Friday, August 31, 2012
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“[Jimmy Deuchar] …the great Scot, whose sound sometimes seemed like a hybrid of Bunny Berigan and Fats Navarro, and who is usually recognizable within a few bars - taut, hot, but capable of bursts of great lyricism.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton The Penguin Guide to jazz on CD, 6th Ed
"If the Union problem didn't exist, I'd take Jimmy Deuchar back to
with me tomorrow. He's one of the finest trumpeters I've ever heard; and his
all-round musicianship is fantastic." That's what American
pianist-arranger-composer Marty Paich told me during a Deuchar disc date when
Marty was in California
in 1956. London
- Tony Hall, insert notes, Jimmy Deuchar: Opus de Funk [Jasmine JASCD 621]
“[Starting with his recordings in the early 1950’s with Victor Feldman’s All-Stars, Arnold Ross’ Sextet and Johnny Dankworth’s Septet], … the bright burnished sound of Jimmy Deuchar was already showing its individuality within the parameters of modern Jazz trumpet.”
- Brian Davis, insert notes, Bop in Britain [Jasmine JASCD 637-38]
Although it took me a while to grasp how far-flung its influence was, culturally, one of the
’s greatest gifts to the world is Jazz in
all its manifestations. USA
In retrospect, I became aware that through Willis Conover’s Voice-of-America and a variety of European-based radio broadcasts, exported US records and vibrant domestic recording labels in a host of European countries and the efforts of visiting or expatriate Jazz musicians, Jazz thrived in far-flung places like Great Britain, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Japan.
And where it wasn’t allow to flourish openly, a serious Jazz underground following developed in central
Europe and The Soviet Union.
Thanks to many generous urbane and cosmopolitan friends, then and now, my awareness of Jazz on the international scene has grown over the years much to my satisfaction and enjoyment.
My first exposure to Jazz abroad were a series of Jazz in Britain recordings that Lester Koenig released on Contemporary Records, a Hollywood, California based label whose “corporate offices” and “recording studios” were conveniently located about 10 miles from where I went to high school.
Lester’s “corporate offices” consisted of a small storefront near Paramount Movie Studios on
Melrose Avenue and his “recording studio” was sometimes
set up in the back room where he packed and shipped his LP’s.
Lester’s “British Jazz” LP’s were actually re-issues of recordings that had originally been produced for London-based labels such as Tempo and Jasmine. [Essentially, Lester was reversing the process and “importing” Jazz back into the
!] United States
One of these was the late drummer-vibraphonist-pianist Victor Feldman’s Suite Sixteen [Contemporary C-3541;OJCCD-1768-2]. Issued in 1958, this LP was comprised of quartet, septet and big band recordings that Victor had made in
in 1955 before taking up residence in the England the following year. USA
This album was my first introduction to Brits or, if you will, the “Lads,” in modern-day parlance, such as trumpeter Dizzy Reece, trombonist and bass trumpeter, Ken Wray alto saxophonist Derek Humble, tenor saxophonists Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes, bassist Lennie Bush and drummers Tony Crombie and Phil Seaman.
Although he only solos on three of the albums nine tracks, the player who impressed me the most on Victor’s Suite Sixteen was trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar [pronounced “dew-car”].
Imagine my delight then when Lester Koenig did it again, this time with six tracks by “the young Scotsman,” entitled Pub Crawling with Jimmy Deuchar [Contemporary C-3529]. I gather that the idea for the album’s title comes from the fact that each of its six tracks is named after one of the best known British brands of beer.
The album was also released in the
in 1958 and if I heard a glimmer of
something earlier in Jimmy’s playing, the work of “this exceptional young,
Scottish trumpeter-arranger-composer” comes bursting through on these sides. USA
In addition to his brilliant solo stylings, Pub Crawling with Jimmy Deuchar also introduces Jimmy as an extremely talented composer-arranger who writes in a style that is very reminiscent of the late Tadd Dameron.
Fortunately, I was later able to cobble together more of Jimmy’s recordings when they were issued on CD including Showcase [Jasmine JASCD 616], Opus de Funk [Jasmine JASCD 621] and Pal Jimmy [Jasmine JASCD 624].
On hand on these discs is lots more of the fine playing of Wray, Humble, Hayes, Scott, Bush, Seaman and Crombie along with some players on the British Jazz scene who were unfamiliar to me at the time including pianists Terry Shannon, Stan Tracey, Eddie Harvey and Harry South, bassist Sammy Stokes and drummer
Of these recording by Jimmy Deuchar and his mates … err, “Lads,” Richard Cook and Brian Morton have written in The Penguin Guide to jazz on CD, 6th Ed.:
“These are welcome reminders of the great Scot, whose sound sometimes seemed like a hybrid of Bunny Berigan and Fats Navarro, and who is usually recognizable within a few bars - taut, hot, but capable of bursts of great lyricism.
Some of his best work is with Tubby Hayes, who himself pops up in various of these dates; but these precious survivals of the British scene of the '508 - which exist solely through the dedication and enthusiasm of Tony Hall, who oversaw all the sessions - are fine too. The first two discs are bothered by the boxy and inadequate sound (and the re-mastering, which may not be from the original tapes, is less than first class), but the playing is of a standard which may surprise those unfamiliar with this period of British jazz.
There are excellent contributions from Humble, Hayes, the very neglected
Shannon and the redoubtable Seamen; but Deuchar,
as is proper, takes the ear most readily: punchily conversational, sometimes
overly clipped, but then throwing in a long, graceful line when you don't
expect it, he was a distinctive stylist.
These sets are made up from EPs and ten-inch LPs, but the third reissues all of the splendid Pal Jimmy! plus a stray track from a compilation. The trumpeter's solo on the title-track blues is a classic statement. Again, less than ideal re-mastering, but with original vinyl copies of these extremely rare records costing a king's ransom, they're very welcome indeed.”
At the time of their initial release, the highly regarded Edgar Jackson had this to say in the October, 1955 British publication, The Melody Maker:
“One of the tracks on this record is probably not only the best example of British jazz in the modem manner ever to find its way on to a record but not so far short of one of the best from anywhere.
The track is IPA Special (named, as are all the others, after a brand of beer.)
It shows that Jimmy Deuchar (who composed and arranged all of the tunes) is second to none in this country in the matter of thinking up and scoring out first-rate modern jazz material.
It shows also: (a) that Jimmy has become a better trumpet man than ever now that he is playing with a warmer feeling and tone, (b) that while Derek Humble may not yet be the world’s greatest baritone saxophonist, he is certainly a grand, driving altoist, (c) that Ken Wray is one of our most original and advanced trombonists, and (d) that British rhythm sections are not always as gauche and stodgy as they are often said to be.
