Eva Knott 10:44 a.m., May 18
Yes, Tony Martin spent 60 of his 98 years married to Cyd Charisse. (The leggy dancer died at age 86 in 2008.) Yes, Tony Martin had an 80-year run performing in films and nightclubs and on radio and television. Yes, he was, according to the New York Times' Stephen Holden, "his generation’s Last Man Standing,” (The torch has now been passed to Buddy Greco, still swinging at 86.)
What those snooty jadrools at The Times fail to mention in their obit is Tony Martin's one everlasting contribution to the worlds of cinema and kitsch: Tommy Rogers' Tenement Symphony (in 4 Flats)
If the only reason people remember Kitty Carlise is for her appearance in A Night at the Opera, than surely Tony Martin deserves an equal, if not higher ranking in the Marxian Pantheon.
The Tenement Symphony is the only musical number in a Marx Bros. movie not to feature Groucho that's worth returning to. (Even though I know every lyric to Kenny Baker's falsetto rendition of Two Blind Loves in At the Circus, the mere thought of it causes my gag reflex to kick in.)
I was 9 when I first went shopping for laughs in The Big Store. Tony warmed the heart and introduced audiences to the Cohen's pianola and the Kellys with their Victrola. Listen to the way Martin uses his voice to paint a treacly, semi-accurate portrait of life in a New York tenement c.1941. (Cohens and Kellys, yes, but there's not a Jackson or Washington listed in the lobby of this all-white tenement.)
Even as a child, musical numbers in Marx Bros. movies signaled time for a bathroom break. Not true of The Tenement Symphony. Get me drunk and I'll sing every lyric. I'll even whistle the harp and piano solos contained within if you're nice.
I still find myself returning to The Big Store at least once or twice a year. (I'm a glutton for Douglass Dumbrille.) Never have I felt the urge to scan through T.R.'s stunning piece of symphonic social criticism. If anything, I hit reverse and watch it again!
Beg all you want, I have nothing bad to say about a big brilliantined baritone who has been with me almost as far back as my memory extends, no matter how deleterious his efforts might have been to the cause of Marxists everywhere.
Strap on those headphones and crank it, baby. I submit, in all its monophonic splendor, Tommy Rogers' Tenement Symphony (in 4 Flats):