Dame Shirley Bassey will celebrate her 77th birthday this Wednesday. In celebration, and to thank her for her three great James Bond Theme songs, The 007 Dossier will be posting articles about this classy Dame all week long. We begin with an article from Ebony Magazine, which dates back to July 1956...
In it we learn that she was reportedly discovered by director Jack Hylton for his musical "Such Is Life", she used to work in Cardiff, Wales for as little as five dollars, and that British television has made a documentary on her life. It states that her first song was a hit even though it was banned due to objectionable content and that during her childhood she was shy but gradually became outspoken. She is passionate about fast cars, so it is fitting that she would later be associated with a certain Aston Martin DB5...
Shirley Bassey pinch-hits for star and steals show
WHEN one of the stars of the London musical, Such Is Life, fell ill suddenly last winter, producer Jack Hylton did a daring thing. He called in a completely unknown Negro singer to pinch-hit for her. The following day, every newspaper in the English capital announced that a new star had been discovered. Her name: Shirley Bassey. Her age: 19.
The saucy, sexy teen-ager, whom critics are comparing to Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt, got her start as a torch singer four years ago in Cardiff, Wales, when she was paid $5 to appear at a workmen’s club near the docks. Today, as the headliner of the London hit show, she earns $1,200 a week and appears destined for international fame. Already a British television station has produced her life story, an American movie company has shown interest in screen-testing her, and an English record firm has seen her first disc, Who’ll Help Me Burn My Candle At Both Ends? become a hit even though it was banned from the air because it seemed “too sexy for popular consumption."
A natural singer with tremendous jazz feeling, Shirley may well be the world's most popular torch singer by the time she is 21.
Photo: New rage Of London, teen-age innocent Shirley Bassey was catapulted to fame by one song, Who'll Help Me Burn My Candle At Both Ends? She sang it, wrote one theatrical critic, “in a way that amounted to vocal arson.”
Photo: Recording Stormy Weather, Shirley seems bent on melting the mike.
Photo: Entertaining fellow-entertainers, she tries to play clarinetist Bill Lewington’s instrument. Shirley once worked in factory in Cardiff for $8.60 a week.
Photo: in control room, Shirley anti manager Mike Sullivan (he discovered her) listen to play-backs of her first record.
Photo: TV director Robert Davis discusses program with Shirley, whose life was televised in 13 half-hour shows.
Photo: Fond Of birds, Shirley feeds pigeons in Trafalgar Square, unconcernedly lets them perch on her head shoulders, arms. A siren on stage, she sheds this personality when show is over, becomes the unaffected youngster she realy is.
Photo: Comedian AI Read, who co-stars with Shirley in revue, joins her and several members of cast for tea. Musical is staged twice nightly at Adelphi Theater. Candle song was written for Shirley by Ross Parker who composed There’ll Always Be An England.
SHIRLEY WAS ONCE QUITE SHY
ONCE SO shy that she would hide under a table to avoid entertaining her mother’s friends, Shirley Bassey 110 longer has any fear of audiences. She shed her misgivings during the rugged years when she toured the English provinces, first as a singer in workmen’s clubs, later as a member of several traveling shows. When she learned how to win over the wooden-faced audiences she often found there, she was ready for London and for the break that brought her to stardom.
The Shirley Bassey that Londoners see onstage is a siren. She wears gilt in her hair, slinks on stage in skin-tight sequined gowns that a too-deep breath could pop. She sings of sin and sex, love and torment in a voice that is at once childish and very, very wicked. When she steps up to a microphone, a kind of wild ecstasy seems to fill her.
Off stage she is a cheerful little pixie, totally lacking in sophistication. Like most teen-agers, she is wild about clothes (“in shades of light blue”), celebrities (with Sammy Davis, Jr., heading the list), fast cars (she intends to buy a Jaguar, if she ever learns to drive).
Photo: in dressing room at Adelphi Theater, Shirley pastes clippings into her scrapbook. Pictures of her mother, five sisters, a brother, hang on walls. Her mother is English, father West Indian. Her parents separated when Shirley was quite young.
THE SONG THAT UPSET LONDON
“When it comes to the question of sin
As Professor Joad would say
Well it all depends on what...
You mean by sin today.
Who'd like to play with fire,
As Satan recommends
Who wants to help me burn
My candle—at both ends'!”
GLAMOR GIRL IN LONDON
Photo: Studying new costume ideas sketched by noted designer Juhni, Shirley bites her nails nervously. She has spent as much as $1,750 for a single, hip-hugging stage gown. When relaxing she usually wears sweater, slacks.
Photo: English dresser, Helen, straightens train of Shirley’s fabulous velvet and white fox gown. Fur alone cost her §1,000.
Photo: Trying on new costume, Shirley has final fitting at elegant Mayfair fashion house of Lehcar where her clothes are made.
Photo: On shopping excursion in Regent Street area, singer tries on pear! necklace, matching earrings. Shirley finally bought the set.
Photo: Introduced to Shirley at Pigallc Restaurant, actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., congratulates her on her rise to fame.
PLAIN JANE AT HOME
Photo: Going home to Cardiff, Shirley sheds all pretense, rushes into the arms of her mother, Mrs. Eliza Jane Bassey, to whom she is genuinely devoted. She sends her mother a generous weekly allowance.
Photo: Warm reunion takes place in living room where Shirley describes her London experiences for two of her older sisters, their children, her mother, and girlfriend Kathleen Morse (2nd from rt.) whom she has known for eight years.
Photo: Devoted aunt, she takes 16-month-old Sharon Denning, her sister Iris' child, for airing in pram along Cardiff street.
Photo: Clutching ice cream cone tightly, niece Susan Denning agrees to swap a taste of vanilla for a taste of Shirley’s lemon.
Photo: Back at Cardiff, Shirley sings once again to audience of Welsh dock workers and housewives at Splott’s Welfare Club where she started her singing career. She recalls spending first $3 she earned there on ice cream cones and a trip to fairgrounds.
[Source: Ebony. July 1956, Vol. 11 Issue 9, p40-45. Copyright © 1956 Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.]