Thursday, April 23, 2020

The ineffable, overwhelming ennui of Patience and Prudence

Prudence (left) 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?

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.

UPDATE: Two years after I originally posted this article, I was contacted by a reader who had additional information about Patience and Prudence. Though he wished to remain anonymous, he said I could share his alarming email with you.
On that Dick Clark segment, Prudence (who was, and still is, a severe alcoholic) was drunk, rather than apparently casual/dismissive about their career.

When their mother, Audrey Sharp McIntyre (March 6, 1916 - September 20, 2011) was still alive, there were routine police visits to her home in North Hollywood. Address: 4330 Ponca Ave, Toluca Lake, CA 91602-2916. Lots of drama, starring Pru, who often lived on the streets. Pru's daughter (further down the page within the article followed by the asterisk) regularly stayed with her grandmother (Audrey).

Apparently, their dad (Mark**) was extremely hard on them, and denied them the career he'd introduced them to, once they became a hit. Prudence is extremely sensitive, and simply started anesthetizing herself.

There is no record of Patience ever having married. Pru had a daughter with Don Conca (usually spelled "Conka", to make it easier for people to know how to pronounce it). He died of a heroin overdose 9/26/04.

Paige Conca died in July 2020, homeless, in Seattle.

P&P have lived together in various places, from Arizona to Georgia to Minnesota (currently). There is a rumor of a wealthy man who pays them $10,000 to sing "Tonight You Belong To Me" to him, over the phone, on his birthday every year. There are several references to this, but they may be all from a single source, and that may be some troll on the Internet.

**Mark McIntyre was an orchestra leader, pianist, and songwriter, who accompanied Frank Sinatra on piano during the 1940s. In the summer of 1956, he brought his daughters, 11-year-old Prudence and 14-year-old Patience, into the Liberty Records studio in Los Angeles, California. They made a demonstration recording of the song, "Tonight You Belong To Me," which had been a hit for Gene Austin in 1927 and was written by Billy Rose and Lee David. Liberty signed them and immediately released a recording of the girls singing the song as a commercial single, (with the B-side, "A Smile And A Ribbon", a composition with music by Mark McIntyre) and by September the song reached #4 on the Billboard charts and #28 in the UK Singles Chart, and was the biggest-selling record put out by Liberty for two years. It sold over one million copies and reached gold record status.

Patience was born 8/15/1942, Prudence's date of birth is 7/12/1945.
Thank you again to that anonymous reader. He also included a list of links related to Patience and Prudence McIntyre for those who wish to explore this strange saga further: