GORHAM – The singer Jane Morgan has been in show business for decades, and her anecdotes about being asked out by Milton Berle and having the Beatles over to dinner speak to both her longevity and good connections.
These days, the singing star from the 1950s and ’60s is focused on preserving her life’s work. For help with that, she has turned to Gorham resident John Stuart, who does work for a wide range of celebrities in his audio studio on the Mosher Road.
Morgan’s songs are being transcribed onto CDs from 78 and 33 records and audiotapes by Stuart. Before contacting Stuart last year, boxes of her recordings had been just piled in a barn at her summer home in Kennebunk. Morgan, whose interest in show business was sparked when she painted sets and served actors food as a young girl in Maine, recently visited Stuart in his studio to work on the project.
“We’re trying to get a library together for my kids,” said Morgan, who is 91.
During the recent meeting with Stuart, Morgan, who was driven to Gorham by chauffeur, reminisced about her career and the people she has known.
Maine has long been a favorite place for Morgan, who recently returned here after extensive travels in Europe.
“I come up to Maine to hide,” Morgan said. “I need time to chill out.”
Widely traveled in her career, she performed internationally as well as here at home. Smash record hits included “Fascination,” and she introduced “What Now My Love” to America.
Morgan regularly appeared on TV variety shows like those of Dean Martin and Ed Sullivan.
She played supper clubs, Broadway, Las Vegas, Hollywood Palace and the White House.
“I did my own specials,” she said and produced her own nightclub shows.
Trained as a classical singer, the versatile Morgan did a radio show with Arturo Toscanini, the famous conductor. She played Nashville with Johnny Cash. She sang “A Girl Named Johnny Cash” and he sang “A Boy Named Sue.”
She toured with Jack Benny and has personally known all the stars, from Westbrook’s own crooner Rudy Vallee to Brad Pitt. She’s been a longtime friend of President George H. and Barbara Bush.
“I know everybody,” said Morgan, who was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in May.
In an audience in France, Morgan saw the Beatles perform and met them backstage even before the group became a sensation. She said they opened a show for Trini Lopez.
She recalled later when the Beatles were coming to her home for dinner. Morgan heard they might be vegetarians and prepared a big spread of food that included a variety of vegetable dishes along with some meats. When Ringo Starr arrived he looked at the food array and asked, “Do you have any cornflakes?”
Remembering the heyday of great comedians, she reeled off a list, including Red Buttons, Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle. “He (Berle) always wanted me to go out with him,” Morgan said.
Today, Bette Midler is among Morgan’s favorite performers. “She’s an entertainer,” Morgan said.
From a career packed with memories, every piece of Morgan’s music has been stashed away and she has hoarded every scrap of correspondence. By happenstance, she recently came across a letter from Vallee written after they were in a show together.
“My mother loved Rudy Vallee,” Morgan said.
Morgan made 40 albums, and she said friends and fans are still finding some missing from her collection.
Stuart estimated he has listened to somewhere between 20 to 40 hours of her work.
“Her tone was always marvelously consistent,” Stuart said.
To preserve her songs, Morgan contacted Stuart through Pearl Sciaraffa of Westbrook, who Morgan described as a “lovely lady who worked for me.”
“We had all these records in the barn and wanted them transcribed to CDs,” Morgan said. “She found John for me.”
“She (Morgan) just called up,” Stuart said.
Other clients Stuart has worked with this year include Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. Stuart arranged and sang on an album for Stookey that was nominated for a Grammy award, and he once toured with Stookey. Stuart has also written music for Sesame Street and produced music for Captain Kangaroo. He performs locally with Rick Charette.
Stuart said Sciaraffa had been a member of a group he recorded.
“Jane Morgan is my most favorite artist,” Sciaraffa said. “I truly appreciate her musical talent, I’m a No. 1 fan. She’s wonderful.”
Morgan’s career took a back seat to raise a family and devote time to philanthropic work. Morgan is the mother of four children – a son and three daughters – and has five grandchildren.
Her husband is promoter and film producer Jerry Weintraub, a giant in the entertainment industry. Morgan said they were wed 46 years ago.
Besides all the stars her husband has managed and promoted, she said her husband was also a friend of the late business magnate Armand Hammer. She said her husband was like a son to Hammer.
“I sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him (Hammer) every year,” Morgan said.
Weintraub promoted Elvis Presley concerts and has produced movies, including “Karate Kid” and “Oh, God.”
Morgan said her husband put Burns in the film “Oh, God,” but some people connected with the production worried about Burns’ age – he was in his 80s. Critics of the choice feared Burns couldn’t memorize his lines.
But, she said, when the cast members, which included John Denver, gathered to read their lines, she said Burns not only knew his lines “by heart, he memorized the entire script.”
She said the biggest problem was that Burns wanted to wear his toupee in the movie, but her husband contented that God wouldn’t wear one. Weintraub solved the dilemma.
“Jerry said, ‘I got it. God wears a hat,’” Morgan said.
As a youngster, Morgan came to Maine with her parents, who were musicians. Her mother was a pianist and her father played with the Boston Symphony. Her brother, Robert Currier, started the Kennebunkport Playhouse in the 1930s.
Morgan recalled waiting on tables for actors, painting scenery and helping usher. Her brother’s playhouse birthed Morgan’s career in show business.
Morgan studied at the Juilliard School in New York to become a classical singer, but switched to pop. After becoming well known, she performed at her brother’s playhouse.
Morgan’s star rose in France as an American performing with an orchestra in Paris. She learned French and stayed five years. The orchestra leader had promised he’d make her a star and the promise came true.
She returned to the states as a celebrity in the early 1950s and to TV appearances.
“Ed Sullivan was greatly responsible for my success here,” Morgan recalled.
But, her performances have seemed rare in recent years. Morgan was in a documentary, “His Way,” shown on HBO this year, which is about “Jerry’s life and what has happened to us.”
Although its no secret he has had a longtime girlfriend, the couple remains married.
She performed last year for her husband, who was being honored at a UNICEF ball. Morgan told of receiving a standing ovation in the middle of her songs.
“I knocked them all out of the box,” she said about the star-studded group of performers.
Weintraub, with Rich Cohen, wrote a memoir, “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead,” and she has a book of her own in mind.
But, when asked whether she’d consider a singing tour, Morgan, who said it would involve considerable work, didn’t appear amenable.
She cited a lifetime of work with a big house, kids, social events and charities.
“I’ve worked since 5 or 6 (years of age), ’’ Morgan said. “I worked through high school, I’ve worked my whole life.
“I want longevity to have a good time,” she said before going home to Malibu, Calif., after her meeting with Stuart in the sound studio.
“She’s quite a firecracker,” said Stuart.