THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

Does this melody ring a bell?

Does the name Ringling Bros. ring a bell?

If it does, the connection between the two should be clear as a bell, because that melody was used for decades on Hollywood soundtracks to accompany circus footage. The most famous circus of them all was Ringling Bros., which was founded on April 10, 1871, merged with Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth in 1919, and closed on May 22 2017.

I recall seeing a circus as a young boy (regrettably, I don’t recall if it was Ringling Bros.)…. but this post’s focus is on circus movies, two of which I’ve seen several times since I was a teenage boy: Charlie Chaplin’s THE CIRCUS, and {The Marx Brothers) AT THE CIRCUS.

THE CIRCUS (1928) is not as well known as such Chaplin masterpieces as THE GOLD RUSH, CITY LIGHTS, and MODERN TIMES, but it is still a great show. Here is the trailer, followed by the closing scene when the circus leaves town with the circus girl he loves:

AT THE CIRCUS (1939) isn’t one of the Marx Brothers’ best films, but it has one of Groucho’s most famous scenes:

How this song came to be written is a story in itself, but the history of Lydia actually pre-dates the song. In Germany in the 1920s, an entertainer named Wilhelm Bendow had a stand-up act as Lydia Smith, the tattooed lady, in which he wore a body cast and performed a satirical sketch. It is no stretch to assume that American lyricist Yip Harburg had heard of that act when he and composer Harold Arlen wrote the song in 1939 (yes, it’s the same Harburg and Arlen who earlier in 1939 wrote OVER THE RAINBOW and the other great songs in WIZARD OF OZ).

As for the song’s lyrics, Harburg was a friend of Groucho, and both were fans of Gilbert and Sullivan. One evening (as AT THE CIRCUS was being developed) at a gathering at Groucho’s house, they were playing G & S records and singing along. Harburg was inspired to show his G & S-like inventiveness with rhyme scheme and verbal dexterity by writing a song for Groucho for the film, and the result was Lydia, The Tattooed Lady.

But the song ran into trouble with the Breen office censors. Quoting Harburg: “That song was thought to be risqué, and we had a hell of a lot of trouble with it. This was 1939 and censorship was at its full height. We were told we would have to cut it out of the picture. Harold and I were mad. Finally, we got an idea of how to save the song. We put in a final verse to legitimize [it]”:

She once swept an admiral off of his feet
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat
And now the old boy is in charge of the fleet
For he went and married Lydia.

There have been other circus movies (including the 1952 opus with the same title as this post, starring Jimmy Stewart as a circus clown), but that would make a three-ring circus of this post, and two is enough for this old boy.

The Big Top stops here.

 

 

 

 

WHEEL OF MISFORTUNE

When misfortune comes, take it like a man–blame it on your wife. –Evan Esar

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Many of us suffer an unanticipated misfortune at some point in our lives. It could be the missed fortune of being left out of the will of a rich cousin you loved like a brother (until the ungrateful s.o.b. left every cent he had to his actual brother)….or it could be distress under duress, like your mistress taking egress, leaving you in a mess, no less, with your wife. Or, if you are a wife, perhaps you got wind of, not only the mistress on the side, but the ‘steady at the ready’ and the ‘wench on the bench’ (otherwise known as having too many loins in the fire). Yes, friends, misfortune is an ill wind which blows no good…

Now, far be it from mistermuse to blame his misfortunes on his wife. As a matter of tact, if it weren’t for my wife, I don’t know what I would do (or is it, wouldn’t do?). Yes, friends, mistermuse has been a sappily married man for 49 years, 10 months, and 13 days now, and I can honestly say it doesn’t seem like a day over 49 years, 10 months, and 12 days.

That said, game on. Let’s see what other men have had to say on the subject:

Wives are people who feel that they don’t dance enough. –Groucho Marx

How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who treats her as if she were a perfectly natural being? –Oscar Wilde

If Presidents can’t do it to their wives, they do it to their countries. –Mel Brooks

No matter how happily married a woman may be, it always pleases her to discover that there is a nice man who wishes she were not. –H. L. Mencken

My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you’ll be happy; if not, you’ll become a philosopher. –Socrates

Some wives are like fishermen: they think the best ones got away. –Evan Esar

I’ve had bad luck with both my wives. The first one left me and the second one didn’t. –Patrick Murray

A man placed an ad in the classifieds: “Wife wanted.” Next day he received over a hundred replies: “You can have mine.” –Anonymous

NOTE: The last quote is absolutely NOT mine!

