All posts by talkinghistory2013

About talkinghistory2013

Social historian with Masters degree from Cambridge Uni on the subject. Presented over 2,000 courses, talks and lectures in past 15 years on various subjects ranging from Nursery Rhymes to witchcraft, plagues and monastic life. Guide at Burghley House and for Peterborough Museum. 75,000 word Peterborough Book of Days launched in November 2014. Active blogs on Wordpress which includes weekly 'On this day in history' and free standing historic pieces. Also developing fictional stories with social history as a broad base.

Aubrey Boomer and a Ryder Cup story

Many of us have just watched the Ryder Cup but I wonder how many have read the story of the early days and one Aubrey Basil Boomer who was born on 1st November 1897 and passed-away on 2nd October 1989.

Aubrey had become interested in golf when he watched the sis-rimes Open Champion Harry Vardon playing in Jersey during the First World War.  After the war Aubrey developed his golfing career in France.  Why France?  He felt that in England golf professionals were employed by clubs as low-paid servants while across the Channel they were regarded as social equals of the members they served, by virtue of their skill at the game.  Aubrey became the favorite professional of the rich who visited Paris.  One of these was Sir Philip Sassoon who rewarded him by having suits made up for him at Saville Row!  This ‘status’ appears to have upset the petty-minded officialdom that then ran the British professional game so much that, when Aubrey was chosen for the 1927 Ryder Cup match against America in America he was recorded as a Frenchman and was required to wear a beret!

The sea crossing took nearly a week; many of the team were seasick, and practice was poor to non-existent for those that could cope with conditions because they found that they had to practice their swings in time with the roll of the boat!

This was the first of two Ryder Cup matches – the 1st Ryder Cup Match was held at the Worcester County Club in Worcester in Massachusetts. That very first competition was dominated by the United States who won by the then landslide score of 9½–2½ points with the USA Captain Walter Hagen becoming the first winning captain to lift the Ryder Cup.  Ted Ray was the first captain to represent the Great Britain team.

Aubrey was a profession golfer who played in the early 20th century. He had three top-10 finishes in the Open Championship and was a frequent competitor in the French Open which he won five times – in 1921, 1922, 1926 and 1929. In the 1921 French Open he won in a playoff against Arnaud Massy – his former golf teacher!  Massy had been 3 shots up after 9 holes but picked up his ball on the 34th hole when he was 8 shots behind!  In his 1929 victory he beat the St Cloud course record with a score of 61.

In the 1924 Open Championship held in June at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake Walter Hagan won the second of his four Open Championships, one stroke ahead of runner-up Ernest Whitcome.  Aubrey Boomer finished tied for sixth place in the event.

In the 1927 championship was held in July at the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland.  Amateur Bobby Jones successfully defended the title with a six-stroke victory, the second of his three victories at the Open Championship. Aubrey Boomer and Fred Robson tied for second place – once again six shots back from the winner!

Aubrey suffered a stroke in Cannes and died later in Brussels on 2nd October 1989.

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Mr Bing Crosby ‘Swings on a Star’

There are some problems for the 1944 chart details in that very few are available.  However, we do have the top five very clearly recorded.  These are:

At number 5 we have Ella Fitzgerald and The Ink Spots with ‘I’m Making Believe’ that entered the charts in November 1944 and for 2 weeks in December were at number 1.

Number 4 had Bing Crosby telling someone that ‘I Love You’.  It came into the charts in April 1944 and was 5 weeks at number 1 in May’.

Number 3 was also Bing – this time saying ‘I’ll be Seeing You’.  This hit the lists in May 1944 and was number 1 for 4 weeks in July

Number 2 has a slight change in that Bing here was accompanied with the Andrew Sisters who was asking Bing to ‘Don’t Fence Me In’.  This hit the charts in November and was number 1 for 8 weeks.

Number 1 had – surprise surperise – was Mr Bing Crosby ‘Swinging on a Star’.  That came to the charts in June 1944 and for 9 weeks in August 1944 and beyond was top of the list.

