by Mary-Ann Brandon
CUCHARA- Every year, as a birthday present to herself, Cuchara resident Maxine Farber embarks on an adventure. On her 94th birthday I asked her what she had planned and she said “I’m going on a motorcycle trip.” When I asked that same question one year later she replied “I’d like to go bungee jumping but I hope my joints don’t fly apart.” Now at age 96 she tells me that she’s having so much fun in life that she’s aiming for 100. We sat down to talk at the La Veta Library where she rolled up, driving her own Bronco, and insisted that we take the stairs rather than ride the elevator to the second story room where she would recount her life story. She is a force of nature, full of life and energy that is the envy of this writer (half her age). “I’m always expecting something unusual to happen” she told me.
Her mother was only 19 years old when Maxine was born, and she divorced just three years later. Maxine never knew her natural father and watched her mother work in factories and as a telephone operator. Clearly, her mother was a powerfully strong role model in her life.
At age five or six Maxine made her first public appearance as a singer when she performed “Dixie” at a cousin’s school dancing lesson. This put the bug in her and she spent her childhood school years performing with the glee club and singing in church. When Maxine was eight years old her mother remarried. (She had one brother, two years her junior, who was killed in the South Pacific during W.W.II.)
While in junior college she performed regularly on WDAF for a radio program called the “Nighthawk Frolic.” This show featured local talent and she sang popular music of the day (1933-34) under the name “Maxine and her Boyfriends”
Knowing that their daughter was itching to become a professional performer, her parents insisted that she finish college. She enrolled at K.U. in Lawrence, Kansas and it was there that she sang in the acapella choir along with Ralph Brewster, who would go on to be one of the “Modernaires.”
Two weeks after graduating college, she left Kansas to try her luck at making it as a jazz singer in New York City. Astonishingly, she had the blessings of her very supportive parents. It was unusual in 1936, during the depth of the Great Depression, for a nice midwestern girl to take off on her own to the “Big Apple” but she was able to get a place in a rooming house run by the YWCA named the “Studio Club.” Her roommate won a fellowship to Julliard while Maxine set out to knock on doors. “I wasted an awful lot of time not knowing what to do and being so green” she told me. Eventually she landed an agent who got her work singing in churches. When times would get particularly rough she would baby-sit or take a part time job in the silver department at Macy’s to make ends meet. She sang in little clubs in Greenwich Village and basically took any work that she could get.
Around this time she learned that J. Dennis (a talent agent) was putting together a sextet of girls to perform on the vaudeville stage. They were booked into the Old Roxy Theater and and they worked their tails off. On Saturdays they would do five shows starting at 11 am and then on Sunday she would go to St. Michael′s Episcopal Church where she would sing in a quartet. At this point Maxine looked at me and proclaimed, effusively, “Vaudeville was fun!” She made a lot of friends amongst the various performers. One of these friends, who was singing with a girls quartet, introduced her to jazz bandleader Ted Louis “Mr. Entertainment” who took her on the road. They opened at the Erlanger Theater in Philadelphia. She didn’t particularly like the way she was treated and after about six months she decided that being on the road as a singer was not the life she wanted for herself. She went back to New York, stored all her belongings and memorabilia from her career in her locker at the Studio Club and headed home to Kansas City. Sadly, by the time she returned to New York to clean out that locker, all of her possessions had been disposed of. Unfortunately, there is no remaining documentation from this remarkable period of her life. Back in Kansas City, she continued singing at country clubs with a group of professional musicians.
Her face became very animated when she related the following story. One night a new trumpet player came on the job. After a gig he gave her a ride home. She invited him to come inside to have a sandwich and a beer. The night was April 25,1942. She said “sparks flew” and refers to this life changing encounter as “explosion day.” One month later, on May 22 the young trumpet player, Reg Farber, broke up with his girlfriend and gave Maxine a diamond. Three and a half months later they were married. Six months after their wedding, Reg was drafted and sent overseas. She saw him only once during the next three years.
After the war, Reg continued to play music while Maxine stayed home to tend to their two children. She didn’t keep up with her vocalizing during this period and after the children were grown she couldn’t stand the sound of her own voice (now out of shape from years of neglect) and entirely gave up singing. She expresses that she has very few regrets in life, the biggest being that she didn’t keep her voice exercised. She had been married to Reg for 53 years when he died. Maxine never remarried, Reg was the one true love of her life.
After a little gushing on my part about her youthfulness, she ended our interview with a quote from General Douglas McAurther “years wrinkle your skin but loss of interest wrinkles your soul”. She gave me a hug, said so long, then went in search of a good book to read.