Stephens’ alumnae will headline benefit performance

Thursday, October 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:43 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Corky Hale said she began studying classical piano in Chicago when she was 7. That summer, Hale was playing piano in the lobby of a Florida hotel when Horace Heidt invited her to play with his orchestra.

It was her first job; from then on, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

The jazz pianist and harpist appears Sunday at Stephens College’s “Jazz on the Lawn.” For Hale, it’s a return to her roots: at 16, her parents sent her to Stephens to finish high school when the college offered high-school classes.

While at Stephens, she played piano and harp at MU. Her music teacher at Stephens didn’t approve and at first failed her because of it, she said on her Web site.

“It put me a half-point from graduating,” Hale said.

“My parents ran down from Illinois, and finally (the teacher) raised me to a D-plus, and I was able to graduate,” she said

The story of her life — as told in an interview Monday and on her Web site - is at times glamorous and worldly.

But it begins in the northern Illinois town of Freeport, where her parents owned a clothing shop.

Hale, then known as Merrilyn Hecht, acquired the nickname, Corky, at summer camp.

After a start in Hollywood, Hale played in variety shows and film scores.

She found herself on the celebrity circuit and became friends with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday.

She has worked in television, and with Barbra Streisand, whom Hale called “my idol. She has a reputation of being such a perfectionist that a lot of people won’t work with her. I love that.”

Hale has been married for more than 30 years to composer Mike Stoller.

Today, she said, she is attempting to place “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a musical drama she produced, in Chicago and London. Hale said she is also working on a TV documentary about director and producer Stanley Kramer.

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