The ever-intriguing web site Potrzebie reminds me of the incomparable Anita O' Day — the coolest West Coast jazz singer of all time. Her real name was Colton — she changed it to the Pig Latin version of “dough”, because she hoped to make a lot of it. Just about everything she did make went up her arm in the form of heroin, which she finally kicked after a fifteen-year habit. She did it cold turkey on her own in Hawaii — “when I got the chills I lay out in the sun, when I got the fevers I jumped in the water.”
This leads my thoughts to the romance of the South Seas and a song O'Day once recorded, “Pagan Love Song”. Many currents flow through the number. It was written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown for the 1929 film The Pagan. It became the title song for a film Arthur Freed produced in 1950 starring Esther Williams. O'Day recorded it two years later, perhaps to capitalize on its familiarity from the film. It's kind of a silly song but O'Day doesn't goof on it — she sings it straight . . . laid back but straight. “Pagan love,” she seems to say, “yeah, that might be amusing.”
O'Day was a tough lady — she was never interested in “acting girl”, as she called it. When traveling with all-male jazz bands she carried her own luggage and picked up her own checks, as a matter of principle. She can sing a ballad in a way that breaks your heart, but she never asks for sympathy — her style is a kind of antidote to the “broken but brave” emotionalism of Judy Garland in her later concert years.
Check out “Pagan LOve Song” sometime, and the rest of O'Day's work. She hardly ever recorded a bad side.