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The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography:
An Inquiry Into The Disney Masters (Mid-1940s)

by Iván Santiago

Page generated on Nov 11, 2021

I. Contents And Scope

This supplementary page of The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography concentrates on an obscure, hard-to-document session for which the singer was hired some time in late 1945. The two songs that she did at the date ("Two Silhouettes," "Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet") were from a Walt Disney movie which had yet to premiere at the time. Along with four additional numbers featuring other artists, these Peggy Lee masters were recorded expressly for use by Disney Productions, yet they were not meant for inclusion in the movie itself. The 1944-1945 page of the sessionography provides some discussion of the matter, and also offers general details about the recording session. The present page expands on the discussion through a close examination of available sources of information (i.e., the 78-rpm issues, a few magazine articles). Also explored below: this session's speculative ties to Capitol Records and its definitive connection to the world of Disney.

II. The Film Make Mine Music

The songs "Two Silhouettes" and "Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet" were originally written for the Disney movie Make Mine Music. The film premiered in New York on April 20, 1946 and received wider release on August 15, 1946. It had been in the making since 1944, if not earlier. (One of the songs from the picture, "Without You," can be found listed with both 1942 and 1945 copyright dates. Although they are not a solid ground on which to found any definitive conclusions, these copyright dates at least allow us to surmise that picture-related activity was taking place during either or both of those years.)

Fully titled Make Mine Music: A Musical Fantasy In Ten Parts, this motion picture was originally conceived as a sequel of sorts to Disney's masterpiece Fantasia (1940), in which classical music plays as prominent a role as the animation itself. Similar prominence is given to popular music in the sequel. The movie was divided into 10 animated vignettes, each highlighting a different musical genre, and each featuring a current popular act on its soundtrack. The genres of choice range from opera and ballet to jitterbug and hillbilly music. In the film's most celebrated segment, operetta star Nelson Eddy does all the sung parts for Opera Pathetique: The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At The Met. Also showcased in other segments were Jerry Colonna, Sterling Holloway, Andy Russell, The Ken Darby Chorus, The Kings' Men, and The Pied Pipers. (None of them is actually seen in this fully animated movie. Generally, the participating music acts are identified by name in the rolling credits at the start of the segments.)

Of all the music acts who participated in the film's soundtrack, the one with the most substantial role was Benny Goodman. Asked to cut two performances ("All The Cats Join In" and "After You've Gone"), he is conversely featured not in one but in two vignettes.

The Andrews Sisters were recruited to sing "Johnny Fedora & Alice Blue Bonnet" through a vignette called A Love Story. They narrate in song the bittersweet tale of two hats that fall in love while on exhibition in the window of a department store, only to be subsequently separated when different owners buy them. Yet, as fate would have it, they unexpectedly reunite again long afterwards, in the story's happy ending.

Dinah Shore was hired to sing "Two Silhouettes" for a rotoscoped vignette titled Ballad Ballet. Her vocal is heard while silhouetted versions of ballet stars Tatiana Riabouchinska and David Lichine are seen dancing.

Peggy Lee is not heard, on the other hand, in any of the film's vignettes. Neither are the other vocalists who perform in the 78- rpm discs to be discussed below.

III.  A Physical Inspection Of The 78-rpm Discs

Three discs bearing the legend From Walt Disney's Make Mine Music are known to exist.  Each disc is 10 inches in diameter, plays at a 78 rpm speed, and contains two songs -- one per side.  At least two of these 78-rpm discs are made of vinyl -- not shellac, nor glass.  (The third disc might also be made of vinyl; I do not have confirmation on the matter.)

Judging from their design and overall appearance, all three discs must have been conceived as part and parcel of the same project.  The discs share:

a) the same title (From Walt Disney's Make Mine Music)
b) the same typesetting
c) matching colors
d) numbers which suggest that they belong to a single numerical sequence
e) credit to Charles Wolcott And His Orchestra for the music
f) the credit "recording supervised by Don Otis"  
g) artwork derived from the movie's vignettes
h) the small print "© W. D. P. "  This abbreviation obviously stands for the Walt Disney company.  (This print is invariably found at the bottom of each drawing. Thus the copyright probably applies to the drawings.)

