Pictures below, Marilyn at Percy and Dolly's house, that's the table adjacent to the bar, and overlooking the patio, where we went through Percy Faith's photo albums; on the right, Marilyn and someone named Bill, Dolly snapped the photo; Marilyn and Dolly on the patio, one of those spring days where the weather was sunny and in the low 70's and I'm told the beautiful weather happened on a very regular basis... weeks at a time...
When I visited Marilyn in May, 1991, I told her - with all sincerity - that the trip to Encino - was almost certainly greatest event in my life; it was a very generous gift for a "mere fan" to visit the daughter and widow and home of the quiet grandfather they called "Poppy" (Percy Faith) I'm going to now bore you just a bit with details of my trip so that you'll know why I feel this way. Marilyn and I took turns that week taking pictures of Percy's fabulous collection of awards, photo albums connected with his recording orchestra and the early "radio days."
I was a big fan of Percy Faith's music (obviously) but was always frustrated with the one-dimensional liner notes on the back of his albums (let me clarify that - there were some terrific liner notes written by the late Irving Townsend, who also produced most of Percy's 1960's albums... but at the same time many albums had no liner notes at all or just a few non-informative paragraphs). I lived in the suburbs of Washington, DC and had never heard of a concert given by Percy Faith though I believe he guest conducted at the Hollywood Bowl several times. I had asked Percy about the lack of mention of a producer in the 50's and he replied that work on his albums were pretty much a one-man job - his own - but that technically the CL 500 series was produced by Mitch Miller (his boss!)
I believe it was early in the spring of 1974, when I first had hopes of learning more about Percy Faith, when I made contact with Percy's son Peter. Peter was most gracious and planned to send me everything he could about his dad. Peter ran a very successful artist's talent agency, the Peter Faith Agency, which brought talented composer-arranger-conductors together with the movie makers of Hollywood. After several months had passed, I found out by calling the agency that Peter had died, in August of 1974. I did not want to bother the Faith family with my "fan" questions, this was not the time, knowing that Peter had died and that Percy was suffering from cancer; I did try to contact Peter's widow but she would not accept my phone calls, and after many attempts, a receptionist told me flatly "she doesn't know anything about Percy Faith." So much for that! Still, I got to meet Percy Faith at the radio interview in March of 1974, and then spoke to him briefly in March of 1975 when he returned once again to guest conduct the Air Force Concert Band.
During the years I have had remarkable conversations and correspondence with other Faith aficionados from all over the world, even visitors from Germany and Japan! I knew that Percy had a daughter named Marilyn but that's all I knew, and had absolutely no idea or hope of calling her, I didn't have her phone number or address. Then some remarkable coincidences came together - a young software developer, Charles Medley, in Washington, DC knew a software developer in Los Angeles who also played keyboard instruments (be they mechanical or electronic) and he told my friend in Washington that he was going to Japan for six weeks. This was many years after Percy's death, in 1990. So my friend in Washington, DC asked this musician, John Eidsvoog, then of Codehead Software, "would this happen to be for the Percy Faith Orchestra tour in Japan? The answer was yes! My friend told his developer/musician friend in LA that he knew of it through me (I was a big enthusiast of this 16-bit computer (Atari ST) and that I was a big fan of the late Percy Faith, and suddenly in the mail a VHS tape (remember those?) arrived from Japan - from my friend and correspondent, the late Yukio Tanase - before the concert tour had ended - of orchestra members and the people who went to Japan with them - including Percy's own daughter, Marilyn. We didn't have the internet and Japan was a long, long way from the United States - so to suddenly hear Marilyn talking about me at a far-away table at a restaurant in Japan was a thrill. About two months after the Faith concert tour ended, my phone rang - it was Marilyn Leonard! We talked for about 4 hours initially, and again and again on many occasions 4-5 hour conversations were the norm, and it was a fascinating learning experience; she was delightful; and it was great fun because we'd have so many subjects to cover, we'd get stacked up with 4 or 5 subjects that we wanted to talk about, and somehow we got to all of them! Finally one day she called and said "so when are you coming out here to visit?" Wow. She said that we could go through her dad's office, which Dolly had left pretty much intact - same electronic equipment, records, awards, scrapbooks, which told the story of his great career, that began on-the-air on several Canadian radio shows.
