On week three of Jazz Goes to the Movies, we feature songs with lyrics composed by Paul Francis Webster and the duo of Burt Kalmar and Harry Ruby. None of them are what you’d call household names today but they wrote the words for a number of songs that are still quite well-known today and are popular among jazz musicians. First, a question…
What do Duke Ellington, Shirley Temple, and Spiderman have in common? All are associated with lyrics written by Paul Francis Webster.
Webster was hired by the Fox studio around 1935 to compose lyrics for songs heard in child-star Shirley Temple’s movies. About five years later he collaborated with Duke Ellington to write lyrics for the stage production of “Jump for Joy”. And in 1967 he wrote the lyrics for the Spiderman TV show.
With 16 nominations and three wins for Best Song Oscars, Paul Francis Webster ranks third behind Sammy Cahn (26) and Johnny Mercer (18). He collaborated with Sammy Fain for two of them, “Secret Love” from Calamity Jane and “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” from the movie of the same name. His third Best Song Oscar was for “The Shadow of Your Smile” from The Sandpiper with music written by Johnny Mandel. Perhaps his best-known song among jazz musicians is “Invitation” from the movie of the same name with music composed by Bronislaw Kaper.
The songwriting team of Burt Kalmar and Harry Ruby wrote the lyrics and occasionally the music for a number of popular songs in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the songs they wrote are still heard and performed today including “Who’s Sorry Now”, “Three Little Words”, “I Wanna Be Loved By You” and a number of songs appearing in Marx Brothers movies such as “Hooray for Captain Spalding”, “I’m Against It” and “Hail Freedonia”. They wrote screenplays for films including the Marx Brothers’ “Animal Crackers”, “Horse Feathers” and “Duck Soup”, Joe E. Brown’s “Broadminded” and Eddie Cantor’s “The Kid from Spain”.
In 1950 the M-G-M studio released “Three Little Words”, a biopic of the pair with Fred Astaire cast as Burt Kalmar and Red Skelton as Harry Ruby. “Nevertheless”, a song heard in the film and composed by Kalmar and Ruby two decades earlier, became a hit record for the second time with recordings by The Mills Brothers, Paul Weston, Ray Anthony, and Ralph Flanagan.
Kalmar (posthumously), Ruby, and Oscar Hammerstein II were nominated for a Best Song Oscar in 1951 for the song “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”. Kalmar and Ruby wrote the song originally titled “Moonlight on the Meadow” in 1935 for the Marx Brothers movie “A Night at the Opera”. Hammerstein reworked the song (which wasn’t used in the Marx Brothers film) and retitled it for the movie “The Strip”. Its cast featured Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, and Jack Teagarden, all appearing as themselves.
Listen in the Night Beat with Doug Crane on Tuesday, March 16, at 8 pm for week 3 of Jazz Goes to the Movies.
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