[Dixielandjazz] Article on Harold Arlen

Stan Brager sbrager at socal.rr.com
Tue Sep 20 10:04:23 PDT 2005


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                  COME RAIN OR COME SHINE
                  by JOHN LAHR
                  The bittersweet life of Harold Arlen.
                  Issue of 2005-09-19
                  Posted 2005-09-12

            The composer Harold Arlen, a dapper man whose songs brought
something both dashing and deep to the Republic, liked to tell a story about
the time he danced with Marilyn Monroe. "People are staring at us," Arlen
whispered to Monroe. "They must know who you are!" she replied. The joke, as
Arlen knew, was on him. Although his catalogue included "I've Got the World
on a String," "That Old Black Magic," "One for My Baby (and One More for the
Road)," "Get Happy," and "Over the Rainbow"-which was voted the twentieth
century's No. 1 song by the Recording Industry Association of America-Arlen
was virtually anonymous. "Who's Harold Arlen?" Truman Capote asked in 1953,
when it was suggested that he collaborate with the composer on the musical
version of his short story "House of Flowers." In 1955, at a concert in
Cairo partly devoted to American music, five Arlen songs-"Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate
the Positive," "Ill Wind," "Blues in the Night," "I Gotta Right to Sing the
Blues," and "Stormy Weather"-were billed, without attribution, as American
"folk songs." Even this year, which happens to be the centennial of Arlen's
birth (he died in 1986), at a celebration for a postage stamp honoring the
late lyricist E. Y. Harburg, with whom Arlen wrote a hundred and eleven
songs, including the score for "The Wizard of Oz," no one thought to even
mention Arlen.

            If Arlen's name is not on the American public's lips, his songs
are in our hearts. "Harold's best is the best," Irving Berlin said. The
songwriter and historian Alec Wilder, in his canonical book, "American
Popular Song," warns himself at the beginning of his chapter on Arlen, "I
must guard against over-enthusiasm." He goes on, "If the story was true that
George Gershwin was his hero"-it was-"then as far as I'm concerned, the
pupil surpassed the teacher. . . . I respect Gershwin, but I envy Arlen."
Gershwin himself respected Arlen, whom he called "the most original of all
of us." Unlike the music of most of his contemporaries, Arlen's harmonic
flair and his melodic opulence were not influenced by Europe; instead, they
grew out of the liberating principles of American jazz. "He, more than any
of his contemporaries, plunged himself into the heartbeat of the popular
music of his youth, the dance band," Wilder writes. "He had that crazy jazz
going," Johnny Mercer, one of Arlen's collaborators, told Walter Cronkite in
a nineteen-sixties TV special on the composer. "George's jazz was mechanical
compared to Harold's." Mercer continued, touching his solar plexus,
"Harold's was right from in there."

            Arlen's sound also incorporated the Jewish wail and the wail of
the blues. Across the decades, it found its most eloquent expression in the
mouths of black performers: Ethel Waters, Dooley Wilson, Pearl Bailey,
Diahann Carroll, and, especially, Lena Horne, whose lengthy collaboration
with Arlen began with "As Long as I Live," which she performed at the Cotton
Club in 1934, when she was sixteen. Arlen and the lyricist Ted Koehler wrote
five Cotton Club revues in the early thirties; their songs-among them
"That's What I Hate About Love" and "Kicking the Gong Around"-were
introduced to the world by the bands of Cab Calloway, Jimmy Lunceford, and
Duke Ellington. Ethel Waters, who did twelve encores after singing "Stormy
Weather" on the opening night of the 1933 "Cotton Club Parade," referred to
Arlen as "my son"; she considered him, she said, "the Negro-est white man I

            Unusually for a songwriter, Arlen was also a great interpreter
of his own work. His sexy, pliant vocals, one wag said, were "like someone
singing with his fly open." Bing Crosby considered him "one of the best
stylists I've ever heard." Even Noël Coward, with his punctilio for diction
and display, wrote to Arlen, "I'm here to tell you that I would rather hear
you sing your own songs than anybody else."

