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Interview with Maxine Powell [Part 2 of 2]

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Interview with Maxine Powell [Part 2 of 2]
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Powell, Maxine, Rock and Roll, Etiquette, Motown
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Interviewer:
Tell me about what you did at the Copa?
Powell:
At the Copacabana, whenever we thought we had the artists ready for a national exposure, the Copacabana was the place and of course, I was there with them as a finishing instructor and uh, to see that everything went well and that they stayed to their -- stayed with the routine that was made up, that was uh, planned for them. And I answered the door and the telephone, every call. I had my bar set up and I mixed every drink. I never had anyone to have too much to drink in my room. Uh, Marvin um, um, the Temptation, once said to me, Miss Powell, I have to have five of these before I even know I've had a drink - I said, yeah you - because all I want to do is relax you and that you are an artist, so you don't need strong drinks. So then um, um, I -- the artists couldn't understand, why does she go to the door when she answer the door and she said, um, my name's Maxine Powell and offer them her hand. They didn't come to see her, they came to see us. So I had to explain to them, there's going to be prominent people coming to see you and outstanding stars or whatever. And I mean, you don't know their name, they get insulted, 'cause they feel you should know them, so the idea, since I'm the finishing instructor and I represent the company, I'll say to them, hello, I'm Maxine Powell and guess what happened? I did that one night and this gentleman said, and I'm Joey Bishop and uh, I said, well Mr. Bishop, I'm so thrilled, why the girls will just be love -- love that you've come to pay respect to them, won't you come in? And I would fix him a drink, or whoever. And I said, and the girls is taking a shower, they may not have been, but I didn't allow anybody to see an artist when they came off a stage for twenty minutes. Because they were taught to work so hard, they were ringing wet even their shoes was wet. So I went back stage after I'd fix the drink and I said to the Supremes, uh, guess who's out front, Joey Bishop. Well I didn't really know him that well at that time. So they got all excited, oh really, oh really. I said, just calm down now, I said, because he's gonna, you're gonna pay him the same respect when he's appearing somewhere or whatever, you're gonna go and do the same thing. So now he's just a, a great artist and that's all. So now I told them five minutes has gone by so I said, in the next fifteen minutes, one of you come out and all, whoever, you can come out one at a time, but you must be out in fifteen minutes and, and they had lounging robes to, to, to, to, to wear backstage uh, in their little dressing room where they were private, then they had the ones to wear when they came out to wear when they came out into uh, it was a hostess coat, into the room to greet their guest, so they were ready and they looked like they stepped out of a band box each time, see? And so, that was um, uh, uh, that's how we, we'd carry things, see. And if th- and then I taught them etiquette and uh, and how to be gracious. How to be beautiful. The male and the female, you see. I remember one time with uh, -- oh and then one other thing. The main thing, when they appeared at the Copacabana or the Latin Casino or anyplace like that, I would - main thing - was go downstairs, to the kitchen and I wanted one waiter and someone to bring the food up and I'd find out what they wanted to eat and order it and then I gave instructions that the minute that they did their last number and started up on the elevator, that was the same time I wanted someone to bring the food up and then they wore little soft girdles, they would take them off, I'd have them take everything off, have the TV on for them and I treated them like they were King and Queen you see. And then I, I would answer the door, I would bring back um, uh order- the uh, souvenir booklet or whatever it was that they wanted autographed or whatever, and I would take it in the back uh, where they were and tell them to sign it while they were eating, you see, but you don't have to stop, just sign it in-between or whatever and....
Interviewer:
Maybe you can give me a brief story about Martha Reeves.
Powell:
Oh, about Martha Reeve. Oh, she was adorable to work with and uh, I didn't have a lot of uh, problems with her, with the new dress or the new this, because she wasn't into um, the real glamour clothes. She was more or less was concerned about her Vandellas. They always looked nice, but she was always teaching them and always trying to get them to do a certain something. But then, when we were on the uh, Motown Review, Martha did have a problem. She um, wasn't as secure as she wanted to and she didn't feel as good about herself and uh, so it would take her uh, maybe till twelve o'clock to kind of get herself together where she could- would feel relaxed and talk to people. So I said to her one day, uh, Martha -- it's because you don't wake up happy. I want to see you wake up smiling and happy. I want to see you handle every situation, no one is as great as you. You're your own person and we have to work on that. I said, do you want, well Miss Powell, it just look like it takes me I don't know how long to get... I said, well do you want me to help you with that? And she said, yes. So I said, what we're gonna do, we're gonna go uh, to a bookstore and, and, and try to find what we call a joke book and so we looked, we did, and we did and we looked and we finally found one that was kind of funny and I said, now what you're gonna do... You're gonna read this, you're gonna go to bed with this, you're gonna wake up with it and when we're travelling on the uh, bus, you're gonna read it to, aloud, because uh, and share, you'll be sharing with the other artists and uh, and then we'll all laugh and have a -- so then I, I explained to them, Martha, you've been complaining about Martha don't talk to you, now what we have to do, we have to help Martha, so from now on, she's gonna have this joke book and she's gonna be reading to- aloud, she's gonna share it with us -- and if it isn't real funny, we're gonna laugh anyway and this is what we did and then Martha got better, you see.
