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The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography:
An Inquiry Into The 1944 Ara Masters

by Iván Santiago

Page generated on Nov 11, 2021

I. Contents And Scope

This supplementary page of The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography And Videography concentrates on an orchestral date for which Lee served as the featured vocalist. The orchestra was under the leadership of Bob Crosby, and the vocals which Lee sang were "It's Anybody's Spring" and "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe." The exact circumstances under which this Crosby-Lee date took place remain shrouded in mystery, and will be the subject of speculation herein.

Recorded around 1944, the Crosby-Lee selections were released on a 78-rpm single in 1945. The releasing label was Ara, a small and short-lived Hollywood-based company. Before 2002, only a few collectors were aware of the the single's existence. That year, both titles were re-issued on CD for the first time, as part of the Peggy Lee set The Singles Collection.

The discussion found below assumes the reader's acquaintance with the primary details about the date, as given in the 1944-1945 page of this discography. (Some readers might wonder why the present discussion was not incorporated to that page. Two factors led to my abstention: [1] the inordinate length of the discussion and [2] its highly speculative nature. By placing lengthy and speculative discourse in miscellaneous pages such as this one, I am hoping to make the main session pages of this discography a bit easier to scroll down, and thus more amenable to browsing.)

II. Sources

My primary source for the Bob Crosby date under scrutiny is Charles Garrod and Bill Korst's discography of the bandleader, published in 1987 by the collectors' label Joyce Record Club. The data provided by Garrod and Korst can also be found in later sources -- most notably, certain all-embracing jazz discographies -- which obviously copied it from their pamphlet, without giving any credit to the authors. No other official or reliable documentation on the Crosby date is known to exist -- or, at least, I have not found traces of any other relevant text. Unfortunately, the accuracy of various details offered by Garrod and Korst is open to debate. (See below, under Dating, especially.)

III. The Session

In their Bob Crosby discography, Garrod and Korst present the two Peggy Lee performances under discussion as part of a four-master session by Bob Crosby And His Orchestra. Here are all four titles:

RR 9754 Java Junction
RR 9755 Come With Me, My Honey
RR 9756 It's Anybody's Spring
RR 9757 On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe

The discographers further note that the four masters from this date "were the last things Bob Crosby did before entering the Marine Corps on July 18, 1944. They were done at Radio Recorders Studio ... and evidently the masters were sold to ARA and released in late 1945. Test pressings of the above session were given to me by Boros Moros [sic; the correct spelling is Boris Morros] who was the owner of ARA. Written on all the tests is the date 6/30/44."

The Crosby discographers thus believe that these four masters originate in a studio session conducted at Radio Recorders, possibly on June 30, 1944. Since no other hard data on the origin of "It's Anybody's Spring" and "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" is currently available, I have followed Garrod and Korst's suggestion, thus entering these songs under the date June 30, 1944. The two gentlemen's statement might or might not be absolutely correct. Since my own opinion partially differs from theirs, I will spend some time discussing this matter further, down below. (The discographers also believe that these sides were released in late 1945. This particular belief happens to be a bit off the mark; the likelier release date for the single will be discussed below, too.)

I should also mention (in passing, and just for the purpose of clarification) a comment that Peggy Lee made in the 1970s, during an interview conducted by radio broadcaster Fred Hall. Lee told Hall that both Mañana [recorded on November 25, 1947] and On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe "were done at Melrose Studios for Capitol." Lee seems to have misremembered the correct location for both performances. Capitol did not begin using the Melrose Studios until mid-1949. It should also be clarified that Lee was not referring to the Bob Crosby version of On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe: after mentioning the Melrose location, she proceeded to tell Fred Hall that she "wasn't in it." Most probably, Lee had in mind Johnny Mercer's bestselling Capitol recording.

Whereas Garrod and Korst feel certain that the four masters sold to Ara originated in an actual recording session, I harbor doubts as to whether there truly was a regular studio session on June 30, just one day before Crosby is said to have joined the military. If he truly started his service on July the first, the setting up of a recording date on the previous day is an unlikely --though certainly not impossible-- event. (Then again, the source of the July 1 date is the farewell episode of his radio show. A different date, July 18, is given by Garrod and Korst in their discography. The discographers' date might very well be accurate; the producers of the June 25 radio broadcast could have falsely pushed the data back to July 1 for dramatic effect.)

