Originally created 11/26/03

Steve and Eydie still singin' and swingin'

CERRITOS, Calif. -- The house lights go down and the memories begin. There's 16-year-old Steve performing on Arthur Godfrey's TV show and years later singing a duet with Johnny Carson on late-night television.

Black-and-white footage shows a young Eydie singing her heart out on a 1953 Steve Allen show.

Then the 27-piece orchestra swells as Steve Lawrence in a black tuxedo and Eydie Gorme in a beaded white caftan take the stage. America's showroom sweethearts have sold out another suburban theater - this one next to a shopping mall.

"It's nice to get away from show business," Lawrence jokes. "We wind up singing near a Wal-Mart."

Performing together for 43 years, Steve and Eydie are big on the kind of old-fashioned showmanship and glitz rarely seen anymore, favoring the classic standards by composers such as George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern. Or as they like to say, "no punk, no funk, no rock, no schlock."

The couple's "One More for the Road" tour kicked off in February, taking them from Southern California to Florida to New York before a farewell finish next year - farewell to touring, that is.

They'll still record and perform at selected concerts, but he's 68 and she's 72 - and they're growing tired of the rigors of the road.

"We're getting older, one-nighters are tough," Lawrence said. "There are a lot of younger kids doing this and they go out for like three months, six months, and they go into the Betty Ford clinic to recuperate."

Gorme doesn't like the hassle of airports and flying. She broke a toe before the tour began and has ongoing back problems.

"We're a Jurassic rock act," she said. "I'm too old for this."

Except when she's on stage with her hubby of 45 years, and the audience is on its feet applauding, as was the scene this night at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center southeast of Los Angeles.

"The people energize us so much," Gorme said. "Now we're getting brand-new, younger fans."

And the older ones keep coming, too.

"Oh, I love them," said Anita Hesselgesser, a sprightly 79-year-old from Santa Ana. "They're just a wholesome family show and they've been around so long."

Steve and Eydie perform for two hours without the backup singers and dancers and pyrotechnics that are the staples of today's pop concerts.

It's still the same kind of act they did the first time they performed together at Washington's Lotus Club in 1960. Their next gig was at the famed Copacabana in New York, a three-week sellout.

They won a Grammy Award in 1960 for "We Got Us," and scored individual hits in 1963, when Eydie sang "Blame it on the Bossa Nova" and Steve did "Go Away, Little Girl."

Steve and Eydie eventually headed to the old Coconut Grove in Los Angeles, then on to Las Vegas, where they played the Sands, the Desert Inn and headlined for 10 years at Caesars Palace.

Unlike the three- or four-day stands of today's Vegas, the resort's major hotels featured big stars playing at the same time for extended periods during the 1960s and '70s.

"Oh God, it was the best," Gorme recalled. "After the shows, we would all get together and hang out. If it got later, we would all get together for breakfast."

Back then, it was common for singers to fill in for each other at a moment's notice. Lawrence took over one night when Bobby Darin was sick.

"Everyone was on the same level of fame," Gorme said. "There was no jealousy and everybody went to help each other."

During one of the couple's engagements at the Sands, Lawrence had a throat infection and there was no one to replace him. Gorme decided she could carry on alone.

Until a knock came on her dressing-room door. "It was Frank," she recalled, as in Sinatra. "He said, 'Not to worry, kid. I'll do the show with you."'

On her own, Gorme - who was born Edith Gormezano - is popular for her Spanish-language recordings. The daughter of Turkish and Spanish parents, she grew up in the Bronx speaking Spanish, the family's native tongue. Lawrence was born Sidney Leibowitz in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Steve and Eydie divide their time between homes in Las Vegas and Malibu, where they listen to jazz, swing and orchestral music, and enjoy family life. Their son David produced his father's new album, "Steve Lawrence Sings Sinatra." The couple's other son, Michael, died in 1986.

Lawrence said he and Gorme consider themselves true survivors, and he's unabashed about the reason.

"We're pretty damn good. Eydie and I are among two of the best singers in the kind of popular music we do," he said. "You can't be around for a long time and stink."

Not only has the showbiz couple stayed married for nearly 50 years, but they've also managed to stay out of the tabloids.

"I don't take a punch at her and she doesn't hit me with a bat in a restaurant," Lawrence said. "I don't go around chasing skirts and she doesn't go around taking drugs. We're normal, we're close to it anyway."

And yes, they're still crazy about each other, though they do have their moments.

"We argue," Gorme said. "I don't like to be with people who agree with everything. I enjoy a good argument and let's have a drink."

"You're the best, baby," Steve tells Eydie.

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