Dream Lucky: When FDR was in the White House, Count Basie was on the radio, and everyone wore a hat...

Dream Lucky: When FDR was in the White House, Count Basie was on the radio, and everyone wore a hat...

by Roxane Orgill

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The time: 1936-1938. The mood: Hopeful. It wasn't wartime, not yet. The music: The incomparable Count Basie and Benny Goodman, among others. The setting: Living rooms across America and, most of all, New York City.

Dream Lucky covers politics, race, religion, arts, and sports, but the central focus is the period's soundtrack—specifically big band jazz—and the big-hearted piano player William "Count" Basie. His ascent is the narrative thread of the book—how he made it and what made his music different from the rest. But many other stories weave in and out: Amelia Earhart pursues her dream of flying "around the world at its waistline." Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., stages a boycott on 125th Street. And Mae West shocks radio listeners as a naked Eve tempting the snake.

Critic Nat Hentoff praises the "precise originality" with which Roxane Orgill writes about music. In Dream Lucky, she magically lets readers hear the past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061866067
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 512 KB

About the Author

Roxane Orgill is the author of a number of notable books for children and young adults, including the recent Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire. She has also been an award-winning music critic whose reviews and articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Billboard. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

Dream Lucky

Chapter One

Joe: Round One

June 19, 1936

Start with 39,878 paying customers in Yankee Stadium. Add the papered seats, including those for Joe Louis's mother, Lillie Barrow Brooks; his stunning wife, Marva, in a fiery red suede chapeau and gloves and shoes to match; seven hundred newspapermen; and the nonpaying hundreds who peered down from the upper stories and roofs and fire escapes of the surrounding Bronx apartment houses. Add the riders of Interboro Rapid Transit who caught a glimpse of the stadium from their train near the 161st Street stop.

Add the German movie star Anny Ondra, who never attended her husband's fights but listened via shortwave radio in a country house near Potsdam, Germany.

Back in New York, add the people listening to the radios in the Harlem gin mills with signs posted "Joe Louis Headquarters," and the people downtown listening via loudspeakers set up on the corner of Eighty-sixth and Lexington and outside Rockefeller Center. Heading west, north, and south, add all the radios in taverns, lunchrooms, general stores, railroad stations, pool halls, automobiles, and living rooms across the country—one in two Americans owned a radio.

In sum, probably sixty million people experienced the tilt between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling on a cloudy, damp evening in June 1936.

On the radio Clem McCarthy, who always sounded like he had rocks in his cheeks, ground out the words faster than a telegraph operator. The only way to hear was to shush everybody in the room and lean in close to the Silvertone. "A right hand high on Louis's jaw that made Louis rock his head. . .."

It was a strange beginning, considering that the odds were in Joe's favor eight to one.

In the most general way, whites favored thorough, methodical Schmeling simply because he was white. They were willing to overlook the offense of his being so buddy-buddy with Hitler and his associates. He was white—that's what counted when you were going against a black man in the boxing ring. A Negro had no place in the ring.

Remember Jack Johnson? Who could forget the first black man to hold the heavyweight boxing title? Cocky, spoke whatever was on his mind, had no respect for white authority. Johnson had lost his title back in 1915, but memories were long when it came to rich niggers running with white women. Johnson not only ran with them; he married three of them. His biggest mistake, though, was a seemingly small thing: He paid a white lady's bus fare across state lines. That was against the Mann Act, passed to halt transport of females for "immoral purposes." Johnson fled the country rather than face the charges.

Louis was a different kind of man, but white folks didn't pay any mind. A Negro had no place in the ring.

Naturally, Negroes backed Louis, but not just because his skin was brown—"coffee with double cream" in the eyes of one female admirer. And not just because he was quick and had a murderous right cross. Negroes stopped him on the corner, at the gas station, in a restaurant to tell him, "Way to go, Brown Bomber. Show the white man who we are!" Joe was serious and sober, respectful. Unlike Johnson, he had taken a woman from his race for a wife. He fought fair, and he gave a ton of money away. Goodness and ability madeJoe the Last Great Hope, the one who was going to deliver Negroes from slavery once and forever. He was the New Day.

