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Originally published Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:07 PM

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The life of a jukebox poet, exquisitely rendered

This exceptionally well-crafted documentary explores the life of rock ‘n’ roll songwriter and hit maker Doc Pomus.

Seattle Times music critic

Movie Review 4 stars

‘AKA Doc Pomus,’ a documentary directed by Peter Miller and Will Hechter. 99 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences, contains strong language. Grand Illusion, through Thursday. Sharyn Felder, co-producer of the film and daughter of Doc Pomus, will attend screenings Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 4 and 6 p.m.

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Back in high school I remember playing Ray Charles’ haunting recording of “Lonely Avenue” over and over for my girlfriend until her father, a Berkeley lefty spearheading a fair-housing initiative, got so excited he thought it was a protest song about black people. In fact, though steeped in the blues, “Lonely Avenue” was the personal confession of an extraordinary, eccentric and, indeed, long-suffering but amazingly joyous white Jewish guy from Brooklyn by the name of Doc Pomus.

A touching, delightful and exceptionally well-crafted new documentary, “AKA Doc Pomus” follows the life and career of Pomus, who wrote “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “A Teenager in Love,” “Viva Las Vegas” and scores of other hits.

Born Jerome Felder in 1925, Pomus contracted polio at age 6 and walked with crutches, then used a wheelchair, all of his life (he died in 1991). Enchanted as a young man by blues and jazz, Pomus started out as a singer, but soon found his real métier was songwriting, hitting big in the early ’50s with “Chains of Love,” written for his idol, blues singer Joe Turner.

“AKA Doc Pomus” follows Pomus’ ups and downs through the swing, R&B, rock ’n’ roll, British Invasion and post-Beatles eras, moving sleekly through interviews with Pomus himself; family members (including two wives); industry figures from Ben E. King, Dr. John and Dion to B.B. King and Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller; and critics Dave Marsh, Peter Guralnick and Pomus biographer Alex Halberstadt. Rare live footage of John Lennon, Phil Spector and the late Lou Reed — who once took a songwriting class from Pomus and narrates passages from the master’s journals — is woven through.

Though the film glosses over Pomus’ initial reluctance to move from the adult world of jazz to the teenybopper hit parade (a transition Halberstadt highlights in his book), it does illuminate how Pomus deftly transformed teen themes into timeless jukebox poetry.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or

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