Monday, January 02, 2017
Harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler lived here during a difficult part of his life.
It was the late 40s and early 50s when the House Un-American Activities Committee sought out suspected communists, and a Greenwich woman had publicly claimed that Adler and his friend and longtime performance partner, dancer Paul Draper, had been communists. The story made national headlines, and syndicated Columnist Westbrook Pegler of Ridgefield joined in the accusations against Adler and Draper.
Adler denied supporting the communist cause, but refused to take a loyalty oath and vociferously criticized the House Unamerican Activities Committee. He and Draper filed a libel suit against the Greenwich woman who had accused them, but the trial ended in a hung jury. The ensuing case was dismissed because Adler and Draper did not have the funds to continue it.
Born in Baltimore in 1914, Lawrence Cecil Adler taught himself the harmonica and was playing professionally by the age of 14. In 1927, he won a contest sponsored by The Baltimore Sun, playing a Beethoven minuet. About a year later, only 15 years old, he went to New York City where, with the help of singer Rudy Vallée, he began working as a vaudeville performer.
Over his long career he has performed everything from classical to jazz and pop music. He brought the “mouth organ” to the serious stage, gained worldwide recognition as a musician, and performed with leading symphony orchestras worldwide. Many works for harmonica were written with him in mind, including Ralph Vaughan Williams' “Romance in D-flat for Harmonica, Piano and String Orchestra.”
During World War II he entertained the troops on many USO tours with comedian Jack Benny.
Adler, who lived at the James Waterman Wise home on Pumping Station Road (Paul Draper also stayed there), wrote several film scores including “High Wind in Jamaica” and “Genevieve”; for the latter, written while he was in Ridgefield, he received an Academy Award nomination in 1953. Because he was blacklisted, his name was originally kept off the film’s credits in this country, but was eventually added; he still made a sizable amount of money from “Genevieve.”
He also appeared in five movies in the 1930s and early 40s.
In 1952, discouraged with the communist witch hunt, he moved to England from which continued to give concerts around the world, make recordings, write books, and even work as a food critic for a British magazine. He wrote “Jokes and How to Tell Them” (1963) — one of his oft-quoted lines is, “Vasectomy means never having to say you’re sorry.” His autobiography, “It Ain't Necessarily So,” was published in 1985. He died in 2001.
A biographer once observed that Adler is “a good example of the adage, ‘Living well is the best revenge.’”
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