Like most people, I suppose, I haven’t been able to get Joplin out of my head for the past few days. It’s hard to get your mind around the kind of destruction that occurred there or to imagine how a city can recover from such widespread loss.

In the midst of the disaster I recalled that Joplin was the birthplace of a talented musician and composer — Wayne Shanklin. I don’t know why I know that he was born in Joplin — maybe the same reason I know that Bix Beiderbecke was born in Davenport, but I thought of it this morning when I heard a brief report on WNYC radio about Anna Calvi. The report mentioned that she had recorded “Jezebel” as a single last year. The title apparently refers to the Phoenician woman described in the first and second books of Kings who became queen of Israel but ran afoul of the prophet Elisha. “Jezebel” was one of Wayne Shaklin’s most successful songs, and you can hear Calvi’s take on it by clicking HERE. The newscaster mentioned that Calvi had been influenced by Edith Piaf’s recording, which you can hear by clicking HERE.


Being of a certain age, I associate this song with Frankie Laine, perhaps the only singer whose career lasted 75 years. His interpretation of “Jezebel” is, of course, entirely different from either Piaf’s or Calvi’s. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart in the U.S. I have it on vinyl. You can hear it by clicking HERE.

Wayne Shanklin, who died in 1970, wrote other hits, including “Primose Lane,” “The Big Hurt,” and “Chanson d’Amour,” which was unusual in that it was introduced in 1958 in two recordings — both of them successful. There were outstanding cover versions after that, and the song was used, more than 40 years after it was written, in the soundtrack of the Stanley Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut.”

I see that Langston Hughes also was born in Joplin, as were Robert Cummings, Dennis Weaver, Charles McPherson, and, I’m sure thousands of other folks whose names we don’t know but  who did their best in whatever sphere they chose. Their hometown deserved better than this.



So anyway, I didn’t want to get up yesterday morning, and Turner Classics was playing “High Noon.” I had seen it only about three dozen times, so I decided to watch. It never gets old. Its reputation has grown with the years, and deservedly so. The idea of telling a story in real time when there is virtually no action until the last couple of minutes was a master stroke — although there seems to be some dispute over whose stroke it was.

Unlike most westerns of that period – 1952 – this film is deeply cynical. It seeks to confirm my father-in-law’s frequent pronouncement that “people are no damned good,” as an entire town folds under the threat of the returning reprobate, Frank Miller, and leaves Marshal Will Kane to face Miller and his gang alone – or so they think.

Gary Cooper played the marshal – a good choice for the cerebral lawman, although there were some doubters because Cooper was so much older than his love interest in the film, Grace Kelly.


This film was controversial in a way that illustrates the philosophical polarization of  American society at the time. Carl Foreman wrote the screenplay and was a co-producer with Stanley Kramer, but when Foreman refused to cooperate with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, Kramer basically forced him out of the project and took away his credit as a producer.

John Wayne publicly denounced this film as an allegory about those who failed to support actors and other creative artists who were being badgered by the House committee. Ostensibly, he made “Rio Bravo” as a right-wing response to “High Noon.”  On the other hand, Ronald Reagan took the story at face value and said he liked the portrayal of the marshal as dedicated to law and order and more concerned about the well being of the town than about his own life. Dwight Eisenhower was a fan of “High Noon,” and Bill Clinton had it screened 17 times while he was president.


Besides the concept itself, the cinematography, and the performances by Cooper and the rest of a strong cast — including Lloyd Bridges and Thomas Mitchell — this film owes its status to the title song with words by Ned Washington and music by Dmitri Tiomkin. The song, performed by the great western singer Tex Ritter, drifts into the background again and again, adding to the tension. Frankie Laine’s recording of this song sold a million copies, and I like his performance, but listening to someone other than Ritter sing “High Noon” is like listening to someone other than Johnny Mathis sing “Misty.”

The title song won an Academy Award that year. British film writer Deborah Allison maintains that the film played a pivotal role in movie-movie history. Her interesting article as at THIS LINK.