Case in Point


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, #3

The Lyrics of his life

The Middle Years of Warren

As the l930s began Warren was hitting his stride with Hollywood movie contract after movie contract and hit after hit. The era of silent films had come to a conclusive end and now there were new opportunities in California with the advent of the new sound movie musical. The movie industry began buying up the New York music publishing firms as well as the rights to Broadway shows. The movies are largely forgettable but the Warren songs are unforgettable. Moving to Beverly Hills, Warren continued to write for the Waring, Lombardo and Al Donahue orchestras, and now added Dick Powell, Rudy Vallee, Hal Kemp, Ozzie Nelson, Kay Kyser, Fats Waller, Ed Wynn, and the big prizes, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Eddie Duchin, the Dorsey Brothers, and Bing Crosby (“I Found a Million-Dollar Baby In a Five and Ten Cent Store”) to his professional fan base. Warner Brothers had run into financial problems and was ready to bag the making of its money-losing musicals. In 1929 they had made 50 musicals, in l931 they made 20 musicals and in l932 they made 12. So in l932 Darryl Zanuck took a huge chance and teamed Warren up with Dubin again, to write the music for a film called Forty Second Street. The film changed the movie musical for decades partially because it wasn’t a Broadway adaptation but original music for the screen. It is claimed that 42nd Street saved Warner Brothers studio from bankruptcy. In l935 alone, Warren wrote songs for 13 films, including “Don’t Give up the Ship” which was adopted by the US Naval Academy as its official service song. In l937 Warren and Dubin wrote their greatest hit, “September in the Rain.” Warren also teamed up with the great lyricists Johnny Mercer and Gus Kahn (again) after Dubin became unreliable due to his carousing.
As the l940s started, Warren was on a roll working now with lyricist Mack Gordon writing songs for Alice Faye, Betty Grable, and the orchestras of Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Sammy Kaye. In l941, Warren and Gordon wrote the score for the picture Sun Valley Serenade. The hit song of the film was “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” (famously recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra). The film is still shown on a continuous basis at the Sun Valley Lodge in Idaho. In l942 Warren wrote perhaps his most beautiful tune, “You’ll Never Know,” which became his all time best-seller in sheet music. The song hit a cord with wartime audiences as a poignant expression of their own loneliness. During the decade Benny Goodman, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Jo Stafford, and Dick Haymes all recorded his music. What a line-up!

In l950 he started the decade with a Judy Garland movie, Summer Stock, and continued with an Esther Williams movie, a Frankie Laine top ten hit and a Ray Anthony orchestra top ten hit. What a year! Still working with Astaire, he now began writing for Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Revival of his earlier music shot to the top ten with recording artists such as the Platters (“You’ll Never Know”). In 1955, Warren (with lyricist Harold Adamson) wrote the theme song for the television series of Wyatt Earp (which is still shown on TV) and the title song for the 1955 Academy Award winning motion picture, Marty. In l957 he partnered with lyricist Harold Adamson (a subject of an earlier blog) to write the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr movie song, “An Affair to Remember.” The song earned him his astonishing 11th Academy Award nomination. During the 50s he teamed up with such prominent lyricists as Dorothy Fields, Harold Adamson, Leo Rubin, Arthur Freed, as well as Mack Gordon, Johnny Mercer and Ira Gershwin. In the 1950s the cost of making movies was forcing producers to write a singe title or theme song and not a complete musical score. Dimitri Tomkin had started the trend almost single handedly when he wrote the title song for High Noon in l952. By the end of the decade it was commonplace. In l958, producer Harold Hecht hired Warren to write a title song for Separate Tables. At the same time, Hecht hired David Raksin (composer of Laura, etc.) to write incidental music. Warren and Raksin had different musical styles and came into conflict over the movie’s music. Hecht eventually sided with Warren but Raksin refused to use Warren’s title song in anyplace other than the opening sequence. Warren, furious, resigned from the Screen Composer’s Guild feeling that the organization was biased toward composers who were writing single title songs, rather than established songwriters who wrote movie scores.


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