Yesterday (3/17/2017) was the birthday of one of my favorite singers Nat King Cole. Recently, while writing a long short story about an aspiring model coming of age in 1950s Harlem for an upcoming anthology, I played Cole’s enchanting version of “Smile” constantly for inspiration. Part of my process involves listening to lots of music from whatever period I’m writing about and I returned to this track constantly during the intense three months it took me to construct the 8,000 words first draft.
Coincidentally, in February I was at my favorite writer’s colony Palmer/Fredrick Manor when I finally watched the 1975 film Smile; the Altmanesque film features Cole’s version over the opening credits. One day I’ll write an essay about how much I enjoyed that flick, which was written by "The Odd Couple" series scribe Jerry Belson and directed by the underappreciated Michael Ritchie.
The song “Smile” has a strange history in that silent screen star Charlie Chaplin wrote the music in 1936 for his film Modern Times, but the lyrics were not penned until 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. Of course, there are many versions of “Smile,” including a stunner by Michael Jackson, who often said that the song was his favorite, but for my Monopoly money it’s all about brother Nat.