All in the Family

September Song

(Click the title to play September Song.)

Close Encounters of The Relative Kind

Last September “The Ed-U-Tainer” aka Dennis Chandler did his “Every-First-Wednesday-of-the-Month-at-Wiggins-Place-Playing-Engagement”. How was it? He said he floated all the way home “on Cloud nine… that’s how much fun I had”. He told of a timely request for him to play composer Kurt Weill’s “SEPTEMBER SONG”. That turned into a dialogue on the subject of his late mother’s family roots and the Small branches of the Weill family. Some in pianist-Dennis’ audience knew the Small family. How? From their popular “Small Brothers Toy Store” in Youngstown. Others from that area knew Marge and were friends with her late sister Flora Small. No doubt, they said, from Flora playing Maj Jong aka “Aunt Flo’s floating card game”. Now, one of those card-players gets to hear her requested songs dedicated by Dennis “For Aunt Ruthie” (previously it was for “For Mz. Ruthie Schwartz”). So, one can understand what he meant when he said, “I had so much fun… I floated all the way home on Cloud nine”. (Isn’t that a song title?)

Well… here’s more about those well-worn-threads woven in this-tapestry-of-life (on the Weill side of his late mother, Marge). And more about how the MARX BROTHERS come into play, so to speak. But ’bout that McCoy connection to the Chandlers… that’ll have to wait. We only just found Dennis’ late dad’s research on his mother… Grandmother Icy McCoy. Yes, as in that famed expression… the REAL McCOY. Yes, as in those infamous HATFIELDS-and-McCOYS. So, to quote a lyric line from composer Kurt Weill’s “September Song” … “The days grow short when you reach September….”

Going back to school brings more info they say. Here’s hoping that’s the case when pianist-Dennis does The Weills (to be booked via Bainbridge). In the meanwhile, Chameleon Chandler will continue to play around, all over the Menorah Campus (in Beachwood). FYI: Dennis has done classes at Rose Institute for Lifelong Learning, performed at R.H. Myers, Stone Gardens, Menorah Park and the afore-mentioned Wiggins Place. Now since it has been suggested he play at The Weills; one wonders what that Weill connection will lead to? (Where’s a Genealogist when you need one?)

For more info on his mini concert/ lecture series…  go to “MASTERS OF MELODY” page.)

Back to about the WEILLS and MARX family folk:  After performing these “musical salons” it has been Dennis’ delight to discover more and more audience members who know somebody who know somebody who know, well, you get the idea. He is getting educated on what “mishpucha” means. He has been made to feel connected and that’s a blessing.

Adding to all this excitement for entertainer-Dennis was musician-Adam Rich’s scheduling a reunion there at one of Dennis’ gigs… with Chandler’s first entertainment coach. The way it happened was the heavy-metal-rocker-Rich recently moved his retired-teacher-mom and his dad into Menorah. Yes, while “on campus” at Menorah Dennis had a reunion with his first show business coach and mentor ARLENE BLANK RICH. Way back when student-Dennis joined that youthful troupe… ABR was the director of “KYW Roadshow”. Being it was his formative years,  Dennis Chandler aka “The Ed-U-Tainer” feels he, “owes it all to her… this enjoyment of ‘Educating While Entertaining'” . Arlene, by the way is also known as Mrs. BERNI RICH. He is the famed local photographer who was first to photograph BARBRA STREISAND during her early days of performing. (Re: Streisand and the “Six-Degrees-of-Separation Department”?… gettin’ closer..)

Speaking of Streisand and earlier years…  Back in the day when he was laid up; Dennis dreamed of doing music with Barbra Streisand! To explain, some of those arrangements he wrote from the top-of-his-head while his body below was healing (from chemos for leukemia) has been recorded and are on this website. The page is titled “Original Music & More” and will be a repository of sorts. Look for that first song Dennis dreamed doing with Streisand” under the title of  “Let Me Be Your Song“. (Oh, from our lips to G_d’s ear. Or at the very least, Barbra Streisand’s ears. It could happen, no?)

Now, guess what else we learned from Dennis’ Mishpucha at Menorah ? Mrs. Arlene Blank Rich, albeit she’s retired, may still be expert at Genealogy. So “Maybe Someday“, (as “Just We Two” playwrights Brenner & Chandler composed in a song), we’ll figure out how all this “plays” out, so to speak.

In the “meanWHILE”, here are some more interesting family members on Dennis’ mother’s side. As we mentioned Marge WEILL Chandler’s father’s side… was the Weill side. On Marge’s mother’s side: the MICHELSON family. More about the later Michelsons, the writer-types, below. But, first let’s talk about that immensely talented earlier Michelson, the one called,  “The Master of Light“.