The record as a whole, with Jimmy never failing to convince as a skillful and captivating writer, and Victor Feldman playing tasteful and delightful piano, is a relieving and refreshing indication that our best modern jazzmen can compete with the best anywhere else—when given a fair chance.
The recording itself is excellent. But I would hardly have expected anything else, for the session engineer was Decca's brilliant Arthur Lilley.”
Jimmy’s solos shimmer in their vibrancy. Fats Navarro. Clifford Brown, Carmel Jones and a host of the trumpet soloists who display a fat, full, fiery sound in their phrasing come to mind, but Jimmy is his own man.
The construction of his improvised lines is marked by coherence and continuity, but most of all, by originality. You just don’t hear other trumpeters playing Jimmy’s stuff.
I was especially pleased to rediscover Jimmy’s powerhouse trumpet playing on many of the Clarke Boland Big Band [CBBB] recordings from the 1960s.
According to tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott [who would later join the CBBB]: “Derek Humble was the navigator-in-chief on the band and one of his first recommendations to Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland was to bring Jimmy Deuchar on the band to play the Jazz trumpet chair.”
As Mike Hennessey noted in his chapter on the CBBB from his biography of drummer Kenny Clarke: “Seven of the thirteen musicians in the band were European and their ability to hold their own with their [expatriate] American colleagues did no damage at all to the cause of winning a just measure of appreciation and recognition for some of the excellent European Jazz musicians who were emerging.” [pp. 165-166]
If you have not had the pleasure of having heard Jimmy Deuchar, his playing and that of the Lads – Ken Wray [bass trumpet], Derek Humble [as], Tubby Hayes [ts], Victor Feldman [p], Lennie Bush [b] and Phil Seamen [d] - is on display on the following tribute. The tune is Jimmy’s Treble Gold, which is named after an ale that I understand it is no longer made by the Friary Meux Brewery in
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“'You can't play all night in a club with just two trombones and rhythm!’ a friend told Kai Winding when he announced that he and J. J. Johnson were going to do just that.
He was wrong, but awfully right at the same time. The answer is that you can do it, but not with ‘just two trombones.’ You have to have the best—Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson.
Their ability as trombonists is only part of the story. The entire "book" for the group has also been written by them, and it is their imagination as arrangers which has carried off this tour de force even more than their extraordinary talent as soloists.
Jay and Kai have done it the musicianly way, with no gimmicks—just solid musicianship. Working without a guitar, which would have given them variety in the coloring of the solos as well as another voice in the ensembles, makes their job that much harder. But in order to get engagements in clubs, they had to confine the group to five men, and the added challenge has only spurred them to greater creative height.
Each has had a wealth of big band and small combo experience. During the hop era, Jay was in the rare position of establishing a school of trombone playing which consisted of himself alone; no one else was remotely in his class. Kai came up through the big band field, achieving prominence as a soloist with Stan Kenton in 1946. In recent years, both men have gigged extensively with small groups, and Kai still keeps his hand in as a studio sideman between the quintet's bookings.
The arranging of the book has been divided equally between them, and each man has contributed several fine originals. Their choice of repertoire is discriminating; they seem to have a knack of choosing half-forgotten but exceptional show tunes and songs which are fine vehicles for "class" singers. (Perhaps the lyric quality of their trombone playing is responsible for this taste.) Both play with a technical ease which is the envy of lesser slide men. Although they play quite unlike each other most of the time, there are many occasions on which it is impossible for even their closest followers to tell them apart.”
- George Avakian, insert notes to CD re-issue of Trombones for Two
The idea for this piece came from revisiting the J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding Columbia recording made at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival [the LP is shared with the
Dave Brubeck Quartet]. Along with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Rudy Collins, the two
trombonists’ quintet featured Dick Katz on piano. Dick was to be the pianist
with Jay and Kai’s group throughout its existence from 1954-56.
Listening to this recording reminded me of what an excellent pianist Dick Katz was, he died in 2009 at the age of 86, but it also brought back thoughts about Dick Katz the record producer [he founded Milestone Records with Orrin Keepnews], Dick Katz the Jazz educator [he taught at the New School and the Manhattan School of Music], but most especially about Dick Katz, the gifted Jazz author [Bill Kirchner tapped him to write The History of Jazz Piano essay in his The Oxford Companion to Jazz].
I never got to attend any of Dick’s Jazz courses, but I always learned so much about the music from his writings.
Sure enough, when I went digging around my collection of Jazz recordings, there was Dick writing his usual, clever and insightful insert notes to the 1960 reunion album by Jay and Kai’s quintet on Impulse! Records [The Great Kai & J.J.! IMPD-225].
A sample Dick’s expository skills, flowing style of writing and considerable knowledge on the subject of Jazz and its makers can be found in the following excerpts from the J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding Impulse! notes:
“‘I don't know anything about music, but I know what I like.’
This bon mot is usually attributed to the celebrated Common Man, and while the sophisticate might wince upon hearing such a bromide, an element of truth is present. The sentence often indicates that knowing how music is made does not necessarily assure one's enjoyment, or even enlightenment. The intellectual, armed with the tools of musical analysis, will not experience music any more intensely than someone not blessed with musical scholarship — if the conditions for being "moved," or emotionally stimulated, do not occur in the music. Indeed, knowing too much can actually interfere with hearing the music.
You see, music has to do with feelings, and the knowledge of what makes it tick should be a bonus that adds to or enhances the listener's understanding. It should never be a substitute for emotional involvement.
Now, the "conditions" referred to above are what concern us here. Good jazz does not come out of the air like magic. True, a genius sometimes creates this illusion, but in the main, it is the result of an artistic balance between the planned and the unplanned. Even the great improviser is very selective, and constantly edits himself.
Throughout the relatively short history of jazz, many of the great performances have been ensemble performances where the improvised solo was just a part of the whole. This tradition of group playing, as exemplified by Henderson, Basie, Ellington, Lunceford, John Kirby, Benny Goodman's small groups, the great mid western and southwestern bands, big and small (Kansas City, et. al.)» almost came to a rather abrupt halt with The Revolution. And that is exactly the effect Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and their colleagues (J. J. Johnson among them) had on jazz music. Their extreme improvising virtuosity seemed to take the focus off the need to play as a group. But herein lies the irony — the precision with which they played their complex tours de force was due in large measure to the extensive ensemble experience they gleaned as members of disciplined bands like Hines, Eckstine, etc.