In May of 1991 I boarded an airplane for my first cross-country flight; I had never been to the West Coast at all. It was a long but visually fascinating flight. When I got inside the terminal, even though we had never met, I knew this lovely lady waiting at the gate had to be Marilyn and we hugged and got out of that crazy-busy airport. Our first stop was the cemetery, not far from the airport, to see the graves of Percy and Peter. During this drive, a Los Angeles radio station played "Tenderly" with Rosemary Clooney on the car radio - and the announcer (Johnny Magnus? I never wrote his name down) backtitled the selection as "Rosemary Clooney with the fabulous Percy Faith orchestra." Wow. We visited the gravesites, then headed for Marilyn's condominium apartment. She had all of her dad's records - many were worn and scratched, and I know she was thrilled, as we all were, years later when they were remastered digitally and reissued on CD's. The next thing Marilyn did was to play "Perpetual Notion." She asked if I had ever heard it - and I had not. It was wonderful! She explained that it was only available on the Extended Play set of the RCA "Soft Lights and Sweet Music" series (LPM 1010) but had not been included on the Lp, only on the EP set.
Marilyn had a very nice collection of pictures and memorabilia from her dad, and it was great fun going through this. Then for the next week, we'd head to the Faith home on Valley Meadow Drive, where I was permitted to literally go through Percy's office, records, and tapes. During the last year of his life, he had spent many hours putting all of his albums on BASF cassette tapes; he felt cassettes might be around much longer than long playing albums. Sadly the tapes had dried out and went to pieces when we played them. Evidently they were the "long length" (T-160?) tapes which were terribly thin, and in the years passing by, were never played and the backing just fell apart. I felt terrible about this, but that's just how it was, and even at home I had experienced excessive shedding of oxide from BASF open reels before I switched to Maxell. We did find several open reel tapes but once again, the dry climate or years of non-use took their toll. Percy had three or four Sony open reel decks - and they all failed - mechanically - when I tried to engage "play" - evidently the rubber pulley that drove the capstan and take-up reel flew into pieces. I did take a couple of them apart to find my suspicions confirmed; the rubber pulley had flown into tiny pieces. One of the machines was a 3-motor design, but it had electronic and relay control problems. Marilyn found a 5th open reel machine that had belonged to her late husband, bandsinger Jack Leonard, and it still worked! I was, therefore, able to get some treasures on tape. Two examples that come to mind, the 3-day radio interview Percy did with Wink Martindale, and perhaps the most obscure PF record of obscure PF records, "Blubber Boy, the Walrus" (children's record). I found that Percy had recorded 3 songs with Frank Sinatra, the last was "Why Try To Change Me Now?" which is quite good. At some point Frank Sinatra had a keychain made with the three songtitles and sent it to Marilyn. I got the idea that as a teenager she listened to a lot of "Frankie's" records!
Marilyn took me into Los Angeles to find a "copy shop" and we brought home a full-size Xerox machine (might have been another brand, I can't remember). At any rate the intention was to copy Percy's own listings of his music; that was successful; but we badly wanted to copy his scrapbooks and that was not to be - the scrapbooks were fragile and the copying machine was of the "moving carriage" type. So the scrapbooks did not get copied. I did manage to copy Percy's own listing of his arrangements and compositions.
Marilyn was always gracious and treated me to a wonderful week. Dolly (Percy's widow) was visiting a relative and didn't come home until Wednesday night that week so I didn't meet her until early Thursday morning. That night she took Marilyn and I to a wonderful dinner. I got to play a few notes on Percy's piano, I don't remember the brand but it had real ivory keys. I remember Marilyn told me the first things Percy had living in NYC - his wife, his piano, and I believe a chandelier and a bed, and very little else!
Percy's scrapbooks were fascinating. He put in notes at times, and at times just let the newspaper clippings or concert programs tell the story. He was amused at the way the newspapers very often thoroughly mangled the spelling of his name and in one case even had the wrong picture above his correctly spelled name! It was very apparent to me in reading through this material that literally one-half of his career was "on the air" mostly in Canada, when radio stations and networks had orchestras! He was delighted to be named Popular Music Director of Columbia Records in 1950, working for Mitch Miller. He had the freedom to have an orchestra of literally any size (he liked lots of strings, of course) but Mitch made it a part of the contract that Percy work with "the youngsters" - vocalists - backing them with the orchestra. Percy did not enjoy vocals or working with vocalists, Marilyn told me quite frankly. It made his recorded legacy priceless that he felt this way, and eventually by about 1961, didn't have to have anything to do with vocals or vocalists unless he wanted to. He had developed the wordless female chorus (vocalise) during his radio days and used them now and then as an instrument in the orchestra, nothing more, nothing less. I have an EP entitled "Magic Voices" that featured tracks that used them heavily; they even sang a few words. Through the recording years Percy used the small female wordless chorus as a voice of the orchestra; he also recorded many tracks in the 1950's with a mixed-choral part, but I was told by Marilyn that he did NOT arrange these vocals, rather they were arranged by Ray Charles of the Columbia "Ray Charles Singers."
When I got to the last scrapbook I started into tears as "Disco Party" had some entries in it, but by Dolly, not Percy; and Summer Place '76 was mentioned but the entries largely incomplete. It was a sudden ending for a long and rich career, now I was reliving those difficult moments, when I realized that I had lost my favorite musician many years before, a kind man who, famous as he was, had no discernable EGO; Doris Day put it best when she did a brief telephone interview with ABC radio in the early hours of the morning after Percy died, when she said "...as beautiful as his arrangements were, that's how kind he was."
Marilyn cooked out on the barbecue at her mother's house a few times, and I really enjoyed barbecued hamburgers with all the fixings. As you can see from the pictures on the patio, the Faith home had a beautiful view and at one of the corners you could see the smoggy Los Angeles. The weather - every day was, and I can still hear Marilyn laughing about this, "cool, warm breezes, sunny" and that must have been a factor in Percy's move to California!
Marilyn asked me about mid-way through the week, "Don't you want to see LA?" "Nope, I came out here to learn about your father's career." She also asked me "Don't you want to know more personal information about the family?" I already knew it was a large family but never got to meet her children. Again, I said that I was having a blast having my Percy Faith questions answered by long talks with her and the material I was reading, listening to his recordings, and that took up all of our time. It didn't seem to me that personal information about her family was any of my business!!!
When I returned home, Marilyn and I kept in touch frequently through the years. She was always caring, asking about me (!) and how my own mother and brother were doing; and we went through many hours of telephone time discussing the Good Music CD's (first licensing out of Percy's catalogue and Columbia/Sony referred them to ME for information as all their personnel were "rock and roll" by that time). We spent many hours discussing messages that came to me from my web site, the Taragon and Collectables CD's, and zillions of other items. She had a great sense of humor and we both agreed that the "7 deadly words" (that you can't use on the radio, as George Carlin found out) were sometimes the ONLY way to convey things. She taught me a couple of wonderful "getting old" things to account for poor memory - the CRAFT Club (Can't Remember A F***ing Thing) and CRS disease - (Can't Remember S**t). I laughed and greatly enjoyed the great sense of humor she had. She said she got this from her father; she was very much in awe of her father, and a great fan of his music. Her knowledge of popular music for both orchestra and for vocalists was amazing; she didn't suffer the distaste that I have for (ulp) vocals, so she knew well the vocalists of her time. In fact I can remember one of the "just kidding" titles Percy had named one of his own albums; it was a tribute to his great sense of humor, however I can't repeat it.
Many times, there were some difficult decisions to be made, and I was honored to get calls from Marilyn to help her decide on some things; she agonized over many decisions, and I helped her respond to some correspondence, she'd get a bit of writer's block and I'd try to get her started; but most of all she wanted to do the very best things she could for her father's memory. One great thing that happened in the early part of the first decade of the new century, was a radio show honoring her father along with several other arrangers on BBC2 in England. They devoted a segment to Percy Faith, and to my great delight Marilyn agreed to do some recording sessions with BBC2 announcers in her home. Producer Lynsey Moyes had contacted me by phone to see if I could participate in this tribute but studio arrangements could not be made, and to my great delight Marilyn responded to my phone call that SHE would welcome the BBC interviewers into her home! I also phoned Mitch Miller in New York and he agreed to participate and gave some interviews at his home. I was very delighted to bring Marilyn and Mitch to the program. The show is now on this web site.
I miss Marilyn, she's one of those people who really inspired me over the years and who am I? Just a fan - of wonderful music her father recorded, and I was very honored and delighted to know her over the years. For her to let a fan visit her and her mom in Encino was a once-in-a-lifetime dream event for me. It was sad to realize how long Percy had been gone, but it was priceless to visit with Marilyn, who knew every album, every track, and had stories to share about most of them. One last thing, many years ago, perhaps 2002 or so we began talking about a book she wanted to write about her father's career. We used to joke that perhaps it would never sell, but sadly the book was never written either. I was going to return to Los Angeles to visit for an extended time when I retired in 2005 but my mother became very ill so I found myself in Kansas. My mother died in January 2008 and about three months after I lost my mother, I contacted Marilyn about visiting with a laptop computer in tow to help her with the book, and finally with great difficulty she told me why this would never happen, that she had been stricken with cancer, and that it wasn't possible. It was difficult for her to tell me and difficult for me to hear this. She used to joke about the book, "my father never shot anyone, never even divorced his wife, none of that stuff, he just had a rewarding life in the recording studio - and I don't know if such a book could sell." This adds to the sadness of losing Marilyn, now we'll never have the story of her father, as told by his #1 fan, his daughter! With beauty, the tremendous catalog of music Percy Faith left us, goes a lot of sadness as well, and if it sold only 3 copies it would have been a wonderful story. I miss Marilyn very much and am quite certain that everyone she befriended is shattered by the loss of a wonderful bright, caring, enthusiastic friend.
- Bill Halvorsen, March 2010