The early talkies owed a lot to the Broadway stage but it wasn't long before a unique form of entertainment emerged. Musical numbers on film began to appear which could never have been produced on a stage. In the beginning most of these were conceived by a young energetic and imaginative choreographer named Busby Berkeley. Most of the music for Berkley's routines was composed by Harry Warren and his lyricist pal, Al Dubin. Warren was a prolific composer and, although most people do not realize it, generations have hummed, sung, danced and courted to Harry Warren's music.
The beginning of talking pictures has generally been credited to the Al Jolson film, The Jazz Singer in 1927. This same film could also be given credit for being the first movie musical. However the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not recognize music from the movies until 1934. In an attempt to rightfully honor deserving contributors to the sound motion picture, the Academy introduced two musical categories. One was for "Best Song" and the other for "Best Score". The first winner for "Best Song" was "The Continental" by Con Conrad and Herb Magidson. It was introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the film The Gay Divorcee.
While movie scores were important, the tunes we remember most from the movies are the songs. There will always be memories associated with movie songs whether you heard them first in the movie in which they were introduced or in another medium popularized by performers other than those who appeared on the big screen.
Therefore we will devote much of this site to movie songs, particularly those
that won Oscars. We realize since there could be only one winner each year, many wonderful songs introduced in the movies will not be included. Nevertheless the fact remains the songs that have won throughout the years comprise a unique body of work. As controversial as some of the selections may be, we still have a body of work that represents the very best that American music has to offer.
ACADEMY AWARD WINNING SONGS
1934 The Continental
The Gay Divorcee was based on the Broadway musical by Cole Porter entitled, "The Gay Divorce." Since the Hays office couldn't possibly see how a divorce could be gay, they insisted the title be changed to "The Gay Divorcee." The film bore little resemblance to Porter's musical. In fact the only song from the stage play retained for the movie was Porter's "Night and Day" which wasn't even nominated. Perhaps the primary reason The Continental won was that it was the featured piece of music in a 17 minute production number. That number also made it apparent that RKO had discovered one of the great dance teams of all time. (Astaire/Rogers)
1935 Lullaby of Broadway
The song which won the Oscar in 1935 was written by one of the most prolific song writers the movies ever produced...Harry Warren. Warren's lyricist pal was Al Dubin and the two wrote quite a few hits together. Lullaby of Broadway was written for the film, Gold Diggers of 1935. It may not have been much of a picture had it not been for the great Busby Berkeley production number based on Warren and Dubin's song. This was truly an epic dance sequence. Nothing has matched its impact. Lullaby of Broadway not only became the first Harry Warren song to make the number one spot on radio's "Your Hit Parade," but it also won Warren the first of his three Academy Awards.
1936 The Way You Look Tonight
Jerome Kern had a very good year in 1936. He wrote the music for the Astaire-Rogers hit "Swingtime" and Universal decided to remake his "Showboat." But it was in "Swingtime" that Kern wrote what could be considered the finest film tune he ever wrote. The plot of Swingtime was very predictable so it remained for the music and the dancing of Astaire and Rogers to make it a hit. Kern wrote "I Won't Dance," "A Fine Romance," "Waltz in Swingtime" and The Way You Look Tonight. In the film Astaire sings "The Way You Look Tonight" to Rogers, who is in another room and, unknown to him, is washing her hair. Later Astaire and Rogers sang...in counterpoint..."The Way You Look Tonight," and "A Fine Romance."
1937 Sweet Leilani
During a vacation in Honolulu, Bing Crosby happened to hear a song played by Harry Owens, a bandleader at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. He liked it very much and found it was the bandleader's own composition. It just so happened that Crosby was about to make a film entitled, Waikiki Wedding. Crosby asked Paramount to include the song in the film. Paramount balked but Crosby persisted and Sweet Leilani was not only included in the film, it won the Oscar for best song of 1937.
1938 Thanks for the Memory
Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger were the composers of all of the songs in "Waikiki Wedding" except "Sweet Leilani." Needless to say they were extremely disappointed when it won. However they were rewarded the following year when a song they wrote for Crosby's buddy, Bob Hope, copped the Oscar. The Big Broadcast of 1938 was Bob Hope's first feature film. At the end of the film, he and Shirley Ross sang a duet which not only won the Oscar but became the song identified with the comedian for the rest of his life.
