A poorly attended funeral marks the end of an improbable life
Last week I was sent by my editor at Rolling Stone to chronicle the funeral of one of the most unusual of entertainment impresarios of the mid to late 20th century, Monty Lazar, who died at the age of 93 in Laguna Hills, California of complications relating to a severe case of Foreign Accent Syndrome. On a brusk and windy day, a young and well-intentioned rent-a-rabbi presided over a boilerplate funeral ceremony attended by a handful of guests. It was an anticlimactic farewell to an enigmatic man who leaves behind a massive fortune and a lot of confusion as to how he ever managed to amass it.
Lazar, who was born Moshe Lavitsky Fliegelman in Queens, NY on February 14, 1929, gained fame in 1959 with the release of a novelty recording that rose to #2 on the American pop charts. The words and music to Bing Bada Boop Dee Boop Baby, Baby Boop Dee Boop Bada Bing were written by Lazar on a dare by an army buddy from his service days in the Korean War. His platoon-mate had bet Lazar a month’s PX scrip that he couldn’t write a 3-minute-long song whose entire lyrics would be palindromic by word. Lazar finished the song 3 months later, collected on the bet, and then submitted the song to several music agents in the summer of 1957 after remembering the composition some years after the war.
RCA Victor bit and brought the nervous (and recently married) 29-year-old grocer to their New Jersey studio, changed his name to Monty Lazar, put him in front of the house band, and cut the recording in 2 takes. The song got initial airplay on Minneapolis’s KCRP. Then the unexpected happened.
The 1959 Hubert Humphrey presidential campaign latched on to the song and played it at the start and end of all of the senator’s campaign stops, despite a steady flow of letters from his supporters urging the campaign to stop using the song because it was, to quote the most frequently recurring word in the letters, “asinine.” Humphrey would eventually lose the Democratic primary to JFK, and decades later an aide to JFK admitted to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the Humphrey campaign staffer who selected Lazar’s song, Reginald “Bucky” McStandish, was actually a saboteur planted by the JFK campaign. The aide, who knew McStandish, claimed that “few Americans know it, but Monty Lazar is the reason JFK won that primary. Without that hideous song blaring out at all those Humphrey speeches, Humphrey runs away with the thing. It was the perfect weapon.”Continue reading “Remembering Monty Lazar”