GOODBYE AGAIN

I have never been able to discover anything disgraceful in being a colored man. But I have often found it inconvenient. –Bert Williams

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Yesterday marked the 96th anniversary of the death of the great “colored” comedian Bert Williams, whose humorous 1920 song I WANT TO KNOW WHERE TOSTI WENT (WHEN HE SAID GOODBYE) appeared in my last post. You can learn a bit more about this pioneering black entertainer in the racist America of the late 1800s/early 1900s by clicking here: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200038860/

To commemorate the anniversary of the day Bert Williams said “Goodbye forever,” I thought I would extend that post’s theme with a curtain call of several later “goodbye” songs from America’s Golden Age of Popular Music (if not yet America’s Golden Age of race relations). Just a little something to keep in mind, every time we say goodbye (courtesy of Cole Porter):

So, what’s good about goodbye? I’m glad you asked (courtesy of Harold Arlen):

Perhaps next post, I’ll transition into some ‘hello’ songs. It would help the transfiguration if I could put this song title in reverse:

P.S. The first several readers of this post may have been confused by changes made in the last clip after I posted it. What I initially thought was a clip of another vocalist singing “Hello, My Lover, Goodbye” turned out to be in error, so, left with few choices, I hastily tried to switch to a clip of Doris Day (NOT one of my favorite vocalists) singing the song. After a few ‘haste-makes-waste’ starts, I made the substitution, but probably left a few of you wondering if I hadn’t said goodbye to my mind. But all’s well that ends well (I hope).

 

A com-POSE-r BY ANY OTHER NAME…. (Part 1 of 2)

Tomorrow, Feb. 15, is the birthday of one of America’s greatest composers of popular songs, Hyman Arluck. Hyman WHO, you ask? Never heard of him? If you’re a fan of America’s Golden Age of Popular Music, this song of his is probably one of your favorites:

….not to mention this one:

You say you thought those songs were composed by HAROLD ARLEN?
From what I hear, no doubt they was….
because…because…because…because…
of the wonderful whiz he was.
But before a wonderful whiz he was, he was Hyman Arluck, so born on Feb. 15, 1905. If you were fooled, you should be grateful because, as Arlen (nee Arluck) notes in another of his songs, it’s….

Speaking of which, I thought it might be fun (for me, anyway) to fool around with a selection of birth names of other great Golden Age songwriters (each of them listed with one of their most popular songs), followed by a list of their noms de plume in scrambled order. Unless you Arluck-y, you’ll probably be unable to correctly pair more than 70% of the names (but at least half are guessable even if you don’t know them):

a. Israel Baline (HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN?)
b. Benjamin Anzelwitz (SWEET GEORGIA BROWN)
c. C. K. Dober (BARNEY GOOGLE)
d. Vladimir Dukelsky (APRIL IN PARIS)
e. Charles N. Daniels (CHLOE)
f. Albert Gumm (TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME)
g. Johnny Kluczko (RACING WITH THE MOON)
h. Edward Chester Babcock (LOVE AND MARRIAGE)
i. Andrea Razafkeriefo (MEMORIES OF YOU)
j. William Samuel Rosenberg (I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING)

1. Albert Von Tilzer
2. Irving Berlin
3. Ben Bernie
4. Con Conrad
5. Vernon Duke
6. Neil Moret
7. Billy Rose
8. Andy Razaf
9. Jimmy Van Heusen
10. Johnny Watson

In Part 2, I’ll post the answers plus clips of a few of the above songs. Meanwhile, if you’d like to hear one of the songs in particular, comments are open — please make a request. I’ve got a feeling I’m filling it.

