by Herbert Kretzmer
Peggy Lee’s suite on the eighth floor of the Dorchester is knee-deep in house plants. She bought them for company and keeps up a friendly communication every day with the surrounding vegetation.
“I don’t actually go up to them and say, ‘Hi Fern!’ but they know I’m there, and that I like them. I have felt this thing about plants since I was a child. The trees in my Beverly Hills garden actually dance to music. I’ve seen them move when there’s no wind. I don’t often speak about this because people will tend to think that I’m bonkers.”
No female singer around is more respected than the durable Peggy Lee. In the current climate of noise and electronic twang, her style of singing – unchanging since her days as a band singer with Benny Goodman 35 years ago – remains swinging, tasteful and impeccable.
She is a singer’s singer. A voice in the wilderness.
She is a stout, likable, peaches-and-cream woman well into her fifties, but retaining the innocent, impassive face of a pretty blonde child.
She has know serious illness, survived four marriages (her first husband, guitarist-composer Dave Barbour, died), yet she maintains an air of serenity, of gratitude for being alive and working.
She is a convert to the meditation techniques of the celebrated Maharishi (the man who helped turn on the flower-power Sixties), and her whole life may be described as a quest for inner peace.
“I’ve remained my own person,” she said. “I see my life as a learning process.”
“I don’t harbour resentment or dislike. I try to put these things in their proper place – and then I throw them out of the window.
“Whenever I feel grief or despair, I try to think in terms of what will heal.
“I laugh a lot. You can beat most things through humour, which is the most important thing in my life.”
Peggy Lee is in London to cut a new LP, appear at the Palladium on Sunday night, and shoot a TV special with guest star Charles Aznavour, for whom she has a high regard.
Besides being a painter and sculptress, she is a splendid songwriter in her own right, with an eagle eye for a clean, uncluttered line in lyrics.
“I believe I simplicity. A great man once said that the eternal struggle of art is to leave out all but the essentials.”
Fifteen years ago Peggy Lee contracted double pneumonia and pleurisy. She thought she might never sing again. Since then she has always had a pressurized oxygen device close at hand.
“That taught me patience,” she said. “Then the feeling changed to gratitude. I gave the oxygen machine a pet name of Charlie. Charlie saved my life. I guess I’ve got the cleanest lungs around.”
She talked about love. She regards her first marriage as the only real one in her life. “I was very much in love with Dave.” The other three, she told me, “were costume parties.” Her only child, a daughter, was born during her first marriage.
“If I really fell in love, I would marry again. I have no feelings of bitterness or regret. All my marriages were to very nice people. I was trying to be too proper, I suppose, trying to establish a home and family.
“Singing is like a marriage. You do it for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, till death us do part. I love being in love, but there’s never enough time. My life is one long schedule of work and travel. I didn’t plan it. It just happened that way.”