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Vernon Duke (1903-1969)

Timeline of Select Hollywood Musicals

Duke scored his greatest success with a book musical with "Cabin in the Sky," starring Ethel Waters, in 1940. The show ran 156 performances; it was made into a successful film released in April 1943 that retained only three of Duke's songs, one of which was "Taking a Chance on Love" (lyrics by John Latouche and Ted Fetter). The appearance of the film sparked a revival of a 1940 recording of the song by Benny Goodman and His Orch. that went to #1 in June 1943, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year.

In 1941, Duke wrote the songs for "Banjo Eyes," a stage vehicle for Eddie Cantor, which ran 126 performances. With the onset of World War II, Duke enlisted in the Coast Guard in August 1942 and led a service band. In 1943 he teamed with Howard Dietz to write songs for the musical "Dancing in the Streets," starring Mary Martin, which closed out of town, but two more shows with Dietz, "Jackpot" and "Sadie Thompson," reached Broadway for brief runs in 1944. During that year Duke also wrote a service musical, "Tars and Spars," which played on Broadway and then toured the war zones.

Duke returned to live in Paris for two years, 1947-48, and upon returning to the U.S. had trouble getting productions for his stage musicals. He wrote songs for two movie musicals released in 1952: APRIL IN PARIS, starring Doris Day, and SHE'S WORKING HER WAY THROUGH COLLEGE, both with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. He then managed to get a revue, "Two's Company," on Broadway with Bette Davis as star. The show ran 91 performances.

Count Basie and His Orch. revived "April in Paris" in early 1956 with a recording that made the R&B Top Ten and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1985. In the spring of 1956, Duke had an Off-Broadway show, "The Littlest Revue," which ran 32 performances.

Duke married singer Kay McCracken on Oct. 30, 1957. His final appearance on Broadway came less than two weeks later with the two songs and incidental music he wrote for the play "Time Remembered," which ran 247 performances. He continued to try to mount Broadway musicals during the last decade of his life, including two shows that closed during tryouts and one that went unproduced. He died of lung cancer at 65 in 1969.

Source: BAKER'S BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF MUSICIANS-CENTENNIAL EDITION, by Nicolas Slonimsky, ed., Gale Group, © 2001 Gale Group. Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

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