Herbert Stothart

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Composer for the musical stage in the 1920s and later MGM Pictures soundtrack legend.
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b. 11 September 1885, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, d. 1 February 1949, Los Angeles, California, USA. A composer for the musical stage in the 20s, Stothart subsequently became a legendary name at MGM Pictures for his work on the background music to numerous Hollywood classics. After studying music in Europe and spending some time teaching in the USA, he made his composing debut on Broadway in 1920 with Always You. His lyricist was Oscar Hammerstein II, who was also making his Broadway bow. Always You was presented by Oscar’s uncle, Arthur Hammerstein, and he produced most of Stothart’s subsequent stage works, including Tickle Me (lyrics: Hammerstein- Otto Harbach) and Jimmie (Hammerstein-Harbach), both of which also opened in New York in 1920. Up to this point, and for Daffy Dill (1922, Hammerstein), Stothart served as sole composer, but thereafter he generally worked in collaboration with others. In some cases it is difficult to be certain which composer was responsible for each individual song, although it would seem that in most instances Stothart wrote the least popular numbers. In 1923, he teamed with the up-and-coming Vincent Youmans for the immensely successful (477 performances) Wildflower (Hammerstein-Harbach) and Mary Jane McKane (William Cary Duncan-Hammerstein) A year later, as well as contributing to the popular revue, Vogues Of 1924 (Clifford Grey), Stothart worked alongside two of the most accomplished composers of operettas, Sigmund Romberg and Rudolph Friml, for Marjorie (Romberg-Grey, ‘You’re Never Too Old To Learn’, ‘Twilight Rose’, ‘Happy Ending’) and Rose-Marie (Friml-Harbach-Hammerstein, ‘Hard-Boiled Herman’, ‘The Mounties’, ‘Totem Tom-Tom’, ‘Only A Kiss’). The latter show starred Mary Ellis and Dennis King, and ran for 557 performances on Broadway, and over two years at London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with Edith Day and Derek Oldham in the leading roles. Following the triumph of Rose-Marie, Stothart’s composing partners in the late 20s included George Gershwin for Song Of The Flame (1925, Harbach-Hammerstein, ‘Cossak Love Song’, ‘Far Away’, ‘Vodka’, ‘Song Of The Flame’), and Emmerich Kalman for Golden Dawn (1927, Harbach-Hammerstein, ‘Dawn’, ‘When I Crack My Whip’, ‘We Two’). In 1928, his collaboration with lyricist Bert Kalmar and composer Harry Ruby on Good Boy, produced the catchy ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’, which was introduced by the ‘boop-boop-a-doop’ girl, Helen Kane, and memorably revived by Marilyn Monroe in the 1959 Billy Wilder comedy movie, Some Like It Hot.

Apart from some involvement in Polly (1929), Stothart’s Broadway career was at an end, and he turned his attention to Hollywood, writing single songs or scores for musical movies such as Devil May Care (1929, Clifford Grey, ‘Bon Jour’, ‘Charming’, ‘March Of The Old Guard’, ‘Louie’), The Rogue Song (1930, Grey, ‘When I’m Looking At You’, ‘The Rogue Song’, ‘Song Of The Shirt’), Montana Moon (1930, Grey, ‘Montana Call’, ‘Let Me Give You Love’, starring Joan Crawford), The Floradora Girl (1930, Grey, ‘Pass The Beer And Pretzels’, ‘Swingin’ In The Lane’, ‘My Kind Of Man’), Call Of The Flesh (1930, Grey), Madame Satan (1930, Grey), The Cuban Love Song (1931, Dorothy Fields - Jimmy McHugh, ‘Cuban Love Song’), Here Comes The Band (1935, Ned Washington, ‘Heading Home’), Balalaika (1939, Eric Maschwitz - Robert Wright - George Forrest, ‘At The Balalaika’), I Married An Angel (1942, Wright-Forrest, ‘But What Of Truth?’), Music For Millions (1944, Helen Deutsch, ‘Summer Holidays’). For the 1937 film version of the stage hit, The Firefly, Stothart arranged Friml’s lovely melody, ‘Chansonette’, which, with a lyric by Robert Wright and George Forrest, became ‘The Donkey Serenade’. It was sung in the movie by Allan Jones, and is usually interpolated into revivals of the original show. Stothart also contributed numbers to films that were not strictly speaking musicals, such as the delightful ‘Sweetheart, Darling’ (Gus Kahn) from Peg O’ My Heart (1933) and ‘How Strange’ (Kahn-Earl Brent) from the Clark Gable-Norma Shearer feature Idiot’s Delight (1939).

However, the bulk of Stothart’s work at MGM, which he continued until shortly before his death in 1949, was as composer and/or arranger, conductor, and musical director for more than 100 background scores. Several of these were nominated for Academy Awards, including Mutiny On the Bounty (1935), Maytime (1937), Marie Antoinette (1938), Sweethearts (1938), Waterloo Bridge (1940), The Chocolate Soldier (1941), Random Harvest (1942), Thousands Cheer (1944), Madame Curie (1944), Kismet (1944), and The Valley Of Decision (1945), while his original score for The Wizard Of Oz won the Oscar in 1939. Among the rest were Rasputin And The Empress (1932), Night Flight (1933), The Barretts Of Wimpole Street (1934), The Merry Widow (1934), Chained (1934), A Night At The Opera (1935), A Tale Of Two Cities (1935), David Copperfield (1935), Naughty Marietta (1935), China Seas (1935), Ah! Wilderness (1935), San Francisco (1936), Romeo And Juliet (1936), After The Thin Man (1937, with Edward Ward), The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), The Good Earth (1937), The Girl Of The Golden West (1938), Northwest Passage (1940), Pride And Prejudice (1940), Blossoms In The Dust (1941), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Rio Rita (1942), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Cairo (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), A Guy Named Joe (1944), The White Cliffs Of Dover (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1945), National Velvet (1945), The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1945, with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco), They Were Expendable (1945), Undercurrent (1946), The Yearling (1947), The Three Musketeers (1948, based on music by Tchaikovsky), Hills Of Home (1948), and Big Jack (1949).