Big Band leader Ray Anthony has now reached the age of 101. He is finally retired, yet even now he kids his legion of friends to “get out there and keep my name alive.”
As a boy his father trained all Ray’s siblings to be musicians. He quickly excelled as a trumpeter, and was hired as the youngest member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Today he is the lone survivor.
Ray had his own ideas about music, and Miller kept firing him! But Ray’s skills were so high that Miller always had to hire him back.
During the “swing era” of the 1930’s and into the war, the Miller group was always the leading exponent of the Big Band sound and the reigned as the hottest musical act in the world. To put this kind of success in context, it was at a time when there was only radio, live concerts, live sports, and the movies — no TV, no computers, no internet, no cell phones, no rock ‘n’ roll, no football, no basketball, etc. So to be a member of that band — one can only imagine it today.
His nickname at the time was “Peck’s Bad Boy,” because, as mentioned, Ray kept getting fired and rehired by Glenn Miller, until the great orchestra leader was killed during the war. Ray then formed his own band to perform swing and other music of the period. His continuing popularity afforded Ray other opportunities to compose music, and to act in movies and television programs.
During the 1950’s Ray branched out to do the theme music for wildly successful TV shows at the time including DRAGNET and PETER GUNN. One really big chart hit was a remake of the Miller song AT LAST. Then Ray composed and recorded popular music hits like THE HOKEY POKEY and THE BUNNY HOP. Was it fate for Ray to become one of Hugh Hefner’s two closest friends?
He married blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren, but when that marriage didn’t work out, Ray wasn’t going to stop there. It was at this time Ray flirted with an acting career, as well as virtually all the actresses then working in Hollywood. Everyone would remark how closely Ray resembled Cary Grant, which never hurt his chances with women. And though he never bragged about this, it’s almost a challenge to name an actress in the 1950’s or 1960’s that Ray failed to date. He had a magic touch with the beautiful ladies. He wasn’t known far and wide as “All the Way Ray” for nothing.
His secret? No secret. He would flash a magic smile, keep things light, he liked to tease, and the life lesson he always espoused was that “Laughter is the best medicine.” How many thousands of times have his legion of friends heard him say that? He lives by it.
With the Miller band, Ray had already appeared in SUN VALLEY SERENADE (1941) and then briefly in ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942). In the 1950’s he began to appear in movies like DADDY LONG LEGS (1955) with Fred Astaire, THE FIVE PENNIES (1959) with Danny Kaye, THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (1956) with Jayne Mansfield, and THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT (1957) with Jean Simmons. Ray also did two pictures with his wife, Mamie: HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (1958) and GIRLS TOWN (1959).
He did guest spots on TV series like FIVE FINGERS and then had his own variety show series THE RAY ANTHONY SHOW.
On YouTube there is beautiful color footage of a 1953 party staged at Ray’s home in Sherman Oaks. Marilyn Monroe flew in via helicopter and never looked more beautiful and radiant kidding around with Ray and Mickey Rooney, too. Ray even composed a song for, and called, MARILYN, which has since been used in documentaries about the star.
Into the new century, as a band leader and musician Ray Anthony kept the big band era alive both with performances and on CD’s he recorded, like the DREAM DANCING series. He’s recorded with both his pals Mel Torme’ and Frank Sinatra. As a side business he had a company that sold CD’s covering many of the musical styles from the past. And Ray can perform them all, not just the Big Band jazz style,
Ray has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
He remains that “young man with the horn” because he can still pick it up and play, and hit most of those high notes. If you think that’s easy, try it some time. As the famous lyric goes in OPUS ONE, “Ray Anthony … Can rock it for me.” Yes, he can!
Looking back, Ray says, “In my opinion, I think Harry James was the greatest trumpet. He had a complete mastery of the instrument and a conception I admired. And I think Glenn Miller was the greatest bandleader of all time. I learned more from Glenn about leading a band than from any other source. Music was a business to Glenn, and he organized his band as a business down to the minutest detail. I like the Glenn Miller musical style, too, and I think it is one of the few distinctive band styles that has ever been created. My friends tell me how much they still love that sound — it really does hold up I think.”
So Ray Anthony had led quite a life — so far!