Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Morning, Hopelessly Hollywood: Collaborating at College with a Composer Destined to Make Movieland History

During my senior year at San Francisco State College, while preparing to produce and direct the annual student revue, Kampus Kapers, one of the respondents to my call for original songs was a very young Shirley Rogers. All of 20 years.  So talented was she, that she ended up not only setting the lyrics of others to music, but also orchestrating the entire score and composing a haunting ballet of modern symphonic depth, Market Street. 

She was eager and polite, very efficiently organized, all business-like.  . 

Here, from my book, Hopelessly Hollywood:

Shirley Rogers was also the first person to score a lyric of mine; what a day to remember when we adjourned into a small piano practice room and she played the music she had written for the song that would open the show.  The notes were thrillingly strange, taking my words in a direction I’d never imagined when I first drafted them to my own dummy melody:

                        Kick up the Kapers again!
                        Stick out your hearts
                        Stir up a fuss
                       This is the show that is us!

The verse may read, yes, corny, but Shirley’s sophisticated setting, full of subtle modulations on a forceful ascent, was anything but.

 Whatever in the world happened to her?

In the years ahead, four members from the Kapers cast would reach Broadway stages.  As for Shirley Rogers, I had hoped to write a musical about the Ringling brothers, believing that she would be the ideal composer, but my reaching out to her was not returned.  My student revue had been a step in her career, and she was onto a step higher than that.  Much higher. Whatever happened to her, however, became a mystery for me, lasting many years.  My friend Mike, of Kapers days, only knew that she was composing music for industrial films. Now and then I would google "Shirley Rogers" and come up with nothing.

A few years ago, by sheer serendipity, I discovered that Shirley Rogers had become one of the first female composers to earn solo score credit on a major Hollywood motion picture.  And while she did not achieve populist fame, she was highly respected and revered within the industry.  Prolifically active, she scored and/or conducted music for TV and film, much of it at Warner Brothers.

Why had I been unable to find anything about Shirley Rogers?  Because, when she married, she took the name of her husband and became Shirley Walker. 

 She died, following a stroke, in 2006.

What a talent. What a day in that small piano practice room, when, for the first time, I heard somebody else's music to my verse.

                        Gosh, but the feeling was strong
                        We were on edge moments ago,
                        Now we are bursting to go!

Charlie Berliner, left, a member of the cast, and the director.  They always love you before the show opens!

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