My claim that these discs are part of the same project does not necessarily mean, however, that they were once part of a physical album. Owners of all three discs have reported that they acquired the items separately, and in plain sleeves; to my knowledge, no album cover has ever been traced. Some owners have also indicated that their discs carry radio station stickers -- a circumstance that further strengthens the points to be made in the next section.

Here are the numerical codes, prefixes, song titles, and artist credits printed on each of the labels: 

1-4   Without You (vocal by Anita Boyer)          A-2664   
2-3   Two Silhouettes (vocal by Peggy Lee)              A-2665   
3-2   Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet (vocal by Peggy Lee)             A-2666   
4-4   All The Cats Join In (instrumental by Charles Wolcott And His Orchestra)          A-2667  
         Blue Bayou (vocal by Hal Derwin)                 A3884  
         Make Mine Music (vocal by Hal Derwin)         A3885 

A close connection among these numerical codes is more that evident from a visual inspection, but the codes' meaning or significance has not been readily apparent -- not, at least, to me.  

Fellow collector Eric Graf owns a copy of one of these discs (I do not own any) and has come to my rescue. He has kindly let me know that the first set of numbers (those which precede the dash) is not only printed on the label of the discs but also stamped on the discs' trailoff grooves.  Therefore, those are the master numbers.  "Two Silhouettes" is master #2.  "Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet" is master #4. (Graf further points out the addition of a suffix in the grooves. It is the letter L, whose meaning in this context is not known to me.)

The fact that all master numbers are very small digits (#1 to #4) may be a reflection on the uniqueness of the session. (According to information to be discussed in one of the sections below, this was the Disney company's very first attempt at a recording date whose aim was promotional rather than soundtrack-specific.)

The digit that follows the dash could be presumed to be a take number.  If so, the third take of "Two Silhouettes" (master #2) was the one chosen for the 78-rpm disc, and ditto for take #2 of "Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet." 

The other set of digits appear to be catalogue numbers.  The use of a different catalogue number on each side of the disc is not as uncommon as it might look to some viewers; I have seen the same pattern (two catalogue numbers per disc) in promotional records from later decades, and also in AFRS discs.  More intriguing is the implication that can be drawn from what looks like a fairly high count:  if four of these sides bear catalogue numbers ranging from 2664 to 2667, which are the 2663 sides that have preceded them, and to what company does this catalogue belong?  Are these Disney numbers?  At the present time, I do not have answers for these questions.

Notice also how the Derwin disc differs numerically from the other two discs.  Master numbers are not printed on either label of the Derwin item.  The catalogue numbers are printed on the labels (A3884, A3885), but they are much higher than the other four numbers, and a dash between the prefix and the digits, present in the other labels, is missing from them. 

These divergences point to the likelihood that Hal Derwin's performances were recorded much later than the cuts by Anita Boyer and Peggy Lee.  (Strongly adding to this suspicion is also the lack of mention of the Derwin sides in two relevant articles, to be transcribed in ensuing sections.)

IV. Promotional Purposes

The Peggy Lee vocals under discussion were commissioned by Disney for promotional purposes. The singer herself referred to Two Silhouettes as "purely a promotional record" when, in the late 1950s, an interviewer who happened to be familiar with Lee's version posed a question about it.

Lee's assertion is amply corroborated by an article that Billboard magazine published on its February 16, 1946 issue.  Titled Disney Using Disc Jockey Route for New Pic Promotion, its byline gives Hollywood as the location and February 9 as the redaction date.  All the ensuing paragraphs of this section will be dedicated to my transcription of the article.  [A note on the article's language: readers should bear in mind that expressions such as "gimmick" and "exploitation" were part of the magazine's "lingo" and did not necessarily imply an accusatory or condemnatory viewpoint on the part of the Billboard reporters.]

{beginning of quote}

"Walt Disney will use radio promotion via the disk jockey to build b.-o. [i.e., box office] for his new pic, Make Mine Music.  Idea is to send free of charge four sides of music used in film to platter-spinners thruout the country, hoping wax whirls will plug the film.  

Gimmick was masterminded by Don Otis, KMPC disk jockey, who believes his co-workers will give records plenty of plays and therefore pic will get plenty of plugs.  Reason is that disks were not taken off film sound track as is the usual procedure, but were cut anew with different instrumental group and vocalists than those used in the pic.  This is the first time gimmick has been tried.

