Trumpeter from Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, who started playing when he was only five years old and grew up playing in The Antonini Family Orchestra. (Antonini was his birth name.)
While still attending John Adams High School in Cleveland, Ohio, he gigged with a variety of bands until he wound up with Al Donahue’s outfit. Then he seemingly hit the trumpeter’s lottery when Glenn Miller scooped him up but the two of them didn’t get along and he band-hopped to The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. Uncle Sam called and Ray spent much of his tour of duty entertaining the troops with his own military band.
In 1946, he was discharged and formed a civilian band and inked a deal with Capitol Records. One of his early recordings is “Skycoach” which features the jazz craftsmanship of Ray Brown and Mel Lewis. The Ray Anthony Orchestra enjoyed the pinnacle of its popularity in the ‘50s, with party favourites like “The Bunny Hop”, which Ray co-wrote with Leonard Auletti, and “The Hokey Pokey”. In 1952, he scored a #2 hit with a cover of the Glenn Miller standard, “At Last”. He followed this up with a cover of the theme to the popular television series, Dragnet.
In 1953, he became the musical director of another TV show, Top Tunes, and briefly hosted The Ray Anthony Show from 1956 to 1957. In the interim, he married blonde bombshell Mamie van Doren and played himself in the 1955 Fred Astaire vehicle, Daddy Long Legs. Ironically, he portayed his former boss, Jimmy Dorsey, in The Five Pennies. He also appeared in a pair of his wife’s movies, Girls Town and High School Confidential.
All of this show business activity did not preclude him from recording, however, and his LP, Anthony Plays Allen, is considered a stand-out. The album features guest appearances by artists such as Conte Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, Skeets Herfurt, Plas Johnson, and Alvin Stoller. In 1959, he made a guest appearance of his own on NBC-TV’s Five Fingers.
Mamie and Ray called it quits in 1961, and that was pretty much the end of Ray’s movie career. The waning in popularity of big bands did not help his musical career, but he forged on with his own sextet and a pair of female singers who billed themselves as The Bookends. Again, Ray saw his group become popular, enough so that he was able to add four more musicians and four more female singers. This incarnation of his band enjoyed success on the club circuit, including the burgeoning Las Vegas scene.
Neither was Ray finished on the Billboard charts. His cover of “Peter Gunn” reached #8 on the pop chart and is considered one of the better recordings of the famous TV theme, and possibly the most financially successful. Financial success was nothing new to Ray, who parlayed his musical accomplishments into a number of lucrative ventures, including a Hollywood nightclub and a publishing business.
He was also successful as a songwriter, penning “Big Band Boogie”, “Mr. Anthony’s Boogie”, “Thunderbird” and “Trumpet Boogie”. Ray is also mentioned in the lyrics of another song, “Opus One”, which was an instrumental hit for Tommy Dorsey.
In the 1980s, Ray formed another big band and started up Big Bands 80s, in an effort to keep the tradition of big-band music going, on the radio, in schools, and other arenas. In 1991, Capitol records re-issued some of his recordings on CD as part of their Capitol Collectors Series. Ray also has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is good friends with Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner, and makes frequent appearances on the TV program, The Girls Next Door.
As recently as 2006, Ray was still very much active in the music biz. He also owns and operates Aerospace, a record label dedicated to re-issuing big-band classics by Billy May, Glenn Miller, and of course, Ray Anthony.
A Smoky Montgomery recordings
The Bunny Hop (Ray Anthony/Leonard Auletti)
Here is his “Mr. Anthony’s Boogie”…