Friday, February 22, 2019

31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON: Irving Berlin at the Oscars


Time again for our best bib and tucker as Once Upon A Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club host the gala blogathon 31 Days of Oscar. Thanks, Aurora, Kellee, and Paula!

The Ceremonies:    Day 1     Day 2     Day 3

Irving Berlin, born Israel Isadore Baline
May 11, 1888 - September 22, 1989 

A poor lad from a Russian immigrant family, Berlin left school early and found his dreams and his success in the mythical New York City thoroughfare called Tin Pan Alley. Broadway success followed for the young man who wrote the songs that tapped into the hearts of his countrymen and received the admiration of his fellow composers.

The 1925 Broadway hit The Cocoanuts was filmed by Paramount in 1929 bringing to Hollywood the sensational Marx Brothers and the songs of Irving Berlin. Irving wrote 14 songs for the Broadway show and 4 of them made it to the movie, with one new ballad. The relationship between Irving Berlin and Hollywood was just beginning.


1936 nominee: Cheek to Cheek from Top Hat
Winner: Lullaby of Broadway by Harry Warren and Al Dubin from Golddiggers of 1935

If Irving didn't exactly set Hollywood ablaze after The Cocoanuts, there were hit Broadway revues to thrill his fans including As Thousands Cheer with Ethel Waters introducing Heat Wave and Supper Time, and Clifton Webb singing Her Easter Bonnet.

1935 saw the release of the RKO Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical Top Hat and the songs Irving wrote for that show include Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, Isn't This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)?No Strings (I'm Fancy Free), the on-demand big finale The Piccolino, and the Oscar-nominated, immediate standard Cheek to Cheek. Fred suggested he talk-sing Cheek to Cheek and Irving heartily agreed. 


1939 nominee: Best Writing, Original Story for Alexander's Ragtime Band
Winner: Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary for Boys Town

Twentieth Century Fox had great success in 1937 with Irving Berlin's musical On the Avenue. Irving is an uncredited writer on the film with the plot of an entertainer romancing a debutante echoing Irving's second marriage to Ellin McCay, a daughter wealth and privilege.

Darryl Zanuck admired Irving's place in entertainment history and wanted to film a Berlin biography. The shy Irving avoided that in his treatment for Alexander Ragtime's Band, with the movie's story spinning around the title breakthrough hit song. The film became the tale of a musician's rise and fall and rise, and the romance in his life. The three stars and director from In Old Chicago, Alice Faye, Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, and Henry King were popularly reunited and joined by Ethel Merman.



1939 nominee: Now It Can Be Told from Alexander's Ragtime Band
Winner: Thanks for the Memory by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin from The Big Broadcast of 1938

The film Alexander's Ragtime Band hangs on 24 of Irving Berlin's hit songs, and one new ballad for Alice Faye which was nominated for an Oscar, Now It Can Be Told.

Along with Irving's Oscar nomination for Original Story and Best Original Song, Alexander's Ragtime Band was nominated for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing with one Oscar being won by Alfred Newman for Best Music, Scoring.



1939 nominee: Change Partners (and Dance With Me) from Carefree
Winner: Thanks for the Memory by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin from The Big Broadcast of 1938

Nominee number 2: Irving's second song in the field of 10 nominated for Best Original Song came from RKO's Carefree starring Astaire and Rogers. Since They Turned Loch Lomond Into Swing, The Yam, Carefree, and Change Partners would join the Berlin catalogue.



1940 nominee: I Poured My Heart Into a Song from Second Fiddle
Winner: Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg from The Wizard of Oz

Irving concluded his contract with Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox with the romantic comedy Second Fiddle. Starring Tyrone Power and Sonja Henie, the premise of the movie is a spoof of the search for Scarlett O'Hara. Irving provided six songs which were sung by Mary Healy and Rudy Vallee. I Poured My Heart Into a Song was the favourite of the critics and the Academy.



1943 nominee: Best Writing, Original Story Holiday Inn
Winner: Emeric Pressburger for 49th Parallel

Irving had had an idea rattling around in his brain for several years for a revue that would feature a lazy entertainer and the holidays. The scenario of the show business hotel fell into place following his 1940 Broadway hit, Louisiana Purchase.

The Easter holiday was all set, song-wise, and after he had a completed score, Irving presented the idea to Paramount. Being that he was, after all, Irving Berlin, he requested and received his dream team of director Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Carefree), Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Claude Binyon and Elmer Rice worked out the screenplay. 


