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Pianist and bandleader Eddy Duchin, famous for his work with the Leo Reisman orchestra at the Central Park Casino, died of leukemia at 40 on this date in 1951. Duchin, who had no formal training, called his sound “sweet music” instead of jazz and presaged the floral, expressive style of Liberace. He was fond of using soft-voiced singers with his orchestra. Duchin achieved enormous popularity on the radio, but his career was cut short by World War II, in which he served as a naval combat officer, and he was unable to stage much of a comeback after the war. In 1956, Columbia Pictures produced a tearjerker biography called The Eddy Duchin Story, starring Tyrone Power in the title role, with Kim Novak as his love interest. Duchin’s son Peter became a bandleader and music writer of great note. To hear Eddy Duchin playing, look below. To see Liberace playing a Duchin medley, look further below.
“Marjorie Oelrichs Duchin . . . was described by newspapers at the time of her marriage as a ‘New York and Newport socialite,’ though by marrying Eddy Duchin, a Jew and an entertainer, she was forced to relinquish her spot in the Social Register. When she died a few days after giving birth to Peter, his father was apparently so pained, and certain that his frail newborn son was also dying, that he decided to go on an extensive tour with his orchestra. Peter ended up being raised amid extraordinary wealth and privilege by his godparents, W. Averell and Marie Harriman. Mr. Harriman, in addition to having served on President Harry S. Truman’s cabinet, and governor of New York, was also one of the richest men in the country.” --Eric Konigsberg, New York Times
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.