Crosby's radio show is of particular interest to me. My lingering doubts that I harbor about Garrod and Korst's conclusions stem from my inspection of data from that radio show. I suspect that the four numbers sold to Ara were actually performances from the bandleader's broadcasts. (Please note that I am calling this statement "a suspicion." Although I will be arguing in its favor, I have no conluisve evidence, and I could very well be off the mark.)

IV. Bob Crosby's Radio Show

Between 1935 and 1958, Bob Crosby hosted several music variety series under his own name, first on radio and later on television. Naturally, the Crosby programs of interest to this Peggy Lee discography are those which date from 1941 onwards, that year being the one on which she first became a presence on national radio and in the recording studios (as the canary of The Benny Goodman Orchestra).

When it comes to Crosby's radio entries from the wartime years, there is plenty of discrepancy between the sources that I have consulted. Some claim that he was off the air from 1941 to 1943, and then again from 1944 to 1945, on both times due to war service. Further complicating matters are references to Bob Crosby's Orchestra as an ensemble that in those years was being led by Marty Malneck in full or partial capacity -- the implication being that Crosby was little more than a front man, lacking any musical knowledge, and/or out of commission for most of that time.

Whichever the case might have been, it is at least clear that Crosby did join the Marine Corps and did travel overseas, on a touring band. Many sources regurgitate the claim that he spent 18 months with the Marines, but none specify dates. If the claim is fully accurate, perhaps he served most of that time from 1942 to 1943. And/or he maybe he served it on and off -- one of those "on" periods being the summer of 1944, and another such period possibly taking place from 1945 to 1946. (His filmography, for starters, shows a lot of pre-1945 movie activity. Six of the films on which he was featured had their respective premieres in 1944.)

The most precise of my sources, and thus the one worthier of being quoted at length, is Jim Cox's Musicmakers Of Network Radio: 24 Entertainers, 1926-1962. According to Cox, The Bob Crosby Show did run on NBC in 1940 and again later on from 1943 to 1945 -- on a sustained basis during some seasons, and sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes (i.e., the P. Lorillard company) in other seasons.

Cox also lists two radio ventures that took place between those two runnings of The Bob Crosby Show. The bandleader spent one full season at Three Ring Time (NBC Blue, 1941-1942), under the sponsorship of P. Ballantine & Company. Then, over the summer of 1942, he substituted for vacationing brother Bing at Kraft Music Hall. After searching for details about Three Ring Time, I have been left with the impression that this show (co-hosted by Milton Berle and Charles Laughton) featured not Bob Crosby per se, but his orchestra. There is a question mark here, then, as to whether the aforementioned Malneck could have been in charge of Three Ring Time orchestra, while Crosby would have been fully or intermittently absent. (Then again, the information that I have about this show suffers from gaps, and contains possible contradictions. Other sources refer to the presence of Bob Crosby And The Bobcats in the show, but not his full orchestra.)

A Billboard review (August 3, 1943 issue) actually refers to the 1943 edition of The Bob Crosby Show as Bob Crosby And Company. That season's episodes aired on Sundays at NBC, in the network's 10:30 p.m. EST slot, from June 18, 1943 to June 25, 1944. Old Gold sponsored it. Not too impressed, the Billboard reviewer typically compares Bob to his brother, finding the former "often sour" when measured against the "swell" disposition of the latter. Objections are also raised on the matter of girl singers; the reviewer dislikes that they are being recruited for certain comedy routines. He also voices his displeasure at the use of "girls who have [already] been heard on nets in minor roles and sometimes in singing roles that haven't been so minor." (It becomes clear at a later time that Eileen Wilson, the guest singer on the episode that he sampled, had not raised to his bar.) Furthermore, the reviewer takes on a matter that I touched on a previous paragraph: hr points out that, despite the billing of the show's orchestra as being Bob Crosby's, the ensemble was actually under the leadership of Matty Malneck.