ALBERT MICHELSON was named “One of the century’s greatest minds”. Why? Textbooks upon textbooks have been written about how Michelson’s late 1800’s experiments had immense influence on subsequent generations of physicists. But, about how that work first influenced ALBERT EINSTEIN It was in 1920 that Einstein acknowledged how he based his THEORY OF RELATIVITY on the famous MICHELSON-MORLEY EXPERIMENTS of 1887. Einstein said that his esteemed German colleague had “... uncovered an insidious defect in the ether theory of light, as it then existed, and stimulated the ideas out of which the special theory of relativity developed”.

These and other accomplishments of Albert Michelson profoundly affected the way physicists viewed the world. His works caused Michelson to be widely recognized as “The Father of Theoretical Physics”. Michelson was also “The First American scientist to win a Nobel Peace Prize” (in 1907) … “For his precision optical instruments and The Spectroscopic and meteorological investigations conducted therewith”. Besides Michelson being the first to measure the diameter of a star… in 1871 Michelson’s Spectroscope afforded proof of the movement of molecules. Michelson is also credited with proving that light travels at a constant speed no matter the direction it is heading, in any and all conditions. Michelson’s determination of the speed of light was the most accurate of the era. Thus Albert Michelson’s number became the accepted figure of 186,508 miles per second.  One can read more about him in a book by Livingston titled, “The Master of Light”. Interesting, too, is that those famous 1887 Michelson-Morley experiments were done at Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio. What an inspiration. What an immense Light.

Now about those talented Michelson writer-typesNobel Prize winner Albert Michelson’s siblings were also well known. A younger brother noted JOURNALIST CHARLES MICHELSON was SPEECH WRITER for PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT. He was also PUBLICITY DIRECTOR for over 30 years of the DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL PARTY. Their sister, turn-of-the-century NOVELIST MIRIAM MICHELSON, published works for over 40 years. What an inspiration. What a Light. (It’s never too late, eh?)

A later-generation Cleveland Michelson was also a writer. Marge’s father’s sister, Aunt Florence Michelson. As young as he was at the time, Dennis still fondly remembers visiting the AUTHOR FLORENCE MICHELSON. He said it always made for some interesting reading, and writing, too. That’s how impressed Dennis was with her. What young reader from that era wouldn’t be? Why? She wrote some of the “LASSIE” books and “NANCY DREW” mysteries, too! Although there were others also authoring the series, writer-Chandler treasures the books she wrote (and signed, “For my dear nephew Dennis”, signed Aunt Florence Michelson). What an inspiration. What a Light.

Then there were those tales told… about the show-biz-types in the family like the MARX BROTHERS, MADDY & MADDY WEILL, an aunt and uncle who were highly successful vaudevillians, and COMPOSER KURT WEILL, (cousin to her grandfather?)

Talk about in the ‘hood… the KARAMU neighborhood, that is. (Read about the reknown theatre aka “The First African-American Theatre in the Countryand how Dennis got to perform there. It’s all on this website’s page titled “Karamu”.) But… back to the stories told him of the MARX BROTHERS. Some tales told were some about another Marx… UNCLE HENRY MARX. He and his wife, BEA MARX owned and operated MARX DRY CLEANERS at E. 86th and Wade Park. There was talk of some traveling troubadours, whose clothing he ended up caring for, too. Those were the days of vaudevillians like SOPHIE TUCKER, MARTHA RAYE, RUDY VALLEE, GEORGE JESSEL, DON AMECHE and MICKEY KATZ, to name a few troubadours of the times. They’d bring their duds along when they came, as they say in show biz, “out ta da house”. (Perhaps for a PIANO SALON. Oh, to go back then… to be a fly on the wall or a carpetbaggin’ flea.)

Special, too were tales of hearing how the WEILLS would come to Cleveland to “Hit the HIPPODROMEa world-renowned  venue..  or..  to  Play the PALACE” (which they would do for weeks at a time). Oh, what was said about what they did for fun, in their time off. Apparently they “Let the good times roll” at all the artistic havens of the day like, the HERMIT CLUB, the BEAU ARTS CLUB and KARAMU.

“Theater is in Dennis’ blood”, said his mother’s COUSIN EMILY WEILL KLEIN. She confirmed, “That it was not just a family myth because of the vaudevillian’ publicity photos; treasured heirlooms of those troupers”. Dennis’ theatrical treasures included a hand-me-down start of a collection of  programs which he continued to collect in an interesting way…

To explain, as members of Hanna Theatre Guild the avid theatre goers attended every touring show, for as the saying went back in the day, “When Broadway came to Cleveland, it came to the Hanna“.  Later helping to fill in for any missing programs were another two fans of the Hanna. The late media-types MARY, MARY STRASSMEYER and TONY MASTROIANNI. Sitting “third-row-on-the-aisle” aka “the critic’s seat”, Tony was assigned to do reviews. Columnist Strassmeyer was there to garner goodies to plant in her garden-of-a-gossip-column titled Mary, Mary. Her morsels were gobbled up by readers hungry for her Hollywood-type items ala writers Louella ParsonsHedda Hopper. (Youngbloods may ask “Who?” Google their names.)

Thus it was the theatre that began the friendship with Mary, Mary. She was BIG fan of good melodic music and a great lover of piano music. With a busy night-on-the-town schedule; she always managed to stay in touch (and there were no cell phones back then). She would come out to play and come out to hear Dennis play, too. Piano, that is. So, thanks to “Strassy” that afore-mentioned collection includes programs from virtually every touring show the HANNA hosted (during that particular period of the first 65-year span of its life).

Plus, it was through Mary, Mary that the Chandlers first met the man who all those years was “Head at the Hanna”… respected General Manager Milt Krantz. Years later, as a resident at Stone Gardens (on the Menorah Campus) Mr. Milt was always in attendance as an audience-member at every one of Dennis’ “Musicales at Menorah”. How his stories from the Hanna helped all to appreciate what was going on in the theatre was just, immeasurable. He is missed. What an inspiration. What a Light.

Also among those family theatre “treasures” are some other interesting theater reads, too. ETHEL WATERS’ autobiography, “To Me It’s Wonderful”, which she signed. Plus, a 1949 First Edition of “Lyrics” by OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II , also autographed by the author. And, of course, those afore-mentioned LASSIE and NANCY DREW books (that Dennis’ great aunt FLORENCE MICHELSON authored and autographed to him).

Unfortunately, Dennis’ parents did not support the arts side of his life. They favored his business side. Thus, Dennis became an overachiever, striving to win their approval. (He won it when playing “roles” like “Banker” and later, as a “Sales & Marketing Executive”). Ironic that he only learned later in life about how artistic many on the WEILL side were. That revelation came from his late mother’s cousin. World traveler that she was; she said she was always discovering new distant relatives literally all over. COUSIN EMILY WEILL KLEIN had a mental-rolodex-of-a-mind of where all the Weill relatives were and what they were doing. She was quite proud of her heritage and those family ties. When Dennis had last spoken to her, she seemed to be going strong and ready to roll. Travel again, that is. Sadly, she has since passed away. Her sister FLO WEILL TALLISMAN survives her. Being the last of that generation, she keeps alive her legacy and hopefully, her rolodex.

How it is the Weill relatives are so far flung? To explain, at the start of World War II, they fled Germany, scattering all over the world changing the name WEILL to WILLEY, WILY, WILEY, WEILLS, etc. Why? Because HITLER threatened to kill all the families of BERTOLT BRECHT and KURT WEILL. In writing their “THREEPENNY OPERA” they had a not-so-thinly veiled warning of the coming neo-Nazism (e.g., recall the character Mac McHeath’s song, “MACK THE KNIFE”.

A genealogy project started for his school has another relative in search of some of these same roots, too. Cousin Emily’s grandson from California, MAT GOLDBERG, shows a family tree that goes back to the 1700′s. It’s caused a curiosity about how the tapestry threads of creativity run, so to speak.

Distant relative Kurt Weill’s love of different people and places, also translated into diverse musical works, and what works they are. Weill’s website  www.kurtweill.org  makes for some really interesting reading. It will help one to understand just how prolific Weill was. Born in 1900, and although he only lived to the age of 50, his “creative output measures like one who lived three lifetimes“. They also say, “Kurt Weill is considered the most influential composer of the 20th century”. Perhaps that’s because during his entire professional life, he sought as his collaborators the finest literary talents of his time! Among them were daring avant-garde writers like German BERTOLT BRECHT, distinguished dramatists like GEORGE KAISER and MAXWELL ANDERSON, who had never before attempted musical works, and poets like LANGSTON HUGHES. Others with whom Weill collaborated were, MARC BLITZSTEIN, FRANZ WERFEL, PAUL GREEN, MOSS HART, MAX REINHART, ARNOLD SUNDGARD, EDWIN JUSTUS, ELISABETH HAUPTMANN, OGDEN NASH, JOHNNY BURKE, OTTO KLEMPERER, ALAN JAY LERNER, MICHAEL FEINGOLD and… IRA GERSHWIN. Wow… What Lights!

Interesting, too, is that Weill wrote with S.J. PERELMAN (the MARX BROTHERS movies scriptwriter) and last but not least, “STREET SCENE” written with ELMER RICE and black POET LAUREATE LANGSTON HUGHES. (Via those creative threads woven because NYC producer CHERYL CRAWFORD would come to Cleveland and to KARAMU, too.) What inspiration.

To close… Another time we’ll talk about Dennis’ father’s side of the family which includes “the real Mc COY”, yes, as in THE REAL McCOYS… as in HATFIELD vs. McCOY. There’s more to learn since a photo album has been found of “the folks from PIKE COUNTY”.

Who knows? Maybe a musical will come out of it. After, all it’s “Never Too Late…” (as composer-Chandler wrote)…

But, then again… “The days grow short when you reach September” (as composer Kurt Weill wrote)… What an inspiration. What a Light. Stay tuned….

May, 2013

Liz Chandler, Web Writer’s email: googoo@en.com

Dennis Chandler, Subject’s email: wawamusic@en.com