Julie London: The sultry star who didn't think she could sing now voice of Marks & Spencer Christmas Advert

 
 

Julie London is now the haunting voice behind the M&S advert


Featuring a pair of fairies who fly over snow-topped rooftops to spread excitement, sparkle and romance, it perfectly captures the magic of the season.

In one recent poll of consumers, the Marks and Spencer production came out on top.

Apart from its imagery, what gives the advert its appeal is the soundtrack which uses the classic American song Fly Me to the Moon.

Written in 1954 by the Bart Howard, it became one of Frank Sinatra’s biggest hits and was later associated with the NASA Apollo space programme.


Indeed, when Buzz Aldrin played it on a portable cassette during the pioneering moon landing of 1969, it became the first ever music heard anywhere beyond earth.

Much jazzier, more dreamy than the thumping Frank Sinatra standard, the version used in the Marks and Spencer advert is sung by the American vocalist and actress Julie London.

Unlike Sinatra, London is no longer a household name, but she was a major international star in the middle years of the last century, winning a huge army of fans with her bewitching style.

Both behind the microphone and on the screen, she oozed a sense of smouldering sophistication.

One hard-bitten English journalist, sent to interview her when she visited Britain in the early 1960s, was so taken with her voice and beauty that he confessed she was the only woman who could persuade him to buy anything.



Her success as a singer was all the more remarkable because, as she admitted, her musical talent was limited. She was never formally trained, nor learnt proper breathing techniques.

Unlike most female vocalists of her era, she did not emerge from the swinging Big Band circuit. Instead her early experience was largely confined to night clubs and recording studios.

Her flaws could sometimes be all too apparent. On one occasion when she was making an album, she repeatedly tried to sing the legendary ballad “The Man I love” but remained out of tune.

After 20 attempts, accompanied by a single guitar and much frustrated cursng, she had to give up. Her voice even lacked power and range.

Yet, despite these weaknesses, it had a haunting, sultry quality, evocative of nocturnal yearning and confidentiality.

The very fact that London had never been taught breathing methods became an asset, for her husky breathiness became one of her much-loved hallmarks, a trait enhanced by her heavy smoking.

She herself said shrewdly of her voice, “It is only a thimbleful of a voice and I have to use it close to a microphone.


Indeed, when Buzz Aldrin played it on a portable cassette during the pioneering moon landing of 1969, it became the first ever music heard anywhere beyond earth.


Much jazzier, more dreamy than the thumping Frank Sinatra standard, the version used in the Marks and Spencer advert is sung by the American vocalist and actress Julie London.


Unlike Sinatra, London is no longer a household name, but she was a major international star in the middle years of the last century, winning a huge army of fans with her bewitching style.


Both behind the microphone and on the screen, she oozed a sense of smouldering sophistication.


One hard-bitten English journalist, sent to interview her when she visited Britain in the early 1960s, was so taken with her voice and beauty that he confessed she was the only woman who could persuade him to buy anything.
















Her success as a singer was all the more remarkable because, as she admitted, her musical talent was limited. She was never formally trained, nor learnt proper breathing techniques.


Unlike most female vocalists of her era, she did not emerge from the swinging Big Band circuit. Instead her early experience was largely confined to night clubs and recording studios.


Her flaws could sometimes be all too apparent. On one occasion when she was making an album, she repeatedly tried to sing the legendary ballad “The Man I love” but remained out of tune.


After 20 attempts, accompanied by a single guitar and much frustrated cursng, she had to give up. Her voice even lacked power and range.


Yet, despite these weaknesses, it had a haunting, sultry quality, evocative of nocturnal yearning and confidentiality.


The very fact that London had never been taught breathing methods became an asset, for her husky breathiness became one of her much-loved hallmarks, a trait enhanced by her heavy smoking.


She herself said shrewdly of her voice, “It is only a thimbleful of a voice and I have to use it close to a microphone. But it is a kind of over-smoked voice and it automatically sounds intimate.”






















Two fairies in what some call the festive advert of the year


Her unique sound made her one of the best-selling singers of her generation. During her career, she turned out no fewer than 32 albums, while her soulful, anguished version of the song “Cry Me A River” sold three million copies and had a lengthy spell at the top of the charts.


The smoky nature of her voice made her the ideal singer to croon on Marlboro cigarette adverts that appeared on TV in the early 1960s. Her phenomenal sales were further enhanced by her image as a sex symbol, with alluring photo portraits featuring on most of her album covers.


“We spent more time on the covers than the music,” she once said.


Of her very first album, “Julie is Her Name,” produced in 1955, her publicists boasted that her picture on the front could “generate enough voltage to light up a theatre marquee.”


