I’ve written before about a couple of movies that told the Hollywood version of the lives of two stars from the big band era — The Benny Goodman Story and The Glenn Miller Story (video below) — but something occurred to me today. Each film included a number of real musicians from the era appearing as themselves but at least one guy was in both movies, and his portrayal was an accurate one.
Ben Pollack played a bandleader who helped give a start to both Glenn and Benny, and it was a role he also filled in real life. He was known for being a shrewd judge of talent, and at one time or another featured a lot of other future stars too, including Harry James and Jack Teagarden.
The Chicago-born Pollack was a self-taught drummer who first found success in the 1920s, when many of the big band era’s future stars were just beginning to find their way into the business. Glenn Miller was a talented trombonist and arranger, and Benny Goodman — who was just 16 at the time — was a dazzling clarinet virtuoso when both became members of Pollack’s orchestra in 1925.
Although Pollack himself never reached the white-hot popularity level that awaited his employees, he did continue to lead musical groups for a number of years — albeit with mixed success. His musical style always favored the dixieland sound he’d learned earlier in his career while spending time in New Orleans, but his bands could play as ‘sweet’ as any and also often featured vocalists, including one who would be a problem.
Doris Robbins joined the band in the early 1930s, and Pollack’s romantic entanglement with her soon led to a lot of unrest among band members, who felt like their leader was way too distracted. The twosome would eventually marry but the band broke up, with most moving on to form Bob Crosby’s band. But Pollack would continue to lead groups with varying degrees of success for many years, and stayed involved in music, not only as a performer but also as a record producer and night club operator. Unfortunately, things spiraled down for him in his later years and he took his own life in 1971.
Ben Pollack Orchestra – “Mama, I Want To Make Rhythm”
(video removed at source.)