Max Steiner, Irving Berlin - Oscar winners

1943 Best Original Song Winner: White Christmas from Holiday Inn

The 15th Academy Awards presentation honouring the films of 1942 was held at the Cocoanut Grove of The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on March 4, 1943. Max Steiner won Best Original Score for Now Voyager and Irving won Best Original Song. Here's an interesting tidbit: Max Steiner was born on May 10, 1888, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary and Irving on the following day in Mogilev, Belarus. 

Jewish-born Berlin had fond memories of the Christmases of his childhood; the decorated trees and excitement shared by and with friends. These memories were what he tapped into when White Christmas was born. It was one of what he referred to as his "round songs", something that came together, not without hard work, but perfectly.

In Laurence Bergreen's As Thousands Cheer, published 1990, he describes Irving as heading to his office first thing in the morning after the long night of completing White Christmas. Irving told his transcriber Helmy Kresa "I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, it is the best song anybody ever wrote." Kresa thought "Oh you conceited ass", but knew the boss was right after hearing it once.

The beautiful secular holiday ballad was introduced to the public by Bing Crosby on The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas, 1941. The popularity of the song as judged by record and sheet music sales through the years cannot be denied nor the emotional impact on all who love it.

Bing Crosby: "I don't think we'll have any trouble with that one, Irv."



1947 nominee: You Keep Coming Back Like a Song from Blue Skies
Winner: On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer from The Harvey Girls

The 1940s saw Irving busy writing, composing, producing, performing and touring in his revue This Is The Army which was filmed by Warner Brothers in 1943. Meanwhile, Paramount had put together another tale of romance and show business using the songs and a story idea from Irving Berlin. Irving took a break from Army tour to lend a supervisory hand to the movie and to compose a lovely new ballad, You Keep Coming Back Like a Song. Singers and the Academy took notice.



1955 nominee: Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep from White Christmas
Winner: The title song from Three Coins in the Fountain by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn

Back on Broadway Irving gave us Annie Get Your Gun, Miss Liberty, and Call Me Madam. Movie hits in this era featuring Berlin tunes included Easter Parade, There's No Business Like Show Business and the screen version of Call Me Madam.

Over at Paramount, the decision was made to revive and revamp Holiday Inn for the post-war era with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as former soldiers. Michael Curtiz directed the Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank script. Fred was retiring (again!) and eventually Danny Kaye was cast, along with the talented Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. The mix of old and new songs included the charming Count Your Blessings which would be Irving's final kick at the Oscar can.

At this time in Oscar history, the song nominees were limited to five. That season's selection also included Hold My Hand from Susan Slept Here, The High and the Mighty theme, and my choice for winner, Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin's The Man that Got Away from A Star is Born.



Irving delights some friends at the 1963 Screen Producers Guild Awards

The connection between Irving Berlin's timeless songs and Hollywood continues to this day. To date, Berlin's music is included in the soundtracks of over 400 television programs and close to 300 movies. As Jerome Kern famously said, "Irving Berlin is American music."












47 comments:

  1. Your fab tribute proves why Irving Berlin is (and should be) a legend.

    I think I'm going to play Irving Berlin songs all day today. A fitting soundtrack for a Friday, wouldn't you agree?

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    1. I definitely agree. There's an Irving song for every mood. And I think, for me, today's mood will be "Lazy" ... I wanna be lazy ....

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  2. Original Song once had a field of ten nominees? I guess that's not too surprising, given how many musicals Hollywood used to make. No wonder Berlin thrived.

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    1. As a fan of "the Great American Songbook", I am fascinated by the composers of this era and the songs that were written for the movies. Until the late 1940s there was no limit on the number of songs which could be nominated. After that they went to some sort of a point system and only songs reaching a certain level are nominated. I think they make things more complicated than they have to, but they haven't asked for my opinion.

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  3. Thank you for a wonderful post. Now I have "Count Your Blessings" running through my head. And I think that's a good thing! Love everything about that scene, including the song.

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    1. Such a lovely song, and the performance by Rosemary and Bing is perfect.

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  4. What a fabulous tribute to Irving Berlin. So many favorite songs, so little time. Margot

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    1. Thank you so much, Margot. Irving's songs slow time down for me.

