In the 1940s Big Bands (and Bandleaders) were as popular as movie stars. And one of the Star Bandleaders was Artie Shaw, a man who made it his mission to bed and sometimes wed movie stars.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to assert that Shaw is equally renowned today for his Hollywood wives (never mind the flings) as for his music.
But make no mistake, Shaw was an artist who took music making most seriously even if his swing audiences sometimes didn’t. (He would refer to them as “morons.” We wonder whether he regarded his eight wives the same way.)
The former Arthur Arshawsky, born in New York City in 1910 and raised in New Haven, Conn., had been playing saxophone and clarinet since his high school days. By the age of 19 he was freelancing at CBS and making recordings in New York. After a experimental blending of conventional swing instrumentation and a strings flopped, Shaw got down to business and formed his big band, five brass, four saxes and four rhythm.
On July 24, 1938, his ensemble stepped into a studio and recorded its version of Begin The Beguine. It was a huge hit, and everything changed for Shaw. (Other hits followed including Moonglow and Frenesi.) His international fame became such that at one point, Time magazine published a line noting that to the average German, America at the time meant sky-scrapers, Clark Gable and Artie Shaw.
By the time Begin the Beguine was recorded, he had already played his way through two marriages. Then came the bombshell third marriage, to Lana Turner from February 1940 until the following September. (The most conceited, unpleasant man I ever met, Lana said later.)
Short but sensational, the union cemented Shaw’s reputation as a notorious lady-killer. After Pearl Harbor, Shaw enlisted in the Navy, and wise-guy sailors would ask to “shake the hand that held Lana Turner’s tit.”
Two marriages later, Shaw was at a Hollywood party when the wife of actor Van Heflin introduced him a promising starlet on the rise by the name of Ava Gardner. She had been listening to his music, loving his music, since she was sixteen or so,” wrote Gardner biographer Lee Server. It was like meeting a god.
For his part, Shaw found the young Gardner the most beautiful creature you ever saw. Their marriage (she was wife No. 5) lasted a few weeks more than a year, just a bit less than average for Shaw’s four marriages until then. The longest of his eight unions was his last, to actress Evelyn Keyes. The union lasted a relative eternity, 28 years until 1985.
Years ago, when Joe was interviewing Shaw, he was told: Then Lana and I flew to Yuma (Arizona) and got married.
Excuse me, Mr. Shaw, interjected Joe, weren’t you married in Las Vegas?
Are you trying to tell ME where I got married? Shaw bellowed.
Well, responded Morella, I’ve got an newspaper clipping here and the AP dateline says Las Vegas.
Oh, said the chastened Shaw. But then he rebounded. Well, you can’t expect me to remember everyplace I got married! (Shaw was not married at the time of his death in 2004 at the ripe age of 94.)