Two subsequent incarnations of The Bob Crosby Show are listed by Cox. The first, on NBC, was a sustaining one, airing from 1944 to 1945. The next, reverting to the name Bob Crosby And Company, ran for just half a season (January 1 - July 17, 1946). Beamed by on CBS, it had Ford Motor Company as its sponsor.

Next up was the radio show for which Crosby might be best remembered: Club 15 on CBS, sponsored by Campbell's Soups, and enduring for a total of seven years (1949-1953). At different points in its history, Margaret Whiting and Jo Stafford were recurrent solo female singers of this show. Crosby served as host for all of its seasons except the 1949-1950 one, during which he was temporarily lured back by NBC to host The Pet Milk Show. Crosby would also go on to serve as bandleader and comedy partner on The Jack Benny Show (CBS), from 1952 to 1955,

Starting n 1953, Crosby found additional steady work on television, where he hosted his own daytime show on CBS. Five years later, the veteran enjoyed his last extended period as a host on US TV: The Bob Crosby Show ran as a midyear replacement during the summer of 1958, on NBC evening television. (There would be one final hosting show, on Australian TV, in the 1960s.)

According to various old-time radio books, including Ron Lackmann's The Encyclopedia Of American Radio, Peggy Lee served as vocalist for The Bob Crosby Show "for several seasons." No additional details on the matter are offered in the book -- not even crucial details such as the years in which she supposedly worked as Crosby's canary. Nor is this claim corroborated in the Lee-centered documentation at my reach.

I have found definite proof for just one Peggy Lee appearance in Bob Crosby's show. She guested on the June 25, 1944 episode, which happened to be Bob Crosby's farewell program before his departure to fulfill military duties. Having listened to the full episode, I can confidently assert that "It's Anybody's Spring" and "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" are not among the songs that Lee sings.

I have also found partial listings for six more episodes from the 1943-1944 season. Peggy Lee is not featured in any of them.

While acknowledging not having come across details of any other Lee appearances in the bandleader's programs, I must also point out that episode data for Bob Crosby's radio shows is scant and sparse. Only about 7 of the season's 40 episodes seem to have been preserved. Hence the possibility of regular appearances by Lee during the 1943-1944 season should not be discarded by any means -- not yet.

Still, Lackmann's assertion that Peggy Lee was a Bob Crosby Show "regular for several seasons" strikes me as a vast overstatement. In my experience, books about old radio broadcasts have a fair share of factual errors. Since Lee was definitely a semi-regular of The Bing Crosby Show for several seasons (late 1940s), I am left to wonder if a confusion between brothers Bing and Bob could be at play. Another possibility is that Lackmann and others are misconstruing Peggy Lee's role in Club 88, a show that she hosted in 1952, and whose Tuesdays-and-Thursdays slot was occupied by Bob Crosby's edition of Club 15 on the other days of the week.

In any case, and to sum up: more solid proof of Peggy Lee's alleged membership in the cast of Bob Crosby's radio series is definitely needed. Sadly, a full song list or episode log for the series is not extant -- not to my knowledge, at least. (Programmed against the perennially popular Bob Hope, Bob Crosby's flopped during the 1943-1944 season. The season's lack of popularity probably explains why so few episode seem to have survived.) With the scarce data at hand, we can neither confirm nor deny that Peggy Lee sang "It's Anybody's Spring" and "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" in Bob Crosby's radio show.

V. Radio Broadcast Performances?

In my speculative line of thinking, the four numbers that Bob Crosby sold to Ara could have been taken from broadcasts of his 1943-1944 show. The performances would have been simultaneously broadcast and recorded at the location where the show was regularly held (probably NBC Studios). Crosby would have kept the recordings with him for future use, deciding to sell them to Ara shortly after realizing that he was being drafted. Radio Recorders would have been the study where the acetates were taken for their final mastering. As for the June 30, 1944 date found in the test pressings, that one would be a mastering date, not the date on which the numbers were originally broadcast and recorded.