There are no spoken plugs for the film in the platter, but Disney banks on getting plenty of film exploitation out of it just the same.  Because platter boys always welcome something to talk about, Disney feels certain novelty of the disks would fit the bill.  Even if there is no other mention except pic's name, cause will be won.

Platters were pressed especially for disk jockeys and will not be available commercially. They are being sent out to top spinners thru out United States with explanatory material so that jockeys will have info on pic just in case they feel like talking.  To make it easier on the spinners, platters are pressed on vynilite.

Peggy Lee, Anita Boyer and a especially selected 11-man ork fronted by Charles Woolcott [sic; Wolcott] do the disks.  Tunes include Two Silhouettes, Without You, All the Cats Join In."

{end of quote}

V. Dating

The Peggy Lee versions of "Two Silhouettes" and "Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet" are not mentioned at all in the discographical sources that I have consulted.  As a result, my best information sources on this portion of her work are the discs themselves, along with magazine articles such as the above-quoted one.  

That Billboard article has contributed significantly to my goal of pinpointing a recording date.  The article itself bears a February 9, 1946 byline. Because it makes general allusions to the promotional sides as having been already completed, we can reasonably propose that Lee waxed her vocals before mid-February of that year.

The earliest month on which Lee could have recorded her numbers is harder to ascertain.  The session could have taken place on a day relatively close to the byline of the Billboard article. Or it could be that, by the time of the article's publication, the recordings had been in the can for a good while. One detail worth taking into consideration is the 1945 copyright date that appears in the sheet music of the two numbers sung by Lee.  Although it is a non-conclusive detail (filing for copyright could have happened long after the song had been composed), it at least points toward song-related activity in 1945.

Of more import is the supplementary information that can be gathered from another Billboard writeup. In the August 11, 1945 issue of the magazine, it is said that The Andrews Sisters had just been hired to sing "Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet" in the film.  Dinah Shore is also named among the movie soundtrack participants, along with Benny Goodman and Nelson Eddy.  In all cases, the future tense is used -- e.g., "Dinah Shore who will sing Two Silhouettes."  An exception is made in the case of the King of Swing, for whom a past tense is used at one point in the writeup -- i.e., "Benny Goodman and his band who already have cut All The Cats Join In, and Goodman Quartet which will take off with After You've Gone." It would thus seem that, around redaction time, the reporter had been told that at least one of Goodman's sides had been waxed, while the sides by Dinah Shore and The Andrews Sisters had yet to be recorded. (According to Goodman bio-discographer Russ Connor, both soundtrack performances were recorded on June 12, 1944 at Fox-Movietone Studios in New York. Recorded in Hollywood, an a cappella vocal by June Hutton and the Ken Darby Singers was superimposed to the instrumental. Hutton as recording for Capitol at this point in time.). 

If a logical sequence was followed during the making of the movie's music, then the soundtrack versions by Shore and the Sisters must have been recorded before Lee's promotional versions.  And if the tenses used by the Billboard reporter accurately represent the timeline, then Shore and the Sisters would have been expected to go into the studio some time between August and the next two or three months of 1945.

This section's tentative conclusion, based on the above-offered musings: Peggy Lee is likely to have recorded her interpretations of "Two Silhouettes" and "Johnny Fedora And Alice Blue Bonnet" in late 1945 or early 1946.

{Addendum, December 2015.} My recent, belated consultation of issues from the magazine Capitol News have triggered further clarification on the topics discussed in this section, including the main one (dating). The September 1945 issue of the promotional magazine expounds on the matter of artists who had recorded or were recording for the soundtrack: "[i]n addition to the Goodman orchestra and sextet, Dinah Shore, the Andrews Sisters, Nelson Eddy, Sterling Holloway and the King’s Men— heard on the Fibber McGee show— also will perform for the soundtrack only." One month later, the magazine's October 1945 issue announced that Capitol's own Andy Russell has been signed as well. In that issue, Jerry Colonna was added to the list of recording artists as well.