Interviewer:
Tell me about Smokey....
Powell:
Oh, about Smokey. Well you know, my theory is to stand tall push your hip bones forward. And let's see your eyes and uh, because in number one places around the country, they're not gonna participate. They came to be entertained so they're not going to entertain you, they're gonna stand and give you a standing ovation. So um, um, ah, Smokey he- that was part of his act, to get down on his knees and then uh, the Miracles, they always leaned forward. Always leaned forward so I was trying to work with them to stand tall and push your hip bones forward and all of that bit and they were beautiful. They were trying and they started to um, let me see what was this name of that song? Uh, Monkey... uh, uh… Mickey's Monkey.....
Interviewer:
Maybe you could start by saying, there was this song, Mickey's Monkey and .....
Powell:
There was this song, Mickey's Monkey, I think that was it, and that was one of the m- Smokey and the Miracles hit. And they were, and I was trying to show them how to stand up and sing that song, so they were very polite and trying and they were singing and they had their mike and ... but they were so awkward and they were Mickey's Monkey and.... they were just and they were so uncomfortable and I was, went to say something to someone and when I looked around they were laying down again and were like [sings] and they were doing an excellent job you know, so they, they just... so I said to Berry, I-I-I think that they don't look that bad, we'll just leave 'em as they are and as they grow older they will stand up and you will see their eyes and they will sing. Then I'd like to tell you a little bit about when we were at the Copacabana with the Temps. They said, what? now this is supposed to be such a great club and they don't even have a stage. I said, but it's a prestige club and I said, you're not at the Fox Theater, you're on a different level now. And so they said, well yeah, but we don't even have a room to perform and I said, well if you're popular, you won't have as much room as you have now, because they'll put the tables there, all the tables are on the floor and you'll perform on the floor. I said, and they said, well how are we gonna do that? I said, easy. I want all five of you to stand and touch fingers. Stretch your arms out and touch your fingers together, that's all the space you need to perform, not only here but in life. If you cover every inch of where your fingers are, you- you've done a thing. So they did. That, that settled that. Then they went out and they performed. Well there was a different type of audience. They had, they was in glasses looking and they didn't applaud or whatnot, so then they came back in and they said, you know Miss Powell I don't if we can go back out there, I said, why? They said, 'cause they're just staring at 'em. So I-- you know, so I said, well what do you want 'em to do? I wanted to bring in a little joke, I said, what did you want 'em to do, close their eyes. I says, well you see it's different. You run - don't have to run up and down like at the Fox Theater, you're at a different uh, uh, uh, spot altogether. So what's gonna happen is they're gonna stand, if they like you and give you a standing ovation. Don't get carried away, for the one standing ovation, that one performance, I want you to get three standing ovations, just work on 'em, work on 'em. Work on the audience, and that's what they did.
Interviewer:
You were going to tell me about shopping for clothes.
Powell:
Well I shopped for Diana Ross' Supremes. I remember we were on the uh, Dean Martin show and it was, the scene, the scene was going to be hot pink. And it was the only time I - we weren't ready. And uh, so we went shopping, I went shopping in a strange town and uh, I think Andy Williams' wife at that time, took me shopping but where the places that they took me, I couldn't get the things that I needed. I needed hot pink but I needed a fi… size 5-7 and 9. So when we got back to the hotel I asked there, where was a bridal shop, you see. And where was the leading bridal shop. And there I found, I found a hot pink dresses 5, 7 and 9. And it had a little jacket and then sleeveless and uh, it was just fine and later on um, when we didn't have a lot of money but uh, I splashed those dresses with rhinestone, you see, so it gave another look for another show and uh, then I bought them mini-dresses and I did their make-up and then when they got to the place where they felt they could do their own make-up, if I saw lipstick or whatever that I saw would look good, and each one had their section, I kept it beautiful, in the back there, in their little dressing room, they ha- each one had their section and their own mirror and whatnot, so that they were -- I would buy a lipstick and what I, I knew as a make-up artist what they needed and if I made a mistake and it wasn't quite so, I -- well it should be, I'd just take it off the table, they'd never miss it, because they had many lipsticks or whatever there and uh, then it came to the nails. Most of 'em was nervous and they had small nails, so I went to a factory in New York and bought a whole case of nails and this is what I did because I-I studied cosmetology so I ended up a manicurist too, you see. So, and I used to work at it. So I uh, filed these nails down, you see, so that each one had their own set and that was at the time where you had to -- the uh, powder and then you'd put the solution in and just on the nail and apply it to their real nails and it would stick. Then you file them down to the shape they wanted well then I kept those with their name on it, see. On their box, so we could use 'em over and over and then um, their nails looked good, you see. All parts of the body should look uh, well groomed and polished. And uh, then, then well who else was it? Oh, and, and with, with Martha we had to shop for a certain dress. Well we didn't have any problem uh, and we found a, a beautiful dress that -- then you had to be sure that the-, that the youngsters like their dresses because, after all it's hard to perform to do something that you don't like, see? So they cooperated beautifully and we bought uh, beautiful dresses and then they looked good every day. We used walking suits, you see, so that I could change a blouse, I always carried three blouses and whatever and, and jewelry, see, so we could look more glamorous or whatever and then we used walking suits. You see and uh, we could dress them up or down. And....