Unfortunately, my radio-oriented hypothesis does not have any solid evidence to back it up. My only source of preliminary support is the fact that one of the four songs ("Come To Me, Honey") was performed in the show's farewell broadcast (June 25, 1944). In order to determine whether they are one and the same, both the broadcast performance and the Ara record would have to be aurally compared. (I have listened to Lee's numbers from that broadcast, but not its version of "Come To Me, Honey," nor to Ara master 9755). As for the other three Ara masters, I have no evidence that they were ever performed in Crosby's show. Bear in mind, however, that song listings are available for only 7 of the season's 40 episodes.

VI. Dating

In a previous edition of this page, the dating of the two Peggy Lee performances under scrutiny received lengthy discussion. The main subject matter was, of course, the lack of knowledge about the exact date. I went through various arguments for and against each of the three possible years: 1944, 1945, and 1946. My personal inclination leaned toward the year 1944, in part because of the youthfulness of Lee's sound, and in part because June 30, 1944 is the date found in the aforementioned test pressings. However, my inclinations eventually took a backseat to various concerns that arose from further study of the data at hand.

In particular, I was struck by release dates that seemed too premature. Both songs ("It's Anybody's Spring," "On The Atchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe") are from movies that premiered in 1946. Hollywood's granting of permission for the songs' release at such an early time (June 1944) struck me as very unlikely. Hence, in a preceding edition of this Peggy Lee discography, my tentative conclusions on the matter of dating ended up favoring the years 1945 and 1946.

For this current edition, however, I have become better informed about the connections between the films and the songs. As a result, I no longer deem such connections an obstacle for my leaning toward the year 1944.

I have benefitted from email exchanges, long ago, with collector Dave Dixon [RIP], too. He alerted me to the fact that Decca had released 1945 singles containing both songs, after Bing Crosby had recorded them in 1944. (Crosby was the star of Paramount's Road To Utopia, the movie to which "It's Anybody's Spring" was attached. He waxed that song on July 17, 1944, and had waxed "On The Atchison, Topeka, And The Santa Fe" even earlier, on February 17, 1944. The latter comes from the MGM movie The Harvey Girls. MGM actually worked on a promotional campaign which led to numerous performances of the song at fairly early dates, as will be more lengthily discussed in an upcoming section.)

With my main objections out of the way (thanks to Dixon), and with a clearer notion of the year in which Ara single Rm 114 was originally released, I am now fully inclined to think that the Ara performances by Peggy Lee and Bob Crosby are from 1944 (with 1943 as a secondary, far less likely possibility).

In passing, I should also mention that one jazz discography gives the date "ca. November 1945" to these Crosby-Lee performances (and also to many other Bob Crosby performances). However, in view of the Billboard details to which I have already referred, I for one feel confident discarding the assignation of such a date to Lee's vocals with Bob Crosby. (Even as an estimate or an approximation, November of 1945 might be off the mark for the whole bunch of Bob Crosby masters that are listed. He is said to have served in the military for 18 months. If that is an accurate measure of the span he served, then Crosby would have not left the Marines until January of 1946. Granted, a few of the radio broadcasts in which he is heard seem to date from the second half of 1945, but those broadcasts are actually from Armed Forces shows, in which he is heard as a guest.)

VII. Ara Records

A music company that concentrated on releasing big band and popular music, Ara Records is listed in various sources as having started operations in 1943. The company was originally owned by Boris Morros, who administered it with the help and supervision of his son Richard Morros. A Russian by birth, Morros senior has gone into the history annals as not only a music and movie media figure (owner of a record label and a sheet music company, film producer at Paramount Studios) but also as a double spy, working first for the Soviet Unit and, from 1947 onwards, for the FBI.

Considering his involvement in such activities, perhaps Ara Records was not one of Boris Morros' primary concerns. The record company could have even served as a pretext or a "front" for other endeavors.

The 1943 opening date actually applied to Boris Morros' music publishing company, which predated the opening of the record label by about a year and a half. Carrying a June 24 byline, an article in the July 1, 1944 issue of Billboard states that Morros had just "opened headquarters for his new recording company," whose "[i]nitial releases have all been made by the Joe Reichman ork" and other acts. Indeed, the earliest issues were two 78-rpm discs, numbered 101 and 102, both by Joe Reichman & His Orchestra. (My thanks to Bill Daniels, for alerting me to the Billboard article.)

