Snapshots: Gene Pitney — gentleman and scholar

By  Ian & Lauren Wright

At all of his concerts and cabaret performances Gene Pitney had an “open door” policy for the press.

Once Gene met a member of the press, he filed their name and number for his next visit. It was always a joy to answer the phone to hear, “Hi, this is Gene Pitney. I’d like to invite you to my show.”

Gene was always erudite. I recall a political writer from one of the national newspapers questioning him on American/U.K. policies after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Gene replied to every question without hesitation, deviation or repetition. As you can imagine, Gene always received positive editorial.

So it came as a great shock when the all-American Ivy Leaguer, on his 1964 U.K. Tour, became the envy of all British males by having a love affair with his co-star Marianne Faithfull, the skinny ex-convent girl who was an icon of the 1960s and later a legend in her own lifetime.

Lady Faithfull had quite a reputation on the buses of the national tour shows. Many fell in love with Marianne and had their hearts broken.

One hapless fellow from The Hollies had to change the title of his song to “Hey Carrie Ann, Now What’s Your Game?” even though it was about Faithfull.

But it was Gene who held her affections even though she found him aloof, pompous, self-satisfied and humorless (Now who’s calling the kettle black?) When Gene returned home to Hartford, Conn., he bombarded Marianne’s home in Reading, England with letters of love and devotion.

Unbeknown to the love birds, Marianne’s mother used to get up at the crack of dawn to intercept Gene’s missives, and she hid them in the attic. For a very short while. Marianne felt jilted but soon recovered and moved on. The ever-professional Gene sang “I’m Gonna Be Strong.” his ode to Marianne, which became a massive hit.

Gene was a magpie who collected anything and everything to do with his shows, including tickets, programs, posters, handbills, newspaper cuttings and invitations. He even kept all the fans’ letters which were delivered backstage. But he was also a giver, especially to his fans, who remained his No. 1 priority.

Never, on all the occasions I met him, did he ever refuse to sign an autograph or pose with a fan for a photo. On more than one occasion, he asked me to do the honors when a camera or flash refused to work. And how could you say no to a man who was always so generous with his time, so well-mannered and so cool?

In those early days on the road, performers all carried pockets full of postcard-size photos to sign for fans.

Gene’s tour was being extended, and he was out of pictures. He asked if I could print 50 for him.

The next day, I returned to his hotel with my mum, who was a big Pitney fan but had no idea she was about to meet him. Gene greeted us in the foyer, “Nice to see you Ian. Thank you so much for doing me this favor. Who is this lovely lady?” Mum’s expression was priceless.

She was also speechless. Gene shook her hand and said, “I’m so pleased to meet you, Mrs. Wright.” Mum gently curtsied and stammered, “Oh thank you, Mr. Pitney.” Over a pot of tea, Gene signed a photo for her, which she kept on her bedside table until she died.

Gene Pitney died April 9, 2006, in Cardiff, Wales. He was 66.

He was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

About Ian Wright

Regarded as “The Man Who Was There WHEN,” Ian Wright’s fabulous 50-year career as a celebrity photographer began in 1960 as a 15-year-old junior photographer for “Teenage Special” a new supplement to a newspaper in the northeast of England.

Too young to drive, Ian strapped the heavy plate-camera equipment to his bicycle, pedaling to local ballrooms, theaters and nightclubs, photographing emerging pop stars and celebrities. “Photograph everyone on the bill; you never know who’s going to become famous and keep all your negatives,” was the brief given by his editor, the now illustrious editor/publisher, Sir Harold Evans.

Consequently, teenage photographer Ian Wright was unwittingly on hand to photograph the creation of the Swinging ’60s. From his first picture, for the “Teenage Special,” of Ella Fitzgerald in 1962, to his last of Elton John in 1979, Wright photographed everyone on the scene. His intimate back-stage portraits show eager young performers unsure of whether they would flop or ascend to fame and fortune. Some fell into obscurity while others ascended to indescribable success. Five became Knights of the Realm, and many died too young.

You can view his collection at: http://tinyurl.com/Swinging60s
Or contact Ian directly at ian.wright.photographer@gmail.com

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