Case in Point

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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.

Harry Warren (1893-1981): Harry who? Why, it’s “Tuti” Guaragna, #5

Personal Assessment of Warren

Warren had a life-long affection for the Roman Catholic Church. He wrote, “I couldn’t get to church fast enough. I loved the music, which became obvious to our organist, Pauline Schneider, who took an interest in me and gave me the only musical instruction I ever had, explaining scales and chords. The church was Our Lady of Loretto in Brooklyn and we had a beautiful mixed choir. We didn’t do Gregorian chants, we did all the famous masses, and that way I got to know the music of the great composers (Case: especially Debussy and Puccini). I learned harmony with the help of Miss Schneider, and it was easy to sing all the parts.”
In an interview at the end of his life, the famously grouchy Warren said, “My only regret is that my productivity hasn’t brought me more personal recognition. My colleagues kid me about this, but it irritates me. It gets a little irksome to hear myself referred to as America’s greatest unknown songwriter.” An example of this: Warren was attending an ASCAP benefit in the 1960s at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan. He arrived in a tuxedo at the door, and the doorman stopped him, as other attendees were being let in. The attendant asked the famous composer, “Where are you going?” Warren replied, “Where the hell do you think I’m going?” That was the story of his life. In an interview in 1971 by Max Wilk, Warren said his anonymity was because he was not a publicity seeker or entertaining songwriter like Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael or Irving Berlin. He famously and jokingly said upon hearing of the Allied bombing of Berlin in l944, “They bombed the wrong Berlin.”

A couple of other examples of his prickliness: In 1958 on the television show “This is Your Life” Warren was the subject. Host Ralph Edwards asked Mack Gordon if it was true that he had managed to talk Warren into hiring a publicity man. Gordon said, “Yes, we did. And when the publicity man got Harry’s name in the papers, Harry bawled him out. He said it was embarrassing to see stories about himself. And he fired the guy.” Also in l958 his resignation from the board of Screen Composers’ Guild over a conflict with David Raksin and Harold Hecht.

Warren once stated, “I’m a family man. Always was. Most guys who got ahead in the picture business lived like single men, even if they were married. I’ve been living here since l932, forty years, and I never went to a Hollywood party.” However, in l938 when his son Harry, Jr. died of pneumonia, his world was rocked. He closed his Beverly Hills home and he and his wife moved into an apartment. Years would pass before the pain subsided. Sonny’s death was the single calamity which clouded Warren’s life. Wilfred Sheed writes that after the l938 death of Harry, Jr. the marriage of Harry, Sr. and Jo collapsed because of unfounded recriminations toward Harry about not getting the son to the hospital soon enough. Jo never quite forgave him, and, in essence, had no more to do with him. “Harry most likely joined that small legion of ‘Graham Greene’ Catholics who believed that being true to a bad marriage was the heart of the matter. Of such type, and there were a lot of them, I can say from fuzzy, youthful memory that they did not necessarily act particularly gloomy, but seemed to draw genuine strength from their faith, along with a serene conviction, rare in anyone, that they were somehow on the right track and that their lives meant something.”

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