- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Artie Shaw, the clarinetist and bandleader whose recording of “Begin the Beguine” epitomized the Big Band era, died yesterday at his home.

He was 94.

Mr. Shaw’s health had been declining for some time and he apparently died of natural causes, his attorney and longtime friend Eddie Ezor said. Mr. Shaw’s caregiver was with him when he died, Mr. Ezor said.

At his peak in the 1930s and ‘40s, Mr. Shaw pulled in a five-figure salary per week and ranked with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller as the bandleaders who made music swing.

But he left the music world largely behind in the mid-‘50s and spent much of the second half of his life devoted to writing and other pursuits.

His band’s recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” was intended to be the “B” side of the record. Instead, it became a huge hit, topping the charts for six weeks in 1938 and making Mr. Shaw famous at age 28.

Among his other hits, some with his big band and some with his quartet, the Gramercy Five: “Frenesi,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Nightmare,” “Back Bay Shuffle,” “Accent-tchu-ate the Positive,” “Traffic Jam,” “They Say,” “Moonglow,” “Stardust,” “Thanks for Ev’rything,” “Summit Ridge Drive” and “My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue.”

He composed some of his songs, such as “Interlude in B Flat,” a 1935 work that featured an unusual combination of clarinet and strings.

He worked with such jazz legends as Buddy Rich, Mel Torme, Gordon Jenkins and, at a time when most white bandleaders refused to hire blacks, Billie Holiday.

Another famous roster: his wives. They included actresses Lana Turner (wife No. 3, married in 1940), Ava Gardner (No. 5, 1945), and Evelyn Keyes (No. 8, 1957), and novelist Kathleen Winsor, author of the 1944 best-seller “Forever Amber” (No. 6, 1946).

The marriage to Miss Keyes, best know for playing the middle of the three O’Hara sisters in “Gone With the Wind,” lasted the longest, until 1985, but they led separate lives for much of that time.

“I like her very much and she likes me, but we’ve found it about impossible to live together,” he said in a 1973 interview.

After his first burst of stardom, his good looks made Hollywood come calling. While filming “Dancing Coed” in 1939, he met Miss Turner. In 1940, he appeared in another musical, “Second Chorus,” and got two Academy Award nominations for his musical contributions — for best score and best song (“Love of My Life.”)

A volatile and intelligent man who was born Arthur Arshawsky on May 23, 1910, in New York, Mr. Shaw hated the loss of privacy that stardom brought. He had little use for signing autographs and once caused an uproar by calling jitterbugging fans “morons.” He later said he had been referring just to the rowdy ones.

“I could never understand why people wanted to dance to my music,” he once said. “I made it good enough to listen to.”

He chafed at having to play “Begin the Beguine” ad nauseam, wishing audiences would be more willing to accept new material.

“I mean, it’s a good tune if you are going to be associated with one tune, but I didn’t want that,” he said.

He retired from performing several times — putting down his clarinet for good in the mid-‘50s. After that, he lived in Spain for a time, operated a farm, and turned to literature full-time. He had been a voracious reader since childhood and had produced a well-received autobiography, “The Trouble with Cinderella,” in 1952.

“I did all you can do with a clarinet,” he said.

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