What Should Have Won the Best Song Oscar for 1936?

While not quite as strong a year as 1935, 1936 sees Cole Porter at the top of his game with at least one of his original songs for Born to Dance and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields doing their best work together on Swing Time. I get pre-emptive again (I habit I shed as I got the rhythm and pace down for the writing in v. 1 of WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars). I mark off the printed comments with quotes, and interleave the movie posters and song clips. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Here are the original winners:

Best Song: Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ “The Way You Look Tonight” won from Swing Time, over Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from Born to Dance; Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke’s “Pennies from Heaven” from Pennies from Heaven; Richard A. Whiting and Walter Bullock’s “When Did You Leave Heaven” from Sing Baby Sing; Walter Donaldson and Harold Adamson’s “Did I Remember” from Suzy; and Louis Alter and Sidney Mitchell’s “A Melody from the Sky” from Trail of the Lonesome Pine

“I can live with “The Way You Look Tonight” winning from the Astaire-Rogers Swing Time, by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. The problem is, I can’t live without Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from the Eleanor Powell Born to Dance. If we are choosing on the basis of the original performance, then the Fred Astaire rendition would outdo the lesser-known, less rhythmic Virginia Bruce “Skin” from Born to Dance. But I prefer to consider the song in terms of the numbers of ways it has been rendered over the years, and of the two, “Skin” has proven the greater song (even if this is choosing between the greater of two great goods). Much as it pains me to decline a Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields number, I can’t deny Cole Porter – this time. May I recommend the Sinatra version from Songs for Swingin’ Lovers? You’re welcome. Cole Porter should have the Oscar for Best Song for “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

“As for the other songs they nominated, a few are worth pointing out, even if it’s just for the novelty. We can be happy that they did nominate “Pennies from Heaven,” from the movie of the same name, with music by Arthur Johnston, and lyrics by the talented Johnny Burke. But then, they had Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong singing it. Hard to go wrong with two men who could swing what was written on a cheap bar’s bathroom wall.”

I couldn’t find the version with Armstrong, but the song gets presented more than once:

“The Academy went from great to bad with “When Did You Leave Heaven,” from Sing, Baby, Sing, music by Richard A. Whiting, and lyrics by Walter Bullock, which sounds like a bad pickup line. No nomination should have ever been given.”

I couldn’t find the original clip, but here’s a nicely jazzed up version:

“Did I Remember,” from Suzy, has music by Walter Donaldson, and lyrics by Harold Adamson…and it’s sung by Jean Harlow (likely a dubbed voice) and Cary Grant. Not a great song, and they must have known it, since for most of the song they’re talking over it. The song deserved no nomination.

Here’s Cary Grant serenading Harlow:

“A Melody from the Sky” is from The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, with music by Louis Alter and lyrics by Sidney Mitchell, and sung by Cliff Edwards (better known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket). A minor song, with no basis for nomination.

The Academy also chose to neglect some classics: two more from Swing Time and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields: “A Fine Romance” and “Pick Yourself Up”; Johnny Mercer’s “I’m an Old Cowhand” from Rhythm on the Range; and Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” from Follow the Fleet. American music was in its golden age; we live in an age of iron (and not in a good way, metalheads…). Fortunately, we have recordings to remind us of the greatness we once enjoyed in abundance.

Some excellent music in there, even with the couple of stinkers the Academy chose over what they could have picked.

As always, I have much more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0

Please vote!


  1. Even if you do not agree with the Academy’s choice for this year, it is WAY better than the choice the next year-“Sweet Leilani” from WAIKIKI WEDDING, which beat out “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” from SHALL WE DANCE, and I think the worst choice for best song until “Last Dance” won from THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY, and even that song might not be as dismal a choice as the earlier pick.

    • Trust me — I’m way ahead of you on this one! That was the year they started letting the extras vote, which resulted in some real stinkeroos for the three years of so the Academy let that happen.

      • What makes the loss for SHALL WE DANCE even more tragic is that Gershwin died without winning an Oscar, and considering that, with the possible exception of Elllington, no other composer of that period had as much influence on popular music of that time as Gershwin. It’s too bad that the emotional groundswell that swept Heath Ledger into the winner’s circle (deservedly, I will add) did not do the same for the Gershwins, and I think “They Can’t…” ranks up there with “Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris” and “Summertime” as one of his greatest works.

  2. IMHO it was certainly a contest between two worthy contenders but I am more than happy with The Way You Look Tonight taking the award. For too long the song suffered the ignominy of being tortured by Tony Bennett’s truly awful voice and arrangement. Thank heaven for Michael Buble ‘feeling a glow’ and doing a great song justice.

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