Nat King Cole

By Ali Datko,
ReMIND Magazine

Among the many joys of the holiday season are the classic, beloved songs that have been passed down from one generation to the next, bringing together listeners young and old. Among the most notable and nostalgia-provoking is the delightfully ubiquitous “The Christmas Song,” subtitled “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe (and the baritone voice of Nat King Cole) help to make the season bright.

Nathaniel Adams Coles was born on March 17, 1919. The son of a Baptist minister and a church organist, he was immersed in a musical lifestyle at a young age. By the age of 4, he was performing for his father’s congregation, and by age 12 he had begun classical piano lessons.

Although Nathaniel was born in Montgomery, Ala., he grew up in Chicago, where he was influenced by such club performers as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. In his mid-teens, driven to pursue a career in music, he dropped out of school to play full time.

He landed a gig with the nationally touring revue “Shuffle Along,” but faced a standstill in Long Beach, Calif., when the act floundered abruptly. In Long Beach, he formed the King Cole Trio (by that time, he’d adopted the nickname “Nat King Cole”), a jazz group that toured extensively throughout the late ’30s and early ’40s. In 1943, the trio signed with Capitol Records, with whom they released the breakout hits “That Ain’t Right” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”

In 1946, they recorded the now-classic tune “The Christmas Song.” Cole later recorded three alternate versions; the fourth, recorded in 1961, is the most famous and the one still played on the radio today.

Cole’s other popular hits included “Mona Lisa” (1950), “Unforgettable” (1951), “Love Is the Thing” (1957) and “L-O-V-E” (1965). During his wildly successful career, he also hosted NBC’s “The Nat King Cole Show” (the first African- American-hosted variety show), and appeared in numerous short films and sitcoms.

Cole married twice and raised five children, among them Grammy-winning artist Natalie Cole. He passed away in 1965 due to lung cancer, with wife Maria by his side. In 1990, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, and in 2000 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Did you know …

 Ryan Seacrest  ABC/LOU ROCCO Ryan Seacrest ABC/LOU ROCCO Global super-group One Direction returns to headline the Billboard Hollywood Party on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2016” beginning Thursday, Dec. 31, at 8 p.m. on ABC and broadcasting non-stop until 2:13 a.m.. One Direction will perform three songs throughout the show during a bi-coastal celebration. They join Carrie Underwood, who will be performing for over 1 million fans in Times Square moments before the ball drops. With over 38 performances and 5 ½ hours of music, this is America’s biggest celebration of the year.

Author Michael Pollan’s global journey to rediscover the pleasures of healthy food will be shared with us when PBS premieres “In Defense of Food” on Wednesday, Dec. 30, from 9 to 11 p.m. (check your local listings). Busting myths and misconceptions, “In Defense of Food” reveals how common sense and old-fashioned wisdom can help rediscover the pleasures of eating and at the same time reduce our risks of falling victim to diet-related diseases.

In January 2016, ABC Family will be renamed Freeform. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, the network will premiere its new series “Shadowhunters” at 9 p.m. One young woman realizes how dark the city can really be when she learns the truth about her past in the first episode. “Shadowhunters” is based on the bestselling young adult fantasy book series “The Mortal Instruments” by Cassandra Clare, and follows Clary Fray, who comes from a long line of Shadowhunters — humanangel hybrids who hunt down demons.

Dateline NBC correspondent Keith Morrison joins Investigation Discovery as new host of “Dateline on ID,” beginning January 2016, along with “Front Page” specials throughout next year.

Mariah Carey directs and stars with Lacey Chabert in ‘A Christmas Melody’

By Kellie Freeze,

 Lacey Chabert Lacey Chabert Mariah Carey’s music is an integral part of the holiday season, and now the Christmas chanteuse is gifting her talents to Hallmark’s most musical holiday film. The singer/actress is directing her first film, the aptly named A Christmas Melody, premiering Dec. 19 on Hallmark Channel.

The film stars Lacey Chabert as Kristin, a young fashion designer who shutters her big-city boutique and moves back to her hometown with her daughter (singing sensation Fina Strazza, of Broadway’s Matilda) in tow. The duo face a tumultuous adjustment to small-town life, further complicated by Kristin’s highschool nemesis (Carey). But the plucky family braves each challenge with the help of Kristin’s aunt — a local coffee shop owner (Kathy Najimy) — and the hunky local music teacher (Brennan Elliott).

