by Arthur Gelb
The temperature was one degree above zero at 2 a.m. yesterday, but inside Basin Street East it was sizzling. The scheduled entertainment, provided by Peggy Lee, the singer, can heat up the room more than adequately, but early yesterday morning she had the impromptu assistance of Jimmy Durante and a couple of his friends.
Mr. Durante, who began an official New York nightclub engagement of his own nineteen hours later at the Copacabana, walked to a ringside table shortly before Miss Lee appeared on stage for the 1 a.m. supper show. He was in a party that included Mrs. Durante, Rocky Marciano, Zsa Zsa Gabor and two of Mr. Durante’s partners, Eddie Jackson and Sonny King.
Miss Lee, supported by a twelve-piece band, interspersed her opening songs with phrases of affection directed to the top of Mr. Durante’s nearly bald head, shining in the spill of a spotlight from the raised stage. Addressing him as Mr. Love and recalling the days they had worked together in nightclubs, she crooned “My Romance” from Jumbo, in which Mr. Durante starred with an elephant twenty-six years ago. With such wiles as these she eventually got him up onto the stage.
Mr. Durante, growling cheerfully that Miss Lee’s pianist played “too maudlin” for him, dispossessed him, sprawled at the keyboard himself and gave an informal preview of his show that opened at 9 o’clock last night at the Copa. He tore into “Inka-Dinka-Do” (“Even though I’m not getting paid, let me hear those tom-toms!” and “I put a slug in the slot machine at Vegas and what do you think came out? The manager!”)
Before long Mr. Durante had his old partner, Eddie Jackson, clambering onto the stage. The two grizzled youngsters went through an eye-rolling, hip-swiveling, finger-snapping, vaudeville song-and-dance routine to the tune of “Won’t You Please Come Home, Bill Bailey?” that brought the cheering patrons to their feet. Mr. Durante’s younger partner, Sonny King, also participated, while Miss Lee stood modestly aside, her back turned to the audience.
Mr. Durante’s engaging performance was strictly a bonus. The house had been packed since the dinner show, as it is almost nightly, for Miss Lee, who is something to see and listen to. She held the stage for two hours, pouring her heart out in a wide-ranging repertory that included a number of songs of which she is co-author (“Mañana,” “I Love Being Here With You” and “I’m Gonna Go Fishin'”).
Miss Lee, like all truly accomplished entertainers, is a superb actress who projects not only a song but also a personality. Her husky voice throbs with honest emotion and she is equipped with a studied and impeccable style. Her costume and coiffure are elaborate, her stance and gestures contrastingly dignified and simple.
She moves her long-fingered hands, the pointed nails lacquered in gold, in a loose-wristed, almost puppetlike fashion: they have a life of their own. A delicate, pouting smile, at once provocative, regal and insouciant, tops it all off.