The Bomber had won twenty-seven fights in a row, all but four of them knockouts. He was twenty-two to Schmeling's thirty, and six pounds heavier than Schmeling's one hundred and ninety-two. No way could Joe lose. He himself was so casual about the match that he brought his new wife and his golf clubs to training camp in Lakewood, New Jersey. More than once he sneaked off to play eighteen holes. Meanwhile, Schmeling, at camp in the Catskills, ran uphill and down for hundreds of miles to build endurance, and drank exclusively German mineral water.

On the train ride up to New York, Joe played "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" on his harmonica for fifteen minutes and then slept soundly in his gray pinstripe suit for the rest of the two-hour trip. Max had a long, harrowing drive downstate in the pouring rain.

On the radio, McCarthy was spitting words like watermelon seeds. "A right hand high on Louis's jaw that made Louis rock his head. Schmeling has sent Louis down. Joe Louis is down!" It was the fourth round, and the Bomber was on the canvas for the first time in his professional career. He was so unaccustomed to working the count to his advantage that he quickly stood up again. "He did not wait for the count! He got up on the count of two! Schmeling came back at him and gave him another right! Schmeling is pouring in now . . ." It wasn't possible; Joe was taking a beating. The crowd was screaming so loud the fighters didn't hear the bell to end round four, and they went on hammering.

Lillie, seated ringside, screamed, "Don't kill myboy, dear Lord!" A family friend carted her out of the stadium before she got too hysterical. Marva, in the fifth row, would have left, too, but some magazine woman was peppering her with questions, pinning Marva in her seat. "Joe, honey, get up! Get up!" she shouted.

In general stores, mothers perched on upturned wooden boxes let squirmy children slip from their laps. In taverns, nearly full beer bottles stood still as soldiers along the bar. At intersections, automobiles idled, their drivers unseeing as stoplights shone green, red, and green again.

In Kansas City, in the stuffy parlor at Aunt Lucy's boardinghouse, where everybody was glued to the radio turned up all the way, Bill Basie couldn't take it anymore. He was thirty-two, a short, stocky man, very dark, with surprisingly long fingers: a piano player. He had a small, neat mustache and a full lower lip that was often turned up in a sunny smile. But not right now. Basie went outside and lay in the floppy hammock strung between two trees, to wait.