Chabert reveals that one thing she and Carey bonded over was their mutual love of the holiday season. “I never thought anyone could love Christmas as much as I do until I met Mariah Carey,” she says. “She absolutely adores Christmas!” The pair also chatted about their love of holiday tunes, and Chabert admits that she has Carey’s holiday CDs on a near-constant loop.

Chabert also delights in the scenes she shot with her director, where Carey gets to flex her comedy chops as a mean girl. “She was excellent at those scenes,” says Chabert. “I really enjoyed those scenes with her so much, because they are really funny and of course, because it is Hallmark, you know that nothing’s too mean-spirited.” The repartee in the duo’s scenes is the film’s funniest.

The film, part of Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas,” has all of the family-friendly trappings we would expect from the network’s popular holiday programming block. And, of course, Carey adds her impeccable taste to the film’s visual design. “She is Miss Christmas,” laughs Chabert. “She has such a great eye for aesthetics and knowing what looks best, and what looks flattering and beautiful. She really wanted to capture the Christmas spirit and I feel like the movie did that. She really is a fantastic director.”

In addition to directing and starring in the festive flick, Carey also lends one of her most charming holiday hits to the film’s soundtrack. Carey isn’t the one singing “Oh Santa!” — but the upbeat and cheerful Christmas tune is pure perfection when sung by young phenom Strazza.

When we spoke, Chabert gushed about her young costar. “She is amazing. Fina is remarkably talented and so smart for her age. I mean … I shouldn’t even say ‘for her age.’ She is so smart in general. Just a wonderfully talented child and it was funny all that we have in common. I was actually on Broadway in Les Misérables at the same exact age. and she has been doing Broadway’s Matilda.” She adds, “I looked at her and she is just so tiny and young and it was hard to imagine myself ever being that tiny and young and handling your responsibility of performing in front of thousands of people live every night. It was just kind of cool to walk down memory lane with her.”

Chabert also shares high praise for her other castmates, saying Najimy “is a doll,” and considering Elliot — with whom she recently costarred in Hallmark’s All of My Heart — “a good friend.” The actress adds, “It is really nice to work with people who you get along with so well.”

The cast’s chemistry is palpable, their talent divine, and with Carey’s attention to directorial detail and discerning eye, this Christmas charmer may enjoy the same longevity as her other holiday classics.

Tom Hardy delivers a master class

In theaters now

Director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) introduces viewers to the Kray twins in his new film, Legend. The identical twin gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie, were two of the most notorious criminals in British history. Their empire rose in London’s East End during the 1960s and they dominated much of the illegal activity there. Helgeland’s film is a close examination of the twins, both portrayed by Tom Hardy.

Reggie Kray was the quiet but merciless twin — feared and revered at the same time, as many gangsters have been throughout history. He fashioned himself into a club owner, and though that wasn’t his primary source of income, it had a more legitimate ring to it. Frances Shea (Emily Browning) caught his eye and he was willing to do anything for her, though the one thing he could never seem to do was to become a truly legitimate businessman.

Ronnie Kray had been in a mental institution due to his instability. Quick to snap, Ronnie was the less rational of the two, and after his brother had him declared sane — through threats, of course — he worked with Reggie in their rise to dominance.

Despite disagreements between the two, they were brothers so devoted to each other that, to solve matters, each looked past the other’s shortcomings. While Reggie often looked out for Ronnie, Ronnie also had his own way of looking out for Reggie. Together their rise was impressive and, yes, legendary.

Brutal, yet orchestrated like a carefully crafted symphony, Legend tells us a story with visually striking images that are disconcerting but necessary — necessary to relay the otherwise indescribable violence that took place during the Krays’ rise to prominence. Helgeland, in both writing and directing the film, is deeply invested in the portrayal and walks a fine line with Legend’s violence. It’s harsh but not gratuitous.

The real star of this film is Tom Hardy, who portrays both twins; it’s a master class in acting. He transports himself from brother to brother with seeming ease, all the way down to the simple physical mannerisms of each twin. It feels as though he totally embodies each twin for who they are and what they possess. There aren’t many other actors who could be counted on to display this level of nuance in these roles.

This Legend is worth the price of admission just to see Tom Hardy; the rest is a bonus. The film is beautiful yet violent, compassionate yet abusive — all at once.

