On Tuesday, January 11, Richard (my man friend) and I were invited to have
lunch with legendary songwriter Mike Stoller in West Hollywood, California. Mike
survived the Andrea Doria tragedy with me after spending three months
traveling through Europe, paid for with a royalty check received for
the song, “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots.” Stoller is one
half of the famous duo Leiber and Stoller; he writes the music and Leiber
writes the lyrics. Together, they have been dubbed “The Founding Father of Rock & Roll.”
The pop-culture public may be familiar with Mike via this is
famous dialogue exchanged on a New York Pier after our survival. It is
published in chapter 7 of “Alive in the Andrea Doria”.
Jerry (who met him at the pier): Oh man, you’re okay! Hey, Mike,
we’ve got a smash hit!
Mike: No kidding?
Jerry: I’m not kidding…’Hound Dog’.
Mike: Big Mama Door Thornton?
Jerry: No, some white kid named Elvis Presley.
Last spring, Leiber and Stoller’s autobiography, “Hound Dog” was
published by Simon & Schuster. Mike was proud to share with us that he
had just sold rights to a French publishing house. Then, he graciously
gifted me a copy of the French version of “Hound Dog”.
We were cordially greeted in his office by his son Peter, who is
researching and documenting his dad’s legacy; in particular, he is
searching for every recording that has ever been made of Leiber & Stoller
songs. The office, on the seventh floor of a building on Sunset Blvd., had
walls covered with paintings of famous African-American blues musicians.
Because of their generous size, they nearly dwarfed two famous photographs
of the songwriting duo: one with them standing ( as if dancing) on their star
on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Another photo is with President Clinton in
the Oval Office; Clinton is a huge fan of Elvis Presley and Leiber and Stoller.
Mike offered to take us to any of the local ethnic eateries. I chose
Thai, which proved to be a great choice. As Richard and I chatted with the
congenial songwriter, I relished every moment of the conversation, which
covered everything from our life doings to the idea of having Mike write a
film score– should there be a movie on the Andrea Doria.
There was not a moment of silence as the conversation flowed along with the
Thai iced tea.
Upon returning to his office– after nearly 2 hours later– Richard asked
the rock, rhythm and blues giant if he could do some special effects
portraits of him. Mike accepted with the caveat that he had to get back
home soon, where he writes his music, while enjoying the view from his
Hillside home. The composer sat at the keyboard and gently stroked the
keys as Richard clicked the camera. It was a magical moment!
As a young girl dancing wildly to “Hound Dog” to the juke box in a family
basement, I could never have imagined having lunch with the composer–
and discovering that he had survived the Doria with me! I feel blessed to be able to call Mike Stoller a friend.
You can learn more about Mike and the hundreds of songs he wrote that
influenced pop music from 1950 to today at http://www.leiberstoller.com/
His new musical, The People in the Picture, is being released on Broadway
at the end of April.