[Dixielandjazz] R.I.P. Hal Schaefer

Robert Ringwald rsr at ringwald.com
Thu Dec 13 10:10:28 PST 2012

Hal Schaefer, Jazz Pianist and Marilyn Monroe Friend, Dies at 87
by Bruce Weber
New York Times, December 13, 2012
On Nov. 5, 1954, not long after Marilyn Monroe filed for divorce from Joe DiMaggio,
DiMaggio was having dinner with Frank Sinatra when he heard, probably from a private
investigator, that if he went to a certain apartment house on Waring Avenue in West
Hollywood, he'd find his wife in the arms of another man.
There are different accounts of what happened later that night, but what is certain
is that a party of men, including DiMaggio and Sinatra, showed up at the address
and someone broke down the door of the ostensible love nest, terrifying the woman
who lived there, Florence Kotz -- sometimes identified as Florence Kotz Ross -- who
was in bed by herself.
"Mrs. Ross was fast asleep about 11 p.m. when five or six men suddenly battered down
the back door to her apartment, tearing it from its hinges and leaving glass strewn
on the floor," The Los Angeles Times reported, adding, "A bright flash of light was
shone in her eyes and she was confronted with a number of men, some of whom seemed
to be carrying an instrument which at first sight she believed to be an ax."
The incident, which came to be known as "the wrong door raid," resulted in a lawsuit
filed by Mrs. Ross against Sinatra, DiMaggio and four others, which was settled for
$7,500. And where was Monroe? A female friend of hers claimed at the time that they
had been together that evening, but years later, Hal Schaefer, a jazz pianist who
was also Monroe's vocal coach and who had become her confidant and romantic partner,
admitted in interviews that he and Monroe were trysting in an apartment just a few
yards away.
"We were very close to making love; I don't remember the stage we were at, but I
would say half-dressed," Mr. Schaefer recalled. He added: "And all of a sudden for
some reason, Marilyn got these vibrations, and we went over to the window and saw
this group standing across the street, one of whom was Joe DiMaggio and another was
Frank Sinatra. They all came en masse and broke this door in, demolished it. We scrambled
to get out the back way, and we made it, luckily."
Mr. Schaefer died on Saturday at 87 at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A friend,
Charles Bryant, said the cause was congestive heart failure.
In his professional life as well as his personal one, Mr. Schaefer was often the
least famous person in the room; his musical career was substantial but largely uncelebrated.
A former prodigy who was inspired by the clean, tumbling melodic lines of Art Tatum,
Mr. Schaefer played with big bands led by Benny Carter and Harry James and was the
accompanist for Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine, Vic Damone and other singers. Before he
was 21 he led a trio that performed at the intermission of Duke Ellington concerts.
He was also an arranger and a modern jazz composer and for more than 50 years performed
and recorded as a soloist and as a leader of small ensembles and jazz orchestras.
"A romantic with a rhythmic soul," John S. Wilson of The New York Times called Mr.
Schaefer after a performance at the Kool Jazz Festival in New York in 1982. "Mr.
Schaefer is very much a mainstream pianist, but he has his own way of looking at
the mainstream, enlivening the relatively standard repertory that he played with
fresh and entertaining ideas."
Mr. Schaefer probably made his biggest imprint as an arranger and vocal coach in
Hollywood, where he often worked with the choreographer Jack Cole. He coached Monroe
through "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," her signature number in the 1953 movie
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (he arranged the music as well), and Jane Russell, who
also starred in that film. He also worked on other movies with Mitzi Gaynor, Betty
Grable and Judy Garland. He wrote film scores for "The Money Trap," a 1965 police
drama with Glenn Ford, Elke Sommer and Rita Hayworth, and "The Amsterdam Kill," a
1977 thriller with Robert Mitchum.
Harold Herman Schaefer -- he legally changed his name to Hal -- was born in Queens
on July 22, 1925. His father, Louis, was a housepainter who loved jazz, kept a player
piano in the house and taught himself to play ragtime by slowing down the mechanism
so that he could memorize where to place his fingers. Young Hal attended the High
School of Music and Art in Manhattan before he began playing professionally at hotels
in the Catskills.
Mr. Schaefer's first marriage ended in divorce. His wife of many years, Brenda, died
about 10 years ago, his brother, Robert, said. A sister, Eve, died two years ago,
and a daughter, Katie, died this year. In addition to his brother, Mr. Schaefer is
survived by a grandson.
Mr. Schaefer's romance with Monroe did not leave him unaffected. After the "wrong
door" episode, he was reportedly followed and threatened in anonymous phone calls,
and though he remained deeply in love with her, he said, he had understood that he
would not be able to hold onto her. On July 27, 1955, he tried to take his own life,
he said, by washing down sleeping pills and Benzedrine with typewriter cleaning fluid.
"It seemed overwhelming to me," he said. "I was still a young man, and I couldn't
really handle it. And I thought the only way out was for me to disappear."
Monroe came to see him in the hospital, but their relationship flagged as he recovered.
"Marilyn was an unsettled soul," Mr. Schaefer said. "She could never come to rest
anyplace. So her falling in love with somebody I don't think would ever have any
long-range stability to it."

-Bob Ringwald
Amateur (ham) Radio Operator K6YBV
916/ 806-9551

"Jesus loves you."
A nice gesture in church but a terrible thing to hear in a Mexican prison.

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