Sunday, May 8, 2016

Toni Tennille: Our Love Continues To Keep Us Together!

Toni with her beloved Lula
"Love Will Keep Us Together" is one of the last songs I wrote with Howie Greenfield in the early seventies. I'll never forget the day when I received a 45rpm in the mail of my song by a new group "The Captain and Tennille", which by the way, I could not pronounce correctly. I put it on the turntable and almost fell off my chair. It was the most perfect production and performance of a pop song that I had ever heard.
I marvel at what a great singer Toni Tennille truly is. Certainly in the league of Ella Fitzgerald and others from years before. Now, she has written a moving memoir filled with the strength and warmth she has always possessed. I will always have a special place in my heart for her as a person and for her as an artist."
- Neil Sedaka

Since bursting onto the scene in the mid ‘70s, the pop duo Captain and Tennille have long defined the sparkling, optimistic idea of everlasting love, both in their music and through their image as a happy and, seemingly, unbreakable couple.There are certain singers and/or songs that you can pin point the exact moment in your life when you heard them for the first time. The Captain and Tennille and Love Will Keep Us Together are a prime example. It was 1975. I was 14 years old and working at Grand Strand Amusement Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina that summer.
A new attraction had just opened, Castle Dracula.
It was like a cross between Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and a haunted house. The museum was located on the 2nd floor, and was a twisty maze of caverns, with various scenes with monsters and scary scenes along the sides of the cave.
The bottom floor had some scenes and figures, such as huge Phantom of the Opera-style organist, a coffin with someone inside struggling to raise the lid, and a dead Elvis. Scenes upstairs included a transforming Wolfman, the Pit and the Pendulum, the "Monster Mash" with loose body parts, and an eerie outer-space section with a strange, mushy floor.   At the very end was a light show, then the exit went down into the gift shop on the ground floor. That light show was very much like a disco. The light show began and the song that accompanied it was Love Will Keep Us Together. I was transfixed. Who was this singing? After the light show, I asked the DJ and for the first time  I heard the name, Captain and Tennille. I was told that they were a new musical team. I left there and went to the record store and got my first Captain and Tennille record.
I played that album, especially the track of Love Will Keep Us Together, ad nauseam.
I was a confirmed fan. Still am. They were such a fixture of the seventies. I get very nostalgic when I hear their music now. I loved their variety show and frequent television appearances. It is still a big regret that I never saw them appear live.
In 2014, when it was announced that they were divorcing, even though I didn't know them personally, I was crushed. How could this happen?
Recently, Toni wrote her memoirs (with Caroline Tennille St. Clair) telling HER story. The book is
Caroline and Toni
a must read for those of my generation who had the same visceral reaction that I did. The book is called simply Toni Tennille: A Memoir
I was lucky enough to sit down recently with Toni to talk about the book, the path that led there, and her life now. This blog is the result of that interview.
The catalyst for this book came about as Toni had finally decided what she was going to do about her marriage. She spent months and years trying to decipher what she was going to do about her marriage to Daryl (the Captain).
She was living a very quiet, normal, as she calls it, life in Prescott, Arizona. She kept her head down and didn't talk to any national press for eight years...until she figured it out. Once she had made her decision, and went ahead and divorced Daryl, she felt that she owed it to their fans who idolized them as a couple. She knew that there would be many who would feel devastated when they heard the news. I was. She once again felt that she had an obligation to tell those of us who care why she made that decision. Hopefully, we all would understand.
Toni tells me that she did not keep notes or a journal through this process. The book's genesis started when Toni was on a family cruise out of Cape Canaveral two years ago
The "guy in the green suit" is a superb conductor by the name of Barry Jekowsky.
last February. Caroline and Toni decided that Toni was going to write the book. They sat down, during the day, in one of the empty bars on the ship, and Caroline started digitally recording all of these memories that Jane and Toni came up with. Jane is closest in age to Toni, and she was around for Toni's early life. Caroline amassed hours and hours of stories and memories. They then did the rest of it after the cruise.
Toni was in Prescott and Caroline was in Orlando. Occasionally, they would fly back and forth to be face to face.
Most of it was done by email and over the phone.
This all happened after Toni had filed for divorce. He knew she was going to write it because she told him. She called him up and said, "Now, Daryl, I'm going to write this memoir. I want you to know that it is MY point of view." I suggested to him that maybe he should write his own memoir or at least a blog so that he could put in HIS own point of view. He
said to Toni, "Nah, I'm not going to do that. I'm not interested in that., but I'm not worried because I know you are a 'straight shooter and I know you'll tell the story the right way." They still talk every week or every ten days. In fact, Toni recently was in New York to promote the book and she called him before departing here. Caroline and Toni were in town for a three day media press junket. They did  The Today Show and Inside Edition and on the way back to the airport from New York, she called him to see how he was doing and he said, "I just caught you on The Today Show", and I said, "well, what did you think?" He said, "I was proud of you." He's kind of excited, Toni thinks, because this book is creating a renewed interest in their music. A lot has been stirring up since she wrote the memoir.