Dream Lucky. Copyright ? by Roxane Orgill. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Dream Lucky: When FDR Was in the White House, Count Basie Was on the Radio, and Everyone Wore a Hat... 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
benjclark on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This review is of the Uncorrected Proof. Remember that time in 6th grade you were to write a biography of Otto von Bismarck and you thought he invented the Bismarck donut, but he didn't? So you fluffed up the Britannica's three paragraphs out to two pages and your teacher wrote "Reads like you talk"? Remember? Unfortunately, that is how this book reads. It's either a poorly written novel or a bound set of notes for someone's history term paper. Readers cannot be sure as there are no footnotes although the many subjects are quoted extensively in what seem to be private thoughts and conversations. There are some notes dumped into the back, but no way to tell how these notes inform the text. The clunky writing smells like a junior high. I didn't care for the style, but the use of language was just bad. Diagramming sentences from passive into active voice bored me, and I enjoy dissecting sentences. Avoid.
harumph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although I'm a history major, I don't often read nonfiction for fun. This book, however, not only discusses some of my favourite themes (swing music and the 30's in general), but does so in a surprisingly easy-to-read manner. One of the reviews called the book "danceable", and I agree that it certainly has a rhythm that is easy to get into. While the focus is on Count Basie and his rise to stardom in the big band scene, Orgill also discusses what else was going on in the USA at that point, to further set the scene. Her discussion bounces from boxing (Joe Louis and Max Schmeling) to Amelia Earhart to Eleanor and FDR to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. to Edgar Burgen and George Burns (and Gracie Allen, too, of course), and back again. It almost reads like a whirlwind, but once you start, it's difficult to put down.
BeachWriter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Billie Holiday performing in blackface, Eleanor Roosevelt sharing a racially stereotyped joke with her newspaper readers, Benny Goodman dropping by a black jazz club to listen to Count Basie play: These sound like scenes from an imaginative historical novel, but they are among the delightful and tantalizing historical events reported in ¿Dream Lucky: When FDR was in the White House, Count Basie was on the radio, and everyone wore a hat¿¿Author Roxane Orgill, a former music critic who in recent years has written books for children, turned to the period from 1936 and 1938 and the emergence of swing as the dominant American music of the era for her first book for grown-ups. Some of the stories are outrageous: Mrs. Roosevelt, who in later years was reviled by liberals, writing in her daily newspaper column, ¿Many of us do not appreciate what we owe the colored race for its good humor and its quaint ways of saying and doing things,¿ before reprinting tasteless dialect joke from a book called ¿Chocolate Drops from the South;¿ a club manager in Detroit who insisted Billie Holiday wear black greasepaint because she looked white next to the members of Count Basie¿s orchestra; Adolf Hitler wishing boxer Max Schmeling ¿every success¿ in his fight with Joe Louis.¿Dream Lucky¿ ¿ the name comes from a Jimmy Rushing song ¿ offers a series of well documented historical vignettes, people by names like Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Orson Welles, and Lanston Hughes. It recounts the parts of history too intimate to be recorded in textbooks that flesh out our understanding of a storied era.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me forever to get through Dream Lucky - and were it not for the obligation of the Early Reviewer program, I never would have bothered to finish it. Dream Lucky consists of a series of vignettes, each of which is an event in the years between 1936 and 1938 - Joe Louis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes, Amelia Earheart, Count Basie - all make highly disconnected cameos. Each cameo is presented as a "news event" or, I assume, a radio play. If you know anything at all about any part of the time (or have seen the right episodes of American Experience) some sections will be merely skimming the surface of what you already know. In areas of the time you know little about the book presents enough to confuse you but not enough to wet your appetite. The book is devoid of any context and always present an uncritical, unidimensional, and seemingly politically correct view of the characters. I can not think of an audience for which this book would be a good introduction to the time period and it certainly is a bad choice for anyone is who an avid reader of American history. Finally I was somewhat confused as to whether this was a young adult book or not - the author has won awards for early YA books. I have concluded that it was not aimed at the young adult market - however, in sections the writing reads as though the author forgot that fact.
trav on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love the time period this book encompasses, the mid to late 1930's. Lots of good music, writing, events that hadn't been squashed by the coming of World War II.There is no doubt that Orgill did her research. Wow! She knows it all and does a good job of painting a vivid picture of what the streets of America were like back then. But that's all this book is, a vivid picture of life back then. No real compelling narrative. Just plenty of creative tidbits to highlight some of the characters like Count Basie, FDR and Joe Louis.I have to say that the few pages on Lewis are the highlights of this short and colorful book.
Jim53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Dream Lucky, Roxanne Orgill gives us a series of two- to five-page vignettes describing various events and aspects of American life between 1936 and 1938. Making the most appearances is William "Count" Basie, the big-band leader from Kansas City. Orgill sandwiches her book between the two Joe Louis-Max Schmeling boxing matches, on June 19, 1936 and June 22, 1938. Her overarching theme is the slow progress toward civil rights for Black Americans. She enlists a mix of characters, from Basie and his band members and other bandleaders such as Chick Webb and Benny Goodman, to the Roosevelts, Amelia Earhart, and the two generations of Adam Clayton Powells. She depicts Basie's progress from a "territory band" to playing in increasingly better venues. Along the way we see FDR addressing the nation about the faltering economy, Langston Hughes returning from serving as a war correspondent in Spain, Powell, Jr., urging Blacks not to shop in stores that won't employ them, and Eleanor Roosevelt struggling to interest her husband in broader issues. We also hear about the many popular radio shows and characters, such as Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Fibber McGee and Molly. The book contains numerous illustrations, including portraits of individuals and posters for jazz concerts. The author provides twenty-some pages of notes that identify her sources and a list of suggested recordings by the bands she describes. Her tone throughout is that of an enthusiastic and interested observer with ringside seats to a lot of interesting goings-on. I found it interesting to see events and people from different fields of endeavor intermingled along a time line of two years. I found the sections on Eleanor Roosevelt and the Powells the most interesting, along with the stories of the battles of the big bands. Unfortunately Orgill creates very few linkages to explain how things are related; to a large extent we are reading something like a series of magazine and newspaper articles. We see Basie, in particular, meeting with frustration and eventual success, but we don't see how one became the other. I would have enjoyed the book a lot more, and rated it more highly, had Orgill made more connections between the people she describes and said more about why Basie was able to overcome numerous hurdles to achieve fame and success. As it is, the book is more a collection of trivia and entertaining portraits that yields less insight than I hoped for into the period it describes.
ty1997 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is presented as a history of the US and its people during the period of 1936-1938, but it misses that stated aim. Instead, it is a bit of a schizophrenic review of certain facets as the time, as the author jumps around between the musical artists of the time, Mrs. Roosevelt, and race relations. The book rarely leaves the US East Coast, and never ventures west of Texas.A reader with a good knowledge of the time period may enjoy this book, as the author seems to be chatting with friends and reminiscing about the time period. Unfortunately, if you are not deeply familiar with the people and times being discussed, you feel like an outsider who hasn't been invited in. The book did provide me some ideas for further reading, as it managed to pique my interest in some topics. Beyond that, I only recommend this book for those deeply familiar with the time period who want to reminisce.
billiecat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't exactly tell who this book was written for, except to know it wasn't for me. In places, it reads like "young adult" histories do, with earnest portrayals of uplifting examples (not too surprising given Orgill's previous experience in that genre). In others, it throws in references to drug use and prostitution more appropriate for mature readers (always off stage, however). And it has bibliographical notes at the end as if it might be used as a reference, although the meager additional information supplied doesn't merit the trouble. Indeed, citations for most claims made in the book (such as what a person was feeling or thinking at specific times and places) are so lacking that I could not help wondering if the book had started out as an attempt at fictionalized history. When David Halberstam or Bob Woodward does that sort of thing I feel fairly comfortable accepting it as reflecting extensive research. Here, it's just careless window dressing.It's also hard to tell what exactly this book wanted to be. Is it a history of big bands in New York in the late thirties? A look at racial issues from the same era? A series of short vignettes circa 1937? Whatever it was intended to be, it came out a mess. It flits around from topic to topic so much that the pace is not fast, it's spasmodic, and the reader's patience is ultimately exhausted.
cutiger80 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written perspective of the mid to late 1930's. However, the book simply centers on a few key personalities of the period rather then delving further into the way the era was for everyone and how it impacted later years in the U.S. While it is easy to read, with a solid story line I would have liked a broader perspective and discussion of the era.
Cascadian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took a little while for me to get used to the tone of this book -- the author's voice, and her approach to history and storytelling. Once I figured out, however, to think of it as the print equivalent of a jazz album, with the author riffing on a series of repeated themes, the book became not only much more accessible, but enjoyable. Even ... dare I say? ... swinging."Dream Lucky" isn't really a history book about the days "when FDR was in the White House, Count Basie was on the radio, and everyone wore a hat," even though it sometimes feels like it wants to be. Nor is it really a view of America during the years in question, except insofar as it defines what we were all listening to on the radio. With the exception of a description of Basie's road trip through the south and midwest, this is a New York-centric story, and an impressionist sort of story at that, weaving a little politics and some current events around the story of Basie's rise from a moderate level of fame and success in Kansas City to the big time in the Big Apple. It's an interesting approach, and within that narrower focus Roxane Orgill pulls it off well. And whereas I tend to judge a book in part on how many other books on the topic it makes me want to read, "Dream Lucky" has given me a whole list of CDs to track down and listen to, which I think is just as good a sign of merit (I'm pleased to say I already had several of the recordings she cites, including Benny Goodman's landmark 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, which you really need to hear if you haven't yet).Again like jazz, this relaxed and, at first glance, erratic way of storytelling may not be to everyone's taste. But if you're inclined to give it a try, I think you'll find it a rewarding way to spend a few hours.
