Pearl Winters interview
“Raymond was an original, and I guess you could say a genius, but that encompasses a lot of things. He was different and difficult, and withdrawn. He had some very strange feelings and ideas.” – Pearl Zimney Winters
Raymond Scott married three times, the first time to his Brooklyn sweetheart, Pearl Zimney. They were wed in 1935, when “Raymond” was still legally Harry Warnow. The marriage lasted 15 years, with two children (Carolyn and Stanley). Pearl and Raymond were divorced in 1950; two years later she married Larry Winters, to whom she remained married for the rest of her life. Pearl was interviewed by Irwin Chusid and Jeff Winner on May 20, 2000, at her home in Mamaroneck, New York. Pearl passed away on April 28, 2001, age 90.
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Jeff Winner: Do you remember the first time you met Raymond?
Pearl Winters: Paul Gordon came over with him. Paul is my brother-in-law, married to my sister. Jewish people in Brooklyn — it was like a little village, a neighborhood. I didn’t have boyfriends at that time. I was very shy. I liked Raymond, and liked that he was a musician. He told me that he taught himself to play the piano. He was very precocious as a child. He learned by following the player piano. He said that when he was two years old, he was fiddling around with the piano. I guess that’s how he started. Maybe he took lessons.
Irwin Chusid: When did you meet?
Pearl: I think I already knew him when I voted for Roosevelt the first time [in 1932]. So I could have been 21.
IC: Was he out of school, or just graduating from Juilliard [then called The Institute of Musical Art]?
Pearl: He was working as a pianist at CBS radio, making $100 a week. And he knew how to spend money. I was making $10 a week — and he’d borrow from me!
IC: Did you hit it off immediately? Was it apparent that you would be boyfriend and girlfriend?
Pearl: No, he didn’t have much self-esteem. He was unsure of himself, and would always recite to me all the girlfriends he had. So I figured, “Hey, you got all these girlfriends? Good-bye Charlie!” But we got closer and closer. I have a large family — brothers and sisters — and he liked that. He would do nice things, like bring a radio to our family, ’cause we used to have one of these old rheostat-things, and he brought a modern one. But he didn’t know how to handle human relationships too well. It was difficult for him. That’s why he didn’t understand [in later years] what he used to do to musicians.
IC: Did you know his parents?
Pearl: I used to go into his father Joseph’s music store in Brooklyn when I was a kid, so I remember him in a vague sort of way. His mother I had seen maybe twice. Raymond brought me over for her approval.
JW: When you said “music store,” did it sell records? Turntables? Instruments? Sheet music?
Pearl: Sheet music, yes; and maybe violins, because Joseph was a violinist. It was in East New York. It’s all black now, but it used to be mostly Jewish and Irish. Raymond’s mother died — she was hit by an automobile, in the street, around… 1933? Raymond went to live with Annette, his mother’s sister, and his cousins, in a different part of Brooklyn, where he was taken care of very nicely.
JW: At the time his mother was killed, his father was already dead?
Pearl: Yes, he had a heart attack.
JW: And that’s why he went to live with his aunt?
Pearl: Because he had no parents, he was an orphan. With 14 girlfriends — so he told me.
JW: Why didn’t he live by himself by that time?
Pearl: You just didn’t do that sort of thing. You didn’t leave your parents. It was the Depression, how could you live by yourself? I lived at home in Brooklyn and used to get on the train every morning. I trained to be a teacher. This woman I worked for ran a cosmetics company. I got a job for $10 a week, because I couldn’t find a job teaching. Raymond’s composition “157 W. 57th Street” — that was the building I worked in. We eventually took an apartment in that building.
Love, Marriage—and Machines
JW: How did marriage come about?
Pearl: We were married in 1935. We knew each other for three or four years, and he could not make a commitment. I think it frightened him. I said, “Hey — so we’re not going to be a pair?” I went off on vacation with some girlfriends to Gloucester. I wrote and told him where we were. He came up with friend Moe Troob and his wife to get me, and we went off to Lake George. I said to him, “Listen, if this is it, do you want to get married?” He agreed. We went and got a wedding ring and eloped. And my father wouldn’t talk to me. I was the oldest daughter and he was horrified that we had a civil wedding. So when we came back, we had to have a Jewish ceremony. Raymond couldn’t handle it with all these relatives, so we left. They had food laid out, and he said he had to go, he had work to do. We just left these people standing.