In mid-1945, the Morros sold their interest to another pair of father-and-son businessmen, Samuel and Mark Leff, who in turn sold their interest in mid-1946. The Leffs, the Morros, and attorney Morton Garbus were said to be in charge of Ara's stock when, around September 1946, the company closed, went into receivership, and became embroiled in lawsuits. The Leffs settled in 1949.

The company's catalogue of 78-rpm releases did not reach the 200 mark. The last issue listed in discographies is single #162, by Lou Bring & His Orchestra. Another obscure, minor company -- Rem -- went on to reissue some of Ara's titles in the 1950s. (A different record company called Ara but dedicated mostly to country music started operations in 1964. It proved short-lived as well, closing in 1968.)

VIII. The Ara Single: Dating And Semi-Cancellation

Ara issued the Crosby-Lee sides "It's Anybody's Spring" and "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" on a 78 rpm record with catalogue number Rm 114. My main sources offer scant detail about the record. Fortunately, other sources allow for a confident dating of that release: first quarter of 1945.

Indications of the single's prospective release in April 1945 can be found in two 1945 issues of Billboard magazine. An ad, aiming at retailers, was placed by Ara in the magazine's March 31 issue. (My thanks to Michael Pinkowski for alerting me to this matter.) The ad lists 17 Ara singles, beginning with #101 (believed to be the company's premiere release) and including #114. Both sides of single #114 are listed but credit is given only to the main act, Bob Crosby. In other words, there is no mention of Peggy Lee.

In the magazine's next issue (April 7), a column called Advance Record Sales lists 14 of the 34 songs from the aforementioned Ara singles. A regular Billboard feature, the column described its contents as follows: "Records listed are approximately two weeks in advance of actual release date. List is based on information supplied in advance by record companies. Only records of those manufacturers voluntarily supplying information are listed." The column also specifies that its contents applied to the "week ending Mar. 29, 1945." It thus follows that the Ara records in question were expected to be in circulation by mid-April.

Curiously, Peggy Lee's two performances were not included among the 14 Ara numbers listed in any of the Advance Record Sales lists that I consulted. Other selections by Bob Crosby (Ara Rm 103) were included. Ditto for numbers by his radio group The Town Criers Ara Rm 108) and by other acts, both well-known and not so well known, from Frances Langford (Ara Rm 109, Ara Rm 111) and Skinnay Ennis (Ara Rm 110) to Phil Harris (Ara Rm 104) and the "Porky" Freeman Trio (Ara Rm 118). If the column was truly circumscribed to information "voluntarily supplied" by manufacturers, the Crosby-Lee sides must have not been among Ara's primary picks for plugging. (Nor is there any sight of "It's Anybody's Spring" and "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" in subsequent Advance Record Sales columns.)

Adding to the oddities of Rm 114 is the fact that Ara re-released it in a second version that kept "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" but substituted "It's Anybody's Spring" with an entirely different number -- the instrumental "On The Midnight Train To Memphis" by the same aforementioned "Porky" Freeman Trio (which featured a young Merle Travis). I have not been able to determine the date of this second release, but the above-discussed details about Ara's life span circumscribe the possible date to the years 1945 and 1946.

The reason for this partial re-release of Ara #114 remains unknown to me. I have mentioned a few possible reasons in the main entry for the session under discussion. Another possibility will be presented below.

IX. The Film Connection

If Ara truly promoted the Crosby-Lee outing less than most other singles from its catalogue of early 1945 releases, perhaps concerns over the songs' ties to the film industry were behind the abstention. Since the films to which those songs belonged hadn't even premiered in early 1945, record companies interested in releasing versions of "It's Anybody Spring" and "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" had to thread lightly. Film industry claims of exclusivity could very well be behind Ara's decision to recall the original version of Ara Rm 114.

Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen's "It's Anybody Spring" was written for the movie Road To Utopia, which premiered on March 22, 1946 but had been -- as was the case with many another film -- in post-production for years. The movie's leading actor, Bing Crosby, recorded a studio version on July 17, 1944. However, his record company did not release it until January or February 1946, when the movie's premiere was finally near. Following the same waiting pattern, "It's Anybody's Spring" was not sung in Bing Crosby's radio show until the episodes broadcast on April 18 and May 2, 1946. Versions by other acts were also recorded within months of the movie's debut (Woody Herman's on January 3, 1946 and Gordon MacRae around December 1945).

Bob Crosby and Peggy Lee's "It's Anybody Spring" belongs to a different side of the chronological spectrum: their version was recorded and released well in advance of the movie. Over a year in advance. Could it be that some interested parties objected to Ara's premature release, leading the record company to plug the original version of Ara Rm 114? The parties in question could have been the movie's film studio, the song's publishing firm or, perhaps more likely, Decca, which could have contractually expected Bing Crosby to be the first with a single on the market.(I should reiterate that this is merely speculation on my part. We do not know why the plug was pulled.)

As for "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe," it comes from the movie The Harvey Girls, which had to wait until January 18, 1946 for its premiere. The song's lyricist, Johnny Mercer, recorded his version well in advance of all others -- on December 13, 1944 -- and his label scheduled it for release in May of 1945. The release had to be postponed, however. According to he April 11, 1945 issue of Variety, objections were raised by the prospective publisher of the film's score, Feist. Thus, in spite of being run by one of the song's writers (Mercer), Capitol had to capitulate and agree to not issue a single before the date stipulated for all labels (July 1).

Ultimately, Capitol still came in top. Mercer's recording (a vocal duet with Jo Stafford) charted on July 14, 1945 and became the most successful of the various recorded versions. Other hit recordings, such as those by Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, charted during the second half of 1945.

Perhaps such objections, raised by the score's publisher, account for the already mentioned listings, or lack thereof, in Billboard magazine. To reiterate the facts, Ara's single of "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" was announced in one issue (March 31) but no longer listed in the next issue (April 7). The small label would have heeded Feist's request to wait, thereby pulling the Lee-Crosby duet from the market.

While the song publisher quashed the release of commercial records before the stipulated date (July 1, 1945), motion picture company MGM seems to have been behind the early distribution of the song to record companies, presumably as a promotional strategy to create advance interest in the film. Very early versions of which I'm aware include a radio transcription by The King Sisters, recorded on March 6, 1945, and a Frank Sinatra radio performance, broadcast on March 28, 1945. (Incidentally, only the second edition of Ara Rm 114 includes the words "From the M-G-M movie Harvey Girls." No such words are found in the first edition.)

X. Ara Disc #1137 Versus Ara Master Number 1137

I was once contacted about the rumored existence of an Ara single numbered 1137, containing on one side The Bob Crosby Orchestra's version of "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" and, on the other side, the "Porky" Freeman Trio's version of "On The Midnight Train To Memphis." Given its alleged contents, this single would appear to be a reissue of (the second edition of) Ara Rm 114.

I have also heard of a related theory, to the effect that the Ara 1137 rendition of "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" could be a remake, featuring a new vocal by Bob Crosby, and no Lee at all.

Alas, Ara 1137 seems to be a figment of a collector's imagination. Nobody seems to have ever seen a copy of such a single. Moreover, its catalogue number is suspiciously higher than those from the regular Ara 100 series, which made up over 90% of the company's catalogue.

A misreading of the information provided by discographers Garrrod and Korst might have triggered a fan or collector's invention of this single. Their discography does list a second Bob Crosby performance of "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe." It is dated March 4, 1946 and tied to the number 1137. A fan and/or collector must have wrongly assumed that the latter was a catalogue number. It is a master number.

But how about the rendition behind the master number? Was it a newly recorded performance of "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" without Lee? Or did Ara simply assign a new number (1137) to old master number Rr 9757, for reasons unknown? These questions cannot be answered without listening to the master. Unfortunately, master #1137 appears to have remained unreleased. (Garrod and Korst's listing of this master under Ara Rm 114 seems to be mistaken. On their physical labels, both versions of Ara 78-rpm disc #114 identify "On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" as master #9757.)