One of my favourite composers, HARRY WARREN (1893-1981) had 11 Oscar nominations and won the Best Song category three times – “Lullaby of Broadway” (with Al Dubin); “You’ll Never Know” (with Mack Gordon); and “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (with Johnny Mercer).
Harry , a native New Yorker, was born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna. He taught himself to play the piano and played in silent movie theaters and at the Vitagraph Motion Picture Studios. His first hit was in 1922 – “Rose of the Rio Grande”.
Moving from New York to Hollywood , his first assignment at Warner Brothers was writing three songs for SPRING IS HERE in 1929.
In 1932 he was assigned to FORTY SECOND STREET and he was teamed with lyricist Al Dubin.
He went on to write the music for 18 Busby Berkeley musicals.
Warren and Dubin split up as a team in 1938 and for several years in the 1940’s , Harry wrote with Mack Gordon at Twentieth Century Fox. Their songs were in DOWN ARGENTINE WAY, THAT NIGHT IN RIO, WEEKEND IN HAVANA among many.
The song, “You’ll Never Know” ,first sung by Alice Faye, has been recorded over 50 times.
And he wrote for MGM also – HONOLULU, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES,THE HARVEY GIRLS, SUMMER STOCK, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY.
Always interesting to know, what comes first, the words or the music. Harry said ,with Al Dubin, he’d provide the melody first, but with Johnny Mercer, they’d work on a song together.
(Though Sammy Cahn’s answer to that question was, “The phone call!”
“Lullaby of Broadway”, Harry’ s first Oscar with Al Dubin, for Best Song in 1935.
By the 1950s, Harry was working at Paramount.
Harry’s last Oscar nomination.
A recording showing many the great singers who loved to sing a Warren tune.
I found a fascinating 15 minute interview from 1972 with Harry Warren on You Tube. I wish it had been much longer and with more informed questions, but it was great to hear Harry playing and singing some of his hits, including ‘You’ll Never Know” and “I Love My Baby, My Baby Loves Me”.
Some of Harry’s comments during the interview by Ian Whitcomb:
“Mr. Zanuck had a script of “Forty Second Street” and said he thought it would make a good picture. He said, ‘why don’t you fellas read it and come up with some songs for it.’
I remember I gave Al Dubin some music and he came back from San Francisco with the lyric for ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ written on a menu card,! Busby Berkeley said, “I can do a lot with that number.”
Busby never turned down any of our songs.”
On his 80th birthday, Harry was elected to the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. There’s a Harry Warren Theatre in Brooklyn.
Harry kept a low profile in Hollywood and said he never socialised with Hollywood people. Perhaps that’s why he is regarded as the least known of the most successful composers in Hollywood.
There is a few scenes in TV’s ‘The Nat King Cole Show’ on You Tube, in which Nat talks to Harry then sings Harry’s ‘September in The Rain’ and ‘Lullaby of Broadway.’
Harry was married from 1917 to Josephine Wensler who died in 1993.
A year before Harry’s death in 1981, FORTY SECOND STREET became a hit all over again in a great Broadway production directed by Gower Champion. I wonder if Harry saw the production.
What a composer. Working at all the major studios throughout his life and leaving us with a wealth of the greatest film songs.
Favourites? There are so many to choose from – I love his songs for Carmen Miranda and ‘Shanghai Lil’ from “Footlight Parade “, and of course ‘Remember My Forgotten Man’, the title song from HONOLULU (sung by Gracie Allen, lyrics Gus Kahn ); ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.
One great discovery for me when researching Harry Warren’s career was discovering for the first time a Warren/Dubin song called “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, sung by Constance Bennett in MOULIN ROUGE (1934). The song is done as a big production number and can be seen on You Tube. I wish the film was on dvd.
i wondered if Constance was doing her own singing. Apparently yes.
Warren and Dubin were loaned to Darryl Zanuck for this film, only one of two loanouts Warners allowed them. The other was to Samuel Goldwyn for ROMAN SCANDALS.
Two useful websites. http://www.americansongwriters.com and http://www.harrywarrenmusic.com