Interviewer:
Let me ask you one different kind of question. What are you proudest of, about that whole time when you worked with Motown?
Powell:
I'm proud that uh, the artists that I, they could not understand that um, when I told them that you're going to be able to appear with this new department - Artist Development - you're going to be trained to appear in number one places around the country and even before the King and Queen and they didn't believe it, they said that uh, all they wanted was a hit record. And I said, class will turn the heads of Kings and Queens and that's the main thing we're going to work on. And I'm very proud of them because you don't hear a lot of negative things about Motown artists and each one a class and they are great performers. And I'm very proud of that.
Interviewer:
Was the idea of this kind of training for people new? Was Berry Gordy very clever and....?
Powell:
He didn't know anything about it. I- I mentioned earlier, it's hard for me to get that through. That I had a finishing and modeling school and that I worked with just ordinary uh, people and they worked for a Packard and, as models and Chrysler and Dodge and that didn't -- they didn't have a feel for black girl. They -- Dodge loved them so well and the fellow, they did 'em in color. I just can't make it clear, you know, it seems like a miracle. Nothing is a miracle. You see, I don't care about anyone's color or where they live or how much money they have. I've never met anyone that I could not improve and they stand tall around the world. Now they may be slow, but there's only four things you need in this world and that is to develop the skill of listening and second is to develop the skill of following positive guideline, whether you think it will work or not. And then being determined and consistent and, a-and you're gon- and I make it easy. I make if funny, you see, I teach people how to laugh at themselves. And I teach them how to know who they are and what makes them tick. And it doesn't matter whether you are the cameraman or you're the producer or you're the writer or you're the singer or if you are the accountant or whatever... you see. I have to tell you this, I had one of my models, she was eighteen years old, she went to Blue Cross/Blue Shield and she was there about six months and they were told, they told her we like how you carry yourself Shirley, we think you are executive material. She went in as a clerk and guess what they did? They sent her to school and she got her Bachelor's Degree and then the next thing I knew, uh, a little years later, they uh, sent her and she got her Master's Degree in uh, administration, so it doesn't matter, I just can't get that through, it doesn't matter what you do, it's who do you develop, how do you develop and what do you stand for? All you have to do is find out who you are and what makes you tick and find out your skills, what is it you do well? See. Everybody does something well and then we all may have some kind of hang-ups. You see, so you get rid of them, you find out what a unique human being you are. Whatever you're doing that's negative, you didn't come in the world doing that, you were helpless and innocent when you came in the world and anything that we're doing that isn't productive or negative, it's something that we have been conditioned to, it's not the real you. Now that's what life is about.
Interviewer:
That's a good ending.
Powell:
That's what growth is about.
Interviewer:
If I realize we're almost out of film and we need to end it, I'll give you a sign.... Just that idea of where you....
Powell:
Well I'd like to just mention again, because it's very, very important. That when I met the artists, they were young, they came from humble beginnings and not all, but some of them were rude and crude and from the street and the project. Well with me it is not where you come from, it's where you're going. I told those artists, I said, you're gonna, this Artists Development is going to be different than the records. You're gonna learn how to perform, you're gonna graduate and become a great performer and you're gonna appear in number one places around the country, even before the Kind and Queen. It was my pleasure to work with the artists because they were diamonds in the rough and they just needed grooming and needed to find out who they were and that they were loved and would be- and believe that they could be successful, wherever, see, I had nothing to do with voice. I don't teach that but smiling and being beautiful. 'Cause every time you smile, every muscle in your body is relaxed for that split second and we all need that. And then some of them turned out to be rubies and emeralds. I'm very proud of 'em, they're class today.
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