Legend
Rated: R
Stars: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning,
Taron Egerton
Director: Brian Helgeland
Grade: B

Mosque, community members share respect

I was mayor of East Brunswick and a member of the Planning Board when our diverse community was honored to be chosen as the town in which to build the incredibly beautiful mosque along Dunhams Corner Road. All of East Brunswick should be proud that the new neighbors have added so much to our image as a strong, vibrant community that can share its devotion and spirituality with the other 34 different religious congregations throughout our town.

The congregants at the mosque were gracious, kind and patient throughout the entire laborious process of planning, zoning and construction. I have been honored to be part of their holidays and special events. I know of no one in East Brunswick who has ever had a negative experience with the congregation.

I wish that our good example of inclusion and hospitality would be an example about how the rest of the world should learn to live in peace.

I hope that the rhetoric and xenophobia expressed by a few high-profile political leaders in the state and the nation won’t diminish the respect we all must share among people, especially during these holidays when the oil lamps continue to glow while others will yearn to sleep in heavenly peace.

Bill Neary
East Brunswick

Remembering The Rat Pack

By Lucie M. Winborne,
ReMIND Magazine

 Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin They sipped Scotch on the rocks and smoked with panache. Wore tuxedos and mohair suits. Made movies and spoke their own brand of slang. Chased women (or, as Joey Bishop said, had to chase them away!). Sold out shows at the Sands in Vegas, where audiences lined up for hours for a seat.

They were talented, they were hip, and, for a brief but golden period, they were the coolest of the cool.

They were the Rat Pack.

Five names are familiar today: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Dean Martin and Joey Bishop, but their “founder” was actually Humphrey Bogart, who dubbed a group of his drinking buddies the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack” in the ’50s. Another story has it that Bogie’s wife, Lauren Bacall, upon witnessing the aftermath of her husband’s and pals’ carousing, told them they looked like “a pack of rats.” Whatever its origin, the name stuck, although Sinatra wasn’t too fond of it and referred to the group as “The Summit” or “The Clan.” Other original members included David Niven, Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland.

After Bogart’s death in 1957, Sinatra became the group’s leader (“It’s Frank’s world; we just live in it,” Martin famously quipped), and in the early ’60s he and the boys charmed audiences at the Sands with their irreverent jokes, impressions and, of course, songs. They also made three films: Ocean’s 11, Sergeants 3 and Robin and the 7 Hoods. Noted Sinatra of these efforts: “Of course they’re not great movies! But we are not setting out to make Hamlet or Gone With the Wind. We are out to make films the people enjoy. It’s called entertainment.”

The group didn’t confine themselves solely to entertainment, though. In 1960 they publicly supported John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, donating publicity, photo ops and even a new version of “High Hopes” from Sinatra that Kennedy would take as his campaign song. That summer, Sinatra, Lawford, Davis and pack “mascot” Shirley MacLaine sang the national anthem at the opening of the Democratic National Convention, forging a link between politics and celebrities that continues to this day.

Those seemingly carefree times couldn’t last forever, of course. Relations between Kennedy and Sinatra cooled, then Frank’s friendship with Peter Lawford soured as well. After just a few years, the heyday of the Rat Pack was over.

In 1988 Sinatra, Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. tried to rekindle the old magic with a “Together Again” tour that Sinatra felt would be good for Martin, who had not performed for several years, but Dean was forced to drop out due to illness after just a few shows, and Sammy was diagnosed with throat cancer the following year. In 2007, Joey Bishop, the last surviving member, passed away.

By present politically correct standards, the Rat Pack might seem hopelessly outdated, but “The Rat Pack & Friends” tribute shows, featuring member impersonators and a big band, still delight fans around the globe. For a memorable 90 minutes, old-style Vegas cool lives again.

Coats for kids

 PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS PETERSON PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS PETERSON The Association of Middlesex County College Nursing Students held its annual “Coats for Kids” coat drive, delivering 27 coats and six other items of winter apparel to the Raritan Bay Medical Center Pediatric Department. Pictured are Nursing Instructor/Association Advisor Patricia Fox of East Brunswick, left to right, Treasurer Elisabeth Martinez of South Brunswick, Vice President So Chung of Edison, Secretary Nichole O’Donnell of Woodbridge, President Tara Renter of Old Bridge and Instructor/Association Advisor Luiza Asahme of Woodbridge.