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  5. Great post and thanks for giving us all earworms! ;)

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  6. Great tribute and super song sheet covers. What a prolific songwriter he was. - and one of the few to do words and music. To think he wrote not one but three of the Astaire/Rogers films. One of his most poignant is “When I Lost You”, written after the death of his first wife.
    As the song goes, “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on.”

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    1. As one of his Oscar-nominated songs says, Irving truly Poured His Heart into his songs.

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  7. Great tribute, I also LOVE Irving Berlin!

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    1. Thank you very much. Once Irving's songs get into your heart, the are there for life.

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  8. One of Berlin's most frequently-played songs is an obscure one for most of his fans: "Arms for the Love of America," written in 1941. It became the Ordnance Corps' official song and is sung at the end of every Ordnance event in the Army. That means it's sung or played hundreds of times a year!

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    1. Wow! I was not aware of that. Anytime there's an Irving Berlin melody played is a good time.

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  9. Morning Paddy Lee, enjoy the Awards show tonight. Any picks to share? Joyfully yours ~ James

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    1. The Oscars shouldn't take this personally, but I gave up on award shows quite a while ago. I am rooting for Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, and if Stan and Ollie had received any nominations they might have gotten me back.

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  10. Doesn't get any better than "White Christmas" (the Song). As for 1955. My AA favorites were "Unchained Melody" and "I'll never stop loving you". Sorry, Mr. Berlin.

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  11. No need to apologize to Irving. The beautiful Unchained Melody and I'll Never Stop Loving You were nominated in the next season. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing was a popular winner, but I like your choices better.

    Thanks for reminding me that they Doris Day wasn't nominated for Love Me or Leave Me. Grr!

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  12. Great review of Irving Berlin's career Carftan Woman. He contributed so much to our film and musical heritage. I loved the graphics too.

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    1. Thanks so much. I've been an Irving fan for a long time and this was fun for me.

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  13. Doris Day is one of my favorite movie stars as is Ginger Rogers. They were both lovely blondes and musical, too. I didn't see it but I know they played sisters in a dramatic movie. Caftan Woman, would you rather see Ginger & Doris in a drama, comedy, or musical together? Also I think Doris Day should have received an Oscar nom for MIDNIGHT LACE. (I know she got a nom for PILLOW TALK).

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    1. Doris Day is one of my favourite singers, and her screen persona in comedies is particularly welcome. Nonetheless, when given a dramatic role Doris is as able as anyone to create a compelling character.

      Here is a piece on Storm Warning, the noirish tale that featured Doris Day and Ginger Rogers as sisters: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2018/04/the-doris-day-blogathon-storm-warning.html

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    2. Do you like GINGER ROGERS, too? I also like BETTY GRABLE and JUNE HAVER. Interestingly(at least to me) they all married men in show business. Ginger was married five times. At least three were actors, LEW AYRES, a Frenchman named JACQUES BERGERAC(I HOPE THE SPELLING IS RIGHT.) and WILLIAM MARSHALL(I don't know his work.

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    3. I didn't finish my post. Betty married JACKIE COOGAN and HARRY JAMES. June married FRED MACMURRAY. Also Doris Day was married four times. I think her first two husbands were musicians. I know her third husband was her manager Martin Melcher who adopted her son Terry(from her first marriage.)

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    4. I admire Ginger Rogers immensely. She was very talented and versatile, plus a fashion icon. Ginger was also a talented artist. She did a charming portrait of Irving Berlin which can be found online with the help of Google.

      It is not surprising that there are so many show business marriages. It is quite an all-encompassing career and the opportunity to meet people outside of the business and to develop a relationship was probably rare.

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    5. Thank you for your complimentary answer about Ginger. Have you seen all of the movies that Ginger did with Fred Astaire? Ive only seen a few. The first one that I saw was their last one THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY. It was from 1949 and was the only one in color. It was also made for MGM and came out ten years after they stopped doing their musicals for RKO. Also THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE was interesting, it was the only movie they did that was about real-life people.

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    6. I have seen all of Fred and Ginger's films many times. My favourites are Top Hat and Follow the Fleet. I don't care much for the pace of The Barkleys of Broadway, but I love the tap number Bouncin' the Blues.

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  14. Great article as always, and I learned something new about Irving Berlin. He was one of my favorite song writers.

