrait, albeit, an unflattering one:
…He stayed in the entrance-way, shaking his head at a waiter who motioned that there was a seat ready for him, and regarded the horsy, oddly unhealthy looking woman materialize from a curtain next to the stage. The applause was ear-shattering as she waddled to the mike and nodded conspiratorially to Mr. A. The combo began to play rhythmically behind her, and she read melodramatically from a paper she plumbed from her overripe bodice…
Prod. “High School Confidential”
May 9, 1958
Lyrics by Phillipa Fallon & Albert Zugsmith
Music by Albert Glasser, A.S.C.A.P.
CA-RESS-ING FIN-GERS__AND SOFT WHITE ARMS__ ARE ON-LYBut where Zugsmith and MGM really got their money’s worth is in Phillipa’s mesmerizing performance as the beat poetess. As the scene opens, she can be glimpsed seated just beyond the bandstand before John Drew Barrymore and Diane Jergens exchange a brief round of dialogue about Jergens’ need for marijuana. Their discussion is cut short by some brassy music that cues Phillipa to emerge from her chair and stride to the stage (unlike in the screenplay, Mr. A does not introduce her, probably because Jackie Coogan’s incarnation of the character is seated at the piano).
PART OF__ SWEET MA-MIE’S CHARMS. YOU WANT HER NEAR-NESS__ WHEN SHE HAS GONE__ THE DEEP DE-SIRE__ WILL LINGER ON. __
MA-MIE, __ MA-MIE ___ HAUNTINGLY LOVELY IS SHE MA-MIE__ WHY MUST SHE NEED TO BE FREE. IF SHE HAS KISSED YOU, __ YOU WON’T FOR-GET, __ THO’ SHE MAY HURT YOU, __ THERE’S NO REGRET . YOU’LL GO ON HOPING__ SOME-HOW, SOME-WAY__ THAT YOU WILL CAPTURE__HER HEART SOME DAY.__
My old man was a bread stasher all his life.
He never got fat. He wound up with a used car,
a 17 inch screen and arthritis.
Tomorrow is a drag, man.
Tomorrow is a king sized bust.
They cried ‘put down pot,’ ‘don’t think a lot,’ for what?
Time, how much? And what to do with it.
Sleep, man, and you might wake up digging the whole
human race giving itself three days to get out.
Tomorrow is a drag, pops, the future is a flake.
I had a canary who couldn’t sing.
I had a cat who let me share my pad with her.
I bought a dog that killed the cat who ate the canary.
What is truth?
I had an uncle with an ivy league card.Looker blog for this observation].
He had a life with a belt in the back.
He had a button-down brain.
Wind up a belt in the mouth with a button-down lip.
We cough blood on this earth.
Now there’s a race for space.
We can cough blood on the moon soon.
Tomorrow’s dragsville, cats.
Tomorrow is a king size drag.
Tool a fast shore, swing with a gassy chick.
Turn on to a thousand joys.
Smile on what happened, or check what’s going to happen,
You’ll miss what’s happening.
Turn your eyes inside and dig the vacuum.
“…but what I want to know is, who was that chick who sang in the nightclub sequence? She was so riotous, I thought her bit was worth the price of admission alone.”
-- Beverly Hills Citizen, July 7, 1958
“A recitation to jazz accompaniment by Phillipa Fallon is fascinating…”
-- Hollywood Reporter film review, May 28, 1958
“There’s one scene at the hangout where a gal in the crowd gets up and delivers a way-out word-jazz routine…may start a big new fad.”
-- Hollywood Citizen-News film review, June 26, 1958
“Mel Welles has contributed two pieces of special material, one of which, an existentialist poem recited by Phillipa Fallon, is a standout.”
-- Daily Variety film review, May 28, 1958
“Highlights of the story are a drag race with Tamblyn and Diane Jergens living it up, an existentialist poem by Phillipa Fallon to jazz accompaniment in a weird off-beat joint and John Drew Barrymore delivering a class soliloquy on Ferdinand and Isabella.”
-- Los Angeles Examiner film review, June 26, 1958The one negative comment about the performance came from critic Howard Thompson of the New York Times on May 31, 1958:
Miss Fallon Feted
Bill Manhoff gave a party for Miss Phillipa Fallon at the Saratoga restaurant.
Phillipa Fallon, night-club singer observed by Director Russell Birdwell, will do a straight dramatic part in “The Secret Diary of Joseph Stalin” [Ed. Note: yet another version of the film’s evolving title] at U-I.Phillipa appears in several scenes in the film, but has only one brief line of dialogue. As Nina, the assistant to one of Stalin’s torture maidens, Phillipa says in a slight Russian accent: “The girl next, Olga will make her talk.”
In 1946 Bill Manhoff, by then the proud father, with Ferne, of a baby girl, left Duffy’s Tavern for other writing opportunities including working for Danny Thomas. In 1951 (through 1954) he was writing and directing another radio comedy, Meet Millie. “Millie” was a fast-talking Brooklyn secretary voiced by Audrey Totter and later Elena Verdugo. Episodes revolved around the character of Millie Bronson’s workplace and her family.