 

IT’S RAINING MUSIC, SON

He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade stand. –Elbert Hubbard, American author and philosopher, 1915

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Man can indeed make lemonade out of lemons, but is just as prone to do the reverse — for example, when a relationship turns sour. Such is life, my son. Wait a minute….I don’t have a son. Anyway — whoever you are, nowhere is love-gone-wrong more poignantly expressed than in rainy regrets captured in song, as rendered here by three of the most expressive singers in popular music history:

In my previous post last week, I might have asked Mother Nature this question:

Finally, it is right as the rain that the last of our three songs be sung by the one and only Ella Fitzgerald, who was born on this day (April 25, 1918):

NOTE: Stormy Weather was composed by Harold Arlen, who also composed the 1944 show tune Right as the Rain and many other all-time standards.

A DISTANT RAINBOW

Once upon a time, in a sepia-toned place called Kansas (before landing in the colorful and Merry Old Land of Oz), a girl by the name of Dorothy sang a song called OVER THE RAINBOW. We all (many of us, at any rate) know who sang that song in the film, but the man who composed it is now long past recognition by almost all. He was born on this day (Feb. 15, 1905), and his name was Harold Arlen. This post is simply an appreciation of the man and his music, each of which encompasses much more than one man and one song….for, in those days, popular songs generally did not live by melody alone and were not born of one person alone. Composers/songs needed lyricists/words.

Arlen himself (according to biographer Edward Jablonski) acknowledged that words – even the title – were just as important as the melody, often saying that “A good lyric writer is the composer’s best friend.” The lyricists who collaborated with Arlen were among the best in the business: Ira Gershwin, Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer, E.Y.”Yip” Harburg….and the songs they wrote were among the best in popular music history (many of them done for movies and Broadway shows). Here are some of them:

1930 – GET HAPPY
1931 – BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
1932 – I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING
1933 – IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON; LET’S FALL IN LOVE; STORMY WEATHER
1934 – ILL WIND
1935 – LAST NIGHT WHEN WE WERE YOUNG
1939 – OVER THE RAINBOW; WE’RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD; DING-DONG THE WITCH IS DEAD
1941 – BLUES IN THE NIGHT
1942 – THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC
1944 – AC-CENT-CHU-ATE THE POSITIVE

But even those who remember Harold Arlen the composer probably do not know that he was also a fine singer who made a number of recordings, such as this one in 1933:

Harold Arlen died April 23, 1986, but his music should never die.

SAYS WHO?

I really didn’t say everything I said.  — Yogi Berra

Maybe he didn’t….but Yogi did say that he didn’t say everything he said — and it should go without saying that some say he is not the only one who didn’t say everything he said. Sad to say, no way can one say who said what was said in all cases, and always saying who said what one said is way easier said than done. Or so they say.

That said, the following is a selection of famous quotes not said (or at least not said originally) by those to whom they are attributed, along with some quotes which are correctly attributed (or so they say). Some mis-atributed quotes happened inadvertently, others deliberately; some have persisted despite attempts to set the record straight.  Can you separate the suspect ones from the correct ones?

1. Go west, young man, go west.  –Horace Greeley
2. Go West, Virginia, yes, Virginia: there is a  —Santa Claus
3. Win one for the Gipper.  –Knute Rockne
4. Win one for the Gingger.  –Newt Gingrich
5. A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her.  –W. C. Fields
6. Forget your troubles, come on, get happy.  –Elysian Fields
7. Our comedies are not to be laughed at.  –Samuel Goldwyn
8. Our cold meds are not to be sneezed at.  –Dr. Don
9. Elementary, my dear Watson.  –Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
10. Excelente, my dear Sr. Muse.  –Ricardo Cahill (after bribe payment) 

Of the above, the following are attributed incorrectly (supposedly):

1. Greeley did write this in an 1865 editorial, but denied originating it, crediting it to John Soule’s authorship in a Terre Haute (Indiana) newspaper in 1851. Nonetheless, the Greeley attribution persists.
3. Actually, this was said by Ronald Reagan in the 1940 film “Knute Rockne – All American.”
6. Forget Ely Fields – this is the opening lyric of “Get Happy” by Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler: www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGk3tY4yP7k
7. Like many “Goldwynisms,” origin is suspect. Reported to be an old Hollywood quip pre-dating its attribution to Goldwyn.
9. Never said by Holmes in Doyle’s novels and short stories. Made famous by actor Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in movies.

How many did you get right?
You got all of them?
Says who?