BetteBack August 10, 1975: Bette Midler Discovers The Manhattan Transfer

Cedar Rapids Gazette
August 10, 1975

The Manhattan Transfer - The Manhattan Transfer (1975)

Their story reads like a scenario out of a 1940s movie musical.

The action opens late one night on a New York City street, where cab driver Tim Hauser picks up a pretty young redhead dressed in hot pants and cape. He explains he’s an out-of-work singer. She introduces herself as Laurel Masse, an aspiring vocalist.

Fade out – and fade into a scene at a west end bar some hours later, where the couple is plotting, planning, fantasizing about making beautiful music together.

Dissolve . . . reintroduce Tim a few weeks later. He’s wandered into a late-night musicians’ party with a fare and tells a pretty brunette he’s an out-of work singer. She introduces herself as Janis Siegel, an aspiring vocalist

Fade out – and fade back into the action several months hence. The* scene is Tim’s walkup apartment – virtually unfurnished except for seemingly unending stacks of cartons containing a vast collection of pop records from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

He impresses the girls with details of his varied professional background that makes him sound – quite accurately – like a young man who, in his 30 years, has been practically everywhere and with almost everyone musically. He started singing with the Criterions in 1958, chalking up the hits, “I Remain Truly Yours” and “Don’t Say Goodbye” with that rhythm and blues group before he moved on to Alan Freed’s “Big Beat Party”.

Dos Passos Novel

Later, he was involved in the production of “Harlem Nocturne’’ by the Viscounts – the top instrumental group of 1959 – worked for four years as disc jockey, formed a group called the Troubadors Three, shared college and coffee house stages with such names as Bill Cosby, Tom Paxton and Buffy’ Sainte Marie, was part of a folk group with Jim Croce and Tommy West, studied musical composition with jazz pianist Bob Bianco – and for a while was part of a soon-defunct country rock congregation named in honor of a John Dos Passos novel about New York City in the ’20s – “Manhattan Transfer”.

Tim confesses he’d love to get back into musical action again – and suggests he and the girls team up.

Laurel, 22, who has attended 14 schools here and abroad as the daughter of a peripatetic business executive,* agrees. She has a good strong voice and plenty of enthusiasm.

Janice, also 22, who has considerable musical knowhow – she organized her first professional singing group in Brooklyn during her junior high school years – is equally eager for the partnership

And so the trio sets out to find another singer with whom they can do four-part harmony. They find Alan Paul, 25, in the Broadway chorus of “Grease”. He’s been singing since his childhood in Newark, New Jersey.

Quartet’s Repertoire

They become a quartet, put together a repertoire of swing, bop and rhythm-and blues songs that ranges from Jimmy Dorsey’s “Blue Champagne” to the early Ink Spots, “That Cat Is High”. They dress themselves up in formal evening attire of the ’40s. They’re soon making musical history of the ’70s.

Within a year the new Manhattan Transfer is being referred to as the hot new underground group of New York.

By 1973, Bette Midler has discovered them, introduced them to her manager – and they’ve made their way to engagements at such prestigious clubs as Trude Heller’s and Reno Sweeney’s.

They’re making it big in the city known as the Big Apple. with newspaper reviewers describing them as “The hottest new nightclub act in town,” with Women’s Wear Daily labeling their efforts, “Simply sensational” . . . with Newsweek adding its stamp of approval – and with admirers ranging from the likes of Andy Warhol to Julie Nixon.

The talent of the foursome adds up to more than the sum of the parts – with a larger-than-life quality that even tually comes to the attention of TV executives. And less than three years after the cab driver named Tim picked up a fare named Laurel – the Manhattan Transfer partners are preparing for their debut as network television stars.

The premiere episode of their CBS summer series which airs today is a chance both for CBS and the Transfer.

If the group can score with a video audience of millions as it has scored with elitist nitery crowds in cosmopolitan cities the direction of musical variety shows might permanently be changed.

Instead of the staid, stiff, pretentious format that marks much TV variety fare, the Transfer will give home viewers what it has been giving nitery fans – a lot of flair, a little choreography and a good deal of humor. Guest stars will step into situations and characters suggested by the songs performed on the show.

Fantasy Characters

“Our idea is to build the series around fantasy characters, in a loose, cinematic style,” explains Laurel.

It is Tim who explains that all four members of the quartet have actively participated in the development of the series. And Alan points out that, “We could either have a group with one leader – or a democracy. And we decided that a democracy would work best for us. If three of us want to do something, and the fourth doesn’t – the majority rules.”

Dissolve . . . flashback to that taxicab scene in 1972 when two young people fantasized about becoming musical stars

Fadeout – and fade back into the summer of ’75 – when CBS’ newest variety celebrities are rushing from production of their TV’ show to headline engagements in Las Vegas . . . at the Los Angeles Greek theater . . . to concert and television engagements in London and Berlin. To headline fame beyond their wildest dreams.

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