According to the Manhoffs’ daughter—who did not wish to be identified for this biography—Ferne played the Russian-accented character of “the Countess” at least twice on the Millie program. Unfortunately, very few episodes of the series are available today and CONELRAD has not been able to locate copies of these two particular shows.
By this point, the ahead-of-their-time Manhoff family had become holistically dedicated vegetarians and bioengineering devotees. Ferne, as previously mentioned, had had an extraordinarily difficult pregnancy and it was during this period that she turned to modern health remedies; her family followed suit. But Bill Manhoff wasn’t above making fun of his family’s diet philosophy. Indeed, he worked the unusual (for the early fifties) lifestyle choice into the March 23, 1952 radio episode of Meet Millie. The program, which CONELRAD was able to obtain, concerns a family visit by “Aunt Ethel, a kooky vegetarian.”
During his interview with CONELRAD, Larry Gelbart confirmed that the family had an avant-garde diet. He said that he remembered having dinner with the Manhoffs one evening in the early 1950s and being surprised to see raw vegetables and vitamin supplements being served. Gelbart shared some of his impressions of the meal with humor writer Art Buchwald who used the material—much later—for a 1959 column headlined “The Health Nuts Take Over.”
The Manhoffs’ daughter remembers an intellectually stimulating family life with trips to museums and books (Picasso art books, etc.) all over the house. Ferne enjoyed classical music as well as the records of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and other greats. The family also enjoyed walks in Griffith Park, trips to Farmers Market and drives in the car.
On one such excursion (although the daughter was not present for this particular trip), the Manhoffs encountered a stunning two-story Mediterranean-style mansion near the corner of Tower Road and San Ysidro Drive in Beverly Hills. Ferne was especially taken with the balconies – it was a dream house for a woman who grew up in an apartment in Chicago during the Depression.
If the sixteen rooms and amazing garden weren’t enough, the house at 1100 Tower Road also had an impressive celebrity history. Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh reportedly once lived there as did the lower brow Mickey Rooney. But it is the residency of the fate-cursed lovers Jean-Pierre Aumont, the French star of films such as The Cross of Lorraine, and Maria Montez, the exotic beauty dubbed “The Queen of Technicolor,” that the mansion is best known for. Aumont writes about finding the house shortly before his 1943 marriage to Montez in his autobiography, Sun and Shadow: “The three sisters-in-law and the baby we were hoping for made Maria’s house seem too small. We discovered a larger one with which we fell in love immediately. It had an Italian-style façade and a large front lawn. The backyard was a jungle of orange and lemon trees, rose bushes, and avocados.”
In reflecting back on his time at the house with his family, Aumont wrote in Sun and Shadow: “Later I realized that the years spent in that house were among the most beautiful in my life. It’s there that Lucita, then Consuelo were married, there that Maria-Christine grew up, there that we lived the richest hours of our love.” But the dream shattered on September 7, 1951 when Maria Montez tragically died in a bathtub in the couple’s Paris home. Most reports attributed the death to drowning following a heart attack.
Aumont eventually put the house up for sale, explaining in his autobiography, “Not only did I never want to see it again, I didn’t even want it to belong to me anymore.” On December 21, 1953 ownership of the mansion was officially transferred from Aumont to Bill and Ferne Manhoff. The Manhoffs’ daughter told CONELRAD that Bill bought the house because he wanted to make Ferne happy.
To finance the family’s steep housing upgrade (the Manhoffs had previously lived in a modest home on Troy Drive in the Hollywood Hills), Bill took the prestigious, but very demanding job of production supervisor of CBS television comedy programming. He was, in effect, the script doctor for all of the network’s situation comedies.
While Bill slaved away at CBS, Ferne set about decorating their mansion. But because money was tight, the high-end furnishings favored by Ferne were slow in coming. According to the Manhoffs’ daughter, only one room was ever completely decorated and that was the library, which she remembered as being “exquisite.”
 Meet Millie also had a television incarnation (1952-1955) that ran concurrent to the radio series.
 The Tower residence is immortalized in Gore Vidal’s 1974 novel, Myron, a sequel to Myra Breckenridge. The premise of the book is that the Myra/Myron character trades places with Maria Montez (don’t ask). Myra/Myron has these two reveries about living in the mansion:
From page 389:
“It is Sunday. I sit at my beautiful writing desk in my palatial home at the corner of Tower Road and San Ysidro. Through my windows I can see my Japanese gardener pruning my roses. A tourist bus has just gone by, and I could hear the guide saying, ‘That’s the house where Maria Montez lives with her husband Jean-Pierre Aumont, the French film star.”
From page 408:
“It is late at night in my beautiful mansion on Tower Road. Jean-Pierre is sleeping. Crickets can be heard in the garden. A lovely silvery moon casts shadows through my window. The air is scented with jasmine.