Tagged: Yip Harburg Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • mistermuse 1:17 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: At The Circus, Barnum & Bailey, , , , , , Ringling Bros., The Big Top, the Circus, , Yip Harburg   

    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 risquĂ©, 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.

     

     

     

     

     
    • D. Wallace Peach 6:16 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      How fun to listen to that song. I went to the circus a couple of times as a kid and took my daughter decades ago. Now, with greater awareness of the impact on the animals, the circus has lost its luster, but sad too that it’s gone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse 6:33 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply

        You ain’t lion, Diana. We still have zoos, but some people would like to do away with them too. I don’t agree, because I suspect that zoos are the last best hope of saving some on-the-verge-of-extinction animals (and zoo animals are no doubt, on the whole, better treated than circus animals were).

        Liked by 1 person

        • D. Wallace Peach 7:46 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink

          Yes, I agree about the zoos, especially since humans seem committed to destroying their natural habitats or just killing them for fun. Like the Trump boys.

          Liked by 1 person

    • calmkate 6:49 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      oh that first tune brought back many fond memories … second video was not available.

      Would love cc’s Circus, think I’ll look for it 🙂
      Lydia packs a punch, the song and it’s fascinating history, thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse 9:34 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply

        You should be able to find viewable clips of Charlie Chaplin’s THE CIRCUS fairly easily, Kate. When I Googled it, I saw various scenes, and even the whole movie, available on Youtube.

        Liked by 1 person

    • magickmermaid 7:52 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      Of course I know that melody! It’s one of the background songs of the circus that is my life 🙂 La la la la!

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse 9:41 pm on March 8, 2020 Permalink | Reply

        Now you’re talking my La la la la language, mm! It’s one of those songs that, once you hear it, you won’t forget it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • masercot 6:46 am on March 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      I learned a lot from Lydia…

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse 2:59 pm on March 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply

        I wonder if Trump learned anything from Lydia? Even if he did, he wouldn’t give her credit, so kudos to you. 😉

        Like

    • Rivergirl 8:40 am on March 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      I spent my childhood at Madison Square Garden with Ringling Brothers Greatest Show on Earth. As a kid? It was 3 rings of pure magic…

      Liked by 2 people

    • Elizabeth 5:08 pm on March 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      Barnum came from Bridgeport Connecticut, so he is well known around here. My grandfather introduced us to “Lydia” in 1957, much to the consternation of my grandmother! He always liked innuendo.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse 6:11 pm on March 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply

        Sounds like Lydia meant SINnuendo to your grandmother, Elizabeth. Bless her heart, I shudder to think how she would feel about today’s culture.

        Liked by 1 person

    • The Diary of a Country Bumpkin 5:18 pm on March 11, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      Love the Marx brothers, brilliant!

      Liked by 1 person

    • kutukamus 2:01 am on March 13, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      I never knew the title of that song before. Thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Silver Screenings 3:49 pm on March 16, 2020 Permalink | Reply

      I’m another one who didn’t know the title of that famous circus song.

      As for Charlie Chaplin, I have not yet seen his film, The Circus, and the trailer you posted makes me want to see it immediately. Thanks for putting it on my radar. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse 5:43 pm on March 16, 2020 Permalink | Reply

        I must confess that I didn’t know the title either….or rather, I knew it at one time but had forgotten it (courtesy of old age having crept up on me). As for The Circus, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it on Youtube.

        Liked by 1 person

  • mistermuse 5:37 pm on February 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , Yip Harburg   

    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.

     
    • arekhill1 6:57 pm on February 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      If I only had a brain, I’d write something wittier here.

      Like

    • mistermuse 7:13 pm on February 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I’d try to respond in kind, Ricardo, but I’d only be grasping at straws.

      Like

    • Michaeline Montezinos 11:44 pm on February 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      As I listened to this beautiful voice singing one of many of my favorite songs you had listed, I think I fell into love all over again with this rich and lovely music. Have seen the movie many times. Thank you, mistermuse for awaking the romantic in my soul. It is so sad that Harold Arlen could not become a great vocalist. He certainly deserved that in addition to his career as a lyricist.

      Like

    • Joseph Nebus 12:26 am on February 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Boy, that is a heck of a list of songs, ins’t it?

      Like

    • scifihammy 12:42 am on February 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      While I know most of the songs you list, it is as you say, I did not know the composer. Thanks for the enlightenment 🙂

      Like

    • mistermuse 6:26 am on February 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Thank all of you for your comments.

      Like

    • Don Frankel 10:29 am on February 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      You know I remember seeing on TV an older Yip Harburg sitting at a Piano and explaining how he came up with the lyric for Somewhere Over The Rainbow. He played the opening notes on the Piano and showed how he kept thinking of the sound and then how “Somewhere” just seemed to pop out so naturally. It was fascinating.