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad we could share the love for the great Irving Berlin.

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  15. I didn't know he was nominated for a original story as well! Without a doubt, the Oscar for White Christmas was well-deserved, and only the beginning of the success of an immortal song.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. I was in a crowded department store the week before Christmas. There was a blizzard and folks were really cranky. As we stood in line at the cash, the music switched to White Christmas. As soon as the first notes of the Bing Crosby recording were heard, you could feel everyone relax and then there were smiles and wishes of Merry Christmas all around. Magic!

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  16. Another actress I like is JEANNE CRAIN. She was in STATE FAIR with DANA ANDREWS. One of the songs in the movie was IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING. I heard on TV that Jeannes singing was dubbed. Do you know any of the musicals of HOWARD KEEL? Like I said on another post Howard was on DALLAS as was STEVE FORREST(the brother of Dana Andrews). Howard and Steve both guest starred on Murder, She Wrote as I stated earlier. Like you said ANGELA LANSBURY probably appreciated Steves looks and talent.

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  17. Jeanne Crain is someone I enjoy in many movies. State Fair, Margie, Leave Her to Heaven, A Letter to Three Wives, and Man Without a Star are a few favourites. It Might as Well Be Spring won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Jeanne was dubbed by Louanne Hogan, who also sang for her in Centennial Summer.

    Back in the 1980s Howard Keel and Jane Powell toured in productions of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and South Pacific that came to Toronto. What a treat to see them live!

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  18. Did you see Howard Keel in any of these movies-SHOW BOAT, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, CALAMITY JANE and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN? I saw the first two a long time ago. Show Boat had two women known for their beauty-Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner. It also had Joe E. Brown and Agnes Moorehead. Robert Sterling was in it but he seems to always get overlooked.

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    1. I've seen those movies often. Ava at the end of Show Boat always makes me cry.

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    2. Which leading lady did you like best with Howard K.? KATHRYN GRAYSON, JANE POWELL, DORIS DAY or BETTY HUTTON? Or did you like them equally well? I read that Howard said that he thought Doris would have been better in Annie Get Your Gun than Betty Hutton.

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    3. I'm a huge Doris Day fan, but having seen Howard and Jane live, they have a special place in my heart. Besides, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers has been a favourite since I was a kid. Never get tired of it.

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  19. Do you like BETTY GRABLE and JUNE HAVER? I stated that I like them in the post I did about marriages. If you do, what are your favorite movies? I wonder how it would have been if they had got to be in a movie with Howard Keel, What about if Ginger Rogers had got to be in one with him? I know its speculation but it can be fun to imagine different movie pairings.

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    1. I love the Fox Musicals and Betty and June have such bright personalities. Love Dan Dailey, so anything featuring those gals with that guy is a hit with me.

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    2. I too like Dan Dailey. I agree about the personalities of Betty & June. Ive seen three of the GRABLE-DAILEY pairings. MY BLUE HEAVEN, CALL ME MISTER and my favorite Grable movie MOTHER WORE TIGHTS, that was Grables favorite movie that she did. Haver did THE GIRL NEXT DOOR with Dailey and as his son, Billy Gray. And the two bubbly blondes played sisters in THE DOLLY SISTERS with John Payne, another actor I like.

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    3. It is fun to watch Betty in her earliest movie bits to the stardom she would achieve.

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  20. Have you seen very many stars in person? You mentioned JANE POWELL & HOWARD KEEL. I remember you said Angela Lansbury from not too long ago(I think.) Did you ever see GINGER ROGERS? Speaking of Ginger I would have liked it if Ginger could have been in a movie with Howard. Also if Betty Grable could have worked with Howard.

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    1. I am sorry to say that the opportunity to see Ginger Rogers never came my way.

      Musical stars on stage include Debbie Reynolds in Irene and in concert, and Alice Faye and John Payne in Good News.

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    2. I know Debbie from lots of movies including THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY with the elegant FRED ASTAIRE as her dad and SUSAN SLEPT HERE which starred DICK POWELL, a versatile actor. Do you have any stories about Dick, his wife JUNE ALLYSON or his ex-wife JOAN BLONDELL. I like watching June and Joan.

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    3. Years ago I read June's autobiography, and a novel by Joan Blondell called Center Door Fancy. I can't recall details right now, but you get two different perspectives on their relationship with Dick Powell.

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