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.

Hoagy Carmichael (1899 – 1981): “Stardust,” but no closer to heaven, #3

The Middle Years of Carmichael

In l930, in New York, hitting his stride, Carmichael began to produce hit after hit: “Up a Lazy River” in 1930, “Stardust” in l931 (recorded by Bing Crosby) and “Lazybones” (lyrics by Johnny Mercer) in l933. Bix Beiderbecke died of alcoholism in l931 and Carmichael, his protégé, began to move away from his Bix jazz roots to Tin Pan Ally mainstream songs. In l932 Carmichael became the first tenant (with Southern Music Company) of the new and soon to be famous, Brill Building in Times Square. In New York he moved among the best in the jazz community: Beiderbecke, Mercer, Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Isham Jones, Goodman, the Dorseys and Whiteman. In l935, responding to the tidal wave of new musicals, he moved to Hollywood and began working with Paramount Studios. He also picked up a Presbyterian minister’s (Garrett Meinardi) daughter for a wife, Ruth Meinardi, who was introduced to HC by her sister. A friend wrote that Ruth was “raised along the lines of a minister’s daughter.” Hoagy and Ruth were married in l936 back in New York City at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (where daddy had preached). Working along side of Frank Loesser, Harry Warren and “Yip” Harburg, Carmichael was living the lush life of the elite Hollywood community. In l937 he appeared in his first movie, Topper, serenading the likes of Cary Grant and Connie Bennett. The decade ended and the 1940s began on a low note with the failure of his and Mercer’s only Broadway musical, Walk with Music, early in l940.

The l940s continued Carmichael’s star quality in the Hollywood musical world. The story is that Frank Loesser, he of a monumental frothing and mouthy temper, had been working with Hoagy in the late 30s to produce some great hits at Paramount. He was to be loaned out to Republic for their l941 picture Sis Hopkins. He was to work with the very talented composer, Jule Styne at Republic. Loesser flew into a rage and went storming into Republic offices, shouting, “You son of a bitch, I’m working for Hoagy Carmichael now. I’m not coming here to work with some half-ass piano player who is really a vocal coach” (referring to Style). Working with Carmichael was the big leagues. The 1940s continued with a bang with the l942 song “Skylark” written with Johnny Mercer and recorded by the hottest band in town, Glen Miller. Harry James also had a hit recording of it with Helen Forrest fronting for his band. In l943 Carmichael had his first big movie role (“Cricket”) in the Bogart/Bacall film To Have and Not Have. Incidentally, Bacall’s voice singing HC’s song “How Little We Know” was dubbed by a teenage Andy Williams! How about that piece of trivia. He also had a significant role in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Also in l946 he had three of the top four songs on the “Hit Parade.” Between 1944 and 1948 HC was the host of three musical variety radio programs (Mutual, NBC and CBS). In l946 he published his first autobiography, The Stardust Road. As this very successful decade closed he had yet another big role in Young Man with a Horn, the movie based on the life of his dead buddy, Bix Beiderbecke.

The 1950s portended to provide the same level of success that occurred in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1951 Carmichael and Mercer won an Academy Award for the wonderful song, “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” for the Crosby movie, There Comes the Groom. The movie and the song were smash hits. Also in 1951 he joined with Harold Adamson (a subject of a previous blog) to write “My Resistance is Low” for the movie The Las Vegas Story. Carmichael was on a roll. In the summer of 1953 he had his own replacement television show, Saturday Night Review. During the mid-50s he appeared on Warner Brothers Presents, The Joseph Cotton Show, CBS’s Playhouse 90, and most importantly, he had a recurring role in NBC’s western, Laramie.


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