These audio files are from an 83-minute recording in which I asked my father about his life from his earliest memories to about the time I was born. The notes are from a 2015 project in which I converted the original tapes to MP3 and WAV files for distribution. The length of each track is in parentheses. Places where Felix plays the piano are marked with brackets. If you want to know more, contact me at LDECOLA@COMCAST.NET.
1 GRANDPARENTS (5:18) Felix (F) introduces himself; birth date and place, mother Edith moves to South Africa (SA), father born, moves to SA, dentist; F born, Lee interrupts: asks about grandparents, great uncles and aunts. Mother Ginsburg in Berlin; signatory to articles of SA incorporation 1910. Father moves to Vienna, gypsy girl and band. Got dental degree; Edith Mendelssohn, born in Boston, other aunts; forgets Edith's mother’s name; Russian roots.
2 MOVE TO SW AFRICA (4:40) Family moves to German South West Africa after marrying in King Williamstown SA. Boer War, diamond mining. Uncle Franz had a diamond mine, mayor, signer of Union articles of incorporation. 1903 Eric born, 1906 F born, move to Swakopmund; first memory of Cape Town streetcar, then German SW Africa, Greek cigarette factory – like a western mining town. Cape Town a big town. Gustav the itinerant dentist who makes money and wanted to return to Europe 1911, visit Berlin, sees Kaiser.
3 MOVE TO STUTTGART (5:40) 1912 move to Stuttgart Germany, Gustav practices dentistry. 1914 WWI, Gustav as British citizen interned in Spandau with about 4000 other prisoners; lost all money - what happened to it? They lived on it for over 2 years. Gustav freed, practices under supervision.; F learns piano from Edith; Gustav plays violin, they play duets [F plays Beethoven Romance].
4 PARENTS MUSICALITY (6:18) Parents accomplished amateur musicians. Mother was a "lousy" cook, very possessive. Father a violinist at prison orchestra which performed musicals, concerti. Gustav absent for over 2 years; F couldn’t recognized his father when Gustav was released; family is in Stuttgart 200 miles away. F and Eric take a hike, meet Graf Zeppelin in a forest; recalls zeppelin, they also visited Switzerland for fur business, F sees Halley’s Comet 1910. May have been a visit to SA to collect family possessions. F injures leg in Eggery (?) Switzerland.
5 WWI IN GERMANY (5:00) Germany in dire straits; Edith buys lots of rice, baby food. English and French bomb nearby to terrorize populace, especially during full moons. Slept in cellars. 1968 visit to Stuttgart; met an old friend Eugen who refused to acknowledge him; a mystery.
6 END OF WAR (4:28) 1918 Nov WWI ends, Germany in chaos, they leave by railroad with violin and cello (Eric) pass thru Frankfurt; soldiers streaming home; breakdown of order except for trains.
7 REFUGEES TO ENGLAND (4:55) Escape to Rotterdam; helped by Society of Friends (Quakers); luxury of getting food after foraging, bartering. Take a fishing boat to Hull England. Wanted to return to SA, Age 9: learned in English in Bournemouth. Edith spoke English to kids, they spoke German to her. Trying to get back to SA, spent 2 years in Bournemouth; kids in school. Uncle Franz helps them. Southampton boat to Cape Town. Gustav plans to start noodle factory by acquiring noodle equipment in Italy.
8 CAPE TOWN NOODLES (3:22) 1920 Cape Town Gustav fails as noodle maker, then back to Windhoek SW Africa. Gustav has cancer of liver, dies in 1922. F to Bloemfontein. The 3 go to Johannesburg and then Pretoria. 1923 F gets job in music store playing piano and selling music. Had music teachers, played duets with mother.