Even politicians fell under her spell. When she appeared before the US Senate in 1967 to give evidence for an inquiry about performers’ copyright, one newspaper commented, “Miss London stole the show. She had come in a high dress, a blue woolly-shifty thing that touched all the bases like a grand-slam home run.”


Her charismatic good looks also brought her success in films and on television. After a few sporadic movie appearances in the 1940s, she really hit the big time in the mid-1950s, starring in a host of big Hollywood features opposite figures like Robert Taylor and Gregory Peck.


One of her most memo- rable performances was as the wife of an alcoholic in The Voice in the Mirror, for which she both wrote and sang the title track. In the mid 1960s she moved into television not only as a popular guest in variety shows, but also the star of a number of soaps.


Her unique sound made her one of the best-selling singers of her generation. During her career, she turned out no fewer than 32 albums, while her soulful, anguished version of the song “Cry Me A River” sold three million copies and had a lengthy spell at the top of the charts.


The smoky nature of her voice made her the ideal singer to croon on Marlboro cigarette adverts that appeared on TV in the early 1960s. Her phenomenal sales were further enhanced by her image as a sex symbol, with alluring photo portraits featuring on most of her album covers.


“We spent more time on the covers than the music,” she once said.


Of her very first album, “Julie is Her Name,” produced in 1955, her publicists boasted that her picture on the front could “generate enough voltage to light up a theatre marquee.”


Even politicians fell under her spell. When she appeared before the US Senate in 1967 to give evidence for an inquiry about performers’ copyright, one newspaper commented, “Miss London stole the show. She had come in a high dress, a blue woolly-shifty thing that touched all the bases like a grand-slam home run.”


Her charismatic good looks also brought her success in films and on television. After a few sporadic movie appearances in the 1940s, she really hit the big time in the mid-1950s, starring in a host of big Hollywood features opposite figures like Robert Taylor and Gregory Peck.


One of her most memorable performances was as the wife of an alcoholic in The Voice in the Mirror, for which she both wrote and sang the title track. In the mid 1960s she moved into television not only as a popular guest in variety shows, but also the star of a number of soaps.



































Robert Fuller as Dr. Kelly Brackett, Julie London as Nurse Dixie McCall and Bobby Troup as Dr. Joe Early


By far her biggest TV role was as nurse Dixie McCall in the hospital drama Emergency between 1972 and 1977, which was something of a family affair, since it was produced by her first husband Jack Webb and starred her second, Bobby Troup.


Julie London had showbusiness in her blood. She was born Julie Peck in 1926 in California to parents who worked as a vaudeville song-and-dance team.

Her very first public appearance was on their radio show when she was just three years old. On leaving school in Los Angeles at the age of 15, she became a lift operator in a department store, where she was spotted by the talent agent Sue Carol, who felt that her looks merited a screen test.


Having adopted her new name, Julie did well enough to win a part in her first movie at the age of 18, appearing as a jungle girl opposite a gorilla in the absurd flop Nabonga.


Despite a few better roles, including in The Red House with Edward G Robinson, her career did not take off at this stage, her sense of failure exacerbated by the breakdown in her marriage to her first husband, the actor and producer Jack Webb, whom she had married in 1947 when she was just 21.


Her divorce tremendously dented her confidence and for a time she withdrew from showbusiness to concentrate on looking after her two young children.


But her career was dramatically revived when she met the actor, jazz musician and songwriter Bobby Troup, who recognised how far her special gifts could take her.


It was Troup who wrote the music for the 1956 comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, which not only starred London but also featured her biggest hit Cry Me a River.


Despite the pressures of Hollywood, Bobby Troup and Julie London had a long and happy marriage that lasted 40 years until his death in 1999.


They had three children together and, contrary to her glam- orous image, she was happiest in her role as a homemaker. When once compared to Marilyn Monroe, London scoffed, “We’re opposite types. Marilyn was the   symbol. I’m strictly the housewife-mother type.”


In fact, according to Bobby Troup, she was never really comfortable in showbusiness, lacking the desire for fame that drives other stars.


“She doesn’t have that need to go out and please an audience and receive accolades. She’s always been withdrawn, very introverted. She hated those big shows,” he once said.


Julie London died in October 2000, having long been in poor health after suffering a stroke five years earlier. But she left behind a rich legacy.


As the Marks and Spencer advertising team knows, the intimate potency of her voice continues to resonate today.

MIDST fierce competition in the retail market, the Marks & Spencer TV advert has been widely hailed as the finest of this year’s Christmas commercials.

By: Leo McKinstry

The Daily Express – Online -London

December 17, 2014