Camp David


By • Oct 19th, 2008 •

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India Adams

The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing the legendary recording artist India Adams whose voice I have long admired, and you may have unknowingly enjoyed her voice as well, especially if you are a fan of MGM musicals. You see India Adams, while long admired by her peers in the music industry, has been a well-kept secret among film buffs until recently, when more attention has been brought to these films via the THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT PART 3 compilation, not to mention the internet and DVD featurettes, that she provided the singing voices for the stars of two of the most outré musicals ever produced by MGM.

I chatted via the phone with India from her home in Los Angeles where she has lived since 1981 and found the lady accessible, humorous and candid regarding her Halcyon days dubbing stars like Joan Crawford and Cyd Charisse. I had been prepared for a Mommie Dearest style expose of Joan Crawford as my imagination ran amok with images of an unstable Joan chasing India around the MGM lot with an axe…. Well… I did say amok!

To my relief it was just the opposite: India Adams had nothing but praise for Joan Crawford as a professional and Hollywood star of the first rank. These two women bonded during the making of TORCH SONG and India has the letters from Crawford to back it up. Since the publication of Joan’s adopted daughter Christina’s tell all expose alleging a number of atrocities that are well known and do not bear repeating here, Joan Crawford’s image has taken a public beating that this star, in my opinion, did not deserve.

Joan Crawford was totally supportive of India Adams as they worked together to make TORCH SONG as successful as they knew how. Joan praised India’s singing voice and even admitted how lucky she was to have her on the project. Joan had tried her hand at recording the songs, and while she had a pleasant enough voice, it could in no way be the voice of Jenny Stewart, her character in the film. Crawford had a powerful ego, and even though she would have like to have done it all, she had already been given too much by MGM to risk sounding off-key, so she allowed herself to be dubbed and made the best of everything at her command.

The mutual admiration India enjoyed with Joan Crawford was a far cry from the treatment she received from Cyd Charisse while she was dubbing Cyd’s vocals in the BAND WAGON. India explained “I found Ms. Charisse to be cold and not particularly friendly. As I recall there was no real discussion between us regarding the vocals in the ‘Two-Faced Woman’ number as well as all the songs I dubbed for her.” I was intrigued by this so I watched both versions of the song just to see how different these two stars were with the material.

At this point let me point out that I am quite aware of TORCH SONG’S epic camp reputation and in particular the ‘Two-Faced Woman number’s substantial gay following. This cinematic faux pas was due primarily to Joan’s miscalculation of her makeup, singing and dancing in what appears to be black-face (this is a legendary misunderstanding as Joan’s make-up was in reality ‘Tan’ and was meant to reflect a ‘woman of the tropics,’ yet somehow this all went south and it now looks like an outtake from THE JOLSON STORY). The production number became a textbook example of how to play Joan Crawford in drag.

Joan Crawford in TORCH SONG

It s amazing to think that one year before TORCH SONG Joan Crawford was nominated for the Academy Award for best actress in SUDDEN FEAR. Joan must have been experiencing such a career high that the very thought of returning to Metro to star once more in a Technicolor musical playing a legendary diva named Jenny Stewart, which would show off the star’s spectacular legs at fifty, was just not to be denied. However, looking at the two numbers back to back, the first thing you notice is that Cyd Charisse is never seen in close up SINGING the song ‘Two-Faced Woman.’ Cyd DANCES the number to the point that India Adams becomes just the background music to which Charisse moves her sublime frame around the sound stage. Cyd does better with India’s vocals on the wonderful “New Sun in the Sky” number, which was not removed from the film as ‘Two- Faced Woman’ was during its release.

It is also to be noted that over half a century later we are STILL talking about Crawford’s version, which is a hoot, and I admit to being a fan of this number regardless of the consequences. Now back to India Adams, the first thing you notice is that Joan Crawford is lip-syncing to India’s powerhouse vocals, precisely because Crawford admired the clarity and beauty of what India brought to the table. Just look at Crawford’s expressions not only in this number but later on, in a moment when Crawford is visiting her mother in the film (Marjorie Rambeau in an Oscar nominated performance) and plays a record of one of her hits, ‘Tenderly.’ As the needle touches the vinyl, the beautiful voice of India Adams fills the room and Joan, at once transported back to a golden moment in her own career, begins to sing along. In that single moment you can see the respect Joan had for India and how much drama she tried to match it with as well. This was also true of the other songs in the film such as “You Won’t Forget Me” where the camera tracks right up to Crawford, posed against the stage curtain for a giant close up. Joan did not shy away from India’s vocals; she embraced them.

India reflected on TORCH SONG during our phone conversation and remarked “I will never forget the magic I felt walking into that rehearsal soundstage where the MGM orchestra performed. For a singer accustomed to more intimate surroundings this was like Carnegie Hall by comparison. It is no wonder the MGM musicals were so polished.”

