In 1942, Irving Berlin gave the Oscar for Best Song to himself: “It’s someone I’ve known for a good many years. He’s a nice kid and I think he deserves it.”
That Oscar was for “White Christmas,” from the wonderful Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire musical, Holiday Inn. I’m no Scrooge; he deserved it:
Berlin, a Jewish American, wrote the greatest Christmas song of all time. Now if that’s not irony, I don’t know what is. Crosby sang his heart out on the song, which spoke to the longing many soldiers had of being back home for Christmas. A wistful song of reminiscence, “White Christmas” remained the bestselling song of all time until Elton John’s remake of “Candle in the Wind” honoring the memory of Lady Diana outsold it in a frenzy of grief. I suspect “White Christmas” will someday end up back on the top with its annual return to the airwaves. Regardless, Berlin wrote a perfect song, evoking a very special time.
The other official nominees were: Ernesto Lecuona and Kim Gannon’s “Always in My Heart” from Always in My Heart; Burton Lane and Ralph Freed’s “How About You?” from Babes on Broadway; Frank Churchill and Larry Morey’s “Love Is a Song” from Bambi; Edward Ward, Chet Forrest and Bob Wright’s “Pennies for Peppino” from Flying with Music; Gene de Paul and Don Raye’s “Pig Foot Pete” from Hellzapoppin’; Harry Revel and Mort Greene’s “There’s a Breeze on Lake Louise” from The Mayor of 44th Street; Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” from Orchestra Wives; Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “I’ve Heard That Song Before” from Youth on Parade; and Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer’s “Dearly Beloved” from You Were Never Lovelier
Always in My Heart stars Kay Francis and Walter Huston in a tale of a convict returning home to discover he has been completely forgotten. The song was written for a fifteen-year-old Deanna Durbin clone, the now-forgotten Gloria Warren. “Always in My Heart” is a complete throwaway song, and not worth a nomination for Ernesto Lecuona and Kim Gannon, who are as forgotten as you would expect from this song.
Judy Garland belts out the classic “How About You?” by Burton Lane and Ralph Freed in the third of her movies with Mickey Rooney, Babes on Broadway. I have loved this song ever since I was a child, having seen Lucille Ball and Van Johnson do it on I Love Lucy (I was vaguely disappointed when Rooney didn’t do the exact same comic patter, although the somersaulting was a decent substitute). An inventive song, “How About You?” is hampered only by the topical references, which can be confusing to unaware listeners. Still, a classic, and most deserving of a nomination.
Perhaps the weakest part of the most adult cartoon Walt Disney ever made, “Love Is a Song” brings Bambi to a screaming halt, almost drowning it in schmaltz before it begins. Fortunately, the film recovers. No nomination should have been given for this overbearing use of chorus – I felt like I was being drowned in an avalanche of wet marshmallows.
Flying with Music is a silly knock-off Latin rumba musical from Hal Roach. The song “Pennies for Peppino” was dead on delivery, as was the score. No nomination or remembrance should there be for Edward Ward, Chet Forrest and Bob Wright.
I couldn’t find any remnant of this song on Youtube — or anywhere else, for that matter. Tells you something, doesn’t it?
I know “Pig Foot Pete” from Martha Raye’s boogie woogie version in Abbott & Costello’s Keep ’Em Flying (yet another sign of my television-drenched childhood). Hellzapoppin’ starts in hell, incorporates invisibility and the Frankenstein monster, Shemp Howard, Martha Raye, talking animals, and two main characters who break the fourth wall and begin harassing the screenwriter as to what is going to happen next. The only thing Hellzapoppin’ doesn’t have is a rendition of “Pig Foot Pete” – the Academy goofed on this one, and credited the wrong film! (The Academy database recognizes this, and they can’t explain what happened either.) “Pig Foot Pete” is a fun song, although “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” sounds remarkably similar at times. So we should let the nomination stay for Gene de Paul and Don Raye, while recognizing that it comes from Keep ‘Em Flying – except that we can’t, since the movie came out the year before.
The Mayor of 44th Street stars nobody anybody remembers, in a trite plot about a dance band manager keeping out gangsters. “There’s a Breeze on Lake Louise” by Harry Revel and Mort Greene is a sickeningly sweet song with little to recommend it for repeated listening. Let’s just agree to forget both the film and the song, and get on with our lives, shall we?
The second movie to star the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Orchestra Wives has some fairly unpleasant things to say about women who marry. Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s song “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” quickly emerged as another big band standard for Miller, and still gets the feet tapping – and when the Nicholas Brothers come out dancing, the eyes popping! The lyrics, like most of those for Miller’s standards, are mostly inane. The sound and the beat are what attract – and earn it the nomination.
Youth on Parade stars nobody you’ve ever heard from before or since; only this song has survived the Republic B-picture set in a college – but “I’ve Heard That Song Before” quickly became a WWII classic (songwriters Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn would go on to write for Frank Sinatra). The song remains deserving of its nomination for its depiction of romantic longing, and the sadness of disappointment.
You Were Never Lovelier stars Fred Astaire as – surprise! – a dancer; Rita Hayworth thinks he is sending her secret presents. Romance and hijinks ensue, and some damn fine dancing with Astaire and Hayworth, all to a Latin beat (and a fifteen-year-old Fidel Castro shows up in the cast, reportedly). “Dearly Beloved,” oddly enough, is perhaps the weakest song in the entire movie, a mediocre throwaway song practically nobody has ever bothered singing ever again. What is incomprehensible is that the movie also features a definite classic, “I’m Old-Fashioned”! They should have switched out the boring fluff out for a real song, and nominated “I’m Old-Fashioned” – which may have not received a nomination because Rita Hayworth lip-synced to it, whereas Hayworth did a kind of striptease to “Dearly Beloved.”
As for the other songs they omitted, the glaring holes are “I Remember You” and “Tangerine” from The Fleet’s In, composed by Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer. The Fleet’s In stars William Holden, Dorothy Lamour, and Eddie Bracken in a remake of a Clara Bow silent flick about a sailor trying to get a singer to kiss him. “I Remember You” works a romantic sweetness into its lyrics and tones; “Tangerine” instills the Latin flavor into a song of longing for a gorgeous woman. Both were worth a nomination.
You can find more in WHO Won?!? An Irreverent Look at the Oscars: 1927-1943: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OPEELH0
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