“I was a liberated woman long before it became fashionable.”
— Pony Sherrell
Doris “Pony” Sherrell was one of thousands of performers that attempted the jump from from screen to jukebox. A first generation native New Yorker, Sherrell was on stage at the age of three, and began performing with her sister Grace as the Sherrell Sisters in the late 1920s on the Loews and RKO radio circuits. A chance encounter with “My Blue Heaven” crooner Gene Austin landed the sisters steady work, who flanked Austin throughout his early ’40s cowboy phase and eventually lead to Gene and Doris’s marriage on Thanksgiving Day 1942. By then, the thrice married Austin, his child bride, and her sister had decamped to Hollywood to pursue their celluloid dreams. The sisters spent the first half of World War II on stage, performing separate and together in various theater troupes and nightclub acts. They got their first big break in 1944, when they starred as themselves in both Moon Over Las Vegas and Follow The Leader, alongside Austin. By 1947, the honeymoon was over. Her first marriage behind her, the lifelong brunette did something incredibly bold: She went blonde.
The following year, the pair of platinum sisters were out for the night at The Haig, a jazz club on South Kenmore in Hollywood. Appearing that evening was “English piano Wizard” Phil Moody, who’d recently migrated to the States from war-ravaged Britain. A rapport was immediately struck, but this time with Doris as the third wheel. Moody spent his evenings playing in any restaurant and lounge that would have him, and briefly he worked under the tutelage of Phil Moore at Discovery Records. But his real passion was writing and arranging music. It was his new wife Grace that suggested he partner with a lyricist, and she knew just the filly to help get him in the money.
A 1954 press kit describes how Doris Sherrell got her nickname: “She’s called ‘Pony’ for two reasons. [1.] She’s only 5-2 and 115 pounds. [2.] She won a beautiful legs contest and the emcee of the event said she ‘had the slender legs of a colt.’” The writing duo of Moody and Sherrell got going in earnest in 1950, and had close to 200 songs by the end of the year. An audition for Irving Mills’ American Recording Artists firm resulted in a publishing deal in 1953, and the two were immediately drafted to write music for the Tony Curtis-starring So This Is Paris, followed by The Second Greatest Sex and Paris Follies of 1956.
In the middle of this long-delayed Hollywood fantasy, Pony set her eyes on a recording career all her own. After Jimmy Durante tracked his own version of the Moody/Sherrell original “Little People” in 1954, Coral Records paid for Pony to cut her own. Though the single failed to go anywhere, there was enough chum to attract publicity shark Tim Gayle, who issued Grace and Pony Sherrell’s “Can-Can Blues” on his Advance imprint in 1955, and would continue to rep the Moody/Sherrell/Moody tricycle well into the ’60s. A deal with Irving Gwirtz’s revived Diamond label bore two gorgeous, orchestral singles: September 1956’s “No News” b/w “Hey Angelino” and “Jungle, Ungle Um Bai” b/w “Don’t Put Off ‘Till Tomorrow.” The racy “Jungle, Ungle” never sniffed the charts, and would be the last record issued on Diamond. Dozens of other songs were composed over the next decade, including the playfully xenophobic “Tobago,” but with their sound drifting out of vogue there were few takers.
Undeterred, Phil Moody and Pony Sherrell persisted. Under the management of club magnate Frank Sennes, the two wrote and performed steadily over the next decade at his Moulin Rouge and Desert Inn nightclubs. In 1967, with the backing of her new husband/Texas oil baron Jess Metcalf, Pony and Phil set up Pony Records in the Moody living room, issuing and reissuing their entire catalog on 45 and LP over the next five years to a completely disinterested marketplace. Phil and Grace Moody spent the bulk of the ’70s living in Las Vegas, where he performed regularly at the Stardust, Sahara, and Flamingo hotels. In 1980 the couple opened Moody’s Supper Club in Palm Springs, and Phil continued to perform off and into the late ’90s. Grace’s light went out in 2006, Phil followed in 2011. Pony Sherrell never did settle down, keeping homes in Beverly Hills, Connecticut, Palm Springs, and Manhattan. She closed out her days managing Metcalf’s vast financial empire, passing in December 1990 at home.
More mid-Century Fever Dreams
With the Phil Moody Orchestra
Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights