Thursday, April 23, 2020

The ineffable, overwhelming ennui of Patience and Prudence

Prudence and Patience McIntyre seem thrilled to talk about their glory days.

Some Patience and Prudence merchandise.
Imagine being a former child star, famous for something over which you had almost no control. You didn't ask to be in the spotlight. It just sort of happened. Would you take pride in your former glory or would those years seem foreign and distant to you, as if your experiences had happened to someone else?

Los Angeles-born sisters Patience and Prudence McIntyre know this situation all too well. In the summer of 1956, when they were 14 and 11 respectively, their father Mark briefly turned them into a successful recording duo. He was a musician himself, having worked with Frank Sinatra, and he thought his daughters' eerily pristine harmonizing -- imagine cheerier versions of the Grady sisters from The Shining -- could catch on with the general public. He was right. Under the name Patience and Prudence, the girls scored two novelty hits in 1956: "Tonight You Belong to Me" and "Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now." Despite numerous efforts, no other hits were forthcoming. The McIntyre sisters kept trying to recapture their initial success off and on through 1964, but the public was simply not interested. By the time of The Beatles, Patience & Prudence had been largely forgotten.

After that, the sisters moved on with their lives, their brush with fame a distant memory. But nostalgia-meister supreme Dick Clark, longtime emcee of American Bandstand, remembered them! In 1978, during a prime time special called Good Old Days, Clark aired a brief but fascinating interview with the McIntyre sisters. The mise-en-scène is astonishing here. The sisters, both in their 30s by this point, are seated in a lovely Hollywood garden, looking as though they are posing for an Impressionist painting. They both wear loose-fitting, satiny blouses -- Prudence's in tangerine, Patience's in lavender. And they both look utterly, supremely bored.

Patience, the older sister, speaks first and with perfect diction: "Making two hit records didn't really mean much to us, because we didn't work for it. We didn't want to be performers. And it's like anything else in life. If you work hard for it, then it's an achievement. But it was just an accident, and it's almost like a dream now."

Then it's Prudence's turn to speak. Looking as though she's fighting the urge to take a nap, she gives us an update on her sibling: "Patience was a marketing executive, and now she's writing a biography." To my knowledge, no book has emerged from either of the sisters in the ensuing 42 years.

"Pru married a great guy," Patience responds, "who's a cinematographer. But he was a recording artist, too. He was with [the garage rock band] The Standells in the '60s. And they live here in Hollywood." You probably know The Standells for their 1965 single "Dirty Water," now a sports anthem. They also guested on The Munsters.

"Probably one of the very few people in this world who has a gold record that's a 78," Prudence says of her husband, making her sister laugh.

And that's it. That's the entire interview. Most people would probably say that this clip is nothing special, and they'd be right. However, I could not help but be intrigued by the aloof demeanor of the McIntyres in this clip and their utter indifference to their own past. Their total lack of nostalgia works against everything Dick Clark is trying to create with this special. Every once in a while, I will revisit this (badly preserved) clip in the hopes that it will inspire me to write a short story or something. So far, it hasn't. But don't these ladies seem like they could be characters in a Christopher Guest movie?

P.S. - Patience and Prudence do not have a deep catalog of material to explore, but if you like their two hits, I'd recommend The Best of Patience and Prudence from Collectors' Choice Music. The duo's songs tend to be catchy, witty, and well-produced. I'm especially fond of "The Money Tree" and "Very Nice is Bali Bali." Even the 1964 stuff is listenable. They tried to add British Invasion-style guitars to their sound, though this gambit fooled no one.