It was their talented, and not-so-talented, followers who often missed the point. Musically stranded without the opportunity to get the type of experience their idols had (due to many factors, economic and otherwise), they resorted to all they knew how to do — wait their turn to play their solos. This type of waiting-in-line-to-play kind of jazz has nearly dominated the scene for many years. Although it has produced an abundance of first-rate jazzmen, many excellent performances, and has advanced some aspects of jazz, the lack of organization has often strained the poor listener to the point where he doesn't "know what he likes."
So, in 1954, when J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding formed their now celebrated partnership, one of their prime considerations was to help remedy this chaotic state of affairs. Both men, in addition to being the best modern jazz trombone stylists around, were fortunate enough to have had considerable big and small band experience. They astutely realized that a return to time-tested principles was in order. Variety, contrast, dynamics, structure (integrating the improvised solos with the written parts) — these elements and others which give a musical performance completeness — were accepted by Kai and J.J. as both a challenge and an obligation to the listener.
This awareness, combined with their individual composing and arranging talents, plus an uncanny affinity for each other's playing, made their success almost a certainty. That success is now a happy fact. From their Birdland debut in 1954 to their climactic performance at the 1956 Jazz Festival at
, they built up an enviable following.
Also, they have created an impressive collection of impeccable performances on
records. That they overcame the skeptical reaction to the idea of two trombones
is now a near-legend. One only need listen to any of these performances to
demonstrate once again the old adage — ‘It ain't what you do, but the way
The respective accomplishments of J. J. and Kai have been lauded in print many times before. Their poll victories, festival and jazz-club successes are well known. Not so obvious, however, is the beneficial effect they have had on jazz presentation. Their approach to their audience, the variety of their library (a good balance between original compositions and imaginative arrangements of jazz standards and show tunes), together with their marvelous teamwork, helped to wake up both musicians and public alike to the fruits of organized presentation. With the jazz of the future, organization will be an artistic necessity; the future of jazz will be partially dependent on it, as is every mature art form.
Hearing this album, one could easily be led to believe that J. J. and Kai have been working together all along. The precision with which they perform is usually found only in groups that have worked together for a long time. Actually, they have played together very little in the last few years, both having been occupied with their respective groups — J.J. with his quintet, and Kai with his four-trombone and rhythm combination. However, it is quite evident from these performances that both have continued to grow musically and bring an even greater finesse and seasoning to their work. This is a welcome reunion.
What can't be verbalized are the feelings expressed in the music. That's where you, the listener, are on your own.”
With the ace graphics team at CerraJazz
LTD and and the production facilities at StudioCerra, the editorial staff
has developed two videos featuring J.J. and Kai. The first is from
their ‘farewell’ appearance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival with Lover Come Back to Me as the audio track
and the rhythm section of Dick Katz [p], Bill Crow [b] and Rudy Collins [d]. The second has Blue Monk as the sound track and is from
the 1960 Impulse! ‘reunion’ CD with Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass
and Roy Haynes on drums.
[Click on the “X” to close out of the ads should they appear in the videos]
Sunday, August 26, 2012
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
During the 1980s, the late pianist-composer-bandleader, George Shearing [1919-2011] hosted and disc-jockeyed a Jazz program on WNEW-AM in
for 18 months. New York City
Over the course of his two hour program each Sunday evening, Sir George [he was knighted for services to music in 2007] would often avail himself of a Baldwin-Hamilton spinet piano that was kept in the studio.
On it, he would play brief tunes and improvisations between spinning the discs.
Thanks to our correspondent in
, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has been
able to develop the following Sound Cloud audio track of Sir George’s Bachian
treatment of Autumn Leaves. New York
From one “George” to another, we thought it would be fun to share this light moment with you.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
We will have more to say about pianist Donald Vega in a future JazzProfiles feature. In the meantime, we thought you might enjoy this promotional video for his new CD on George Klabin's Resonance Records entitled Spiritual Nature. Joining Donald are Bob Shepard on tenor saxophone, Bob McChesney on trombone, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash.
Friday, August 24, 2012
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Having two “horn” players solo at the same time is one of the most difficult challenges in Jazz.
Not only does each soloist have to follow his/her own thoughts while creating an improvisation, but this has to be done in such a way as to blend into what the other soloist is offering to avoid the whole thing sounding like a jumbled mess [aka – a cacophony].
Performing together over a long period of time may help in pulling off simultaneous soloing, but it is not a guarantee.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
You can’t do it for too long or you’ll more than likely lose the listener’s attention, and, no doubt, your own sanity.
When it works, it’s akin to a musical miracle. When it doesn’t you can chalk it off to the fact that it probably wasn’t a good idea to try it in the first place.
To give you idea of what brilliant simultaneously soloing sounds like, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has created the following audio-only Sound Cloud track featuring Tom Harrell on trumpet and George Robert on alto saxophone performing George’s original composition Vikings' Theme.
The song structure of George’s tune is a bit unusual in that it follows on ABAB pattern with each section made up of 16-bars.
The simultaneous soloing kicks in at minute and finishes when Tom and George restate the “A” theme at around minutes to take the tune out.
A minute blazer that probably had everyone shaking their head in delight [and relief] when it was over.
Joining Harrell and Robert are Dado Moroni on piano, Reggie Johnson on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums.
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
According to Stanley Green, the musical theater historian, the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart collaboration “was a near perfect combination of [Hart’s] frequently sharp, sophisticated lyrics set to [Rodgers’] music that was just as frequently warm and lyrical. The remarkable thing, of course, is how well each man complemented the other’s style, adding something both inseparable from, and indispensable to, the total effect.”
I never knew much about the life of Lorenz Hart, although I was always attracted to a quality about his lyrics which Deena Rosenberg described in her insert notes to Ella Fitzgerald: The Rodgers and Hart Songbook: “Hart delighted in the incongruities of word play.”
Frankly, I remained mystified by the magic of all the great lyricists – Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, the Gershwin’s, Johnny Mercer and Lorenz Hart, among many others – until I read the following assessment of their gifts by the late, Jazz writer,
“We absorbed into memory lyrics by … [Hart, Mercer, et al.], those magnificently literate men who gave us, in collaboration with some very gifted composers, the common, everyday, garden-variety popular songs of the period. One assimilated from them one’s sense of the English language. [emphasis mine]
They were glorifying and elevating it, not in inaccessible works of High Culture, but in popular music that you heard everyday on the radio.”
In his book, The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe – which, incidentally, is “dedicated to Larry Hart” - Lees goes on to say of Hart that “he was the man who did the most to make Fritz Loewe believe that he had the talent to make a life as a lyricist.”
Loewe is quoted by Lees as having said of Hart: “He was kind, endearing, sad, infuriating and funny, but at the time I knew him, in a devastating state of emotional disarray. I worshipped him.”