            "Music doesn't argue, discuss, or quarrel," Arlen said. "It just
breathes the air of freedom." But his liberating songs, full of buoyant
triumph, are also imbued with a sense of loss. The bittersweet began almost
at Arlen's birth, in Buffalo, New York, on February 15, 1905: his twin
brother died the following day. Throughout Arlen's life, his parents, the
fine-voiced cantor Samuel Arluck and his wife, Celia, refused to acknowledge
him by the American first name he adopted. To the family, to his close
friends, the survivor of the Arluck twins was always Chaim, the Hebrew word
for "life."

            From the age of seven, Arlen sang in the choir at his synagogue,
where he was a constant witness to his father's musical virtuosity. "Pop had
a perfect genius for finding new melodic twists," Arlen told this magazine
in 1955. "I know damned well now that his glorious improvisations must have
had some effect on me and my own style," he said in another interview. When
Arlen was nine, his father started him on the piano, and by the time he was
in his early teens he was sufficiently adroit to play at local cafés. He
was, he said, "aping what jazz I heard at the time and superimposing on that
my own ideas-which led to orchestrating and my beginnings." At fifteen, he
formed his first professional band, Hyman Arluck's Snappy Trio. As the
band's name suggested, Arlen wanted to shine in a modern, streamlined way.
In 1921, at the age of sixteen, and against his parents' wishes, he left

            America, Saul Bellow observed, liberated the European Jew from
the control of his family and of the Jewish community. Certainly this was
true of Arlen, who was able to put the provincial oppressiveness of his
birthplace behind him. ("To commit suicide in Buffalo would be redundant,"
he once quipped.) His Orthodox parents spoke to each other in Yiddish (his
diminutive, fragile mother, to the end of her days, signed her name with an
"X") and maintained in their demeanor an Old World gravity; Arlen, with his
debonair style and rafish sound, adopted an impudently American idiom. By
1928, Chaim (or Hyman) Arluck had recast himself as Harold Arlen, a name
that combined his parents' surnames (his mother's maiden name was Orlin).

            As a pianist, a vocalist, and an arranger with a series of
bands-the Southbound Shufflers, the Yankee Six, the Buffalodians-Arlen made
his way to New York to pursue his dream of becoming a vaudeville headliner.
Once in the city, however, the reserved Arlen found auditions-"all those
glaring, staring faces"-"demeaning." At an audition for a Shubert show, he
tried out his repertoire on the boorish J. J. Shubert himself, who shuffled
papers at his desk and paid no attention. In the middle of his tenth number,
Arlen stopped. "What happened?" Shubert shouted. "I ran out of throat,"
Arlen said, and left.

            Then, in 1929, he got a part in Vincent Youmans's musical "Great
Day!" "One day, Fletcher Henderson, who was leading the orchestra during
rehearsals, got sick and I was asked to sit at the piano," Arlen said. "I
gave them the standard pickup that first day, but the next day I played it a
little differently. I could never stay with one thing long-in melody at
least. On the third day, I worked it around a bit more, and suddenly the
whole company was asking, 'Say, what is that you're playing?' " Arlen added,
"I didn't know; I wasn't composing anything, I was just improvising
naturally." The songwriter Harry Warren happened to overhear the melody,
which Arlen described as "a rhythm number with the feel of a spiritual." He
found Arlen a lyricist, Ted Koehler, and the song became "Get Happy." Used
as the finale of Ruth Selwyn's "9:15 Revue," the song earned Arlen fifty
dollars a week and was soon what he called "a noisy song," a classic. "I
never stopped from that day on," he said.

            In 1933, Billboard heralded Shakespeare as the most prolific
playwright in history, and Arlen as the most prolific composer. Judging by
his diaries, Arlen, who eventually wrote the music for eight Broadway shows
and thirty films, understood his own prodigious talent and served it with a
humble rigor. "Inside a world of sound, he is always courageous,
intelligent, incapable of cliché," Capote said. "His songs invariably
contain some melodic surprise, some difficulty, which is why he has not had
the recognition he deserves." Of Arlen's signature octave leaps, Oscar
Hammerstein, Jr., said, "You are listening to sweet and caressing notes and
suddenly the tune flies up and away and you are carried with it. This is