9 SHOW BUSINESS (7:15) F is “Bitten by the show business bug.” Accompanist to Florence Smithson, musical star, tours SA and Rhodesia; sends Edith money; 6 months touring. Meets a girlfriend who gives him cufflinks. 1922 broadcast in Johannesburg; he plays classics in ragtime.; [plays ragtime riff on tunes, also Always] considered a prodigy; studies from player pianos (which were often recorded by two pianists!); enlarging chords. Also had dance band, traveled by Douglas 2-stroke motorcycle. Family moves to Durban w/ Charlie Low (who’s he?). Eric in Johannesburg working in a brewery; he and Edith didn’t get along. Playing in Lourenço Marques silent movie house; considered move to Cairo. Discussion of F's ‘wanderlust’ – you got fired, jobs end; lifetime disruptions. Cape Town music school.
10 BACK TO CAPE TOWN (4:12) Back to Cape Town, 1925 starts music school: F is ‘king of jazz’ plays for tap-dancing Prince of Wales at private party at Government House; [plays Ain’t Misbehavin’]. Mail-order courses, phonograph records, radio shows, trips to London by boat for the theatrical season: music, plays.
11 MARRIES PEARL(5:36) 1933 marries Pearl to Edith’s ‘disgust’. 1935 Joan born. Yearly concerto performances w/ Cape Town Symphony. Premiers Gershwin Concerto in SA. ‘Classical/popular musician’ ; 1938 Pearl (Miss Cape Town of 1936?) meets Tay Garnet Hollywood director, she visits Hollywood, F follows. A glamorous couple. F wants to move to California, leaves Joan in Cape Town; she later goes by boat to Boston then NY, then LA; 1935 Joan born Cape Town, moves to LA age 4; WWII breaks out; Cape Town a small pond, even Johannesburg wasn’t big enough.
12 FAVORITE SON OF EDITH (5:18) 1932 More about Pearl (née Eckhart), who had 3 brothers; a possessive Edith resented Pearl for ‘snagging her favorite son.’ Didn’t feel the same way about Eric. Eric marries several women, including Barbara. Eric and F friendly but didn’t see one another; 1960 visit to SA with one-man show (only visit to SA). 1938 moves to LA intending to return to SA. Lee questions the separation: Pearl’s luxury associations, visits to glamorous Hollywood. Didn’t return to ‘tie up’ SA affairs.
13 PIANIST AT KMPC RADIO (3:51) Played as staff pianist at KMPC; meets Howard Rines, show ‘Lend Me Your Name.’ F and Pearl on Hayworth Avenue and 1940 have a ‘friendly divorce.’ Pearl works at Westlake School. F gets job at Bill Jordan’s Bar of Music, switching between LA and Miami only once, returns to LA. 1940 Edith moves to LA, later dies of cancer.
14 MEETS ELIZABETH IN MIAMI (7:19) F meets Elizabeth a 'social worker of some kind.'' Lee asks about the apparent mismatch between the performer and the social worker - ‘We hit it off.’ Wanted to create a little home; not attracted to showbiz people. Pearl a shy person. Sends for Elizabeth; they live on Alfred St. Joan finds the Martel Ave. house, which they buy for $8900. 1971 around the world on Rotterdam then Monterey to Hawaii, etc. Early glamour days of Hollywood: supper clubs, stars and opening movie nights. Tom Mix in a white convertible. Living the Hollywood dream. Never had great difficulties, but remembers Gustav’s death, Edith desolate; they were an ideally happy family.
15 DEATH OF GUSTAV (5:59) Eric the rebel, a black sheep though the brothers got along, no tensions between them. Eric very successful in SA, refused to visit US, though did work with BBC in London. Eric had radio school, but was destroyed by being ‘pushed out’ of SA radio, but still worked in show business.; Recollections of Gustav: intelligent, sober-minded, a skeptic, tolerant. Moves to SA and then Europe – war screwed up their life. F is 4F because of ear problems: otitis media.
16 IF YOU COULD DO IT AGAIN? (4:08) Lee asks: if you had life to live over again? He would have ‘stuck to one thing,’ e.g. focus on the one-man show. But maybe not happier as successful traveling performer. Wanted to play chamber music and have a family in a rooted home. Had a reasonably happy life versus the potentially miserable existence of pressure of success. Lee is also a 3rd generation restless person. Without WWI F might have settled in Germany, and life would have been completely different.