“I Caught Her In The Kitchen Playing Westport”

Hundreds of readers spent half an hour watching the “Westport’s Got It All” video I posted earlier today.

Some spent a few more minutes passing it along to relatives and friends.

One guy — presumably with a lot of time to spare — googled something Harry Reasoner said. In the video, the TV newscaster mentioned that he first learned of his future hometown from a Time magazine article. It quoted a song: “I caught her in the kitchen playing Westport.” 

Pearl Bailey sang about Westport.

Pearl Bailey sang about Westport.

The alert “06880” reader found a website called “Folk and Traditional Song Lyrics.”

Similarly inspired, I searched for a YouTube video of the song. I couldn’t find one.

But here — from “Take Five, A Julius Monk Review, ca 1952-1954,” are the lyrics.

According to the website, they come from an original cast record by Pearl Bailey and Will Holt. The version is “somewhat doctored” by R. Greenhaus.

There’s a little ranch house in the vale,
Pretty little ranch house up for sale;
All the shutters drawn,
Tenants all gone
And thereby hangs a long, unhappy tale.

‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport,
A game indigenous to suburban life,
Where you take a wife of whom you’re not the husband,
While someone else’s husband takes your wife.

Some people may claim that the name of the game is Scarsdale,
Or Beverly Hills, or even Shaker Heights,
But commuters from Manhattan call it Westport.
And it’s the game that some of our local leading lights play
To while away those cold Connecticut nights.

Now in that little ranch house used to dwell
An advertising feller and his Nell.
Two kids and a pup, living it up,
And everything was sounder than a bell —
‘Til he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Between the washing machine and thermostat.

This is not the Westport kitchen the song refers to.

This is not the Westport kitchen the song refers to.

The husband thought it really was an outrage.
Said he, “You might at least remove your hat!”
Well, they may play it that way in Great Neck,
While in Levittown they’d never think it odd.
But there is not an architect in Westport
Who’ll ever forgive the cad that said, “My God! Sir.
I must have got the wrong cape cod!”

Since they are no longer groom and bride,
Quoting from the Sunday classified:
“Are there any takers
For three lovely acres
Of peaceful old New England countryside?”
‘Cause he caught her in the kitchen playing Westport
Which would ordinarily be a cause for gloom;
But though the sanctity of wedlock’s on the downgrade,
Currently housing is enjoying quite a boom!

And while they defame the name of the game in Boston,
Where naturally they think it’s a dirty shame,
In the green and fertile pastures of suburbia
The local dealers in real estate acclaim
It the best thing since the FHA, hey,

Westport is a grand old …
‘Midst pleasures and palaces …
Westport is a grand old game.

14 responses to ““I Caught Her In The Kitchen Playing Westport”

  1. Denny Davidoff

    Lyrics by my cousin, Philip Springer, who was in LA at the time. Eartha Kitt later recorded it.

  2. Correction. Phil Springer wrote the music. Also wrote Santa Baby” for Kitt.

  3. Gloria Gouveia

    I hope Denny will share the year those wonderful (let’s bring them back in rap format) lyrics might have been penned by his clever cousin so that I can adjust my mental timeline accordingly.

    My recollection is that it was not Westport but a neighboring town that in the mid-1960’s claimed the dubious rights to the invention of spouse-swapping in Fairfield County.

    In a video produced in 1984 by the Westport League of Women Voters for Cablevision’s public access channel, a guest panelist claimed with great authority that the real “playing Westport” was a party game. The Rules: Each man who drew from the collection of house keys thrown into a hat was required to take the matching woman to a meeting at Town Hall.

  4. Jane Nordli Jessep

    As a nearly life long resident of this town, I seem to remember the wife swapping business happened here during the late sixties and seventies. I believe the New Englander motel was part of the Westport version of the game. I guess we weren’t the only ones playing as the book and movie “The Ice Storm” includes wife swapping ,the ice storm was famously horrendous and for sure in the ’70’s but the story takes place in New Canaan. As I was only in grade school in the fifties I probably didn’t have wife swapping on my radar so for all I know it was going on. As one of the voices in the video suggests Westport has all the normal human drama of any town, the good, bad and the ugly. Though probably mostly the good.

  5. I did a little further research–I was fascinated because I had never heard of this song (and I was surprised that it could have been written as early as 1952). It appears that the lyrics were written by the renowned lyricist Carolyn Leigh in 1957 and that it was first performed that year in a Julius Monk revue: “Take Five.”

    Is Denny’s cousin still alive? Perhaps he can give us the definitive version of its history.

  6. Jack Whittle

    I immediately googled that song line too, and realized the songwriter must have had some familiarity with the area ; )

  7. Jeff Mitchell

    The song appears on the “original off-Broadway production” of “Take Five”, which was issued in 1957 (reissued in 2011). The singer is Jean Arnold. Here’s the original cast and song list: http://www.ovrtur.com/recording/178945760. To hear the songs performed, two of which are entitled “Westport!” (the first of which being the song with the above lyrics), go here: https://play.google.com/store/music/artist/Jean_Arnold?id=Alxvb3vspgrea3hhyjpirw6kpa4&hl=en

  8. I have the recording on a Pearl Bailey album I own. Suzanne Sheridan and Chris Coogan performed it years ago at one of our local mafia-owned restaurants.

  9. Douglass Davidoff

    Wow! And after they were caught playing Westport, some of them landed in my father’s law office for marriage dissolution or, better yet, for referral to some of the fine therapists and marriage counselors in Fairfield County.

    I guess I am first cousin twice removed to Phil Springer, composer of the music for “Playing Westport.” My mom (Denise Taft “Denny” Davidoff, whose comments are above) looked up her cousin once removed online and it seems he’s still alive. Readers of this blog who know my mom will look at Phil Springer’s photo at Discog.com and see a family resemblance in their eyes and square facial shape.

    The recording on Google Play discovered by Jeff Mitchell is just delightful.

    A family rift held by people dead for decades kept the Springers and the Tafts apart. So having composed a song about Westport, Phil Springer sadly wasn’t welcome in his own cousin’s home in Westport. My mother’s parents, Allen and Bunnee Taft, active in Temple Israel and Birchwood Country Club, lived on Abbotts Lane off Cross Highway during the 1950s and 1960s and then on Woodcock Lane off Newtown Turnpike in the early 1970s. But apparently, Allen couldn’t get along with Mordecai Springer, who was my grandmother’s maternal uncle and the father of Phil Springer. Mom says that Bunnee sneaked out for visits with her cousins; I grew up knowing about the Springers only when people whispered about them. With my grandfather dead since 1971, some 42 years ago, it’s surely time for the surviving Tafts to meet the Springers — especially if Cousin Phil has some important Westport history to impart!

    I’ll remind Mom to look for that sheet music. If we find it, you all will get a JPEG of it here on “06880,” just before I compel Mom to donate the original to the Westport Public Library.

  10. Gloria Gouveia

    Thanks, Douglass and thanks to all the other participants in this delightfully civilized dialogue!
    I would love to print and frame a copy of the sheet music should it turn up.
    Best wishes to all.

    • Douglass Davidoff

      Gloria, we’re the deliciously tasteful players of Westport. No foolin’ around for us!

  11. Pearl Bailey version of Westport is streamable from Spotify at http://open.spotify.com/track/4X0jmSGNRdyVL8iLjPymoB