1939 Over the Rainbow
Judy Garland once described her favorite song this way..."I have sung it dozens of times and it's still the song that is closest to my heart. It is so symbolic of everybody's dream and wish that I am sure that's why people sometimes get tears in their eyes when they hear it...it is very gratifying to have a song that is more or less known as my song, or my theme song, and to have it written by the fantastic Harold Arlen." Of course she was talking about Over the Rainbow written by Arlen and Yip Harburg. Everyone knows the story of how it was almost cut from The Wizard of Oz because the studio thought it would slow down the film. Even Yip Harburg, the lyricist, didn't think much of Arlen's tune. He said he thought it was something that should be sung by Nelson Eddy, not a 12 year old girl in a Kansas Farm yard. Harburg always believed his lyrics "brought the song down" with childlike words.
1940 When You Wish Upon a Star
Cliff Edwards was known as "Ukelele Ike" in the 20's and early 30's. He was a leading vaudeville performer before going on to greater fame in the movies. Edwards introduced "Singin' in the Rain" in the film, "Holiday Revue of 1929" but his greatest fame came when he was chosen by Walt Disney to portray the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinnochio. The entire score and all of the music for "Pinnochio" was written by Leigh Harline. The lyrics were written by Ned Washington who would win another Academy Award in 1952 for "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'" for "High Noon." Harline, Washington, and Paul J. Smith won Oscars for best original score for "Pinnochio" and Harline and Washington won for best song, When You Wish Upon a Star sung by Edwards as Jiminy Cricket.
1941 The Last Time I Saw Paris
In 1940, the war in Europe was uppermost in most people's minds including Oscar Hammerstein's. When he heard of the fall of France complete with Nazi troops marching down the Champs Elysees, he wrote a poem to express his emotions. He called it, "When I Last Saw Paris." On impulse, he showed it to his son, Bill, who had ambitions to be a composer. He told Bill to write a melody for it. Bill looked at it and asked, "Just one thing...can I change the opening line to The Last Time I Saw Paris? Oscar gave him permission and Bill wrote several melodies for the poem but none were satisfactory. Both Oscar and Bill agreed that Jerome Kern could do a better job. The only problem was that Kern always insisted that he write the music before the lyrics. However this time, to Oscar Hammerstein's surprise, Kern took the poem and wrote music for it. A year later, in 1941, the song was put in a movie musical entitled, Lady Be Good. Most of the score for the movie was written by the Gershwins but Kern's song, which was movingly sung in the film by Ann Sothern, was nominated for an Oscar and won. It was Kern's second Oscar. His first was in 1936 for "The Way You Look Tonight."
1942 White Christmas
One of Bing Crosby's biggest movie successes also produced the biggest hit and the most profitable song ever composed by Irving Berlin. It was in Holiday Inn that Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds introduced White Christmas. Actually Reynolds voice was dubbed by Martha Mears. "White Christmas" is the most popular secular Christmas song of all time and is reputed to be the most valuable copyright of all time in the music business. Berlin composed 12 songs for "Holiday Inn" but eleven of them were overshadowed by "White Christmas" which went on to become the all-time record and sheet music best seller. Crosby's recording of the song is perhaps the biggest event in the history of recorded music. It became the best selling single of all time and is still heard regularly every Christmas season.
1943 You'll Never Know
The Oscar-winning song of 1943 was introduced in Hello Frisco, Hello, a musical which featured the return of one of the screen's most beloved performers, Alice Faye. Miss Faye had been off screen almost two years during which she gave birth to her first daughter. She and husband Phil Harris eventually had two daughters...Alice and Phyllis. 20th Century Fox was anxious to put her to work again because legions of fans were imploring the studio for more Faye films. The vehicle chosen for Miss Faye's return was a lavish musical with beautiful period costumes which were stunning in one of the best examples of vintage Technicolor ever seen. Mack Gordon and Harry Warren were recruited to write a new song for the film since most of the songs were old ones to fit in with the gay nineties setting. The song they wrote was You'll Never Know. It was one of several songs nominated in 1943 which expressed the sorrow for the absence of the men who were overseas fighting the war. They're either too young or too old, You'd be so nice to come home to, Say a prayer for the boys over there, were all nominees but You'll Never Know was judge best by the Academy. It became an instant hit when Dick Haymes recorded it and was virtually an anthem of World War II.
