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Lady & Mister: 1947

Lady & Mister: 1947

New York circa 1947. "Billie Holiday and her dog Mister at a 52nd Street jazz club." Medium format negative by William Gottlieb for Down Beat. View full size.


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The Billie Holiday biography

"Lady Sings the Blues" was largely "customized" by Bill Dufty. Having spent personal time with Billie on a few occasions (in Copenhagen and Philadelphia), I had my suspicions. Bill, who became a friend of mine (in later years when he was married to Gloria Swanson), confirmed that he had indeed been overly creative with that book. The well-known opening sentence was, for example, his. The subsequent Diana Ross film was almost total fabrication. As for the gardenia story, I'll have to check my 1959 interview, but it differs from the one related here.

["Lady Sings the Blues" is a ghostwritten celebrity autobiography, with ghostwriter Dufty's name on the cover. So none of this is particularly surprising. - Dave]

The published cover credit is "Billie Holiday with William Dufty", Bill never regarded himself as a ghostwriter but neither did he reveal that much of the book's content was of his making—although attributed to Billie. He allowed me to read some of the passages that Doubleday, for various reasons, cut. This included a somewhat revealing incident with actor Charles Laughton, which he for understandable reasons claimed never happened. Dave, I was not attempting to reveal a secret but most people today believe this an honest account. Bill himself wasn't hiding the facts that he had made up much of the book's content. Having read what Doubleday redacted, I think they made a costly misjudgment.

The gardenia tradition

The story goes that one night Lady burned her hair in the dressing room while preparing for a performance. The remedy was to cover the burned locks with several fresh flowers. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Your best friends always remember you

Billie served eight months in federal prison for narcotics possession. She recounts her return in her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues. She was trying to slip in unnoticed, but Mister was not on board with that plan.

"When I got off the train I knew Mister wouldn't recognize me. ... Man, how cheap I played that dog! He not only recognized me, but in a flash he leaped at me, kicked my hat off, and knocked me flat on my can in the middle of that little station. Then he began lapping me and loving me like crazy."

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