Not only has the book created a surge in their music, people are writing to Toni that have never reached out to her before telling her how much their songs meant to them. Facebook has also helped. Before the book came out, she received a few posts, but she could keep up with them.
After this media blitz, she just cannot keep up with it. People are writing all kinds of stories to her telling her what their music meant to them and, "Oh my God! You're story was my story...I thought you were telling my life..." All these things are being shared openly with Toni.
Toni is a Taurus. She considers herself stubborn. As she went into this marriage, she thought she could help this "genius man" come out of this "thing he lives in". He lived inside of himself. Toni thought she could help him find joy in this life. That was her job, she thought. As far as the music is concerned, they were perfect for each other. He, however, could never be what she hoped he could be. It took her a long time to figure that out and she eventually gave up. Toni came from a very close, loving, and supportive family. Her sister, her mom, her dad...they all were very close and loving. Daryl's family was completely different. His father was a very famous symphony conductor and arranger and composer. He won an Academy Award for his work on Cover Girl. He worked a lot in the 1940s, but he was mercurial and domineering father in many ways and he was extremely critical of  his five kids. There were three boys and two girls and they all suffered because of it. Toni believes that is one of the reasons why Daryl was so withdrawn and within himself. He did not come from a family that ever expressed love for each other. They just couldn't do it. He just closed up and Toni couldn't get him to open up.
Toni lived with Daryl for decades. She observed him and tried to figure him out. She doesn't think that there was anything that she learned writing this book that was different from what she thought. “He drew a circle that shut me out- Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him In!"
She thought, 'Together we can conquer anything'. He, however, shut her out.
That's how she went into the relationship. It didn't work that way for her. She didn't realize how completely within himself he was and how she would never be able to reach him that way. The most interesting thing is that since they've been apart (She moved to Florida this past August), she has found that not only is she blossoming in her own way, but she senses that Daryl is also doing the same thing, in his way in small incremental steps into the world.
Maybe, it was just that she couldn't do it. Perhaps he had to find it on his own. He had to find his way himself. Toni thinks that once she actually left, perhaps he said to himself, " Oh my gosh, OK, she's not here so I'm going to have to do it myself. " She's sensing that he's doing that.
Looking back, Toni doesn't feel that there is ANYTHING she could have done differently. She doesn't have any regrets. She believes that we learn not only from the positive things in our lives, but from the negative things as well, and she has learned a few things about her relationship with Daryl. She is totally grateful with everything. She believes she has grown as a person because of this relationship. She wasn't able to help Daryl grow, but maybe, in retrospect, "something that I did do was to help him start to grow now." As stated above, she feels that he is just beginning to come out of his enclosed space.
Today, May 8th, is Toni's birthday. She proudly tells me that she is seventy-five. I'm convinced that there is an aging portrait in her attic.
She refers to this time as the "last checked box". When we are given applications that ask us how old
Toni Tennille today with niece and book co-author Caroline
we are, and they give us several options, there is that last age bracket. Toni says he has arrived at that last option. She is thinking, realistically, if she stays as healthy as she is now, she has another good fifteen to twenty really good years in which she doesn't have to depend on somebody else to help her. She is going to make the most of them but she is going to do it quietly. That is her preference. After she has done all that she can to help this book succeed, with hopes that her niece Caroline (who is a wonderful writer) gets launched on her own career as an author, she is going to live the way that Harper Lee did at the end of her life. She lived in Monroeville, Alabama.
She lived quietly but she was far from being a recluse. She lived a very happy life with family and
friends. That sounds like a dream for Toni and is exactly what she desires. That's not to say that she would not like to do more creative things, but she is thinking of things that would kind of keep her under the radar.
She did her own audio book of this book which is out now. She found that a great joy and she would love to read for other authors. She would love to do voice work for animated films. She can do that without having to worry about her hair or her make-up or what gown she's going to wear or that kind of stuff. "I can just do it under the radar". That is her idea of a wonderful life.
She misses the singing, although it was difficult for her because she has allergies that affect her voice and "stuff like that". She had to deal with theater mold and dust and smoke. She lived through all that worrying constantly about her voice while she was performing. "Will I be good enough so I can get through a show and give the audience the best?" She remembers so many concerts in which it was just a chore for her. The rest of the stuff, ie, the dressing up, getting on a plane and flying around the world, etc, she never liked that part.
She loved the performing part and she loved the television work that she did. She was very comfortable doing their television work. Daryl wasn't. He hated it. I watched it every week.
The day of my interview I took questions from Facebook. We had fun answering those questions.

