Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sherwood’s Auburn Forest

By David "Chet" Williamson Sneade

In Hollywood, he was famous. He was a well-known musician, bandleader, arranger, radio host, singer, actor, and author of the standard, “My Secret Love.”

So how is it that Bobby Sherwood died in obscurity in Auburn, Massachusetts?

Unraveling this riddle revealed a sad ending yet life-affirming portrait of a great American artist.  

Sherwood was born on May 30, 1914, in IndianapolisIN. His life and times are well represented online. You can find biographies, discographies, and more about his extraordinary career at a variety of sites. As for his time spent in New England, not much is written.

However, Thomas J. Hynes of the Worcester Telegram & Evening Gazette wrote as complete an obituary as one could ask for, especially given the time and space allotted.

Dateline: Auburn, MA, January, 23, 1981. He opened his piece by saying, “Robert J. Sherwood, Jr., 66, internationally known in show business as Bobby Sherwood, died yesterday at his home, 26 Pollier Way, after a long illness. He had been under treatment for cancer.”

26 Polliver Way, Auburn, MA 

Therein lies the local connection. For a few years before his death, Sherwood had been undergoing tests and receiving chemotherapy treatments at what is now the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in Boston.

According to Hynes, Sherwood came to the Worcester area to stay at the Rev. Ralph A. DiOrio’s healing ministry retreat in Leicester. At the same time, Sherwood and his wife, Vivian (Coleman) searched for a place to live. The couple eventually purchased a home at 26 Pollier Way, Auburn. Sherwood was married five times in his life. He and Coleman tied the knot in November 1979 in Henderson, Nevada.
Rev. Ralph DiOrio preaching 

Sherwood first met DiOrio in the winter of 1979. The Worcester priest had been conducting “charismatic services” on the West Coast. It was reported to be the weakest point in Sherwood’s illness. According his son Michael, it was Vivian who talked the entertainer into seeing the faith healer.

Without airing dirty laundry, let’s just say the family did not consider Ms. Coleman a Sherwood.

Like his dad, Michael Sherwood is a talented musician. He is based in Las Vegas. When asked about his father’s life in Auburn, he said, “Truth be told, there's not that much my mother, brother, or myself knew about his life there. He had split with my mom in ‘78 and fell back in with a woman from his past named Vivian.

“She was a nightmare. That's putting it lightly. [She was] very hostile toward the family who loved him. He was sick at the time and found himself unable to truly communicate with us toward the end of his life. None of us even know if he was buried, cremated, or otherwise. If there's a grave I sure don't know about it.”

During his stay in the Worcester area, Bobby Sherwood continued to work on his music. In August 1980 he was interviewed by the Worcester Telegram“Everything in my life is music,” he said. “I’ve got a big band book. It’s on the West Coast. [It] fills a Navy footlocker, it’s that much music, 200 charts for 15 men. That’s a lot of paper.” 

Sherwood was no stranger to New England. In his big band glory days, he played at the Worcester Memorial Auditorium, Lincoln Park on Lake Quinsigamond, and the Lyonhurst in Marlboro. He led crackerjack groups that featured such jazz heavyweights as Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Serge Chaloff.

Hynes noted that Sherwood had already been undergoing treatment for cancer at the time of the interview. “Despite his affliction, he said, ‘I’ll work a deal. I’m an entertainer and I’ll get that big band of mine, Bobby Sherwood and His Orchestra, and on a Monday night,’ pausing to laugh and put out a cigarette, he continued, “we’ll come in to Worcester and play the El Morocco. And I’ll tear that room apart.”

For local fans, we can only imagine what might have been. At the time of Sherwood’s death, Hynes said the musician was preparing to write a column on big bands for the Worcester Telegram and the Evening Gazette. In 1980, one of the editors at the T&G was Ken Botty, who was a huge jazz fan. 

Hynes also reported that the entertainer was working on an album featuring big band material and that a Boston radio station was “interested in having him do a show for syndication.”

According to music writer Bruce Eder, Sherwood’s last recording credited to him was Bobby Sherwood -- One Man Band on the Coral label, released in 1954. Eder also noted that, “by that time acting was taking up an ever-increasing part of his work, including a starring role (as Ned Galvin) in Columbia Pictures’ screen version of Pal Joey (1957). He spent much of the remainder of his career working as a radio deejay.”

Sherwood spoke of his role in Pal Joey in his T&G interview pointing out that he was cast as Frank Sinatra’s friend. “Remember? I was the band leader, and Kim Novak was my girl – until Frank showed up, and then Rita Hayworth showed up.” Sherwood also mentioned that he released an album featuring the music played in the film. In 1958, Bobby Sherwood & His Orchestra released the Pal Joey album on Jubilee label.

One of the more stunning revelations written in his obit is the fact that for several years Sherwood had been working on his autobiography called, The Days of Wine and Buses.

The book remains unpublished. It is in the hands of his son, Michael, who says, "He never published it, but I have the manuscript. I have all of what exists. I even went into Capitol Studios in LA and recorded some of the pieces that were never recorded, as well as remakes of his hits, Sherwood's Forest," and "Elks' Parade."

When Sherwood died a service was held for him at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Worcester. He was cremated at Rural Cemetery. Learning that his father was cremated, Michael said, “I should tell you that my dad always told me he didn't want to be cremated, because -- and I quote – ‘Hey, what if you spill me on the carpet? Who the hell wants to spend eternity in a Hoover bag?’

Rural Cemetery and Crematory, Worcester
“He was a very funny man and I miss him every day. When I pay my respects I go to his star on Hollywood Boulevard. It was a very sad end to a rich and amazing family life.”

In a fitting gesture to such a musician, memorial contributions may be made to the Robert J. Sherwood Fund at Berklee College of Music. The fund is for musical scholarships for outstanding students at the college.


Note: “My Secret Love,” was written by Sherwood and Mitchell Parrish. It was copywritten on April 1, 1943, and first put into print by Worcester publisher Jack Robbins.  

Other local connections – jazz trumpeter Carl Saunders’ role model was the late great Worcester horn man Don Fagerquist. Saunders and Sherwood were cousins.

Michael Sherwood --


Elks Parade by Bobby Sherwood --

In the Dark by Bix Beiderbecke --

Sherwood Forrest by Bobby Sherwood --

Love Turns Winter to Spring with Martha Tilton --

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