1944 Swingin' On a Star
Going My Way was the biggest hit of 1944. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Leo McCarey), Best Script (Frank Butler), Best Supporting Actor (Barry Fitzgerald), and Best Actor (Bing Crosby). It also won for Best Song, Swingin' on a Star by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. Johnny Burke, the lyricist, claimed he got the inspiration for some of the words from Crosby himself. He said he overheard Crosby admonishing one of his boys by saying, "What do you want to be, a mule?" For the Decca recording hit, Crosby performed with the Williams Brothers, one of whom, Andy, became a rather big singer in his own right.
1945 It Might As Well Be Spring
In 1933 Will Rogers starred in a rather amiable film entitled, State Fair. Then in 1945, 20th Century Fox decided to take this little story and make it into a musical. They cast Charles Winninger in the Rogers Role and Jeanne Crain in Janet Gaynor's role. In the role of Crain's brother, one of the most popular crooners of the 1940s was cast. Dick Haymes was a great band singer and a very popular recording artist. It was only natural he should migrate to the movies. His first film was Irish Eyes are Smilin' in which he introduced Harry Warren and Mack Gordon's The More I See You. Haymes was very fortunate to be cast in State Fair since it was the only film for which Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote an original score together. If it weren't for the marvelous score and several good performan ces, this State Fair might have been forgotten. Jeanne Crain gave a wonderful performance but her voice was dubbed by LouAnn Hogan. Haymes of course, needed no dubbing. His magnificent voice did well by all the songs, in particular the giant hit, It Might As Well Be Spring. This tune became one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's all-time hits and remained on radio's "Your Hit Parade" for 17 weeks.
1946 On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe
The Harvey Girls was an expensive vehicle designed especially for Judy Garland in her peak period. Harry Warren had been hired by Arthur Freed, the guiding light of the great musicals at MGM. Warren jumped at the chance to go to MGM after his Fox contract ran out because as he said, "Freed was the greatest producer of musicals because he loved them and because he himself was a songwriter." In fact, Freed would most likely have written the lyrics to Warren's songs for The Harvey Girls had he not been so busy at MGM. When Freed asked Warren who he wanted to do his lyrics, Warren said Johnny Mercer. He felt Mercer was the right person for the job because the movie called for Mercer's "brand of Americana." Warren wrote ten songs for The Harvey Girls...two of which were cut due to the length of the film. One of the eight remaining songs won an Oscar for best song of 1946...On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe. This was the third Oscar for Harry Warren. Since Johnny Mercer was a founder and owner of Capitol Records, he beat ever yone to the punch by recording it himself. It became a big hit. But it was Judy Garland who belted it out in the film.
This Oscar winning song was the work of Disney studio lyricist Ray Gilbert and composer Allie Wrubel. There was a great deal of controversy over filming Song of the South. Many blacks thought it should never have been filmed. Disney was aware of this and while he did not eliminate the stereotypes, he handled them with kid gloves. Everyone agreed however that James Baskett, who portrayed Uncle Remus, did so with great sensitivity. This was Baskett's first major film. He had appeared in several black films. He was known for his work as the lawyer on the "Amos and Andy" radio show. Many thought he should have been nominated for the best supporting Oscar. He wasn't. However at the 1947 Oscar ceremonies Baskett was given a special statuette for his "able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world." Baskett was not able to capitalize on his new fame. He died just four months after receiving the award.
