Thursday, July 26, 2007

FREE Tickets Now Available for 'Devil Wears Prada' Author Lauren Weisberger - September 6th

FREE tickets for bestselling author and Scranton native Lauren Weisberger's upcoming lecture (Thursday, September 6th at 7 PM at Scranton Cultural Center) are now available at Albright Memorial Library and other locations throughout Scranton. For more information, click here.

Photo of Lauren Weisberger courtesy of press page on Miss Weisberger's official web site.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

'Mama' Cass Elliot (1941-1974)

While assisting a library patron today, who was looking for a football article from our microfilm of the Scranton Times on November 1, 1970, suddenly appearing on the screen was an article titled "Mama of Momma Cass Ex-Scranton Resident." Who knew that this larger-than- life vocalist of the legendary 60s group The Mamas and the Papas (and a gifted solo artist in her own right) had a connection to the Scranton area?

According to the Sunday Scranton Times article "Mama of Momma Cass Ex-Scranton Resident," written by Sid Benjamin (11/1/1970, pages B10 and B11), Cass Elliot's (AKA Mama Cass's) mother Bess Owen and grandmother Ida Benewitz were both originally from the Scranton area.

When the article was written nearly 37 years ago, Bess Owen was residing in Wilkes-Barre and beaming with pride at her daughter's triumphant October 24th appearance on the Andy Williams Show. Bess was then in Wilkes-Barre on temporary assignment by the U.S. Social Security Administration to help in the processing of the overwhelming number of "black lung" applications.

Also in the article, Cass's mother Bess Owen recalled her childhood living in Scranton with her father, Joseph Levine, who operated a tailor shop on Adams Avenue, and her mother Ida Benewitz .

In addition, the family also lived in Edwardsville, PA for a time, where Bess was a classmate of Scranton business and civic leader Vivian Edwards at Wyoming Seminary.

'Mama' Cass Elliot was born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19, 1941 in Baltimore, Maryland (where the Cohen family moved from Edwardsville, PA) and, as far as I know, has never lived in the Scranton area. Her singing career began as a member of the folk music group The Big 3, then exploded as a member of The Mamas and The Papas (California Dreamin'; Monday, Monday; I Saw Her Again Last Night; Creeque Alley; and Dream A Little Dream of Me--which served as a springboard for Elliot's solo career). As a member of the Mamas and the Papas, Cass also was instrumental in organizing 1967's legendary Monteray Pop Festival in San Francisco, CA.

After the group disbanded in 1968, Cass Elliot (she hated being called Mama Cass) embarked on a successful solo career with such hits as It's Getting Better, California Earthquake, and Make Your Own Kind of Music. She also hosted two of her own prime time television specials (1969's The Mama Cass Television Program and 1973's Don't Call Me Mama Anymore--which featured an appearance by her mother Bess); Cass also made numerous guest appearances on talk shows (she even guest hosted The Tonight Show for Johnny Carson) and variety shows in the early 1970s. Additionally, Cass had a featured role as Witch Hazel in the 1970 film Pufnstuf and played an "animated" version of herself (as a candy factory owner) in a memorable episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies (October 20, 1973).

Cass Elliot tragically died of a heart attack in London on July 29, 1974, following a two week engagement of sold out concerts at the London Palladium. She was only 33 years old. Unfortunately, to this day, there is a persistant (and false) story that Cass Elliot died choking on a ham sandwich, which her autopsy proved was an incorrect assumption.

An excellent biography of Cass Elliot titled Dream A Little Dream of Me: The Life of Cass Elliot, written by Eddi Fiegel, was published in 2005.

Several CDs by the Mamas and the Papas, Cass's solo anthology Dream A Little Dream: The Cass Elliot Collection (which was produced by her daughter Owen) as well as DVDs of The Complete Monteray Pop Festival and the documentary California Dreamin': The Songs of the Mamas and the Papas, are available to borrow from several libraries throughout the Lackawanna County Library System. In addition, our library also has the soundtrack to the film Beautiful Thing, which is comprised completely of Cass Elliot's solo hits and songs from the Mamas and the Papas (her solo songs play an intregal part to the film).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"A Message from Simon" by Joseph M. Allison

The exquisite Anna Kilcullen, Young Adult Librarian from the Readers Service Department at Albright Memorial Library told me today about a book published last year that is set in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Joseph M. Allison's 2006 novel A Message from Simon is a mystery novel primarily set in Scranton, PA. Below is a description of the book taken from its item page at

"The senseless, brutal murder of a homeless man in a small northeastern Pennsylvania city starts a chain of disturbing events. A local newspaper reporter sent to cover the story encounters an odd assortment of mourners at the funeral. One of the mourners, a man named Simon, discloses a message to the journalist along with cryptic references to passages in the Bible. Frank Martinelli, a reporter for the Scranton Sun, follows his instincts through a maze of peculiar occurrences and vague allusions to reach a disturbing conclusion to the strange riddle. A series of unexpected events and personal interpretations lead him to conclude that a cataclysmic occurrence will soon befall mankind. Pursuit of the solution to the enigma takes Martinelli and three unlikely friends, an astrophysicist, a Roman Catholic priest and an editorial writer, from the streets of Scranton to New York City where unforseen incidents change their lives forever. "

Author Joseph M. Allison is a Scranton native, graduating from University of Scranton in 1976 and Marywood University in 1978. He currently resides in Scranton with his family.

