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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Jimmy McHugh, composer (1894-1969): Jimmy, say the Mass with a bit more sincerity, #2

The Lyrics of His Life

The Middle Years of McHugh

McHugh then joined forces with lyricist Harold Adamson in 1937. In l943 the team wrote the world-wide best seller, “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer” with the words, “With our full crew aboard and our trust in the Lord, we’re coming in on a wing and a prayer.” Later that year, McHugh wrote another Oscar nominated patriotic song entitled, “Say a Prayer for the Boys over There.” During the mid-1940s McHugh had the tradition of taking his mother out to brunch after Sunday Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills where he took the collection most Sundays and was nicknamed, “The Bishop of Beverly.” Sometimes the Jewish Eddie Cantor family would join them. Cantor‘s daughter had married McHugh oldest son, Jimmy, Jr.  During this same charming period Bess McHugh finally filed for divorce on grounds of desertion. Jimmy McHugh, as a practicing Roman Catholic, never recognized the dissolution of his marriage even though he was legally divorced. During this same period, according to his granddaughter Judy, he “bought the church off by donating a window to the church in Toluca Lake where he and Bing Crosby were frequent members of the congregation.” In 1942, he gave a Pope-blessed rosary to the popular singer, Jo Stafford, along with a note pumping his most recent songs.

Christmas 1951, he visited Rome and obtained an audience with Pope Pius XII: “In the tranquility of the preceding confessional, McHugh was able to begin to sort out the complexities of his love life and convince himself that for the time being he would remain single, since, strictly speaking, in the eyes of the church he was still married to Bess.” He wrote, “Confession is a rigorous experience. The priest delved into my life-like a surgeon probing with forceps without anesthetic. In many ways it was as painful….My little problems and conflicts melted away in the presence of the serene being  in whose eyes and face were written the knowledge of all suffering.” In the late 40s and early 50s, his long affair with Louella Parsons continued without the married commitment and he used his Roman Catholicism to keep from getting more involved. Wilfrid Sheed calls this hypocrisy the “Spencer Tracy Exception.”

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