From THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK: "Composer Harry Warren had more hit songs than any other songwriter of the 20th century."
Warren, Harry (originally, Guaragna, Salvatore), productive American film-song composer; b. N.Y., Dec. 24, 1893; d. Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 1981. Warren was the first major American song composer to write primarily for film. Immediate predecessors such as Jerome Kern worked extensively on Broadway before turning to motion pictures. Fifty-six feature films released between 1933 and 1961 carry Warren' credit as songwriter; add all the Hollywood movies in which newly written or existing Warren songs were used between 1929 and 1975, and that number swells to an astonishing 135.
Warren was the son of Italian immigrants Antonio and Rachel Deluca Guaragna, who settled in Brooklyn. His father, a bootmaker, legally changed the family name to Warren when he was a child. Warren showed an early interest in music, but his parents could not afford lessons. Though he went without formal training, he taught himself to play his father's accordion, sang in the church choir, and, by the age of 14, had also begun to earn money as a drummer. He dropped out of high school to play drums in a band led by his godfather, Pasquale Pucci, in the Keene and Shippey traveling carnival. Back in Brooklyn, he taught himself to play piano and worked as a fruit seller and as a stagehand at local theaters before finding employment at the Vitagraph Motion Picture Studios, where he did everything from acting and assistant directing to piano playing; he also worked as a pianist in cafés and silent-movie houses. On Dec. 19, 1917, he married Josephine Wensler; they had a son and a daughter. In 1918 he joined the Navy and was stationed on Long Island.
Warren began to write songs while in the service, "I Learned to Love You When I Learned My ABCs" (lyrics by Warren), though it wasn't published, earned him a job as a song plugger with Stark and Cowan, a music-publishing company, in 1920. His first published song, "Rose of the Rio Grande" (music also by Ross Gorman; lyrics by Edgar Leslie), became a record hit for Marion Harris in April 1923. He and Leslie tried another song with a river theme, "By the River Sainte Marie," but it was rejected by publishers until Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians had a best-selling record with it in March 1931. Warren and Leslie's "Back Home in Pasadena" was published by Shapiro, Bernstein and Company in 1924, and the firm took Warren on as staff composer. (In 1961 the Temperance Seven revived "Pasadena" for a U.K. Top Ten hit.)
Working with lyricist Bud Green, he wrote two hits for Gene Austin, "The Only, Only One for Me" (music also by James V. Monaco) in July 1925 and "Ya Gotta Know How to Love" in September 1926, and one for Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians, "I Love My Baby" in May 1926. Warren worked with Al Dubin for the first time in 1926 and wrote "Too Many Kisses" (lyrics also by Billy Rose), though their partnership would not flourish until four years later. Teaming with Mortimer Weinberg and Charley Marks, he then wrote another hit for Waring, "Where Do You Work-a, John?" in March 1927. "One Sweet Letter from You," a hit for Ted Lewis and His Band, among others, in July 1927, was a collaboration with lyricists Lew Brown and Sidney Clare.
Warren moved to the Remick publishing company in 1928 and there found a regular collaborator in Mort Dixon starting with another Ted Lewis hit, "Hello, Montreal!" (lyrics also by Rose) in July 1928; their "Old Man Sunshine, Little Boy Bluebird" became a hit for George Olsen and His Orch. in September and "Nagasaki" scored for the Ipana Troudadors in October. Warren wrote a few songs with Gus Kahn, notably "Where the Shy Little Violets Grow," which became a hit for Lombardo in February 1929, though his most significant work with Kahn would not take place for another decade.
Warren's first song to be written for a motion picture was "Mi Amado" (lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young), which was used in Paramount's THE WOLF SONG (1929). After Warner Bros. acquired Remick in 1929 and thus became his employer, Warren went to Hollywood to work on the screen adaptation of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "Spring Is Here" (1930), writing six songs with Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young, including "Have a Little Faith in Me," a hit for Lombardo in January 1930, and "Cryin' for the Carolines," a hit for Waring among others in February. Also written for the film was "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (For Someone Else)," a hit for Bernie Cummins and His Orch. in June. The same month, Nick Lucas had a hit with "Telling It to the Daisies," which Warren wrote with Joe Young.
Despite the success of the songs from SPRING IS HERE, Warren did not enjoy his sojourn in Calif., and the studios lost interest in movie musicals with the advent of the Depression. Consequently, he returned to N.Y. to write songs for Billy Rose's Broadway revue "Sweet and Low" (N.Y., Nov. 17, 1930); he wrote "Cheerful Little Earful" (lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Rose), a hit for Tom Gerun and His Orch. in December, and "Would You Like to Take a Walk?" (lyrics by Dixon and Rose), a hit for Rudy Vallée in March 1931.
Warren was the primary composer of a Broadway show for the first time with "Billy Rose's Crazy Quilt," which ran for only 67 performances but featured a best-selling hit in "I Found a Million-Dollar Baby (In a Five-and-Ten-Cent Store)"; Waring had the most popular recording in July, with Bing Crosby and the Boswell Sisters close behind. Even more successful was "The Laugh Parade," produced by, directed by, and starring comedian Ed Wynn, which ran 243 performances and spun off a double-sided hit record for the Arden-Ohman Orch. of "You're My Everything" and "Ooh! That Kiss" (both lyrics by Dixon and Joe Young) in the fall.
Warren and Dubin had their first major hit with "Too Many Tears," which became a best-seller for Lombardo in March 1932. Given the success of his songs in the hands of Vallée and Crosby, Warren must have seemed a perfect choice to write for the Warner film CROONER (1932), a satire on such singers. "Three's a Crowd" (lyrics by Dubin and Irving Kahal) was used in the picture and became a hit for Gerun in September 1932. By that time Warren had accepted another assignment from Warner Bros. to return to Hollywood and collaborate with Dubin on an original movie musical, 42ND STREET. A box office smash, the film was the turning point in his career, and it restored the studios' faith in musicals. Of the five songs the team wrote for it, four became hits: "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," a best-seller for Crosby backed by Lombardo's band; the title song, a best-seller for Don Bestor and His Orch.; "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," which was equally successful for Bestor and for Hal Kemp and His Orch.; and "Young and Healthy," also for Crosby and Lombardo.
continue to page 2