Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jackie Gleason's Lovers' Portfolio (1962)


I love this time capsule relic. Jackie Gleason's Lovers' Portfolio is a sophisticated, Kennedy era seduction kit, two records of decent to strong big band jazz and orchestral standards (I May Be Wrong; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; I Could Have Danced All Night; C'est Magnifique; I Concentrate On You; It All Depends On You; The Party's Over; etc.) packaged in a faux leather slipcase complete with a how-to manual and period-perfect illustrations. "Dear Lovers," a Capital Record promo man—I mean, Gleason—writes on the back. "Inside this portfolio you will find 41 of my favorite melodies pertinent to the perfect evening with someone special. I have also included a special booklet with helpful suggestions for sippin', listenin', dancin' and lovin'. Your friend, j.g." ("Good luck!!" he adds in a hopeful P.S.)

If you've been hooked and have brought this James Bond-like amatory attache back home with you, The Great One confides more intimately in the inside booklet:
During the past few years, all of my albums have been carefully designed to create a special mood. And not infrequently, a thoroughly contented individual assures me my music has provided the background inspiration for a romantic interlude. This always gives me a decided, if somewhat vicarious, thrill. After all, one of life’s more satisfying roles is that of Dan Cupid.
   But this album goes a step further than my previous efforts. Here we've assembled additional ingredients for an evening of romance.
   Of course, music is basic to romance. Music, the gentle soother…subtle evoker of many spells. So we include a considerable variety of music to create the several moods necessary for a memorable evening.
   The meticulous handling of the refreshments is vital to romance. So we include advice on preparing the more elegant beverages.
   As a stimulant to motivating subtle conversation, we intersperse some classical poetry which deals with romance to meet the mood.
   Naturally your choice of drink and drinking partner is strictly a matter of individual taste and discrimination.
  What we have done is to assemble the literary components into chronological steps, from the evening's beginning to its end, each containing pertinent comments by yours truly.
 
WARNING: What follows is merely an aid to help you over those conversational lulls that might arise during any evening. It is designed to stimulate your imagination and creative instincts. For after all, the real key to delightful romance is inspired improvisation.
   Here, then, is my “Lovers’ Portfolio.”
Great stuff. The drink suggestions range from tasteful wines and champagnes to Panama Paradise and Gleason's Delight (Cognac, gin, Creme de Menthe, powdered sugar on a tissue onto which is dipped "the lightly-moistened lips of a tall, very thin, frosted glass." Chic!), plus nitecaps (if you get that far). As for the "classical poetry"? Fill in the awkward silences with can't-miss verse of public domain Shakespeare: What is love? 'tis not hereafter; / Present mirth hath present laughter. If you're lucky enough to reach side four (Music for Lovin') and your girl's still around, whisper some Beilby Porteus in her ear: Love is something so divine, / Description would but make it less; / 'Tis what I feel, but can't define, / 'Tis what I know, but can't express. Ladies, who can resist, am I right? Fella, when you've got Jackie G. pulling the strings for you, it's a sure score.

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Lower the lights...







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I snagged Lovers' Portfolio in a thrift shop years ago and I've always wondered on its blend of earnestness and cynicism. Capital Records was mining Gleason's popularity (the album reached a disappointing 130 on Billboard) and certainly the set is of its era. But is the corniness back-dated? Am I looking at this with a jaded eye? Imagining more smarminess than was intended? Probably not. Was there any skinny young guy, urban or otherwise, who actually believed the promises this set makes, or who took the concerted "chronological steps" in trying to bed his secretary or the girl next door? When I look at the manual and illustrations I'm at pains to import myself into 1962, a pre-Irony era where Madison Avenue was as smart and cynical as ever (witness Mad Men) yet where a certain innocence prevailed, where Middle Class aspiring and weekend sophistication made items like Lovers' Portfolio possible for homes where Art, in the form of copies of the Masters purchased in sets-of-twelve from MOMA or the National Gallery, still hung on the paneled walls of dens and bedrooms. The carpe diem thrust of the manual's heavy-panting, however suavely presented, is nothing new, of course—every generation since the first has been sippin', listenin', dancin' and lovin'—but the pre-Beatles, guile-free hopefulness and faux worldliness embodied in this set never fail to charm me, even as I smirk.

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