Frank Tennille withToni's mother, Cathryn, Toni, 5, and Jane, 3
Who was your first mentor in music?  
My first mentor in music was my father. He was a big band singer in the late 1930s. He sang with Bob Crosby and His Bobcats.
Daddy had to leave show business that he loved so much and go back home to Alabama and take over the family business. I think that was something that absolutely broke his heart. He kept me and my sister Jane, whom I've already said was the closest in age to me. He would sit us down almost daily out in the room where we had the hifi, and he would come in with some record that he wanted to share with us.
It would be Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, the Woody Herman Orchestra, all of these fabulous artists. That's where I learned to love that music.

Toni and her beloved Aussie, Smoky, who was a licensed therapy dog
One thing that I love about Toni, being an animal person, is that she has always been photographed with her dogs. Today, Toni lives in Florida with Bee-Bop and Lula, her two champion Australian shepherds. When she went to Florida, she had Smoky (pictured) who was their uncle. That was her "true heart" dog that she lost a couple of months after she got there, from lymphoma, which just about killed her. She was hoping to do some therapy work with him in Florida, as she had for six years back in Arizona. He was a much loved therapy dog in hospitals there. She now has his two nieces who are beautiful and champions. She has worked with dog agility with them and driven them to championships. 
They don't have the temperament that their uncle had. They are a little bit hyper and a therapy dog needs to be a bit more mellow. 
As we conducted the interview, Lula was lying on Toni's lap. 


Toddy (Jamie Ross) snuggles up to the "Victoria" side of Toni Tennille
Your thoughts about your role in the National Company of Victor/Victoria
It was a real eye opener for me. I had always wanted to do Broadway. That was on my bucket list. I always thought,'How wonderful would that be.' With the direction that my career went with Captain and Tennille, I  sort of put it out of my sights for a while. Then, a friend told me that Julie Andrews was going to be leaving Victor/Victoria on Broadway and you would be great in that part. "Why don't you try for it?" I was living in Northern Arizona at the time. I made a video of myself doing a couple of scenes and singing a couple of songs from the show and sent it off to Blake Edwards and the producers. By the time it got to them and they began to look at it, they had already hired Raquel Welch to take over the show on Broadway.
It closed pretty quickly after that. That did call me and told me they were very interested in me doing the part. Anyway, what I ended up with was the first National Tour. In my own naive way of thinking, I thought, 'I could make that work. I'll probably go to LA for three months and then on to Chicago for three months. That could all be really fun.' The
tour I ended up on was every week or every two weeks going to a new city and it was a lot different from what I thought it would be. I will tell you this: I LOVED IT! I loved my director Mark Hobee.
He was so wise and kind when he was helping me to make the world my own. I loved the kids that I toured with, so full of dreams and excited about actually making a living doing the thing that they loved the most. What I did learn from doing this tour, because of my allergy problems with my voice, doing eight shows a week and basically living like a nun, because I couldn't take any chances being around cigarette smoke and people were still smoking in restaurants ALL THE TIME back then. The kids would come into my dressing room and say, "Hey, Miss T, we're going to this club, and, boy, we would love for us to go with you. We're going to hear this great group." I couldn't go and take the chance. When you are doing eight shows and then you're changing cities every week most of the time. 
Candid snap of Toni Tennille on "Battle of the Network Stars"
I just couldn't do it. It was very hard on me. I kept thinking, 'Would it have been different if I had been in New York and stay in one place?' I think it might have been. Who knows? That was my epiphany. That I was not really made of 'Broadway stuff'.  I did Seth Rudetsky's show in NYC recently, who is GREAT! He said, 'What if  you did a show in which you were only doing one or two numbers. In Victor/Victoria, you are constantly on stage. I said, "I don't know, Seth." He was very cute. He was very encouraging. 

A comment: About thirty years ago, you
sang the National Anthem at a Dodgers game. Then, for a very short time, sat in thedugout right next to me (Facebook reader), You were very nice, very kind, very approachable. I have never forgotten your kindness. 
(Editor's note: This is Robert Goldberg, who is on the Board of Directors for The York Theatre Company in New York).

George Bettinger said how much he loved having you on his radio show recently.  
How sweet! It was fun!! 

Stu Chamberlain remembers you and Daryl coming by their radio show years ago and how much fun you all had. 
You have no idea what these comments mean to me!

