Friday, March 4, 2016
LOVE ME TO PIECES
Every so often, especially on Fridays, I post on something ridiculous or outrageous or surprising, usually for humor. As for example, sixty years ago Melvin Endsley wrote Singing the Blues, the cowboy version which put Marty Robbins on the map, for the song spent 13 weeks on the Billboard list of Hot Country Songs. This song was covered by Guy Mitchell, spending nine weeks at #1 on Billboard.
Just around this time, Endsley wrote Make Like a Bunny, Honey, recorded by Jill Corey. Terrible song. Listen to it. But Endsley got a bright idea, changed the lyrics and re-titled it Love Me to Pieces, also recorded by Jill Corey. Big Hit! Well, at least it reached #11 on Billboard. Here she is at the age of 20.
Jill Corey is now 80 years old (here in 2013). She began singing as a Carmen Miranda imitator, entered amateur contests, and usually finished last. Known then as Norma Jean Sparanza from near Pittsburgh, she actually developed a unique style and, at the age of 13 had her own radio show. She was a local celebrity at 17. Mitch Miller heard one of her tape demos, leading to an audition with Arthur Godfrey (the American Idol show of the 50's) and Dave Garroway, with whom she signed, changing her name to Jill Corey, picked out of a phone book.
Within six weeks she had a LIFE article of seven pages, becoming the youngest star ever at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. In 1956 at 21 she joined Johnny Carson's CBS comedy show, and also became the last featured singer on Your Hit Parade. At 24 she starred in a musical film, Senior Prom, co-produced by Moe Howard of The Three Stooges.
She then gave up her career in 1961 to marry Don Houk (not to be confused with Ralph Houk of the Yankees) of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He himself had a fascinating beginning, being knocked out seven straight bouts in his professional boxing career. He wisely turned to baseball and spent a season in Cuba, where he batted against Fidel Castro, who got kicked out of the park for aiming at Houk's head.
In addition to Love Me to Pieces, I remember Jill Corey best on her frequent visits to Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Even though he married four times, they were more than just show biz colleagues. Corey was smutty and even profane, sometimes beyond the limits of decency. Sorry, can't find any You Tube clip. Anyone succeed, let me know, I'll add it here.