Returning to the Ella-Rodgers/Hart Songbook, Gary Giddins as this to say about the union of the vocalist and lyricist on this recording in his Visions of Jazz: The First Century:
“Yet throughout the Rodgers and Hart volume, Fitzgerald affirms Hart's preeminence among lyricists even as she mines for all they are worth the ingeniously jazzy, endlessly appealing melodies Rodgers had in him before he tailored his art to the ponderous musings of Oscar Hammerstein II. Hart brought out his soul, and does the same for singers. An alcoholic, depressive, four-foot-eleven, Jewish homosexual who died at forty-seven, thinking
! was the promised land, Hart always avoided the obvious. He
wrote love songs for people who didn't expect to be loved, like "My Funny
Valentine": "Is your figure less than Greek/Is your mouth a little
weak/When you open it to speak/Are you smart?" Don't answer, just be mine.
Fitzgerald understands Hart wonderfully well, knows, or appears to know, about
"ordering orange juice for one," love with and without "dizzy
spells," and the blessed absence of people ("Who needs people?"
). She makes the most of the "Little Girl Blue" who is as "merry
as a Carousel" and doesn't flinch from the chill observation of her
adulthood that "all you can count on is the raindrops/that fall on Little
Girl Blue." She's as understanding of the desperation in "Ten Cents a
Dance" as she is of the pleasures of "Mountain Greenery."” [p.
The occasion for these reflections and remarks about Lorenz Hart is Simon and Schuster’s publication of Gary Marmorstein’s new biography of him entitled A Ship Without a Sail from which the following is excerpted. At the conclusion of the excerpt, you’ll find links to retailers should you wish to order the book.
I’m a Sentimental Sap, That’s All
ON THE morning of
29, 1943, one week
after the death of
Lorenz Hart at age forty-eight, several people gathered at the Guaranty Trust
Company, on the southwest corner of
Forty-Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue,
to open the decedent’s safe-deposit box. Hart was considered by many to be
the greatest of all American lyricists. Hart’s attorney Abraham M.
Wattenberg arrived with his young associate Leonard Klein, bearing an
order, duly made by Surrogate James A. Foley, to open the box with the
express purpose of removing Hart’s will. A representative of the state tax
commission agreed to be there at to oversee the task. Already
present were the two executors named in the will: William Kron, who had
been Hart’s accountant for the past five years; and Richard Rodgers, the
composer with whom, over the course of twenty-five years, Hart had written
more than eight hundred songs, including “My Funny Valentine,” “Isn’t It
Romantic?,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “Blue Moon,” “My Romance,” “With
a Song in My Heart,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Thou Swell,” “I Didn’t
Know What Time It Was,” “Mountain Greenery,” “
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “I Could Write a Book,” and
“Where or When.”
Expected at the bank were Hart’s younger brother, Theodore, an actor
known personally and professionally as Teddy, and Teddy’s wife, Dorothy.
Teddy had lived with Lorenz—or Larry, as he was called—and their mother
until January 1938, when he married Dorothy Lubow and the couple moved
to an apartment in the West Fifties. Never living far from Larry, the Harts
often looked after him—and few intelligent, able-bodied men have needed
such looking after—especially in the six months following the death of the
boys’ mother, Frieda, in April 1943. When they arrived at Guaranty Trust,
they did not know what was in the will. The others did.1
The state tax commission representative was delayed. Teddy Hart, who had
always played up his lack of book knowledge in clowning contrast to the
erudition of his brother, now asked Abe Wattenberg if he had a copy of the
will. Wattenberg, in fact, was carrying two copies, and he gave one to Teddy
and one to Dorothy. Sitting side by side in the funereal hush of the bank, the
Harts read through Larry’s will, dated June 17 of that year. The high-ceilinged
space had not always felt so sepulchral; decades earlier it had been occupied
by the opulent restaurant Sherry’s, where Charles Pierre, who later built the Hotel Pierre,
was captain, and diners were serenaded by live music and the clatter of silverware and crystal.2
“Do either of you have any questions?” asked Wattenberg.
Dorothy Hart finally looked up from her copy. “Does this mean that if I have
any children, they’re cut off?” Yes, said Wattenberg, that’s what it meant.
“That’s hardly fair,” Dorothy said. She pointed out that Larry’s estate ought
to remain in the family; given the way the will was worded, if she were to
have children, they would have no share in his legacy.
By then Teddy and Dorothy had been married for nearly six years; to Abe
Wattenberg, a Hart child seemed an improbability. Nevertheless, Wattenberg
assured her that the Harts would be ably supported by the $100,000 life
insurance policy that Larry had left to Teddy—more than enough to take
care of the Harts and any children they might have. “In any case,”
Wattenberg went on, “I followed your brother’s instructions to the letter.
This is what he wanted.” Wattenberg, a music publishing insider who over
the years had represented John Philip Sousa, George Gershwin, Jerome
Kern, and Vincent Youmans, had been Larry Hart’s attorney since 1925 and,
as he reminded Teddy and Dorothy, every legal action he’d taken had been
in his client’s best interests. Wattenberg produced a waiver of citation that, if
signed by Teddy, would enable probate to go through within three or four
days. Anxious about holding up the proceedings, Teddy signed.
The state tax man appeared. The safe-deposit box was extracted from the
vault and taken to a conference room. The will inside it was compared with
the copies read by the Harts, and everyone agreed the copies matched the
original document. Wattenberg gave the original to a bank representative,
who would forward it to the Surrogate’s Court. At this point Richard
Rodgers, having no reason to remain, left the bank.
Wattenberg led the Harts, both groping for purchase in a fog of legalese, up
to the second floor to get Teddy Hart’s signature notarized. Wattenberg then
handed the notarized waiver and the petition to probate to his associate, who
took the documents away to file with the court.
