In another installment of "Truth is Greater Than Fiction," I opened up my mailbox this weekend to find a small, manilla envelope addressed to "Sarrie." (I suppose my handwriting after a few cocktails is less than stellar.) The return address was not one that I recognized, being from Petaluma, California, but the name was. Arnold Ostern.
I could hardly wait to open it and I rushed in the house giddy with excitement!
"Honey! Honey! He really sent it! He really sent me a cd of his songs. He wasn't kidding!" I jumped on the bed where my poor husband has been recovering from a serious illness.
"Well, let's give it a listen," he said.
So we cuddled up and listened to the songs made popular and sung in famous nightclubs before we were even born. The chords captured in a moment of scratchy recording that made us smile. We squeezed each other's hands in the familiar way we often do and just sat there and listened.
I think "Just a Gigolo" is my favorite, for obvious reasons, and I think I may have just found myself a new pen pal. What a sweet, sweet man. Thank you, for making good on your promise, my dancing partner from Palm Springs.
Arnold Ostern was an astounding crooner in the style of Russ Colombo and Bing Crosby, but amazingly, when you hear this CD, you will discover a talent that could have been comparable or even more dazzling than theirs. He was born in San Francisco during World War I. Arnold came from a performing and artistic family. His mother was an actress and noted sculptor; his father died when he was young so he was raised by his mother and three sisters. His sister Florence sang at many theatres in San Francisco and later became a noted novelist and artist. Arnold was amazingly handsome, charming and adored by both women and men when he performed.
By 1933 he was singing successfully in every night club in San Francisco and with the big bands at the Russian River resorts. He was offered a job to sing at the Bal Tavern, the most prestigious nightclub in San Francisco, to replace Tony Martin when he left for Hollywood. He sang with Betty Grable, crooned with Tom Guerne's big band and performed at the Balconades Ballroom on Market Street across from the Casa Alta which is now the Forbidden City. He was often referred to as the "Bing Crosby of Pacific Street" and frequently imitated Bing Crosby and Russ Colombo in his performances as he was adept at switching styles.
During the 30's while singing at a Russian River resort he spotted a gorgeous redhead in the audience. It was love at first sight for both and they were soon inseparable. Unfortunately for Arnold's singing career, love and career ambitions did not match and love won out. While singing at a convention for nurses he discovered that the gorgeous redhead, Janet, had quite a temper. She declared it was "her or his singing career" and love triumphed over career.
In so many ways it is regrettable that the lovers could not come to a compromise over a career that was really beginning to soar at the time. Many of Arnold's friends in show business felt that he had missed an incredible opportunity to be a star. Arnold was also adept at singing and dancing so he was a multi-talented package much like Bing Crosby. He had the ability to capture an audience and keep them mesmerized as was seen many times when band leaders, who recognized him, asked him to sing for them at their shows in Reno or Las Vegas. Arnold captivated many people by his singing, including Dennis Day, Dan Rowan and many of the national celebrities who came to Reno while Arnold was there on business. He remembers clearly a night out with Errol Flynn.
Although he never regretted marrying the "love of his life" and stayed married for 60 years until Janet's death, he continued to wish for a career that sadly had never developed.
He was a very successful businessman and community advocate in Sonoma County working on a variety of civic projects and always speaking out for justice and human rights.
Arnold is now 91 years old and treasures his days as a singer. He is still alert and handsome with a devilish sense of humor and undeniable charm.*
* From the CD Baby website. Click here to listen.