            To Arlen, the arrival of a song was a sort of blessing. "You
wonder later, in mystery, how it all happens," he said. His daily quest was
to find what he called "the unsought phrase." "He tries to be different,"
Mercer explained. "He won't let a simple phrase take him where it would
ordinarily lead somebody else." "When your daemon is in charge do not try to
think consciously," reads a newspaper snippet that Arlen clipped to his
journal. "Drift, wait, and obey." Arlen was also in the habit of invoking
his unconscious through prayer. Before he began his day's work at the piano,
he lowered his eyes, brought his hands together, and put himself in a
worshipful state of mind-a gesture that bemused his less pious
collaborators. "When he gets to the piano, it's a feeling of witchcraft,"
Harburg said of Arlen's ritual. "He'll spit three times and almost talk to
the chords, talk to God. He does it humorously, but behind the humor are all
sorts of superstitions and beliefs." Sometimes, as Ira Gershwin's archivist
Lawrence Stewart recalled in his diaries, Arlen used prayer for baser
purposes. In 1934, he was writing his first Broadway show, "Life Begins at
8:40," with Harburg and Ira Gershwin, while George Gershwin was working on
"Porgy and Bess." Stewart writes, "Harold was in his 'inspiration' period.
Even the most perfunctory verse required inspiration from 'the fellow
upstairs,' Harold would say, pointing to the ceiling. Once, Ira returned
from visiting George-they lived across the street from each other on 72nd
Street-Harold was there, and he told Harold where he'd been. Harold turned
to the street window, clasped his hands together in prayer and said,
'George, don't make it too good!' "

            "Harold is a very, very melancholy person," Harburg said.
"Inside, deeply religious." Arlen was good, however, at hiding the
melancholy. He showed the world only a fine form: a cocky walk, a well-cut
suit, a boutonniere, or "bluie," as he called it, whatever the flower's
color. He had a raucous laugh and a loosey-goosey public manner. "The only
time I ever saw him angry was . . . many years ago," the songwriter Jimmy
van Heusen said in 1947. "He threw his brother and myself out of his
apartment with a shower of books after I had naïvely said, 'Who in the hell
is Stravinsky?' while he was playing 'The Rite of Spring' on the
 phonograph." Arlen's sense of fun made him good company-he was an avid
golfer, a competitive tennis player, and a compulsive sports fan-but his
need for privacy set him apart. "I'm not an easy man to get to, I know
 that," he said. "I don't have the talent for talking that some of my
contemporaries have. Everything I feel, everything I want to say, I pour out
in my manuscripts." Harburg said, "You take a song like his rousing hit 'Get
Happy.' Sing it slowly. Examine it. It's painful! He's never liberated from
that . . . thing hanging over him."

            In his diary, a small, haphazardly kept omnium-gatherum, Arlen
set down axioms, vocabulary words, and quotes from a wide-ranging reading
list-Marcus Aurelius, Aristotle, Santayana, Nietzsche. Among the collection
of philosophical epigrams, in special brackets and underlined, is a quote
from Rilke: "Works of art are of an intimate loneliness. Only love can grip
and fairly judge them. Consider yourself and your feeling right every time."
When it came to his musical impulses, Arlen was vigilant. He always carried
a pad and a pencil in his coat pocket to catch the fleeting musical ideas he
called "jots." Inspiration could come at any time, but walking was his most
consistent catalyst. "The momentum, the rhythm sets up something in me where
I get ideas," he said. One crisp winter morning early in his composing
career, Arlen left his apartment at the Croyden Hotel, on East Eighty-sixth
Street, with Koehler, en route to the Brill Building, at Broadway and
Forty-seventh. Arlen wanted to walk there. Koehler lobbied for a taxi. "No,
this is good for you," Arlen told him. Koehler recalled, "He said, 'Just
make believe this is a big parade, and you're marching.' . . . And he
started humming this march and imitating the drums and the trombones and
everything. He hit a couple of strains. I stopped walking and said, 'It
sounds pretty good.' . . . By the time we got to the Brill Building, 'I Love
a Parade' was almost finished."

