Peggy Lee


McCall’s Visits Peggy Lee

by Silvana Mangano

When you wake up in the morning,
And try to skitter out of sight,
I wish you’d let me tell you
That you look precisely right.
Just because your hair is standing,
Or bending here and there,
Is no reason to suppose that
I’m in love with just your hair.
– written by Peggy Lee

From me to you: I’ve known Peggy Lee off and on for a number of years, and I know her secret – that underneath the glossy production she’s a soft and sentimental North Dakota girl who writes poetry when she’s down in the dumps, which is quite often. It was only the other day, though, that I learned she’s a professional greeting-card poet. For love. And money.

“It sounds silly,” Peggy said, “but these verses make a lot of money. Not as much as I get for a hit record or a movie, of course. But it’s almost as good as my royalties on sheet music.”

Her smile faded into embarrassment. “It’s something to do on the side.”

For years, through the one-night stands with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, later on vaudeville and nightclub tours in which she was the star, Peggy Lee would sit by herself and write. Poetry, mainly. “I never intended even to show anybody these things.” However, she said.

Her first greeting card was published by Buzza-Cardozo in 1956. The editor asked if she had more. Peggy admitted that she had reams of them at home. A deal was made under which Peggy gets royalties, not just the straight fee most greeting-card writers get.

“It’s more kind of outlet for me,” she says haltingly. “These things have always been for my own pleasure. I do them in spurts. It depends on what kind of mood I’m in and how close the Muse is.

As I looked around at her big and beautiful modern house, neither in the mirror-walled living room nor in the swimming pool bordered by Japanese landscaping was the Muse in sight. (Peggy’s husband, actor Dewey Martin, and daughter Nicki, thirteen, weren’t home either.) We talked about moods instead.

“I’m apt to write a more poignant lyric when I’m happy,” Peggy went on. “I write a happy one when I’m sad. It’s kind of – you know how satisfying it is to write something.”

Miss Lee does her cogitating and composing in a converted garage – her Cadillac must make do in a carport – which has been warmed over with travel posters, file cabinets, professional recording equipment, a grand piano, a tiny desk and a portable typewriter.

When she’s working she wears “jump suits” made of parachute silk. However, “I’ll sometimes sit around here all day in my robe,” or “occasionally, if I can’t seem to discipline myself, I’ll get all dressed up and then come in here so I can seem efficient.

Peggy always has a lot to do. Composers send her music in the hope that she’ll do the lyrics. She’s been commissioned to write the score of a forthcoming movie, Tom Thumb, and has just finished a book, Little Joe Angel, which Simon and Schuster may publish.

“All this seems to be a separate part of me. I have so much energy. And a sort of curiosity,” said Peggy. “I just like to see if I can do it. I’d like to write a musical. That would be the epitome. One of the biggest thrills is to hear something I wrote performed – not by me.