The Harts remained in the conference room with Wattenberg, who did his
best to placate the befuddled couple, and with Larry Hart’s financial
manager, William Kron, whose position in the decedent’s will was its most
perplexing aspect. A full 30 percent of the Lorenz Hart estate was to go to
Kron; when he died, that same 30 percent would pass on to his children, and
then to his children’s children, and so on, presumably until the family
stopped reproducing. Although the will bequeathed Teddy Hart 70 percent,
with his share going to his wife when she was widowed, no provision was
made for their issue; the Harts’ participation in Lorenz Hart’s future
royalties, which were sure to be considerable, would end with Dorothy’s
death. Then the 70 percent share would be payable, in perpetuity, to the
Federation of Jewish Philanthropic Societies (later known as the United
This was curious, because Larry Hart—although he’d been bar mitzvahed at
organizations, notably the Jewish Theatrical Guild—was not known to have
been devoted to Jewish causes. If the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies
maintained a strong link with anyone even remotely involved in the
proceedings, it was with Rodgers’s wife, Dorothy. Felix Warburg, a close
friend of Dorothy Rodgers’s family, had been first president of the
Federation, and Dorothy Rodgers’s mother, May Adelson, was a founder of
the Federation’s thrift shops. If Dorothy Rodgers had a lifelong cause, it was
the battle against anti-Semitism and raising funds to help in that battle. Larry
was sympathetic, but the cause wasn’t his. William Kron was said to be an
ardent supporter of the Federation. It was just as likely, however, that the
Federation’s inclusion in the will had been engineered by Rodgers to
acknowledge his wife’s profound interest in the organization.
As they left the bank that day, the Harts were drifting into shock. Dorothy
knew at least one thing that Wattenberg and the others did not. One week
earlier—on the day her brother-in-law died, in fact—she had gone to her
doctor, concerned about abdominal discomfort that she thought was an ulcer,
only to learn she was pregnant.
Larry Hart’s will, dated
June 17, 1943, was filed in ’s New York City
Surrogate’s Court on November 30. The will named Rodgers and Kron as
coexecutors and trustees and instructed them to form two trusts out of the
residuary estate—the Teddy Hart share and the William Kron share. Before
there was a residuary estate, however, bequests had to be made. Teddy Hart
was bequeathed $5,000 outright, with another $2,500 going to Dorothy. The
other legatees were Hart’s cousin Sidney Hertz (the family surname before
Hart’s father changed it); his friend Irving Eisenman; Mary Campbell,
known to the Hart family as “Big Mary” and in their employ as housekeeper
for twenty years; and Dr. Milton (“Doc”) Bender, a dentist turned talent
agent who had been as close to Hart as anyone for more than twenty years.
These legatees received $2,500 each. Hart’s aunts Emma Kahn and Rose
Elkan were to receive $2,000 each, as was his uncle William Herman, but
Elkan predeceased Hart by six weeks, and the bequest did not pass through
to her two children.3 Herman, too, died before probate, his share going back
to the residuary estate. Bequests of $2,000 also went to Irene Gallagher, who
had spent years with Chappell & Company, one of the more powerful music
publishers, and to Rodgers’s two daughters, Mary and Linda.
As executors, Kron and Rodgers legally seized control of the Rodgers &
Hart copyrights and could direct payouts from various income sources,
particularly the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers,
better known as ASCAP. What made Kron’s position as a primary
beneficiary so baffling, however, was that he had been imposed as
accountant on Hart by Rodgers only a few years earlier. Hart was known to
be a big spender; so, although he was never poor after 1925, when Rodgers
and Hart’s Revolutionary War–era musical, Dearest Enemy, became a hit, he
was frequently broke. In Rodgers’s eyes, Kron, who had handled the
financial affairs of playwright Edna Ferber and composer Jerome Kern, was
the antidote to Larry’s devil-may-care attitude about money. The Rodgerses
saw Kron as saving not only Larry’s money but saving Hart from himself.
Dorothy Rodgers said, “Willy Kron, Larry’s good friend and financial
advisor, went away with him for short trips and played endless card games
to keep him from drinking.”4
In 1929, Rodgers and his father, William, a prominent obstetrician known as
Will, had opened a savings account for Hart at a bank at Eighty-Sixth and
Broadway; Hart’s royalty checks, according to Rodgers, went directly into
that account. This was something of a hedge against not only Larry’s
profligate ways but also his generosity—supporting his mother and brother
for many years, routinely picking up checks for people he barely knew, and
being widely known as the softest touch on Broadway. “Later on, when
there was a great deal more money available,” Rodgers remembered, “what
[Willy Kron] did was virtually the same thing that my father and I did, with
one exception. He took Larry’s money and distributed it in savings accounts
all over the city, in Larry’s name. There was no way for Larry to get at it,
and no way for anybody else to get at it.”5
Not everyone saw Kron’s caretaking as magnanimous. Kron often appeared
in the lobby of the Ardsley, Larry’s apartment house on Central Park West,
and someone down there—a doorman or a friend—would phone upstairs to
the penthouse to signal that the accountant was on his way up “ostensibly to
discuss business,” as the Hart biographer Frederick Nolan has said, but
really to check out the evening’s festivities. Everyone tried to scatter before
Kron made it up there. “It was like dodging the truant officer,” Nolan has
written. “Larry loved it.”6
“The relationship between Kron and Lorenz Hart was, as far as I could see,
purely a business relationship,” Mary Campbell, the Hart family’s devoted
cook and housekeeper, testified in
’s Surrogate’s Court. “Lorenz New York
never expressed any affection for Kron. Kron’s children visited very rarely
and only when Kron brought them there.” If
’s testimony Campbell
suggested that Kron’s closeness to Larry had been inflated by the
coexecutors, other remarks she made were more troubling.
“I also heard Kron tell Lorenz Hart that Dorothy Hart, Theodore’s wife, was
planning to put him in an insane asylum because Dorothy wanted Theodore
to inherit Lorenz’s money and when he did she would take the money away
from Theodore Hart and leave him. On each occasion Kron said he would
protect Lorenz against any such acts on the part of Dorothy and that he
would see to it that Dorothy would not put him away.
“Lorenz Hart frequently repeated these statements, more particularly when
he was under the influence of liquor.”
devotion. “I have never known two brothers who were more attentive to
each other and who loved each other more. When Lorenz spoke of Teddy he
frequently cried. Lorenz, during his lifetime, frequently said that whatever
he had in life was for his mother and Teddy and when his mother died he
said that everything was for Teddy.”7
If the testimony sounded coached, there was still ample evidence, pictorial
as well as written, of how close the brothers were. Larry did not hang
photographs of himself, whether pictured alone or with others, in his various
residences, but he kept a photograph of Teddy’s appearance in the
play Three Men on a Horse in his bedroom. Even as adults the two famously
undersized men—at five feet one or so, Teddy was slightly taller than his
older brother—had lived and occasionally worked together. Teddy’s leading
role in The Boys from
was created for him by Larry. Kron’s Syracuse
accusation that Teddy and Dorothy Hart were planning to put Larry away by
declaring him insane sounded wild on its face and was almost certainly false.