            Arlen's most sensational inspiration came in the late thirties
in Beverly Hills, where he lived from 1935 to 1954, when Hollywood was a
boomtown for the makers of musicals. (It "loomed up like the Parthenon . . .
to me," Arlen said.) He and Harburg were close to finishing "The Wizard of
Oz," but Arlen was bedevilled by the composition, long overdue, of a ballad
that would transport Dorothy from the black-and-white tribulations of Kansas
to the colorful utopian world of Oz. In frustration, he decided to take a
break and go to a matinée at Grauman's Chinese Theatre with his wife, Anya.
He was too anxious to drive. "I wasn't thinking about work. I just wanted to
relax," he recalled. "And as we drove past Schwab's Drugstore I said, 'Pull
over, please.' She knew what I meant." He added, "It was as if the Lord
said, 'Well, here it is, now stop worrying about it.' " The miracle was not
immediately visible to others. Arlen played "the nugget" to Harburg, who
said that the symphonic sweep was "not for little Dorothy! That's for Nelson
Eddy." Ira Gershwin, another émigré from Depression-devastated Broadway, was
called in to break the standoff; he liked the melody, so Harburg set it.
When Gershwin heard Harburg's lyrics, he cried. He didn't, however, think
the song ended properly, and he improvised a coda: "If happy little
bluebirds fly / Beyond the rainbow / Why oh why can't I?"

            "Nothing is more beautiful than a word fitly spoken," Arlen
wrote in his diary, quoting Marcus Aurelius. He didn't believe in the
dividing line between composer and lyricist. "It's the collaboration," he
said. Each of Arlen's partners lent a distinctive flavor to his songs:
Koehler gave him colloquial directness; Mercer gave him cool; Harburg gave
him wit. "All my collaborators react differently," Arlen told me when I
interviewed him about Harburg, in the late seventies. "I have an idea. I
don't know how to use it, but I know what they will react to. I know what
makes them bubble." He went on, "Certain tunes hit the first time, others
take a while. I have a trick. If you have a tune, you tease. You don't play
it first. You play it second."

            Sometimes one lyricist's missed opportunity was another's gold
mine. In 1954, when Arlen was working with Ira Gershwin on the film "A Star
Is Born," he would arrive at "the Gershwin Plantation," at 1021 North
Roxbury Drive, in Beverly Hills, at around two-thirty each afternoon with
his tan briefcase in hand. He'd sit down at the Steinway in the living room,
while Ira worked on the lyrics at a card table. As Arlen started to
improvise, according to Lawrence Stewart, Ira "moves to a cat-clawed green
armchair nearer the piano, where he sits with Calliope, the Siamese, on his
lap and pets her abstractedly as he smokes a cigar. He puts his glasses upon
his forehead, leans back and closes his eyes as he moves his hands in tempo
with the music. Silence-discussion-the repetition of a melodic theme and the
analysis of an idea. . . . The writing of another song has begun." At one
point, while Arlen was exploring a "dive number" for the film, Ira's wife,
Leonore, called down the stairs, "It sounds like George!" "That threw Harold
into a kind of panic," Stewart said. "Without thinking, he started playing
this tune which he had in the back of his head. He played a few bars of it,
and of course, as he said, he knew it would hook Ira instantly." Arlen was
playing a song he'd worked on with Johnny Mercer, whose lyrics began:

            I've seen Sequoia, it's really very pretty,
            The art of Goya and Rockefeller City,
            But since I saw you, I can't believe my eyes.
            You're one of them there things
            That comes equipped with wings:
            It walks, it talks, it sings.

            The weak lines made the melody, Arlen said, sound "puny";
Gershwin's dramatic new words made it "like the Rock of Gibraltar." The song
became "The Man That Got Away":

            The night is bitter,
            The stars have lost their glitter,
            The wind grows colder,
            And suddenly you're older,
            And all because of
            The man that got away.

            Until the score was finished, Gershwin swore Arlen to secrecy
about it. One weekend, at the Tamarisk golf course, in Palm Springs, Arlen
ran into the star of the film, Judy Garland, and her husband, Sid Luft, who
was producing it. True to his word, Arlen said nothing about the songs.
Then, in the middle of the round, as Arlen wrote in Gershwin's excellent
"Lyrics on Several Occasions":

            I started to whistle, very softly. I don't know what tempted me.
She was about twenty yards away-it was a kind of tease and I couldn't stand
it. I love Ira and I love Judy, and, well, I just whistled the main phrase
of "The Man That Got Away." Suddenly, third or fourth whistle, Judy turned
around. "Harold, what are you whistling?" "Nothing. I don't know." This
            "Harold, what are you whistling? Don't tell me it's something
from the picture." I said no. "Harold, I've got an idea it must be from the
picture-don't hold out on me." Finally, on the eighteenth hole, Sid hit the
ball 320 yards into a sand trap, and while he dug it out, Judy insisted:
"Harold, there's a piano in the clubhouse, and you've got to play it." . . .
So I played both songs, and-well-they were the first songs, the script
wasn't finished, it was their first picture-and they went wild with joy.