The choice of Charlie Walters as the director of TORCH SONG has been a matter of controversy for some time. Was he overwhelmed by the Crawford image to the point of losing his grip on the production, or was this film simply too rushed, as it was shot in just 18 days? Walters had directed Leslie Caron in LILI to great success, so why shouldn’t he have been able to do the same with Joan Crawford? Perhaps the reason was simply that Caron was not a Movie Star like Crawford and did not require so much handling. Walters told friends at the time that Joan was very insecure about doing a musical and on the advice and coaxing by her long time co-star from the silent days, William Haines, she preferred to show those show stopping gams of hers and rely on the musical expertise of her gay director and best friend “Billy” to help her though the ordeal.

The two women remained friends throughout the filming and afterwards as well. “If Joan liked you she did her very best to be of help and make suggestions regarding your career,” India told me. They were still in touch when MGM asked India to make a record for the studio, and then made a strange request. “MGM asked me not to mention a word about this album to Joan Crawford until it was in release. I thought nothing of it at time, and did as they requested. When the record came out, the fact I kept it from Joan hurt her feeling to the point that it ended my relationship with her.”

At this point I wanted to know what had happed to India Adams since those MGM musicals, and I am happy to report while it is our loss that India did not dub more films or even star in few personally, she has had a very full and rich life, which is still going on, I might add.

As India explained “I am a native of Los Angeles, and Hollywood is my hometown, so I always loved the movies and show business. I was brought up around it you see.” India has lived on both coasts and, during her time in New York, aside from having three children (all boys), she performed extensively on radio and the Broadway stage, performing in a version of the ZIEGFEILD FOLLIES around the country, as well as finding time to take her nightclub act to the legendary Catskill mountains (long a tradition in show business). India even managed performing a moods-and-music revue at Radio City Music Hall in the early sixties, during the premier of Doris Day’s THE PAJAMA GAME. Dorothy Kilgallen was impressed with India Adams and made a point of saying so in one of her famous columns of the day.

India recorded an album in 1958 entitled “Comfort Me With Apples”(RCA VICTOR LSP-1943) with Ray Martin. The album cover features a stunning India Adams in a tub filled with apples (her idea), which is now a highly sought after collector’s item. You can may be able to find a copy on the internet on CD-R.

Ginger Rogers

After living in New York, India relocated to England in 1965 for 17 years. During her time in the UK she was always just a phone call away from playing another legend Mame Dennis in the musical version of ‘Auntie Mame’ at the Theater Royale in Drury Lane. Heading this version of ‘Mame’ was yet another legendary star, Ginger Rogers. India recalled the experience: “I was so charmed by Ginger, and found her to be nothing short of spectacular in person. Always dressed so beautifully, she simply took London by storm, especially the press. Ginger was very protective and kind with me. Unfortunately, Ginger never missed a performance during the entire18 month run of the play. Even though she did become ill at one point, she still went on, so I never did get to make my West End debut. I spent a lot of time over there doing shows for the BBC, so my dance card was always full no matter where I was living in those days.”

I became aware that India Adams was performing live when it was brought to my attention by friends at the Cinemateque that India and two other ladies (when I asked India who the ladies in question were, she told me Betty Wand – who dubbed Leslie Caron in GIGI and Rita Moreno in WEST SIDE STORY, Jo Anne Greer – who dubbed the vocals for Rita Hayworth in the fifties, and Annette Warren – who dubbed Ava Gardiner in SHOWBOAT), famous for “dubbing the stars,” were about to perform at the Hollywood Roosevelt‘s Grill room. By the time I got around to it the venue was sold out and I regret to this day missing out on hearing India Adams sing ‘Tenderly’ in person.

Now here is the good news: if you are interested in seeing a legend perform in person, then put the dates November 14th and 15th on your calendar, as India Adams will be performing in Hollywood at the always chic Gardenia Room located at 7066 Santa Monica Blvd. And I sincerely recommend calling for reservations at 323-467-7444 as this is bound to sell out.

At the end of our conversation I asked India if she felt disappointed that she never became a Hollywood star in the tradition of some of the ladies she dubbed and understudied. India laughed and said “Absolutely not. I have had a great time in this business. In fact I am still waiting for it to happen, so let’s wait and see, shall we?”

One thing is certain: India Adams is living proof that being talented is not always enough to insure stardom in Hollywood. It also requires something called luck. Whatever the circumstance, India Adams has spent a lifetime entertaining the world with the sheer beauty of her voice.

Whenever I watch TORCH SONG, I always remember this lyric from ‘Follow Me’: “Follow me and I will give you diamond starlight.” I can’t think of a better lyric to sum up the talent and personality of India Adams.

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3 Responses »

  1. Great article!

  2. lovely article ..a relif about miss joan being easily hurt and vulnureable and a human being not a characature monster …agreed on her acting the songs beautifully stylized….thought india a real peach of a gal …..would of loved to have caught that concert …it must of been a glamourous delight!

  3. Wow! I had no idea that India Adams had such an extensive bio. Her album “Comfort Me With Apples” is one of my all-time favorites. In my record-collecting days in the 70’s and 80’s I stumbled upon this album. I could never find anything else by her. I still have the album (vinyl, of course) and it is in great condition. Too bad she did not record more of her own albums outright. Great to find out more about her and that she is still performing. And yes, the cover of the album (RCA-LPM 1943) is amazing (as are all the songs)!

    Reading the liner notes on the back of the album today I came upon this neat line: “India’s voice was discovered when she was a year old…when she went Eeeek!”

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