1948 Buttons and Bows
It may surprise many people to know that Bob Hope has introduced as many best song winners as Fred Astaire, Doris Day, Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra. He was a singer in vaudeville and on the Broadway stage. His biggest Broadway hit was "Roberta" in which he was privileged to introduce Jerome Kern's Smoke Gets in your Eyes. In Ziegfeld Follies of 1935, he introduced I Can't get Started with You, which was seen by Hollywood scouts and was the break he needed to move to Hollywood. His first feature movie was The Big Broadcast of 1938 in which he introduced Thanks for the Memory which won the Oscar as best song. The second song he introduced which won an Oscar was in a movie in which he played a correspondence school dentist who went west and met up with Calamity Jane, played by Jane Russell. The Paleface featured a song that became associated with Hope almost as much as "Thanks for the Memory." It was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and was called, "Buttons and Bows." Livingston and Evans wrote new lyrics for it and Hope sang it again in the 1952 sequel, Son of Paleface. Hope sang many duets with Bing Crosby in the famous "Road" pictures, and was the song and dance man in The Seven Little Foys. In 1951 he introduced a song in The Lemon Drop Kid that was written for him...again by Livingston and Evans...Silver Bells. Not a bad record for a performer who is not generally thought of as a singer.
1949 Baby It's Cold Outside
Composer/lyricist Frank Loesser was a performer as well as a tunesmith. One time he wrote a little comic piece just for he and his wife to perform at parties. Margaret Whiting heard it at one of these parties and wanted to be the first in line to record it. When Loesser was approached by MGM to do several songs for the Esther Williams picture, Neptune's Daughter, he decided to sell the comedy tune that he called, Baby It's Cold Outside to them for the picture. Loesser's friend and collaborator Abe Burrows said of the song and this particular transaction, "It was an absolutely brilliant piece of comedy material. I always was sore at him for selling it to Metro for an Esther Williams picture. That thing was too good for where it went...it belonged in a Broadway show!" Mrs. Loesser wasn't too happy either. She was upset that her husband had entrusted their song to non-singers like Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban. However Mr. and Mrs. Loesser found solace in the fact that several of the best vocalists in the business recorded the tune. Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark, and later Sammy Davis, Jr. and Carmen McCrea and Ray Charles and Betty Carter. However the definitive version was recorded by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer who were personally conducted in the recording session by Loesser himself.
1950 Mona Lisa
In 1949 Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were assigned to write the music for a non-musical that starred Alan Ladd entitled, Captain Carey, USA. It was a spy story and the writers wanted Livingston and Evans to write a little song that someone sings as a warning that the Nazis are coming. A street troubadour or accordion player was supposed to sing it. Livingston and Evans came up with what they thought was a unique little number with an unusual title...Mona Lisa. Unfortunately the producers didn't like the title or the lyrics. They wanted it to be called, "After Midnight." Livingston and Evans objected but the producers were insistent. So the studio orchestra recorded it with a demo singer. There happened to be a half hour left for which they were paying the orchestra and the demo singer so the composers implored them to do it one more time with the Mona Lisa lyrics. They did and finally the producers agreed to put it in the film that way. Then Livingston and Evans tried to get someone to record it. They had many turn-downs...Vic Damone, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra. Finally they got Nat King Cole to take it home with him. Even after Cole played it, he wasn't sure about it. When it was recorded it was recorded on the B side of a record on which the main hit was supposed to be a song called, The Greatest Inventor Of Them All. Needless to say the B side became the hit and gave Livingston and Evans their second Oscar for best song.
1951 In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening
In 1946 Hoagy Carmichael wrote a song for a movie called, Canyon Passage. Carmichael didn't think the song was right for the picture and pleaded with the producer to leave it out. Fortunately Carmichael's plea fell on deaf ears and Old Buttermilk Sky was nominated for best song of 1946. It didn't win. Instead a Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer tune, On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe won. In 1951, Carmichael teamed with Mercer to write, In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening. This song brought Carmichael his only Oscar. He beat out another great tune, A Kiss to Build a Dream On by Harry Ruby and Oscar Hammerstein and made popular by the great Louis Armstrong. The movie in which In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening was introduced was Here Comes the Groom starring Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman. Wyman and Crosby sang a duet in the film and Carmichael commented that Jane sang much better than he thought she could. At the Oscar ceremony, Wyman again sang the song only this time in a duet with Danny Kaye.
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