It would be more reasonable to conclude that Larry Hart was being
manipulated by Kron, and probably at the direction of Rodgers. Yet Larry
drank, according to Doc Bender, “morning, , and night,” and the
paranoia that often accompanies such chronic alcoholism had kicked in,
exacerbated by the loss of the one person—his mother—who had given him
It was rumored that Larry was bankrupt—that those deposits in “savings
accounts all over the city” had vanished. Teddy and Dorothy Hart suspected
that all that cash had gone into Willy Kron’s pocket. According to an Order
to Show Cause for Approval of Compromise Agreement, not counting two
insurance policies—$100,000 from New York Life, and a separate $10,000
policy that turned up—the estate showed a total of $33,462.69—more than
$29,000 in ASCAP royalties and $4,000 from a checking account.9 But this
wasn’t enough to pay immediate expenses, including $22,500 in bequests;
costs incurred from Larry’s last illness and burial, which amounted to
$16,500; and Larry’s bequest of $1,000 to
, in Maspeth, Mt. Zion Cemetery
Queens, for the perpetual care of the Hart family plot. (The will makes no
mention of cemetery space for Teddy or Dorothy Hart.) It also turned out—a
shock to the Harts—that the New York Life policy erroneously named the
estate as beneficiary, not Teddy.
This was not even the final insult to the Harts. In the last week of 1943,
given the stunning insurance policy mistake and now desperate to slow the
probate process, Teddy Hart filed an affidavit in Surrogate’s Court stating
that his brother had been “an alcoholic addict” and was subject to undue
influence when he had revised his will the previous spring, shortly after the
death of his mother. Teddy Hart’s affidavit declared: “In the last three years
of his life he acted like a man mentally unbalanced and one who did not
know what he was doing and did not understand the nature of his acts. His
friends and business associates recognized this.”10 Acknowledging his
brother’s alcoholism was painful for Teddy, but it was necessary to
challenge the will.
In a counter-affidavit, Rodgers wrote, “If I did not think Lorenz Hart was
physically and mentally capable of carrying on with his part in the
production of [the revival of A Connecticut Yankee], which required an
investment of $100,000, I never would have risked the investment of that
large sum nor would I have risked my own professional standing and
Rodgers was in a tricky position. Through years of Larry’s alcoholism,
Rodgers had gone to great lengths to get him to work. As early as 1938,
during the writing of the stage version of I Married an Angel, Hart’s long
unexplained absences had greatly truncated the team’s writing sessions.
Rodgers, if pressed, could write lyrics, sometimes even good lyrics, but they
were not Hart lyrics. For two decades Rodgers had hung in, forgiving Hart’s
tendency to vanish and trying to get him to see a psychoanalyst. If Rodgers
and Hart were hardly (as one admiring newspaper profile put it) the Castor
and Pollux of Broadway, they had loved each other. “Part of it was Dick
really adored Larry,” said costume designer Lucinda Ballard, “and he would
get frantic with worry because Larry was always getting half drunk across
the street with somebody; he would disappear from his cronies as well as
from everybody else. He might disappear just at a time when a lyric was
desperately needed or a change or something. Their relationship was more
like brothers who are fond of each other but become estranged by different
lifestyles. You know how in families people can still love each other, and I
think Dick wanted to protect Larry.”12 When the success of
written by Rodgers with Oscar Hammerstein II after Hart had expressed no
interest in it, had quietly but obviously pierced Hart, it was Rodgers who
pushed to revive their 1927 hit A Connecticut Yankee so that Hart would
have work to focus on.
But Rodgers also wanted control of the works he’d produced with Hart.
“There is a statute of limitations on gratitude,” Rodgers said of the artistic
debt he owed Larry.13 Fed up with decades of worry and anxiety, of playing
the responsible, chiding brother to an erratic imp, Rodgers figured it was
time to get something back for his suffering. Given that Larry Hart had to be
practically locked in a room to write a lyric, it’s astounding that he and
Rodgers wrote any shows at all. As it was, they produced nearly thirty shows
and some eight hundred songs in twenty-five years (with additional “lost”
lyrics still turning up now and then). At least fifty of those songs are among
the finest American songs ever written.
Further countering Teddy Hart’s accusation of undue influence on his
brother, Rodgers tiptoed along the precipice of perjury. “The
New Connecticut Yankee has been received with great acclaim and is one of
hits,” Rodgers testified (though the
revival was not a New York
hit). “Its present success depends in a large measure upon the excellence of
the lyrics for which Mr. Hart was solely responsible and to the brilliance of
the book which he assisted in rewriting.” Among those lyrics was “To Keep
My Love Alive,” one of the wittiest songs written in the twentieth century,
about an oft-married queen (“I’m never the bridesmaid/I’m always the
bride”) who kills off each and every one of her imperfect husbands—a list
that Larry Hart kept expanding as delighted audiences demanded additional
choruses. “From the foregoing I can unhesitatingly state that between May
and October, 1943,” Rodgers went on, isolating the period when the team
was revising its 1927 show, “Lorenz Hart was never under the influence of
liquor in my presence and that at all times during that period as far as I know
he was in complete possession of all of his mental faculties and aware of his
every act and competent to understand the nature of same.”14 The kindest
thing to say about that closing sentence may be that Rodgers was being
technical. His claim was supported by Dr. Jacques Fischl, the young Doctors
Hospital resident who had seen Larry on
June 17, 1943, the day he signed
the last will, and testified that the lyricist had shown “not the slightest trace
The Harts’ jaws could not have dropped lower. Although the Harts were
Upper East Side people who aspired to Society—the kind of
which Dorothy Rodgers might have approved—Dick Rodgers carried no
animosity toward them. What he coveted was revealed in the Fourth Part of
the June 17 Hart will:
In this connection I respectfully request those persons who are authorized to
renew copyrights of any of my literary compositions, dramatic compositions,
dramatico-musical compositions, musical compositions and songs pursuant
to rights of renewal of such copyrights, to procure such renewals of
copyrights and after they have done so to assign them to my Trustees
hereunder, or to the legal entity which may be organized by them under the
provisions of this, my Will.
I also respectfully request that all sums that may be payable to me by the
American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers be paid to my
Executors and Trustees hereunder or to the legal entity which may be
organized by them under the provisions of this, my Will.
The underlining was done by Abe Wattenberg, who took pains to emphasize
the assignment of copyrights to the will’s Trustees—the control that Trustee
Rodgers had wanted all along. It was the last paragraph, directing that all of
Larry’s ASCAP royalties be paid to the Trustees, that set Teddy Hart off on
another round of litigation.
