Songs & Stories With Harvey Granat: On Jule Styne
Jule Styne (Julius Kerwin Stein 1905-1994) was a British American songwriter who contributed to over 1500 published songs (“All of which we’re going to do for you today,” Harvey Granat quips) and 25 Broadway shows. He earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning one. Styne was a 10 year-old prodigy, a favorite pianist at Chicago mob clubs, played in a band, and acted as vocal coach at Twentieth Century Fox. Sammy Cahn was his first writing partner.
Granat sings their first hit, 1944’s “I Walk Alone” in prime, lilting balladeer mode. “They ask me why” he says, and I tell them I’d rather/There are dreams I must gather…he croons, making the song intimate. Success kept coming for the duo. “Good songs historically rise out of bleak times,” Reed comments referring to The Depression and WWII.“Because people have to have a way to express hope…I have a feeling that in the next four years, we might get some nice songs.”
We hear “Time After Time” (from It Happened in Brooklyn) with mid-tempo, jazz colored piano and then sing along with 1945’s “Let It Snow,” written during a Los Angeles heat wave. An inordinate number of the large audience know every word.
Reed shares the story of Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff’s discovery: Just divorced, the young woman was in Los Angeles crying her eyes out, living in a trailer park with her son, trying unsuccessfully to break into radio. She had borrowed money to take a bus back East when her agent invited her to a party at Jule Styne’s suggesting “free food.” Resistant, she accompanied him. The host had seen her sing at a little club in New York and coaxed Doris to perform. A rendition of “Embraceable You” earned her an audition at Warner Brothers.
Unaware that Jack Warner had rejected the aspirant as being “sexless,” she was hired by Director Michael Curtiz to star in Romance on the High Seas with a score by Cahn and Styne. Doris Day became the biggest star in Hollywood. Granat offers her signature number from the film, “It’s Magic.” All I can say is that if he sang it to you, you’d follow him home.
Cahn and Styne were commissioned to write “Three Coins in the Fountain” as a title song for another film. The studio returned their composition demanding a bridge. “I was determined to write the worst bridge ever conceived,” Cahn told Granat many years later. He wrote: Which one will the fountain bless? /Which one will the fountain bless? The song won 1954’s Academy Award. Granat sings like a storyteller. Come to think of it, he kind of tells stories lyrically, like a vocalist.
From the show Hazel Flagg, written with Bob Hilliard, there’s “How Do You Speak to An Angel?”/I’m completely in the dark/When you know you’ve just met an angel/Is there a proper remark?…Lovely. Out of Bells Are Ringing, written with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, we all sing “Just in Time” and “The Party’s Over.” “You’re lucky if you get one hit song in a show, he’d get four or five,” Reed remarks appreciatively. “Long Before I Knew You” arrives with yearning salved by love.
When Stephen Sondheim was brought onto the team developing Gypsy, he had just written the lyrics for West Side Story and made it clear that this time he wanted to author both music and lyrics. Ethel Merman, however, demanded the bankable Styne. Sondheim would’ve backed out had not his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II recommended he do the musical. “June Havoc (Baby June) always said, she was not my mother,” Reed asserts. “There was a lot of backstage tension and resentment. When Merman was on stage, she played a completely different show.” Both men agree it’s an extraordinary piece. Two numbers from the classic come next.
In the course of this afternoon’s entertainment, Reed himself performs two songs. “The trick is to choose ones nobody knows so they have nothing with which to compare.” His version of “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” (from It’s a Great Feeling) is gentle and cottony with the word “heart” palpably exhaled. “You Love Me” (from West Point Story) is sincere, if less memorable. The writer tells a great story, remembers endless facts and seems to have known everybody worth knowing. He recalls Styne as always cheerful and unusually ready to play at his own terrific dinner parties.
Though Do, Re, Me, (also with Comden & Green) had little staying power, it gave birth to the iconic “Make Someone Happy” which today emerges with music in which you want to walk barefoot. “Ain’t that true?” whispers Granat. We learn that the title role in Funny Girl (written with Bob Hilliard) was offered to and turned down by both Mary Martin and Carol Burnett, who felt Fannie Brice should be played by a Jewish woman. It was, of course by the young Barbra Streisand whose stardom was cemented. The room sings “People.” Granat is low key, but insistent, his hand balling into a fist on needing other children.
At the top of the event, in light of the election, Harvey Grant promised a stress-free hour plus. And so it was. We all left smiling.
Other notable Styne shows include: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sugar (based on the film Some Like it Hot), and Hallelujah Baby!
Granat co-produced four-time Academy Award winning songwriter, Sammy Cahn, on Broadway in Words And Music, which had a successful run and toured throughout the US and abroad.
All Photos Courtesy of Harvey Granat
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NEXT: On Burt Bacharach with Special Guest Will Friedwald – December 8