Opening Night, Oct 1972, Belasco Theatre
I was an apprentice at South Coast Repertory Theatre. I was Diana Walke then. In 1972, Toni was the co-writer of an ecology themed musical called Mother Earth which made it to Broadway, but, unfortunately, did not last too long. Ask her if she things it should come back today. I think it would be very relevant. Please tell her I think of her often although probably doesn't remember me. I was a groupie with at show. My boyfriend was in the show.
Toni married her first husband Kenneth Shearer in June 1962 and was going by the name Toni Shearer.
Boy, Diana's name sounds familiar. That was so long ago. It was 1969 when Ron Thronsen and I wrote that. That was a show that I learned a big huge lesson with. Ron was also the director. He wrote the lyrics and basically the book and he asked me if I would write the music. I had only written a couple of tunes then, basically for fun. 
For some reason, he thought I could do it, and I did. We were incredibly proud of it. It opened at South Coast Rep in 1970. Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The LA Times, Orange County papers all gave it rave reviews.
Down from Hollywood come all these producer types. 
They all said, "We can take it to Broadway for you" and that kind of thing." Ron and I were so naive that we didn't know that we needed an attorney to look over our contracts that were offered and we signed with absolutely the wrong man and we did not realize till later, to our horror, that we had signed away our creative control of the show. 
What I learned was sometimes you've got to have the lawyers. They will protect you. We never signed another thing after that, at least I never did, until I paid a lawyer to look over everything. You just have to do it. We were so excited that this could move to Broadway. By the time the show did get there, it was not the show that Ron and I had written. It just wasn't. It had been cheapened, I thought. I couldn't even think about it anymore. It broke my heart. 


1981 Toni Tennille Talk Show with Ginger Rogers
Another Comment: Toni is a very skilled interviewer. I loved her talk show. Any chance of that type of work again. 
I was prouder of that talk show than just about anything I have ever done in my whole career. My mother had her own talk show in the 1950s. She was one of the first people to do a live talk show. She was on five days a week on the local NBC affiliate. I watched her and occasionally I would be on her show. I learned a lot from her about interviewing. My show was short-lived, only for a year. It was syndicated and for that reason it was on at different times. Sometimes, in some cities, it would be on at 3AM. Sometimes it would be on
at 10AM. It never found its audience, but I was so proud of the music on that show. One of my fans has posted just about everything I did on that show on Facebook.  Many of these things I had never even seen. I don't think I will ever do it again. I feel that my time has come and gone.
Many fans, myself included, disagree with this last comment. I think she is still relevant. Toni Tennille Interviews Daryl Dragon Click HERE 

What singers influenced you?
Well, they were mostly the good ones. I loved jazz and Big Band singers that my dad taught me about. Ella Fitzgerald, whom I got to sing with on a special we did. This torch song medley is one of the highlights of my life. Sarah Vaughan: I was asked to sing at her memorial service. That was such an honor. Carmen McRae. I'm trying to think of all the great singers I admire. Off the top of my head, it is hard for me to come up with them all. There were many whop meant so much to me. 

What Is Your Favorite and your least favorite of your hits? 
Asking me my favorite hit is like asking me to name my favorite child. It is interesting that a lot of the songs that I love the most were not the songs that were our hits. They are the ones that I call the little gems and jewels that were kind of 'inserted' in our albums. There are those who will take the time to listen to the complete album. They will understand. Although I am finding that is really interesting is that people who are going back and saying, 'Oh, I loved Deep in the Dark, which I wrote, or Don't Forget Me. There were many songs that I wrote that were never released as singles. That gives me some hope that these songs will find a new life, particularly by jazz singers. I can hear them being sung by jazz singers. There is a jazz singer buried inside of me. 

Toni's favorite poem used to be
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
   
Edwin Markham

Toni now realizes that that does not always work for some people. Her philosophy is now "To
Always Be Myself." You can't go wrong if you are what you are. When you start lying about yourself or trying to be something you are not, that's when you fail. That is Toni's philosophy. As Daryl used to say, "Straight ahead. No BS." That's what Toni has tried to do her whole life.

Toni hopes that Captain and Tennille fans that were so disappointed by their divorce will understand her thinking and why she did leave Daryl. And then, for the general reader, and there are many of them out there, based on the emails and letters she has received, she hopes that no matter how old you are, you deserve to find your happiness. Don't be afraid to make the decision that's going to take you there. Even if you are not sure, go ahead and jump. Make the leap and I think you will find it will work for you.
Toni Tennille: A Memoir
Order Your Copy by clicking HERE
Thank you Toni for this interview and thank you Harlan Boll for arranging it!
Now, It Is The Skipper and Tennille! Happy Birthday, Toni!
Thank you, to all of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!


With grateful XOXOXs ,
 



 

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