The will’s Trustees, Rodgers and Kron, were represented by the white-shoe
law firm of O’Leary and Dunn. Teddy was represented by the scrappy Louis
Brodsky, who found himself in something of a bind: he did believe that
Larry Hart had been a victim of undue influence in signing the June 17 will;
he also believed that Teddy Hart’s consent to go ahead with probate was not
made under duress, and there was only so much that could be done in light
of that fact. Prepared to compromise, Brodsky wrote a letter to Emil
Goldmark, attorney for the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, reviewing
The decedent undoubtedly believed that the $100,000.00 [New York Life
policy] was payable to his brother. This belief was shared by his attorney,
and immediately after the death of Larry Hart, the policy was delivered to
Teddy Hart for the purpose of cashing the same, but when he attempted to
do so and filed the necessary papers, he was told that the policy was payable
to the estate.
Brodsky went on at some length about Larry’s alcoholism and pushed for a
I have suggested, subject to the other elements that may enter into it, such as
taxes, etc., that the Federation be paid the sum of $10,000.00 in cash in lieu
of their interest in the policy of $100,000.00, and if such a proposition is
acceptable to the Federation then Mr. Dunn and I can resume our talks with
a view to straightening out the whole matter.
Brodsky sent the letter to Goldmark’s office and kept his fingers crossed.
The Federation, as it turned out, was prepared to compromise; Brodsky’s
client, Teddy Hart, was not.
The first Surrogate’s Court judge on the Hart case was James A. Foley, a
veteran of the so-called New Tammany. When Foley stepped down, he was
replaced by James A. Delehanty. Sixty-four years old when the case came
into his courtroom, Delehanty seemed to give Teddy Hart every legal
opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the June 17 will.
Meanwhile, Larry Hart was remembered in a
March 5, 1944, memorial
service, organized by Oscar Hammerstein II, at the Majestic Theatre.
Proceeds went to Armed Forces Master Records, which supplied servicemen
with records (and sometimes the phonographs to play them on). Although
Hart had made it clear he did not want a funeral, he would have been proud,
as a patriotic American deemed too small to serve in the First World War, of
the $6,000 raised that day at the Majestic.15 The opening speaker was
Deems Taylor, president of ASCAP, who would be named within the year as
part of Teddy Hart’s complaint against ASCAP. Six days after the memorial
service, the revival of Connecticut Yankee ended a Broadway run of less
than four months.
! was entering its second sold-out year,
authors reaping the fruits of the new all-American brand known as Rodgers
On April 28, Louis Brodsky, at his wits’ end, tried one last time to persuade
Teddy to accept $86,250.00 out of the insurance fund: $50,000.00 in cash
and $36,250.00 set aside to pay federal and state taxes, with the excess
eventually returned to him. In addition, the Harts would get back property—
furniture, silver, many personal effects, etc.—which had been seized by the
Trustees’ agents as collateral against the estate. “I believe that this
settlement is as fine a settlement, short of winning the case itself, as could
possibly be made,” Brodsky concluded.16
Regarding Brodsky’s eagerness to compromise as a betrayal, Teddy fired
him. Teddy hired Arnold Weissberger, an attorney based on
Avenue. The Surrogate’s Court judge, tolerating Teddy’s apparent
intractability, came up with yet another compromise, but that too proved
inadequate. “Mr. Theodore Hart has asked me to advise you that he is not
prepared to accept the modifications of the proposed settlement agreement
suggested by Your Honor,” Weissberger wrote, “and requests that the
agreement be withdrawn.”17
In early June Teddy had pulled out of the cast of the Kurt Weill–Ogden
Nash musical One Touch of Venus, though the show would continue to run
for a while. Lorenz Hart II was born that summer. And Rodgers and
Hammerstein were preparing their second musical collaboration,Carousel,
which Rodgers would claim to be his favorite of all his shows. Carousel was
based on Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom, which was first produced in 1909 in
his hero in the fifth scene. More than a decade later, when the Theatre Guild
presented an English-language version of Liliom, the translation was signed
by Benjamin F. Glazer, a literary agent with ambitions to write and direct.
Unacknowledged in public was that the translation used for the 1921
production—a theatrical run so successful that it kept the Theatre Guild
afloat through bad times—had been made by Larry Hart as part of his
routine work for Shubert associate Gustave Amberg. Larry received $200 for
four weeks at $50 a week. Although never credited, Larry didn’t make an
issue of the fact that the translation was his.
Throughout 1945 Teddy Hart lost one appeal after another. Rodgers secured
what he’d wanted: control of the copyrights to those extraordinary songs.
It is pointless to suggest that Larry Hart’s lyrics would have gripped us as
they have without their marriage to Rodgers’s music. No American
composer is so frequently recorded as Rodgers. Noël Coward said of
Rodgers that the man positively pees melody (Rodgers did not, as some
antagonistic critics have claimed, say it of himself), and if the line is hardly
elegant, it is metaphorically accurate. Though Rodgers’s music has been
sometimes derided for having no discernible style—unlike, say, the
constantly shifting rhythms of George Gershwin or the absolutely right blue
notes of Harold Arlen—that is more a testament to his fecundity than to his
limitations. Larry Hart, annoyed by the lack of depth and adventurousness in
American lyric-writing, overhauled the art—but he probably needed the
disciplined, endlessly imaginative Rodgers to succeed.
In his seminal study, American Popular Song, the composer-lyricist Alec
Wilder wrote about Rodgers: “Though he wrote great songs with Oscar
Hammerstein II, it is my belief that his greatest melodic invention and
pellucid freshness occurred during his years of collaboration with Lorenz
Hart. … I have always felt that there was an almost feverish demand in
Hart’s writing which reflected itself in Rodgers’s melodies as opposed to the
almost too comfortable armchair philosophy in Hammerstein’s lyrics.”18 In
their collaboration Rodgers’s music usually came first and Hart’s lyric
second, but Wilder is surely referring to Hart’s high standards, which pushed
Rodgers to create fresh, memorable melodic lines.
The longtime music director Buster Davis said something similar about Hart
inspiring his more disciplined collaborator. “Rodgers & Hart: I put them a
little bit ahead of George and Ira. Musically, Rodgers, though not given to
the rhythmic variation of Gershwin, had an incredible harmonic sense; his
melodies go places the Gershwins never thought of. The reason:
Rodgers catered to Hart—and Hart’s lyrics, especially the later ones, are
complex, multidimensional and unique.” Like tobacco or alcohol, a tune,
Rodgers said, was a stimulant to Larry—he needed it to get started. “Hart
was a mercurial, thoroughly unreliable tortured genius who drove Rodgers
up the wall,”
said. “Finally it was too much. Rodgers
behaved with Davis
great cruelty but he certainly had been provoked.”19
There is plenty of evidence that Rodgers did not intend to be cruel. Two
years after Larry Hart’s death, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer put a biopic about
Rodgers and Hart into development. Rodgers could have quashed the project
immediately but signed off on it because he wanted the Harts to reap the
payoff that came with it. Or so he claimed. Rodgers’s go-ahead benefited
him and Kron as well, of course, because the money paid by
MGM for what
are called “grand rights” or “cavalcade rights,” to depict the songwriters’
lives and use their musical compositions, would be considered income and
thereby apportioned to the estate.