      Like

    • mistermuse 11:39 am on February 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Don, the story of Harbug’s and Arlen’s writing the score for THE WIZARD OF OZ and their difficulties with”Over the Rainbow” is indeed fascinating. My Jan.13 2014 post RAINBOWS FOR CHRISTMAS covers it in some detail, for those interested. Just click January 2014 in the “Archives” column to the right, and scroll down to Jan. 13.

      Like

  • mistermuse 11:25 am on January 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: blacklist, Burton Lane, Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead, Finian's Rainbow, , , If I Only Had A Brain, L. Frank Baum, , , The Merry Old Land Of Oz, We're Off To See The Wizard, , Yip Harburg   

    RAINBOWS FOR CHRISTMAS 

    My melodies always sounded better with a Yip Harburg lyric.  –Burton Lane, composer (Finian’s Rainbow)

    ****************************************************************************

    I have the rainbow reflection of Yip Harburg’s lyrics on, and in, my mind as I write this review of a biography I received for Christmas. The book, titled Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz?  was co-written by his son, Ernie Harburg, and Harold Meyerson….but in a sense, it was written by Yip himself, suffused as it is with the words of his songs, his quotes and, above all, his spirit.

    Yip, as you no doubt know if you know anything about the Golden Age of popular music and movies in America, is the man who put the rainbow in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz (as well as in the 1947 Broadway musical Finian’s Rainbow). Actually, there was no reference to a rainbow in the book on which the film is based, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). The idea of a rainbow was the creation of Yip Harburg, who “told Harold [composer Harold Arlen] about it and we went to work on a tune.” That “tune” was, of course, Over The Rainbow, which went on to win  the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was named #1 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 top songs. How hard was it to write? It was the first song in the film, but the last to be written, after the whole score had been finished: a score which included We’re Off To See The Wizard, The Merry Old Land Of Oz, If I Only Had A Brain, If I Were King of The Forest and Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.

    But….the witch wasn’t dead. Little did Yip know that little more than a decade later, he would be off to see the witch hunters of the McCarthy era and blacklisted for suspected Communist sympathies (he was never a Communist Party member, though admittedly “an avowed democratic socialist,” which wasn’t/isn’t unlawful but was and continues to be conflated with Communism in some circles, even today). Shunned by Hollywood, TV and radio throughout the 1950s, Harburg still had standing on Broadway, but his shows never again attained his previous success.

    In addition to his creative talent and sense of social justice, Harburg had a great sense of humor: One of the things that bothered me about my society was that there were so many problems in the world. My approach to solving these problems was to make people see the folly of them, the foibles of them, or the mythology of them. If you look at them like Puck in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and say, “What fools these mortals be,” then you can make people laugh and see their follies.
    That doesn’t say humor is the only approach. Everybody approaches his art through his own psyche and methods. I am giving you mine. My approach is through satire because humor is the greatest solvent that I know of. It takes the arrogance out of people. We all hear many different political views. People disagree so strongly they even want to kill each other.

    Just as Harburg’s socialism ran afoul of political spoilsports like Joseph McCarthy, so his humor was hounded by the Hayes Office (Hollywood’s censorship czar) in the late 1930s. The following song, which he wrote for Groucho Marx in AT THE CIRCUS,  was censored until he added a final verse (listen for it) to legitimize it. Say, have you met Lydia?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4zRe_wvJw8

     
    • Daniel Fergus Tamulonis 3:32 pm on January 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      How extraordinary and welcome are your thoughtful comments on Harburg and his refreshing look at the world. The Harlem Repertory Theatre is in the middle of producing a double bill of “Finian’s Rainbow and Flahooley, both with books and lyrics by Harburg. The latter was written in response to Harburg’s grossly unfair treatment in Hollywood and truly Puck-like, he thumbs his nose at the injustices of those witch hunts. If you are anywhere near New York City, please pay us a visit and thank you for your comments. Your prose merits at least a free front row seat! (Tell them I told you so!)
      Sincerely and gratefully …

      Like

    • mistermuse 5:12 pm on January 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I am extremely pleased by your comment, Daniel, and would certainly take you up on your invitation to visit if I lived anywhere near NYC, but unfortunately I do not. It is good to know that “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Flahooley” are still alive and well at The Harlem Repertory Theatre, and I urge my blog friends in the area to pay you a visit in my stead and enjoy the show. Look to the Rainbow!

      Like

    • Don Frankel 5:06 am on January 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I actually saw Harburg on TV getting interviewed years ago. He was explaining how he had come up with the lyrics to Somewhere over the Rainbow. He was playing the opening notes and showing how the word somewhere seemed to be the only word to fit. It was priceless. You don’t get to see stuff like that very often.

      Like

    • mistermuse 4:52 am on January 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks, Don. The book of which I write in this post devotes over four pages just to the difficulty Harburg and Arlen had writing this song, including this Harburg quote: “he [Arlen] gave me a tune with those first two notes an octave apart. I tried I’ll go over the rainbow, Someday over the rainbow [etc.]. For a while I thought I would just leave those first two notes out.. It was a long time before I came to Somewhere over the rainbow.”

      I would love to have seen that interview you saw.

      Like

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