Did you know …

 Eva Longoria Eva Longoria NBC will premiere its new half-hour comedy series “Telenovela” on Monday, Jan. 4, at 8:30 p.m.

Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”) stars in this big, fun and flashy comedy as Ana Sofia, the star of a popular Spanish language soap opera. One problem, she doesn’t speak any Spanish.

Other problems: Ana must manage a new boss, jealous castmates and highmaintenance friends — and that’s all before her ex-husband is hired as her new on-screen love interest. Just like a real telenovela, this comedy is full of all kinds of drama. The cast includes Jencarlos Canela, Diana Maria Riva, Jose Moreno Brooks, Alex Meneses, Amaury Nolasco. Jadyn Douglas, and Izzy Diaz.

“Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Featuring Santino Fontana and the Sesame Street Muppets” will air Monday, Dec. 21, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check your local listings). This holiday extravaganza includes a rendition of the classic carol from Sesame Street, “Keep Christmas with You,” “Sing a Christmas Carol” from Scrooge and much more.

Brighten up the holidays with “The Andy Griffith Show Christmas Special,” airing on CBS Friday, Dec. 25, from 8 to 9 p.m.. Featured are two newly colorized episodes of the classic TV series. truTV will premiere its new half-hour comedy series “Almost Genius” on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 10 p.m. This self-contained comedy celebrates the people, places and things that try so hard to succeed but come up just a bit short.

Hosted by April Richardson and Chris Fairbanks, the show features comedians and performers digitally inserted into viral videos to comment on and congratulate people for their bravery and ingenuity in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Country legend Dolly Parton brings her most personal song to TV

By Lori Acken,

I was a little kid growing up in a home filled with country music when Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” became a radio hit in 1971. I already loved the story of the original coat thanks to Sunday school, and since I was a small-town girl with a loving mama, too, I fell hard for that song. I love it still.

On Thursday, Dec. 10, NBC brings the tender tune of a family’s love and resilience, exemplified by a little patchwork jacket, to television as part of a deal with the country music legend and her production partner Sam Haskell to produce films based on Parton’s most enduring hits. (Jolene begins filming in early 2016.) The film — which stars Ricky Schroder and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles as Parton’s parents Robert Lee and Avie Lee, and sparkling 8-year-old Alyvia Alyn Lind as a young Dolly — dramatizes Parton’s true-life tale of growing up in a dirt-poor but unfailingly loving and creative home. Parton calls the movie her gift to viewers in the most faith- and familycentric time of the year.

“I’ve had so many people tell me that [the song] has touched them even though it might not have been about a coat or a piece of clothing, but a handicap or being overweight or just being different,”

Parton says. “It just touches me that my work has been able to touch people through the years like that.”

Because of that, Parton and Haskell worked closely with screenwriter Pamela K. Long to make sure the film echoed the song’s timeless message. “They teach this little ‘Coat of Many Colors’ in so many schools now and use it as an anti-bullying song, that we should celebrate the differences in each other.

“So when we started putting this show together, Sam and myself wanted to make sure that it really was about celebrating those differences. And I really wanted to pay tribute to my mom and dad and to show who the family was that I came from.”

And what a family it is — one Parton credits with her own ability to bloom where she’s planted. “Mom had a house full of kids and a love for my daddy that wouldn’t quit,” she says. “They married when Mama was 15 and Daddy was 17. My dad was such a hardworking person, and he never had the chance to go to school. So they had nothing to work with except love and faith and one another — and Mama had enough faith to move a mountain. I think I got my spirituality and my positive attitude and my faith from my mother. And I’ve got my dad’s hard work ethic.”

Understandably, Parton was careful about choosing the people who would step into their shoes. Of Nettles, she trills, “She actually did her own little audition tape and sent it in to us, and we just absolutely flipped out! I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s Mama!’ She’s spectacular! And Ricky, he looks like my brothers and my daddy’s people — his coloring, and just his body structure. He and his wife were very involved in the story. They had lost a child, too — something that we talk about in the movie (Parton’s brother Larry — “my baby,” she calls him — died at birth). I think that was very healing for them.”

As for little Lind, Dolly says it was a match made in heaven.

“We auditioned hundreds of kids and I said to Sam, ‘God’s going to send her. We’re going to get the right one!’ Then the day I saw her, I said, ‘That’s her! I see her! I see me! She’ll make me look good!’ I never was that cute, but that little thing can sing, she can act. The second our eyes met, it was like I knew that we were right!”