Apprised of the lucrative movie contract, Teddy Hart still could not rest. He
contended that the right to privacy—his as well as his brother’s—was being
sold, along with a permit to have his brother represented by an actor, and
therefore should be considered principal, payable to him. But Teddy was
manacled by a provision in Larry’s will, cleverly inserted by Abe
Wattenberg six months before Larry’s death, which stipulated that if Teddy
were to anticipate income from the trust, or if he became so financially
overburdened that creditors would attempt to reach into the trust, Teddy’s
share would be eliminated.20 Challenging
MGM’s legal department as well
as the trustees’ attorneys, Teddy had to be cautious.
1920s, to sketch the story. By July 1946,
had turned in the outline
of With a Song in My Heart, a biography of the songwriters that was almost
dizzying in its fictions.
Bolton provided the sober Larry with a girlfriend
never had; Larry’s swift decline, in
Bolton’s version, is due to heterosexual
romantic grief that Larry never suffered, so far as is known—the first
stirrings of portraying the lyricist, in the words of Wilfrid Sheed, as a
became Easy to Remember. To coproduce,
MGM brought in Rodgers’s
brother-in-law Ben Feiner, who had known Rodgers since boyhood and Hart
since adolescence. When the biography was finally filmed and
renamed Words and Music, script credit went to Feiner and Fred
Finklehoffe, whose play Brother Rat had been a smash hit in 1937. That may
partially explain why Feiner himself is a character in the movie, while more
important characters from Hart’s life—notably his father, Max, and Teddy
and Dorothy Hart—are omitted.
Despite its myriad inaccuracies, Words and Music offers some significant
pleasures. It contains the extravagant, accelerated rendition of that
marvelous song “Where’s That Rainbow?,” led by Ann Sothern (whose
early career got a tremendous boost from her appearance in the 1931
Rodgers & Hart show
’s Sweetheart). “Slaughter on America Tenth Avenue,”
rechoreographed and danced in the film by Gene Kelly, had been conceived
by Larry Hart, even though it was an instrumental piece with no lyrics. And
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney appear together on-screen for the last
time, trading lines in “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” easily the best lyric
ever written about the sometimes violent, sometimes out-of-control rush of
In fact it is Mickey Rooney who rises above Words and Music’s infelicities.
Despite obvious differences between actor and role—Rooney is light and
Irish where Larry was dark and Jewish; Rooney is irrepressibly heterosexual
where Larry was quietly, discreetly homosexual—Rooney captures many of
Larry’s mannerisms and much of his personality: the way he rubs his face or
his hands, his easy laughter at other people’s jokes, his delight in the big
black cigars he smokes, his generosity, and the dynamic way he moves. “I
think of him as always skipping and bouncing,” Hammerstein wrote of
Larry, and he might as well have been describing Rooney’s version of him.
“In all the time I knew him, I never saw him walk slowly. I never saw his
face in repose. I never heard him chuckle quietly.”22
However entertaining Rooney’s performance might have been, Words and
Music left a sour taste in the mouths of its primary beneficiaries. In early
July 1948 Rodgers sent a telegram to producer Arthur Freed full of praise for
the picture, but secretly he hated it. Teddy Hart—no surprise—lost his case
MGM in ’s Supreme Court, which decreed that: New York
the showing of a motion picture in which the compositions of Rodgers and
Hart will be made known to a wider audience than they have hitherto
enjoyed will result in larger sales of sheet music and phonograph records
and in a larger use by musicians of the music and words and in a larger use
of the compositions in radio performance and in television shows.23
Teddy and his wife would have to be content with 25 percent of the contract
proceeds, while the remaining 75 percent went to the estate.
Perhaps that was all that could be hoped for. The motion picture, a
photographic medium before it is a dramatic or philosophical one, has
always struggled to show what’s internal and complex; why expect it to be
able to cope with Larry Hart’s work, which was interior and often too clever
by half, the lyrics spinning with what Rodgers referred to as their “pinwheel
brilliance” and much more dazzling than the narratives they were set in?
“There is more going on inside a lyric, and inside Hart’s head, than in
anybody else’s,” the performing arts critic Gerald Mast wrote. “Hart was the
most confessional of theater lyricists—the most able and willing to put his
own feelings, thoughts, pains, sorrows, fears, joys, misery into the words of
songs for specific characters in musical plays. What he could never say
aloud, even to his closest friends in private, he let characters sing in public.
He was a gay bachelor who wrote the best love lyrics for women and the
most joyous lyrics about falling in love and the most melancholy lyrics
about falling out of love.”24
Such encomiums suggest that Larry Hart was a poet, as he’s often been
called. His friend Henry Myers thought otherwise. “Larry in particular was
primarily a showman,” Myers wrote. “If you can manage to examine his
songs technically, and for the moment elude their spell, you will see that
they are all meant to be acted, that they are part of a play. Larry was
Hart usually wrote for specific characters, and his lyrics often take on even
greater depth when we return to their original settings. “You Are Too
Beautiful,” for instance, was written to be sung to an amnesiac. “Have You
Met Miss Jones?” was originally addressed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“This Can’t Be Love” was sung by two relatively new acquaintances who
fear they might be already related by marriage, if not by blood. “I Could
Write a Book” was a pickup line of Pal Joey’s. As fast as Larry Hart wrote,
he always kept his characters in mind.
Ben Feiner, as writer and associate producer on Words and Music, thought
Hart’s energy—if only it could be captured on the screen—would make the
picture irresistible. “At no time was Larry ever an ordinary conventional
human being. He was always tremendously high-strung, and consequently
either way up or way down. His dialogue was extremely dynamic and
colorful. It was never bland, and he never indulged in clichés or even the
usual patterns of speech.” He was a curious contradiction, this man whose
lyrics could be so nuanced and indirect, his behavior so direct—shouting
when he was angry, laughing when he was pleased, crying openly when
displeased. “Remember that living with Larry for a protracted period of
time,” Feiner wrote, “would be something like existing in the midst of a
continuous demonstration of brilliant and varicolored fireworks. At times
they are totally extinguished. And then the silence and the darkness become
that much more emphatic.”
From A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL by Gary Marmorstein. Copyright © 2012
by Gary Marmorstein. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.