            "I can't tell about melodies until I hear the lyric," Arlen
said. One song he was certain about, however, was "Blues in the Night"-which
he deemed "one of the high points of knowing in my life" and also his only
authentic blues song. "The whole thing poured out," he said. "And I knew in
my guts, without even thinking what Johnny could write for a lyric, that
this was strong, strong, strong!" Like many of Arlen's melodies, "Blues in
the Night" departed from the thirty-two-bar Tin Pan Alley formula. It was
fifty-eight bars long: a typical "Arlen tapeworm," as he called it. Other
"winding songs" by Arlen include "That Ole Black Magic" (seventy-two bars),
"The Man That Got Away" (sixty-two bars), and "Ill Wind" (forty bars). "When
Mercer wrote 'Blues in the Night,' I went over his lyric and I started to
hum it over at his desk," Arlen told Alec Wilder. "It sounded marvellous
once I got to the second stanza but that first twelve was weak tea. On the
third or fourth page of his work sheets I saw some lines-one of them was 'My
momma done tol' me, when I was in knee pants.' I said, 'Why don't you try
that?' It was one of the very few times I've ever suggested anything like
that to John."

            When they finished, Mercer called his friend the singer Margaret
Whiting, who'd had hits with "That Ole Black Magic" and "Come Rain or Come
Shine," and asked if he and Arlen could come over right away. Whiting
suggested that they wait until later that evening, around ten, because she
had guests for dinner. "Who's there?" Mercer said. Whiting's guest list
included Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Mel Tormé, and Martha Raye. "My God,
we're coming right over," Mercer said. As Whiting recalls, "They came in the
back door, sat down at the piano, and played the score of 'Blues in the
Night.' I remember forever the reaction. Mel got up and said, 'I can't
believe it.' Martha couldn't say a word. Mickey Rooney said, 'That's the
greatest thing I've ever heard.' Judy Garland said, 'Play it again.' "
Whiting continues, "We had them play it seven times. Judy and I ran to the
piano to see who was gonna learn it first. It was a lovely night."

            "Don't waste your energy on the ugly," Arlen wrote in his diary.
"Save it for the beautiful." Anya Taranda, a lithe Busby Berkeley showgirl,
was certainly that. They met during "Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1932," a
revue in which Arlen and Koehler had four songs, including "I Gotta Right to
Sing the Blues"; Taranda was in the chorus. At the time, her face was far
more publicized than Arlen's-she was the "Breck Girl." She and Arlen formed
a deep, passionate attachment. "There are no words to express the fullness
of my heart when I wish you success, but I know you will understand and
words are unnecessary," she wrote to him in 1934 on the opening night of
"Life Begins at 8:40." The couple lived together for nearly three years,
while Arlen procrastinated about marriage. (His parents objected to their
son marrying outside their faith.) In 1937, after they attended "The Show Is
On," Arlen slipped a note under Anya's hotel-room door: "Dearest Anya- We're
getting married tomorrow-'bout time, don't you think?"

            Although the marriage put an end to their romantic stalemate, as
Arlen's biographer Edward Jablonski tactfully writes, "an undercurrent of
censure and bitterness remained." The Syracuse American Journal ran a
picture of the handsome couple, Arlen with pipe and double-breasted suit,
holding hands with his stunning bride; the headline above it read,
"syracusan said to have taken anya taranda, cinema actress, as bride, but
'it's all news to me' says his mother." Celia Arluck could never reconcile
herself to Anya. "Mama wasn't very kind to Anya," Rita Arlen, the wife of
Arlen's younger brother, Jerry, told me. "She was nasty, rude."

            Arlen began his married life in Hollywood. His home
movies-which, through the decades, have become an invaluable and much
reproduced witness to Hollywood at play in the late thirties and forties-are
a record of his wonder at the sweetness of his new existence. On these reels
is all of Arlen's carefree society: the Gershwins playing tennis; Harburg
doing the hula as a dog pulls his grass skirt to his ankles; Al Jolson
wearing a camel-hair coat in the middle of summer; Dorothy Fields diving
into a swimming pool. Anya is frequently filmed as well, but she is almost
always alone: reading by the pool; walking Stormy and Pan, the Arlens' two
cocker spaniels; doing a dance step in front of Arlen's newfangled camera.

