A rise, a fall, a rise again

Next Stage to show documentary on the life and work of Doc Pomus, with a Q-and-A with the filmmaker — the artist’s daughter

PUTNEY — He was born Jerome Solon Felder in Brooklyn in 1925.

A son of Jewish immigrants, he contracted polio as a child and was left paralyzed, needing crutches and a wheelchair to get around.

He would reinvent himself as a blues singer named Doc Pomus, and then go on to become one of the great pop songwriters of the 1950s and 1960s.

You might have seen his name in the small print on the 45s that contained his greatest hits - “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in Love,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and dozens of others.

To the people who worked with him - Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, Phil Spector, Ray Charles, and Dr. John, among others - Doc Pomus was a man with a huge personality and an even bigger heart until death finally stilled that heart in 1991.

To his daughter, Sharyn Felder, he was simply a man whose life and work were too great to be forgotten, with so much packed into 65 years that he experienced more than others could in several lifetimes.

Felder is coming to Next Stage Arts Project in Putney on Saturday, Jan. 11, to talk about her father as part of a special screening of a new documentary, AKA Doc Pomus.

“I am really proud of my father's life, and I want people to understand what a remarkable person he was,” she says. “If you love the songs, you will want to know the story.”

Lou Reed, who was befriended by Pomus when Reed was a struggling young musician in the mid-1960s, has called his mentor “one of the best songwriters in history.”

Reed is just of the host of iconic artists appearing in AKA Doc Pomus whose lives were changed by his bighearted genius.

Directed by Peter Miller and Will Hechter, the project was conceived by Felder, and all three produced the film. Passages from Pomus's private journals are read by his close friend, Reed.

“My father is in both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame,” Felder says with pride. “My father always wrote songs - even when he was a blues singer, he wrote songs. But when he realized he would never make it into the top rank of pop singers, he turned his back on that side of his career and began to dedicate himself fully to songwriting.”

“My father was a songwriter for many decades, and this film shows how the music business changed in each era and how my father adapted to it,” says Felder, who always thought that her father's life story would make a great documentary.

“It is a compelling story about someone's rise, then fall, and then rising again,” she says. “It is a tale so dramatic that it is hard to believe it really happened, but it did. This is one of life's amazing true stories.”

Felder began toying around with idea of doing a documentary on her father about 10 years ago.

“I wanted to explore: how did this white Jewish guy become a blues singer, and then transition into being such a major songwriter, and end up becoming a professional poker player,” she says.

The project began quite informally.

“I invited a few people over to my apartment who knew and loved my father, people like Lou Reed,” says Felder. “This small group of us sat around the the couch and talked about what they loved and admired in my father. It all was kind of like the movie My Dinner with Andre.

Out of that conversation was the foundation for what ultimately became AKA Doc Pomus.

But the journey of completing a motion picture was an arduous one.

“For a long time, the work I did on the film remained just bits and pieces,” she admits.

As this was Felder's first movie, she had to learn how to make a movie as she went along.

“Although I was a huge film buff and I had been for many years a profession photographer for the music business, I had no movie-making experience,” she says. Furthermore, she had no outside funding, and she was facing the prospect of financing the whole project alone.

But as chance would have it, filmmaker Will Hetcher called Felder out of the blue after he read Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, a 2007 biography of her father by Alex Halberstadt.

“He thought Dad [would be] a terrific subject for a documentary,” Felder says.

Felder told Hetcher about her own tentative beginnings of a film on this subject, and he suggested they team up and make the film together.

“Everything changed then,” says Felder. “Will brought his amazing filmmaking team with him, and after a couple of years of extremely hard but remarkably gratifying work, my dream of making a tribute film to my father has become a reality.”

“Now, in retrospect, I know that I could not have completed the film by myself,” she says.

A theatrical release

AKA Doc Pomus is the rare documentary these days that has had a theatrical release.

“We played for several weeks at the Angelika in New York and three nights at Lincoln Center,” says Felder. “Our film also will be shown at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammys. We were in the running for this year's Academy Awards, but didn't make the final cut.”

For the past year, the filmmakers have been playing the festival route to bring the film to smaller areas where it might not get a theatrical showing.

The documentary has been an official selection in many film festivals across the country where it won many awards, including Best Documentary from the Pittsburgh Film festival and the Audience Choice Award from Charleston International Film Festival.

In the beginning of 2014, Felder says, AKA Doc Pomus should be available to buy or stream at online sites like Netflix.

No stranger to Putney

Felder says that she is eager to be appearing at Next Stage.

“I always love the chance to do Q and A about my father,” she says. “I particularly wanted to come here because Next Stage board member Billy Straus is a dear friend of so many of my closest friends.”

Felder also is no stranger to Putney.

“I often visited that barbecue place there [Curtis' All American Barbecue] during the time my daughter went to summer camp over in New Hampshire.”

Even beyond the film, Felder spends much of her time these days promoting the life and work of her father. Her husband Will Bratton manages Pomus's music catalogue and handles the licensing of his songs for television shows, movies, and commercials.

Felder is also working on a Broadway musical about her father's life and works.

“We will be using the songs he wrote to tell his life story, kind of like Jersey Boys,” she says. “We are also in talks with Hollywood about making a major dramatic motion picture on his life.”

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