A Message From Simon is available to borrow from the Lackawanna County Library System; click here to reserve the book.

Much thanks again to Anna K. for this reference.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mame (1974)

Okay, so this is not exactly an on-the-point Scranton or Wilkes-Barre reference, but I think it's close enough (only about an hour's drive and/or a 48 mile distance, to be more precise). Plus it was such a surprise to me when my brother JR told me about it.

In 1974, television legend Lucille Ball was cast in the film version of the 1966 musical Mame. The original Broadway production had starred legendary actresses Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur and ran for nearly 4 years.

Originated in Patrick Dennis's biography of his aunt (Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade in Biography), and based on the 1958 non-musical film starring Rosiland Russell, Mame is the story of Mame Dennis, a carefree and wealthy New York City eccentric who is hit with two sudden surprises in her life - the sudden arrival of her nephew Patrick to live with her (Mame is his only surviving relative) and the stock market crash of 1929. However, Mame pushes on -- she raises her nephew through adulthood as if he were her own child, causes hijinks with her alcoholic actress friend Vera Charles (Bea Arthur), and finds love again with a wealthy Southerner.

The score of Mame included songs by reknown Broadway composer Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles) that would soon become standards - songs such as We Need A Little Christmas, The Man in the Moon is A Lady, Bosom Buddies, and the title number.

Both the original Broadway production and the film version of Mame were directed by Gene Saks, Bea Arthur's husband at the time. Many of the cast members from the original Broadway production reprised their role in the film version of Mame.

Late in the film, Mame is having tea in her mansion with her now-grown nephew Patrick (played by Bruce Davison - who would later be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1991's Longtime Companion) and his snobby bride-to-be Gloria. The following dialogue concerns Patrick's former governess Agnes Gooch (played by Jane Connell, who originated the role on Broadway) - Mame had previously encouraged Agnes to be wild and free like herself.

Mame: Would you excuse me for a moment?

Patrick: Where's she been?

Mame: Who knows? I've only had one postcard from her in six months, and that was from the Shangri La Motel in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

For some reason, Lucy really emphasises East Stroudsburg in her delivery.

Budgeted at 12,000,000 (an astronomical amount of money for 1974), the lavish musical was not a financial success at the box office; but Mame has through the years become a campy classic, thanks in part of Lucille Ball's great performance as Mame.

Having never seen the Broadway production, I am not sure if the East Stoudsburg reference was in the original show or added to the film's screenplay. If anyone knows the answer, please email me at

Much thanks again to JR for this reference.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Frankie Valli (1934 - )

Legendary singer Frankie Valli was profiled in the Scranton Times/Tribune in a article titled "Jersey Boy Done Good," published in the June 26, 2007 (Section C, p. C1; C3) .

According to the article and interview, Frankie Valli (born Francis Castelluccio on May 3, 1934 in Newark, NJ) spent most of his childhood summers in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, where his mother Mary was born and raised before moving with her husband to Newark. He recalled with fondness of taking the train from Newark to Scranton to spend his Christmas vacations with his extended family back in Dunmore. He calls his time he spent at his mother's house on Oak Street in Dumore as "some of the best times of my life."

Valli first gained fame as the lead singer of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; their numerous hit songs (starting in 1962) include Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Rag Doll, Let's Hang On, Dawn, Big Girls Don't Cry, December 1963 (Oh What A Night) . The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Valli's so hits include My Eyes Adored You, Can't Take My Eyes Off You and the title track of 1978's classic movie musical Grease.

In addtion to currently touring with the Four Seasons, Valli's music can be heard eight performances a week in the smash Tony-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys, which dramatizes the beginnings of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Since opening night on November 6, 2005, Jersey Boys has been playing to capacity audiences at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City and remains one of the hottest tickets on Broadway.

Several CDs featuring the music of Frankie Valli -- including 20 Greatest Hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, My Eyes Adored You and Other Hits, and the soundtracks to 1978's Grease and Jersey Boys -- are available to borrow in many libraries throughout the Lackawanna County Library System.

To read the full article "Jersey Boy Done Good," from the Scranton Times/Tribune, click here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

"Giving You the Best That I Got" by Anita Baker (1988) Video

Stills from Anita Baker's 1988 video for her hit song "Giving You the Best That I Got."
The video was filmed at the 109th Field Artillery (AKA Kingston Armory)
in Kingston, PA.
Video stills courtesy of

In late summer/early fall 1988, R&B vocalist and multiple Grammy winner Anita Baker made a secret trip to Wilkes-Barre, PA. She found the ideal setting to shoot the video for her first single for her upcoming LP--the title track for her album "Giving You the Best That I Got." The video was filmed in sepia tone in the huge vacant space of the 109th Field Artillery (AKA Kingston Armory) at 280 Market Street in Kingston, PA.

A few days after completing the video, an article appeared in either the Citizens Voice or the Times Leader that detailed the video shoot--if anyone has any idea of the date and paper this article appeared, please email me at

Giving You the Best That I Got became the biggest hit of Anita Baker's long and impressive career, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Top 100 and #1 on Billboard's R&B singles chart.