I Coulda Been a Contender

The incomparable Ella Scandela! (You didn't think I went by own name, did you?)

The incomparable Ella Scandela! (You didn’t think I went by own name, did you?)

My daughter called me this weekend to tell me she had just seen the 1954 film, “On the Waterfront,” with the score performed live by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Now, I got to tell you, my daughter is very smart. I know this because she explained to me that as she was watching the film she thought the score sounded similar to the music from “West Side Story.” Turns out, she had good reason to think that. Leonard Bernstein scored both!

So, as she was filling me in on her experience and what she learned about the film and the McCarthy Era, she uttered what is probably Marlon Brando’s most famous line from the film:

“I coulda been a contender.”

And that reminded me: I coulda been a contender, too!

For in the early 80s I had a brush with fame. Yes, I was beltin’ out the tunes and dancin’ up a storm. I was hitting the high notes and smacking the low ones, much to my voice instructor’s chagrin.

My voice instructor who once said, “Kid, you’ll never play in Topeka. (Or Cleveland, or Baton Rouge or Bayonne, New Jersey, for that matter.) But that didn’t stop me. No sir!

That's me with my Clare, who accompanied me on piano, and my "agent," though after two appearances at Matzoh Mamma's, he never got me another gig. Sigh.

That’s me with Clare, who accompanied me on piano, and my “agent” who, after two appearances at Matzoh Mamma’s, never succeeded in getting me another gig. Sigh.

For about 15 minutes, I was convinced that fame and fortune were at my fingertips. Mine for the taking. I was sure I was headed for the Great White Way! “The hip hooray and ballyhoo, the lullaby of Broadway.”

Yep that was gonna be me. But I had to start somewhere and that somewhere was off, off, off, off, off, off Broadway. Totally off, as in off-your-rocker off. In other words, somewhere in Seattle—not too far from where Jimi Hendrix had been buried–at a little deli in Capitol Hill, once known as Matzoh Momma’s.

Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little. Maybe all this talk of fame is a bunch of malarkey. Who knows what could’ve happened had I played my cards right. Don’t blame me. Blame the ham inside me hankering to belt out a song like there’s no tomorrow.

So, where was I?

Oh yes. There I was, at Matzoh Momma’s singing on Open Mike night and believe you me, I went all out. I was accompanied by the best pianist in Seattle: Clare, my good friend and a member of the folk-rock group known as The Righteous Mothers. And together, we’d swing to the tunes of the Big Band Era, including my signature hit, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” by Cole Porter. I certainly gave Mary Martin a run for her money, I kid you not.

Anyway, I was so, ahem, talented, the restaurant’s management invited me back the following week, and this time I brought the house down. Yes, I was so loud and off-key, that an ordinance was issued bringing the house down and banning me from ever again singing in public.

Ella Scandela 1And that was my very brief brush with fame. I coulda been a contender but instead I settled on just being me.

Yet, despite everything, I’d do it all over again if I could and wouldn’t change a thing. I had fun. Gads of it. Besides, dressing like a songstress from the forties was okay by me. Not sure you can tell, but that dress I wore was purple which, thereafter, became my favorite color.

Come on along and listen to
The lullaby of Broadway
The hip hooray and ballyhoo
The lullaby of Broadway
The rumble of a subway train
The rattle of the taxis
The daffydils who entertain
At Angelo’s and Maxi’s

When a Broadway baby says good night
It’s early in the morning
Manhattan babies don’t sleep tight
Until the dawn

Good night, baby
Good night, the milkman’s on his way
Sleep tight, baby
Sleep tight, let’s call it a day

Back in the day, I knocked that song out of the park. Glory days. Me and Marlon Brando. We coulda been contenders. And somehow, just maybe we were.

15 thoughts on “I Coulda Been a Contender

  1. What do you mean you “settled on being you”? Methinks that’s a wonderful thing, my funny, intelligent friend! Yes, you could of been a contender but instead you’re a gifted writer and exceptional human being. Not too shabby, if you ask me! 🙂

    • What I meant to say was, I settled on being me and that proved to be a good thing. It’s not easy being true to yourself, not when there are other forces around you trying to control you. I can think of a few, no longer in my life, who tried to do just that.

    • My voice was never American Idol worthy, not by any means, but I could carry a tune. Nowadays, with age, I don’t really sing much. I find it hard to hit the high notes. I was in choir in high school and loved hitting the high notes then. Oh well.

  2. I’d belt out a tune with you any day Monica, I don’t care that I can’t sing, and could empty a room faster than I can type or text. I’m a classic film kinda girl, so I’m with you. You look so fabulous in that dress, I do see the purple.. aren’t you marvelous up there. I have not seen ‘On the Waterfront,’ so guess what’s on my to-watch list?

    • The dress was purple with lavender trim. By the way, did you notice my shimmery tights? Ooh la la!

      I’m so glad you love the classics, but then I’m not surprised. You and I have so much in common! I would love to have you over and watch films all day. I have quite a collection of cinema greats!

  3. You are sooooooooo adorable!
    Just watched ON THE WATERFRONT about 4 years ago.
    I called my dad and said, “YOU were right, daddy, it is a classic!!”
    ***I coulda been a contender****
    OMGosh, we can all identify, right? xxxx

    • You are amazing! Thank you for the compliment. Much appreciated! When it comes to movies, I just love the classics. When my kids were little, that’s all we watched. They are quite familiar with the greats–James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn and so on. We loved the oldies but goodies. Still do!

  4. Who knew, Monica?? Looks like so much fun! I was far too shy to perform in public (the chief reason I opted not to be a music major in college!). The best I could do was perform with others (band, choir, etc.) — ’twas lots of fun, though, and I totally get how badly you wanted to do this. I guess we all have our talents and should be developing them and grateful for them, despite wondering why we can’t swap them with somebody else, ha!

  5. Interesting post Monica.

    My late mother could sing, she trained for seven years and in later life was in a singing group that went round old folks homes singing to people who were younger than they were.

    She also helped pen a pop tune in the 1960’s that charted in the UK.

    As for me, well I am tone deaf, I can sing the right notes but always in the wrong order.

    I think that as we get older, we look back on lot’s of things and think what if we had just done something differently how different our lives could have possibly have been.

    The problem with that of course is that if we had done so we would be in a different place now and perhaps worse off. Good is always counterbalanced by the not so good.

    Perhaps you should start a channel on youtube and belt out the classics accompanied by Henry and Oliver in the background with harmonising howls!!

    Just a thought!!!! You could call your little group Monica and the howlers!!!!

    • Robert, don’t be fooled. My singing voice was never in a league of Adele or Judy Garland. It was sweet, pleasant. That’s about it. But I enjoyed it. In any case, time has done a number on what I once was capable of. Now, it’s all I can do to not sound off-key. My dogs carry a tune better than I do. 😉

      • But the important thing is to enjoy it and have fun. As long as you did that then you’re OK.

        There are many famous singers who can just hold a note on a good day but they do fine!!

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