kristincedar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Dream Lucky: When FDR was in the White House, Count Basie was on the radio, and everyone wore a hat...¿ is a really wonderful book. This quick read tackles a time period that up until only recently, very few authors have had the courage to write about. Mrs. Orgill wrote ¿Dream Lucky¿ with wit and candor; I would not be surprised if this book gets a lot of attention when it is released to the public. The topics the author covers range from Amelia Earhart¿s explorations to the growing concern over Hitler¿s conquests; the economy and the race crisis in the cities, and most importantly the rise of jazz music in America and the growth of radio. I found myself thinking of this book not as a weekend page-turner, but a book that could be used in any number of history classes. As a former historian turned librarian, I could think of many history courses, or libraries for that matter, that would benefit by adding this book to their repertoire. An overall fantastic read!
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Roxane Orgill has written several books for young people on music and dance. Her subjects have been as varied as Fred Astaire and Mahalia Jackson. In [Dream Lucky], she is writing for adults, weaving together the story of Count Basie¿s struggle to make a name for his band, with anecdotal bits of American history to create a big picture of America before World War II. Two dozen pages of end notes testify to the research that went into the writing of Dream Lucky, but in the reading you might almost believe that every chapter was written up by a contemporary observer of the events, from notes taken on the spot. There is no scholarly tone, not a dry page or line to be found. The historical characters come alive, and dance through the pages. Do you want to know what kind of dress Joe Louis¿s wife was wearing the night he defeated Max Schmelling? How Eleanor Roosevelt reacted to Amelia Earhart¿s disappearance, or what she did about her husband¿s failure to push for an anti-lynching bill? What big band leader took one look at 17-year-old Ella Fitzgerald and said ¿Your¿e not puttin¿ that on my bandstand¿ ? Or how Edgar Bergen made ventriloquism work on the radio, where no one could tell whether his mouth was moving or not? It¿s all in this nifty book, and it all goes together somehow, even though there often seems to be no sequé from one chapter to the next. . It isn¿t ¿History¿, in the sense that no theories are presented, no analysis made, no conclusions drawn; but it is the kind of story-telling that can spark an interest that leads to further exploration. And it was fun to read.
SharonGoforth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In spite of its fun title, 'Dream Lucky' is actually a non-fiction piece of US cultural history of the years between 1936 and 1938 when "swing was king". It was also when African Americans were trying to make themselves seen, heard, and respected above white oppression but were making little headway. The book reads almost like a novel, written mostly from the perspective of bandleader Count Basie and his rise to fame in spite of all the obstacles. Orgill takes readers on a musical, cultural, and political journey of pre-World War II America. We get a glimpse inside the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt tried (unsuccessfully) to influence her husband to push through anti-lynching legislation. We go to church with Adam Clayton Powell (Sr. and Jr.). We hear popular radio shows (Burns and Allen, Jack Benny), go to the fights with Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, and attempt to fly around the world with Amelia Earhart. But most importantly, we swing to the music of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Chick Webb and listen to the vocals of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.'Dream Lucky' combines the fun of music with the seriousness of the plight of African-Americans in pre-civil rights America. It is an important history lesson for all of us. Thank you HarperCollins and LibraryThing for the opportunity to read this book.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this sweet little book, little only in the size of the book. I found it to be a nice social history of the late 1930's, espeically of the music world of Harlem. I enjoyed the book a lot.
mbeeny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An intriguing and at times fascinating book, Dream Lucky looks at the end of the 1930s through Count Basie's rise to the top of the music profession.Roxane Orgill has managed to weave numerous story threads into one pattern. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife flit in and out, while Amelia Earhardt flies around the world, and figures from pop culture and American society in general, stop by to join in the narrative. At times, the central story is lost behind the many side images Orgill introduces, but perhaps that mirrors the turbulent end to the last decade before WWII.Orgill's writing style is breathless, in time with Basie's pounding rhythm. The short chapters drive you onwards, almost mimicking Lester Young's solos.The one major issue with this book is the editorial work. I am not certain how Orgill's editor allowed to her to keep the language used. Either the book was written in the 1950s and has not been updated to take into account acceptable racial descriptions or HarperCollins needs to take a serious look at the imagery portrayed by Orgill's archaic and frankly unnecessary racial descriptors.Overall, it is a book worth reading. Readers are able to dip in and out without losing the flow, and the personalisation of many famous people makes the story easily accessible.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This review is of the Uncorrected Proof. Remember that time in 6th grade you were to write a biography of Otto von Bismarck and you thought he invented the Bismarck donut, but he didn't? So you fluffed up the Britannica's three paragraphs out to two pages and your teacher wrote 'Reads like you talk'? Remember? Unfortunately, that is how this book reads. It's either a poorly written novel or a bound set of notes for someone's history term paper. Readers cannot be sure as there are no footnotes although the many subjects are quoted extensively in what seem to be private thoughts and conversations. There are some notes dumped into the back, but no way to tell how these notes inform the text. The clunky writing smells like a junior high. Diagramming sentences from passive into active voice bored me, and I enjoy dissecting sentences. Avoid.