            The soft-spoken Anya lacked her husband's social confidence. Her
beauty was disarming, but she had no other resources for dealing with the
world. To fill his days, Arlen had his music and his golf, which he played
hard from 1941 to 1954-"The game consumed me," he said of the long, raucous
afternoons he spent at the Hillcrest Country Club with the "Pitch and Putt
Society," whose members included Jack Benny, George Burns, and Groucho Marx.
Anya had only Arlen. With time on her hands and few friends, she gradually
became isolated and distraught, depressed at Arlen's long absences. Even
sleep was difficult; she relied on pills to calm her. Her insecurity made
parties problematic. There were jealous flareups over Arlen's collaboration
with Dorothy Fields. But until her emotional outbursts made her unhappiness
incontrovertible her self-absorbed husband was slow to take notice. Arlen,
who habitually avoided professional confrontation, also tiptoed out of the
way of domestic turmoil. To avoid his wife's explosions, he would often
leave the house before she got up in the morning, playing thirty-six holes
of golf and sometimes even staying away for the night. "There were times
when he was found sleeping on someone's lawn in Beverly Hills," Jablonski
writes. Anya's state of mind was not improved by the relocation of Arlen's
parents to California, in 1949. (On one occasion, she even slapped her
mother-in-law in the face.) "Harold seemed devoted to her," Stewart wrote of
Anya. "Yet he would never . . . give himself totally to her. This emotional
retreat is the cause . . . of the tragedy."

            Anya grew more and more volatile. In 1943, the Arlens' Beverly
Hills home burned down under suspicious circumstances. Anya threatened her
husband and others with physical harm. "Ralph Blane says she chased him
around the . . . home in Hollywood with a butcher knife," the songwriter
Hugh Martin recalled of one of his collaborators. In 1951, Anya had to be
institutionalized. Arlen couldn't face the heartbreak of taking her to the
sanitarium, so he delegated the job to his brother Jerry, who was also a
professional musician and conductor. Arlen would go to see Anya and sign her
out for long periods; these leaves of absence, however, did not improve her
mental state. In 1953, Lawrence Stewart sat with Arlen at a Gershwin soirée
as he watched some of his home movies. "His wife kept appearing in them,"
Stewart noted in his diary. "Everyone in the room carefully avoided
mentioning her, but Harold pointed her out to me, saying, 'Glad am I / Sad
am I' sotto voce from 'Yesterdays,' by Jerome Kern. . . . He was deeply
moved and saddened, I could see."

            Anya was institutionalized for seven years-she took up life with
Arlen again in New York in 1958-and during that time Arlen stepped out with
many glamorous women, Gloria Vanderbilt and Marlene Dietrich among them.
"You're a married man and you should not be running around with other
 women," his mother scolded him. Nonetheless, when esophageal bleeding sent
Arlen to the hospital, Dietrich was found in his hospital bed. Anya's return
to Arlen's life was not without incident. "When they were living here on
Fifty-fifth Street, she tried to poison him," Rita Arlen said. "She gave him
poison and Dr. Chattel pumped it out." Rita also described the routine when
Arlen set off for his office. Anya would "stand in the doorway and put her
arms out and not let him leave the house," she said. "As soon as Harold was
at the office, she would call and call. He would say, 'Tell her I didn't
arrive.' "

            In his diary, Arlen quotes Montaigne: "For we call a wife good
and a marriage happy not because they are but because no one can say the
contrary." He secluded himself with Anya behind the walls of their elegant
ten-room apartment in the San Remo, on Central Park West; he also erected a
wall of silence around the subject of his marriage. "We could never talk
about Anya," Rita said. "When Anya was living"-she died of a brain tumor, in
1970-"we rarely saw Harold. In the whole lifetime of my marriage, Anya was
in my home twice." Brief notations in Arlen's diary from 1966 gloss his
grief: "A-rough"; "A-again surly"; "Rough it has been with A." "Dear Dear
Annie," Arlen wrote to his wife on the eve of her brain surgery. "So little
time and such sorrow."

