Let’s talk cost cutting, serious cost cutting.
By February 1942, the executives at the Mills Novelty Company knew that they were in trouble. Aluminum had become an essential part of the war effort and was no longer available for the production and sale of the Panoram. Although that major income source was eliminated, Mills was still obligated to release eight Soundies each week, with only minimal income derived through rental fees.
As Ira Gershwin asked, “What to do, what to do, what to do?” One answer was to record soundtracks and then use them to back inexpensive dance or novelty routines. Such is the case with Close Shave.
The famed John Kirby Sextet found itself in Chicago on the eve of the recording ban. On July 30, 1942, they recorded three soundtracks at the Chicago Film Laboratory. Kirby’s group included stalwarts Charlie Shavers, Russell Procope, Buster Bailey and Billy Kyle. While drummer O’Neill Spencer’s name was on the contract, it is crossed off. Drummer Hal Smith and I are rather certain that it is “Specs” Powell.
The soundtracks were then shipped to Los Angeles where they were used in Soundies that did not include the Kirby band on screen. Close Shave features an important dance duo that had been active since the mid 1920s. Aurora Greeley and Leroy Broomfield was known for a decade-and-a half as interpretive tap dancers. They performed throughout Southern California, and musicologist Steven Lasker points out that they performed at Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club (located in Culver City) in 1928.
Beginning in the early 1940s, however, they moved effortlessly into teaching, choreography and the production of nightclub revues. Their home base, beginning in 1942, when this Soundie was produced, and extending into 1944, was the Bal-Tabarin Café. California. The club, although located in all-white Gardena. featured African American revues for many years. (It would not be until 1949 when Blacks would be welcomed as a part of the audience.)
Once again Soundies takes us back in time, sharing what was likely the type of production number shared at a local niterie. It is the only example of the two closely working together on the dance floor, and with John Kirby’s music in the background, we know that it works well.