Hollywood’s golden ageLate in 2009, I was asked if I would be interested in publishing the memoir of Monica Lewis. The name wasn’t familiar to me, but I asked to see her manuscript, then titled “Bebop, Borscht, and Banana Pie.” I didn’t realize that I was starting on a fascinating journey with an historical icon from Hollywood’s glory days.
By: By Nan Wisherd/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
Late in 2009, I was asked if I would be interested in publishing the memoir of Monica Lewis. The name wasn’t familiar to me, but I asked to see her manuscript, then titled “Bebop, Borscht, and Banana Pie.” I didn’t realize that I was starting on a fascinating journey with an historical icon from Hollywood’s glory days.
Monica was born in Chicago during the Great Depression and moved as a young girl with her family to New York City. She knew at an early age that singing was her key to success and got her first big break as a substitute vocalist for band leader Benny Goodman. From there, it was onward and upward.
Monica sang with Frank Sinatra. She appeared on the very first Ed Sullivan show. She joined Danny Kaye on a USO Korean tour, an experience that she says changed her life. She dated numerous high-profile men including Ronald Reagan, with whom she had a two-year romance ending after she refused his marriage proposal. During this time, she was the voice of Miss Chiquita Banana—a lucrative contract that lasted for fourteen years.
Monica found her soul mate in Jennings Lang, an MCA/Universal mogul who later produced dozens of films including “Rollercoaster” and “Earthquake.” After their marriage, she temporarily walked away from her career to raise three boys and open her Beverly Hills mansion to a very impressive list of Who’s Who including Senator Ted Kennedy, Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, and The Beatles.
My first call to Monica ended with my greeting left on her answering machine. She called me back soon after and immediately put my star-struck nerves to rest by saying, “Hi, Darling. It’s Monica. How are you?”
We became instant friends.
To bring her book into publication, Monica and I assembled a team. Her collaborator, Dean Lamanna from Palm Springs, Calif., rewrote Monica’s original manuscript so it conformed to our new title “Hollywood through My Eyes: The Lives & Loves of a Golden Age Siren.” Historian Flint Whitlock from Denver, Colo., joined the team as an editor and layout advisor. Norm Dodge, a talented movie-set designer from Lancaster, Pa., agreed to design the cover. With countless e-mails and many teleconferences, we were able to easily move the project forward despite Team Monica scattered across the country — Monica lives in Northridge, Calif.
Throughout our 18-month publishing process, Monica remained upbeat, interested in every aspect in the process, and a highly knowledgeable, detail-oriented treasure trove of information. With her memoir, Monica shares many never-before-seen photographs that richly chronicle the bygone days of Old Hollywood. Her candid anecdotes reveal previously untold stories about the Rich and Famous.
Monica is now an active 89-year-old, taking private singing and tap-dancing lessons, and is excited about embarking on a new adventure as an author. It has been my pleasure and honor to work with a Golden Age icon who remains my good friend.