            In the forties and fifties, stuck in the tormented limbo of his
marriage, Arlen produced some of his most gorgeous harmonies, most of them
for the Broadway stage. His scores for "Bloomer Girl," "Jamaica," and "House
of Flowers" were sumptuous and full of an eloquent longing for love ("Right
as the Rain," "Cocoanut Sweet," "A Sleepin' Bee") and for freedom ("The
Eagle and Me," "I Don't Think I'll End It All Today"). The scores proved
more memorable than the shows; in the case of "House of Flowers," which ran
for only a hundred and thirty-seven performances, Wilder wrote, the score
"was simply too elegant, too subtle, too far beyond the deteriorating taste
of an expense-account clientele."

            "Creation never exhausts itself or comes to the end of its
design," Arlen wrote on a piece of music paper that he wedged in his diary.
But the marketplace exhausted him. Anya's death coincided with the dawning
in popular music of what Arlen called "the percussive age." He had written
blues, calypso, even introduced the steel drum to Broadway, but rock and
roll now ruled the airwaves, putting paid to the musical idiom that Arlen
had dominated for nearly forty years. After writing the score, with Harburg,
for the animated film "Gay Purr-ee" (1962), Arlen began to retreat from the
world of musical entertainment. "Have been very busy going to the barber,"
he joked to Mercer in 1963. There were attempts to coax him back to work. He
flirted with musical collaborations with Dory Langdon Previn, Martin
Charnin, and Leonard Melfi; Harburg intermittently tried to wheedle songs
out of him. And Irving Berlin, who spoke to Arlen by phone daily, tried to
coax him out of his seclusion. "I've shot my wad"-Arlen's response when
Berlin suggested that he put together a one-man show of his songs-became the
title of Berlin's birthday poem for Arlen in 1977. "A nightingale looked up
to God / And said, 'Dear God, I've shot my wad, / No longer can I do my
thing, / Dear God, no longer can I sing.' " God replies, in his omniscience
invoking the name of the president of ASCAP:

            Don't be a schmuck
            No nightingale has had such luck,
            Your songs have built a golden nest
            For Stanley Adams and the rest.
            They're praying for the moment when
            You get off your ass and sing again.

            Arlen never did. In the nine years that remained to him, he
avoided people and rarely ventured out. Toward the end of his life, a
business associate, fearing that if Arlen had no heir his music publisher
would lay claim to his catalogue, suggested that he legally adopt Jerry's
twenty-two-year-old son, Sam, in order to extend his copyright. Against
Rita's objections, Jerry agreed to the adoption. "I want Sam to have a
better life," he said. Sam, who is a saxophonist, now bills himself as "the
son of Harold Arlen" and gets about seventy-five per cent of Arlen's trust,
which amounts to more than half a million dollars a year. ("Harold
experienced tremendous joy when his son Samuel was born on February 1,
 1956," says the "Oficial Harold Arlen Website," which was set up by Sam

            When Arlen died, of cancer, Rita and Jerry took on the task of
dismantling his apartment. They discovered that, since Anya's death, sixteen
years earlier, Arlen had maintained a kind of mausoleum for her. "In the
closets were Anya's clothes," Rita said. "In the dressing room he had her
perfume tray with her makeup and cologne covered with a silk scarf." The
nurses who took care of Arlen in his last days told Rita that he would often
take a gown of Anya's out of the closet and hold on to it and remember where
they'd gone when she was wearing it. "I think he lived in the memory of
their young life together, the romantic part of their life, " Rita said. In
the end, with the marvellous consigned to memory instead of to music,
Arlen's destiny was the one described in his most poignant love song, "Last
Night When We Were Young," written with Harburg:

            Today the world is old
            You flew away and time grew cold,
            Where is that star that seemed so bright,
            Ages ago last night.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <baglady4 at juno.com>
To: <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Monday, September 19, 2005 7:20 PM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Article on Harold Arlen

> Listmates:
> I'm inept at forwarding articles from mags...without copy/paste...so what
just forwarded from New Yorker mag on Harold Arlen was rejected....too long
to copy/paste.......so anyone interested in reading it, go to
www.newyorker.com , go to Critics, and then a search for Arlen.
> Nancie

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