Archive for September 23rd, 2021

Ukulele Ike R. Crumb cover

I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feeling I’m happy again
I’m laughing at clouds so dark above
The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase everyone from the place
Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face
I’ll walk down the lane with a happy refrain
And singin’ just singin’ in the rain

Singin’ in the Rain, Arthur Freed, 1929

Got in the studio this morning with the forecast showing us getting a couple of inches of rain today. Couldn’t watch any more of the news on the tube so flipped to a film in progress, the screwball classic His Girl Friday.

The first face I see is of one of the other newsmen in the newspaper office where most of the action takes place. It’s one that seems really familiar but I can’t quite come up with the name. Then it hits me.

It’s Ukulele Ike.

Actually, his name was Cliff Edwards but to the world at that time he was Ukulele Ike. Both names most likely won’t register with most of you. Time passes by, after all, and most stars fade or are eclipsed by newer, brighter lights.

And Ukulele Ike was a star. He was a singer, comedian and actor who starred in vaudeville, Broadway, radio, film and television. He recorded one of he first versions of the classic Singin’ in the Rain in 1929 and had a #1 hit with it.

But that was not his only hit. In fact, Ukulele Ike sold more than 74 million records in his career. To put that in perspective, Neil Diamond has sold about 50 million records and the Rolling Stones have a total of around 67 million. Plus. many of Ike’s sales took place during the Great Depression.

That would be enough for most folks but Cliff Edwards also made his way into many films, had a national radio show during the Golden Age of radio, had one of the first national TV shows in 1949, and was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio from Walt Disney, as well as Dandy Jim Crow in Dumbo.

Quite the resume. Of course, as with so many of these cases, there is the downside. Edwards went through his millions several times over due to a lavish lifestyle, and addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling– the holy trinity of addictions. The last years of his life were spent in poverty as he hung around the Disney studios hoping for voice work in animated films. He was often taken to lunch by the animators who he would regale with tales from his storied past.

Ukulele Ike died in 1971 at the age of of 76. He was a charity patient in a convalescent home in Hollywood at the time. His body went unclaimed and was donated to the UCLA medical school. Disney heard about this and paid to recover his body and give it a decent burial.

It has a sad ending but the life of Cliff Edwards or Ukulele Ike, if you prefer, was one for the books. Highs and lows and everything in between. I don’t know that you can call that a wasted life.

I used a more contemporary album cover from R. Crumb to illustrate this entry. I like this cover plus the title of the song (and the song itself) make me smile. Here’s Ukulele Ike performing Singin’ in the Rain from 1929’s The Hollywood Revue of 1929, one of the earliest musicals of the sound era. Like much of Ike’s work, it’s a lot of fun. Makes me want to walk down the lane with a happy refrain…

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