Of even greater relevance is an announcement made in the January 1946 issue: "Capitol’s Peggy Lee and Harry James’ vocalist, Anita Boyer, recently cut some wax here with top jazzmen as part of a promotion campaign for Walt Disney’s forthcoming Make Mine Music. The platters will be sent gratis to disc jockeys all over the country." It is apparent, then, that Peggy Lee's numbers were recorded in or around December of 1945 -- with the two next best alternatives being November of 1945 and early January. {End of addendum.}

VI. Walt Disney Productions' Ties To Record Labels Before 1955

In his book The Golden Age Of Walt Disney Records, 1933-1988, R. Michael Murray explains that "[p]rior to 1955, Walt Disney Productions (now the Walt Disney Company) did not produce and distribute its own music recordings from its films.  It assigned or licensed out the rights to its music and recording rights to the major record corporations of the time, primarily RCA, Decca, and Capitol which released a few original Disney soundtracks, and many cast studio tracks to the films as well.  Disney licensed not only its music, but cartoon drawings and/or photos, which usually appeared on these non-Disney album or singles covers ... This was especially true in the 1930s through the early 1950s during the 78 rpm era ..." 

In the case of Make Mine Music, various 78-rpm discs featuring songs from the film were indeed released by the aforementioned record companies.  I should clarify, however, that the musical versions found on these singles are not the same ones heard in the movie, but newly recorded interpretations of the songs.  In most cases, the same performers that did the original soundtrack versions recorded such secondary interpretations for the music labels to which they were contracted:  Andy Russell and Jerry Colonna for Capitol, Benny Goodman and Dinah Shore for Columbia, The Andrews Sisters for Decca.

On the other hand, the promotional discs featuring Charles Wolcott with Anita Boyer and Peggy Lee show no overt indication of a connection to any company, aside from Disney itself.  Two out of these three artists are not even known to have had binding affiliations to record companies.  The exception is Peggy Lee, who would have been under contract with Capitol Records, if the session happened in late 1945 or early 1946.
[This parenthetical paragraph expands on the topic of Charles Wolcott's affiliations.  Wolcott was obviously contracted to Walt Disney Productions; if he also had a direct involvement with one of the actual record companies, I am not aware of it. Granted, he is the credited artist in the 78-rpm albums Decca Presents Music From The Walt Disney Production Saludos Amigos and Decca Presents Music From The Walt Disney Production The Three Caballeros, both of them released in 1944.  And Decca also released at least one Wolcott 78-rpm single, featuring songs from one of these movies.  But this Wolcott-Decca deal was presumably within the guidelines described by R. Michael Murray in his book, and quoted in the first paragraph of this section.  The same guidelines would have been behind Walt Disney's Peter And The Wolf, Wolcott's 1949 album on RCA Victor. In short, the bandleader's releases on commercial labels in the 1940s are not indicative of exclusive contracts with said labels, but hark back to a deal arranged between Walt Disney Productions and these record companies.]  

[This parenthetical paragraph expands on the topic of Anita Boyer's affiliations. Boyer does seem to have "hung out" by the MacGregor and Capitol studios during the 1940s, but there is no indication that she held a long-term record contract.  Most of her recorded work in the 1940s appears to have been circumscribed to canary dates and periodic sessions for radio transcription companies.  For instance, she recorded a fair share of songs for the MacGregor transcription company in the early 1940s, some of them in the company of Capitol's Nat King Cole. And, after having also spent the early 1940s singing with some of the big bands, she occasionally returned to that role in later years.  Case in point: for a few weeks in December of 1945, Boyer served as Harry James' canary. Indeed, notice that the already quoted January 1946 issue of Capitol News refers to Boyer as James' canary. Boyer can also be heard on two Mercury masters recorded on March 28, 1946, but both were done under Red Nichols & His Famous Five Pennies, not on her own.]

If there are no overt indications of a connection between the Disney promotional discs and a particular record company, are there at least some subtle or vague indications? Perhaps. Let's explore what we know about the production, pressing, and distribution of these discs.

A. Production

Don Otis is known to have been in charge of producing the promotional discs under discussion.  The above-quoted Billboard article states that he was a disc jockey at KMPC (Los Angeles).  Another article in the same issue of the magazine further identifies him as a director at the same station and announces that, effective March 1, 1946, he would be "taking over duties as program director for Capitol Records' newly formed e.t. division."  