His older brother Mark insisted that Raymond go to the Institute of Musical Art in 1931. I don’t think Raymond wanted to. He wanted to go to engineering school. Raymond’s struggle between being a musician and an engineer was very real. He just loved equipment.
JW: He left his own wedding reception?
Pearl: Well, wedding receptions then were not what they are now. It was at my mother’s uncle’s house — in other words, a great-uncle, a very learned man. A Jewish ceremony, with all the prayers and then some food, gefilte fish. And he wouldn’t stay. Raymond wasn’t the kind of person that would sit down and talk to your parents.
After we were married, we took an apartment at 157 W. 57th Street. Our friend Lester Troob lived two buildings from us, and Lester worked at Raymond’s studio, Universal Recording. And I worked there. I learned how to record. Raymond taught me. I didn’t know anything, but I was a good learner. We were a whole big crew. My brother worked there, my brother-in-law, my sister — it was a kind of family thing. And it was very interesting. I remember once the famous [jazz trumpeter] Bunny Berigan came up with this singer, I forget her name. The two of them were high as a kite. I didn’t know anything about drugs then. But they were loopy. Performers would come up after a radio show to listen to the programs we recorded off the air. Artie Shaw used to come up and sit on the floor. It was not a big place; the studio was maybe as big as a living room, and behind it was this little cubicle where we recorded, and there was this sort of waiting room, a small office.
IC: When you met him he was “Harry Warnow.” At some point, you must have first heard the name “Raymond Scott.”
Pearl: He picked it out of a phone book. It had to be around 1934, maybe before we were married. I am not sure. Raymond was still playing the piano in his brother Mark Warnow’s orchestra, and he was experimenting with the quintet. Mark was the one who insisted that Raymond go to the Institute of Musical Art, in 1931. I don’t think he wanted to. He wanted to go to engineering school. Raymond’s struggle between being a musician and an engineer was very real. He just loved equipment. He was not very communicative about his own personal needs, and certain things he was very withdrawn about. As people go, he was very different. But you’re in love with somebody, so that’s the way they are.
JW: How old was Raymond when his father died?
Pearl: His father died before his mother. I really don’t know. Twenty-three?
JW: Did Mark become a father figure to him?
Pearl: No, I think he and Mark disagreed about a lot of things. Once he was telling me that Mark would get very angry with him in the orchestra. He wanted him to do a certain thing, and he didn’t like the way Raymond did it. So Raymond said to me, what shall I do when my brother gets angry with me? I said, “Well, you can just sit there and be very quiet. Smile.” He said, “I tried that, it just made him angrier.” I don’t know what he did. He may have grinned? You could never make eye contact with Raymond, at least in his early years. His ability to connect with people, to have a real open relationship, it just wasn’t there — with musicians, with me. Though I loved him, I really did.
IC: Mitzi said that Mark would give Raymond advice. One of the things he supposedly told him was, “Get rid of the recording studio.” And Raymond got rid of the recording studio. Raymond had his own publishing company, Circle Music. Supposedly Mark said, “Raymond, you are a composer and bandleader, you don’t need to be a publisher; get rid of the publishing.” And Circle was sold to Warner Bros. [in 1943]. That’s when the works started cropping up in cartoons. Was Raymond — were you — aware of the usage in cartoons? Was it ever discussed? Did he care?
Pearl: I don’t know. I never heard about it.
IC: Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were popular then. They showed them before movies in theaters. There was no TV then.
Pearl: Yes, but I don’t think we — or I — ever sat through one of these cartoons.
IC: So, it wasn’t a big deal when Raymond sold his publishing to Warner Bros.?
Pearl: I thought it was awful that he sold it. I knew his music was worth something. I tried to give him my thoughts on things, but he really didn’t listen to anyone. He did what he wanted. Raymond did not have very good judgment. I have a theory that there’s a gene in the family — I think his father was a bit of an oddball and didn’t make a very good life for his mother. Possibly that was an influence.
Blessed Arrivals and Bad Reception
IC: What year was daughter Carrie [Carolyn] born?
IC: And son Stan?
Pearl: 1941. When we came back from Hollywood in 1938 —I came back to have Carolyn in New York — Lester Troob and his wife, found this beautiful apartment for us in a building called the Alwyn Court, on 58th Street. It’s a beautiful old landmark building now. We had a lovely four-room apartment, but we were only there for seven months. Raymond was a ham radio operator, and we moved from the apartment because he wanted to be where he’d have good reception.
JW: That’s why you moved? For the ham radio?
Pearl: Yes. Because the ham radio didn’t work. Later I found this absolutely stunning apartment at 1040 Park Avenue at 86th Street, now also a landmark building. At that time, how did you find an apartment in New York? It was the Depression. I just walked Park Avenue and went to the doorman and said, “Are there any apartments available?” That’s how I found this fabulous apartment. Eleven rooms. We were there for almost ten years. That’s when our marriage really fell apart, and that’s when Raymond left.
When Raymond found out that I was pregnant with Carolyn, he was very unhappy. He didn’t want children. That kind of concept of being a family was alien to him. In all the time we lived in Los Angeles, in 1938, he never once took me to the 20th Century film studio. He kept that part of his life — me — separated. Then, when I was pregnant, he couldn’t deal with that. It wasn’t that he was ashamed; he just didn’t know how to handle that sort of thing. And so I never went to the studio. I was just the dutiful wife. In the ’30s and ’40s, it was a completely different lifestyle then. We lived at this nice little house that we found. I think it was 461 Veteran Avenue in West LA.
JW: How long were you out there? Not even a year, right?
Pearl: No, it wasn’t. He got fed up because they wanted him to do things in costumes, like for “In An 18th Century Drawing Room,” and he just wouldn’t do that on camera.
IC: That was for Sally, Irene & Mary. They did “Minuet in Jazz,” but the Quintet is not on camera; it’s a bunch of actors miming.
Pearl: He just could not stand this sort of thing, to be in costume. I think they possibly said to him, “Well, if you don’t do what the studio wants, they don’t need you.” So he probably didn’t renew. We should have stayed in California. He was a composer, there was no reason he couldn’t have stayed out there. But your family’s back east, nobody took planes and even long-distance calls were a big deal. We used to write long letters. I told my family that I was going to have a baby. But they didn’t come out west.
Raymond was an original, and I guess you could say a genius, but that encompasses a lot of things. He was different and difficult, and withdrawn. He had some very strange feelings and ideas. For instance, he was very interested in the occult, anything spiritual.
JW: Was he that way in the ’30s?
Pearl: Yes, I think so. He used to get books.
JW: I know that he was interested in ESP.
Pearl: And poltergeists.
JW: He had a big collection of UFO books.
Pearl: Yes, anything that is sort of mystical. Warren Troob told me that he used to experiment with some mind-altering things.
Pearl: I don’t know. We were not together then.
IC: So this would have been the 1950s, ’60s?
Pearl: Probably when he was in the hospital. During our marriage he was trying to get me to smoke marijuana.
IC: Was he smoking marijuana?
IC: But he wanted you to smoke it?
Pearl: Who knows. It’s a good question.
JW: How did he have it?
Pearl: He got it from the guys. Maybe somebody was up to the apartment and left it, and he said, ‘Why don’t you try it?”
JW: He must have smoked at some point.
Pearl: I once went with him to meet some musician on 52nd Street. He didn’t like what the guy was talking about, and he said: “You have to go home.” I said, “Why?” And he said: “I don’t want you here.” So I took a taxi home. When we first got married, I was reading Ulysses. He forbade me to read it. He said, “You can’t read this stuff. It’s not nice, it’s dirty,” or whatever. I said, “But you didn’t read it.” “No,” he said, “I don’t want you to read it!” So I didn’t read it.
IC: He was very prim and proper.
Pearl: Oh, more than that. He was a prude.
IC: He didn’t even want to use the word “sextet” because it had “s-e-x” in it, and he figured “quintet” is safer.
Pearl: Exactly. Those things made him very uncomfortable.
JW: Anything biological made him uncomfortable?
Pearl: Oh yes. He wouldn’t let me in the bathroom if he had to sit in the tub and soak because he had a pain. He was very odd, very different. I don’t want to say “strange,” because I’m used to strangeness. I mean, I like strange people.
JW: You must’ve. You married him
Pearl: He had this phobia about being Jewish, looking Jewish. It was terrible.
IC: He changed his name from Warnow to Scott, and got a nose job, right?
