Writing a biography presents challenges for any author. Details elude. Disappointed by her inability to find the lyrics to a song that was central to her parents’ story, Carol Jean Delmar published her book without them.
LA-based Carol Jean’s biography of her Holocaust survivor parents, Franz Jung and Franziska Perger, is moving and well-researched. Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love is based on her father’s audiotapes and on Carol Jean’s travel to places her parents lived or visited. Franz was an opera singer whose extraordinary bass-baritone voice disappeared. He then rose to head the costume department at CBS. He supervised costumes for blockbuster films like Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and TV shows including The Untouchables.
The book has received lots of praise, including an inspiring note from E. Randol Schoenberg, the grandson of composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl and president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. He wrote that Carol Jean’s memoir was, “Gripping and beautiful … the musical culture that was a part of their being, the terror of having it all ripped away by the Nazis, is of course very familiar to me, and yet, as always, uniquely compelling to read.”
En route to Cuba, where Franz and Franziska lived while awaiting US visas, Franz sang at the Cine General Salom in Venezuela. Included in that concert was a love song Carol Jean thought was called, Sweetheart, Sweetheart, Sweetheart. She scoured music stores and bought sheet music; none represented the song in her head. She regretted being unable to track the song down.
This December, ten years after her beloved father died, Carol Jean felt especially lonely. Flipping through TV stations, she stopped on a PBS classical music station. The first video played was the song she’d sought, actually titled Will You Remember from Sigmund Romberg’s Maytime.
“Suddenly there it was,” Carol Jean says. “George London was singing it for the old Firestone Hour. I got the composer’s name, went to YouTube and found it. It was a sign. My father knew I was sad and lonely this past holiday season. I believe he was there somehow, sitting in my kitchen where he always sat for dinner, letting me know he was watching over me.”
In a clip she found from a 1937 movie, Maytime, Nelson Eddy sings the song to Jeanette MacDonald when she’s a young woman. Later, Eddy comes back as an old man—in MacDonald’s mind’s eye.
“That’s when It got eerie,” Carol Jean says. “In the book, my parents serenade each other with music, letters and poetry. I serenade them with my book. Now, suddenly my father was back, serenading me in a different way. He was telling me I’m not alone. My family is with me and everything will be all right.”
Days later, Carol Jean felt blue again. Lying in bed, she clicked on the Turner Movie Channel—and, what was playing?
She’d never seen the old film. At the end, the older couple watches a young couple walk away. “My heart started thumping,” she says. “It felt like my parents were happy together, looking over me, but telling me something I needed to hear. To go and live my life.”
By the way, in the refrain of Will You Remember, one line goes: “I love you in life’s gray December.”
Remember when Carol first heard the song? Go figure.
(Godsigns appear through all our senses. Please send me yours.)