Otis probably rated among the main radio announcers in the Los Angeles area during the 1940s. Capitol, an LA-based company, had certainly cultivated a relationship with local disc jockeys right from the label's inception. In a historical Capitol retrospective (written by Dave Dexter, Jr. and published by Billboard magazine in September of 1967, as part of the record label's silver anniversary celebration), Otis is one of only two Los Angeles-based announcers included in a list of those who, back in 1942, had "generously" promoted the company's very first records.

Coming so close in the heels of Otis' production of Disney's promotional discs, his official incorporation to Capitol's radio transcription division adds to various factors which can be construed as suggestive of a Capitol-Disney tie-in.  Among such factors:  the participation of Capitol recording artists Peggy Lee and Hal Derwin in the promotional discs and, conversely, the very absence of artists from other record labels.  Another potentially persuasive fact:  the instrumentals that Goodman performed on the Make Mine Music soundtrack were commercially released by Capitol.  (I should clarify that those Goodman soundtrack versions -- the ones in Capitol vaults -- are different from yet other Goodman versions, which were commercially released in the mid-1940s.  The latter are Goodman's re-recordings for Columbia, the music company to which he still remained contracted then.  He would shift to Capitol a bit later, in January of 1947. As for the Goodman soundtrack versions that are of more interest to this page, they ended up being commercially released by Capitol in a 1954 Goodman EP called Walt Disney's Two For The Record, which was a tie-in with a 1954 Disney short bearing the same title. The short was actually a repackaging or re-release of his two vignettes from Make Mine Music.) 

B. Pressing

Unfortunately, the identity of the company in charge of pressing the Disney discs that feature Peggy Lee remains unknown.  As someone who does not own copies of these vinylite discs, and who has only recently started to become acquainted with the subject of music disc manufacturing, I am grateful to collector Eric Graf for sharing with me his opinion on this matter.   

Graf does not discard the possibility that Disney itself could have pressed the vinilytes, but neither does he find it highly likely:  "the label design does resemble the work of Golden Records, the children's label [at Disney], but ... they were on the East Coast, they never used vinyl for their records (they were made of a cheap plastic called styrene), and their recording facilities in 1946 were ludicrously primitive and sounded like it." 

Relying on his close inspection of the 78-rpm copy that he owns, Eric Graf further opines that RCA and Capitol should be discarded as possibilities.  On the matter of Capitol's candidacy, he grants that the company recorded most of his early releases at the facilities of Radio Recorders, and that the typeface of Radio Recorders is evident in the trail off grooves of the vinylite discs.  But Graf counterargues that the disc(s) fail(s) to meet Capitol standards in other areas ("offset trailoff grooves, slightly raised edge, smooth label area; the vinyl is softer and more flexible than Capitol was using at the time for their promo copies").   Besides, the record collector believes that "the Radio Recorders typeface wasn't being used for Capitol's matrix numbers any more" by 1946.  (Confirmation or rebuttal of this last point is pending.)   
Thus, by process of elimination, Graf leans toward the opinion that Decca pressed these discs, though he rightly adds, as a caveat, that there is no actual supporting evidence in Decca's favor.  This subject matter will thus have to remain open for further exploration.  

From my viewpoint, the Capitol label remains in the running.  In that connection, I should point out the label's consistent (and, reportedly, pioneering) use of vinylite for promotional radio material.  In the aforementioned Billboard-published retrospective of Capitol's early days, Dave Dexter, Jr. declares that the company "inaugurated a system of supplying radio announcers with special, vinylite pressings of all its new singles."  In the same Billboard issue, this point is reinforced by Jim Conkling, who in the 1940s served as the company's A&R head.  Offering his own memories of Capitol's early days, Conkling declares:  "[o]ne great push forward happened when [the company's then executive vice-president] Glenn Wallichs located a source of Vinylite which enabled Capitol to furnish DJ's with the first non-breakable, noiseless record.  This, coupled with the excitement of new artists and new hits, made the Capitol label overnight the most played label on the air."  Dexter elaborates, claiming  that the reason why "for years Capitol led all labels in [radio] airplay" was a marketing strategy conceived by him along with Wallichs and Floyd A. Bittaker (the latter being Capitol's national sales chief at the time).  The strategy consisted of presenting "the nation's most important record spinners [with] highly personalized advance pressings of new records."

C. Distribution

As to who distributed the discs, the Billboard article does point to Disney as the company in charge and Otis as its agent, but the article does no categorically assert that Disney itself handled the distribution.  Given Disney's lack of direct involvement in the business of commercial recordings at this point in time (at least in the West Coast), it seems likelier that the task of distributing the promotional discs was delegated to Otis. As a radio disc jockey and program director, Otis would have known how to target the market at which the promotional project was aimed:  radio.  Still, the relatively complicated business of nationwide record distribution could have not been handled by Otis alone; a record company would be the likeliest candidate to carry out that task.  

Capitol is actually known to have struck a distribution deal with Disney in early 1946, when the then-young record company opened its children's division under the direction of Alan Livingston.  According to Livingston (who would eventually rise to the presidency of the record company), this deal involved the making of original cast albums and/or the distribution of songs from the movies.  He does not make any reference to promotional records, but his comments do leave the door open for such a possibility.  At any rate, the main point to be gathered herein is that Capitol Records and Walt Disney Productions were definitely conducting business deals during the mid-1940s.

D. Other Points of Commonality

Mention of Otis' integration to Capitol's radio transcription service brings to mind a point of more marginal interest, pertaining to the catalogue numbers of Disney's promotional discs. (This is a matter that might ultimately prove irrelevant.  I have still decided to discuss it for the sake of thoroughness, and with a view to its potential usefulness in the future -- given the various matters about this Disney date that are currently in doubt but which will hopefully be clarified as more research is conducted.)

A letter prefix (an A) is found in the catalogue numbers of all three Disney discs.  The meaning of this prefix is not known to me.  In other companies' discs, prefixes such as this one are known to point to internal codes within the given record company (e.g. they can stand for the name of a record series or the music genre to which the series adheres).  In other cases, such prefixes have been proven to stand for pressing plants.

This same prefix (an A) was employed by Capitol for some of their transcriptions.  Specifically, it  is found in Capitol's so-called Popular Section, an ET series consisting of popular songs of the day performed instrumentally, though vocals by five acts (two of them being Peggy Lee and Hal Derwin) are interspersed amidst the instrumentals.  

With a few exceptions, ET discs in Capitol's A series feature a different act on each side.  Similarly, two of Disney's promotional discs feature different artists on each side: the two earlier ones, containing Peggy Lee's vocals.

There is then, a couple of common denominators between Disney's promo discs and Capitol's ET discs.  However, these points of commonality might be merely coincidental; after all, the letter A is an obvious and (over)used prefix choice. More to the point, the shared similarities do not run past the prefix.  We have, on the one hand, the relatively high catalogue numbers of the Disney discs (e.g., A-2665 for "Two Silhouettes"). On the other hand, we have the very low numbers of Capitol's "A" ET discs in 1946 (e.g. a Capitol ET  numbered A-11 on the side that features  Peggy Lee, and A-12 on the side that showcases Jan Garber And His Orchestra).

VII. Closing Remarks

The goal of fully and accurately representing the session under discussion is hampered by my lack of official documentation for it.  The (unlikely) retrieval of official Disney paperwork would of course be immensely useful.

At the present time, and despite the aforementioned lack of official documentation, there is reason to be pleased.  A fair amount of session detail has been established or, at the very least, approximately established:  venue (Radio Recorders), date (late 1945), personnel (11-piece orchestra featuring so-called top jazzmen, under Charles Wolcott), company (Disney), and purpose of the date (promotion for a movie).  We are fortunate to count with three reliable sources from which such details have been gathered. One such source consists of the 78-rpm discs themselves, which provide a few specifics, as well as helpful clues.  Further information has been drawn from the perusal of music trade periodicals  (Billboard, Capitol News).  

I  plan to keep on researching other relevant periodicals in the future -- i.e., once I am finished working on the sections of this discography that have yet to be opened. Matters that currently can be discussed only in a speculative manner (e.g., Capitol's degree of involvement in the Lee recording date) will hopefully be refuted or confirmed then, or even before.