Pearl: It was like I buried him when he did that. He had a very strong face, he looked like Picasso. And he went and mutilated it. I cried for a whole week. I shudder to think of it. He wanted me to have a nose job, too. I wouldn’t do it. He had strange notions. For instance, this thing about a pastrami sandwich being good for your spirits. He loved pastrami.
He loved pastrami, and he was very interested in ham radio.
And he was very paranoid, you know? When he was in the big band, I had to go every night with [singer] Dorothy [Collins], and he would ask us to listen to what the musicians were saying about him, and report to him. It wasn’t anything — maybe, “He’s nuts!” He knew they were unhappy. A lot of musicians quit him. He was very hard, and they had plenty to say about him. He treated them like tools, like objects. He had no respect for them as people. He did that once with vocalist Anita O’Day. He asked her to sing this or that, and she thought, “F. you!” She was horrified. If you were going to be creative, you had to be his creative — what he told you to do. You couldn’t be creative on your own. Except when the musicians played, if they did a phrasing that he liked, he would accept it. But I think he told them what to do and what to play and what he heard in his head. And he never wrote music down.
He was self-destructive. Whatever he did, it did not accrue to his benefit. I mean, he did the Quintet, but then he wanted a big band. He would change. I think that’s great, but then you become a gadfly. I remember saying to him once, “You could be another Leonard Bernstein.”
IC: But Raymond was a rich man.
Pearl: He was. I never knew what money he was earning in California. I was not privy to that. I just got my allowance to run the house. He started buying all these records. A fortune he spent. We’d get records that were duplicate albums. He’d say: “Send me all of Beethoven, and all of Brahms.” That’s the way he was. And of course, I was very frugal. I grew up during the Depression. I tried to save money in every which way.
JW: He grew up at the same time. Why wasn’t he that way?
IC: His family wasn’t rich, obviously.
Pearl: No. But I remember once in 1941, he had this apartment on, I forget — 55th Street? — this studio that he and Mark took together. He had a decorator furnish it. And he said, “Meet me there,” he would come at a certain time. So I came and stood at the door — I didn’t have a key. Well, an hour was plenty, right? He didn’t show up. So I said, “To hell with it,” and left. He was very angry. He said, “You should have waited.” He had bought a car and wanted me to see it. It was like a cat bringing home a mouse — he was going to show me this 1941 Cadillac, with the top down. We had it for a long time, and when he left the marriage, he transferred ownership to me, because I needed a car.
The Big Band Plan
JW: In an interview he said that the reason he started the big band in 1940 was because he looked at a technical supply parts catalogue and figured out that to buy every part in the catalogue would cost about $200,000. So he thought to himself, “How can I make that much money?” He thought that with a dance band he could tour and make a lot of money.
IC: When you were married to him, what was he doing with electronics?
Pearl: Ham radio was his interest then.
IC: But not machines to make sounds or to make music?
Pearl: That he did up in the studio. He would fool around with the cathode-ray, and microphones, and try to make things better, just fooling around.
JW: In the old days, recordings of anything were new and novel. I remember Raymond in an interview saying that one of the first things he did when he was able to record was playing jokes on girls over the telephone.
Pearl: Oh, please…
JW: He said he’d make a pre-recording…
JW: …and call up a girl and play that recording on the phone and then record what the girl’s reaction was.
Pearl: He did that with me all the time! I’d be talking to him when he was playing this recording. He’d be playing my voice back to me, and it was very annoying. [laughter] He used to hang the mic outside the window and record people on the street. He had the big 16-inch aluminum discs.
IC: This in so many ways explains why he was working with machines late in life, rather than musicians.
Pearl: They were his best friends. It’s like some people get with their computer now.
JW: He could only relate to similar minded tech-heads.
Pearl: There are a lot of people in astronomy, in other scientific things, that are very strange people. If they are not with their own — with other physicists or other people that are into their profession — they are very uncomfortable.
IC: I think in Raymond’s case it was a question of him knowing that he’s smart, and wanting to talk to other people who were as smart as he was. He knew a lot about music and he figured, “These musicians, they don’t know much about anything. They’d better take orders from me, because I’m better than them.” Whereas with engineers like Bob Moog, he had great respect for their intellect. I think he could speak to them as peers.
IC: And they could speak the same language.
Transcription by Renate Leisten. Edited by I.C.