There was a link here.  ‘Going My Way’ was a 1944 movie that starred Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald and revolved around a young Priest played by Bing who comes, secretly, to the aid of an older priest who is about to lose his parish. The older Priest – Father Fitzgibbon – was played by Barry Fitzgerald and both asked “Would You Like To Swing On A Star?”. That and “Too – Ra – Loo – Ra – Loo – Ra”, were both part of this motion picture that was not a musical as much as a film that involved music.

The story of “Would You Like To Swing On A Star?” became the key to getting money to save the parish and the song has an interesting history. Jimmy Van Heusen, a song writer who was working on the film was at Crosby’s house for dinner one evening. One of the Crosby’s sons complained of not wanting to go to the school the next day. Crosby looked at his son and said to him, “If you don’t go to school, you might grow up to be a mule. Do you wanna do that?” The rebuke became the inspiration that would inspire an Academy Award Winning song!

Christopher Isherwood in two moods

Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood was an English-American writer with works that include his 1935-39 ‘The Berlin Stories’ and two semi-autobiographical novellas inspired by his time in the German Weimar Republic. These enhanced his post-war reputation when his ‘I Am a Camera’ was first adapted into a play in 1951 and then a film of the same name in 1955.  In 1966 he gave us the stage musical ‘Cabaret’!

What caught me, though, is a comment Christopher made on 28th September 1959 when he wrote: ‘Last night I went to Elsa Lanchester’s.  Oh the horror of TV!  It is so utterly, utterly inferior, yet just enough to keep you enslaved, entrapped, on the lower levels of consciousness – for a whole lifetime, if necessary.  It is a bondage like that of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.’

It’s One for my Baby – and I’ll have one myself!

“One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” is a hit song written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the 1943 movie musical ‘The Sky’s the Limit’.  It was first performed in the film by Fred Astaire and was popularized by Frank Sinatra. Harold Arlen described the song as “another typical Arlen tapeworm” – a “tapeworm” being the trade slang for any song which went over the conventional 32 bar length. He called it: “a wandering song’. Not only was it long – forty-eight bars – but it also changed key. Johnny made it work”. In the opinion of Harold’s biographer the song was “musically inevitable, rhythmically insistent, and in that mood of ‘metropolitan melancholic beauty’ that writer John O’Hara finds in all of Arlen’s music.”   So what was this HIT?

“One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)”

It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place except you and me
So, set ’em up, Joe, I got a little story I think you should know
We’re drinkin’, my friend, to the end of a brief episode
Make it one for my baby and one more for the road

I got the routine, put another nickel in the machine
I’m feelin’ so bad, can’t you make the music easy and sad
I could tell you a lot, but you’ve got to be true to your code
Just make it one for my baby and one more for the road

You’d never know it but buddy, I’m a kind of poet
And I got a lot of things I’d like to say
And when I’m gloomy, won’t you listen to me
Till it’s talked away

Well that’s how it goes and Joe, I know your gettin’ anxious to close
And thanks for the cheer, I hope you didn’t mind my bendin’ your ear
But this torch that I found it’s gotta be drowned or it soon might explode
So, make it one for my baby and one more for the road
The long, it’s so long, the long, very long …

This classic drinking song was written for the 1943 film The Sky’s the Limit, where it was performed by Fred Astaire. The song is about a lovelorn guy who drinks away his girl problems at a bar – he has one drink for the girl, and another one for the ride home. In the movie, Astaire’s character gets tipsy but still manages a world class dance routine before smashing every piece of glassware for his big finish.  The most famous version of this song is by Frank Sinatra, who first recorded it in 1947 when he was at Columbia Records, and again for the Young at Heart soundtrack in 1954. His definitive version, however, was in 1958 for Capitol Records. Released as the last song on his album Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, he recorded it with arranger Nelson Riddle at Capitol’s studios on Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.

When Sinatra performed the song in clubs, it was a dramatic moment: a single spotlight would shine on his face and he would sing it accompanied by just his piano player Bill Miller and a cigarette. For the 1958 session, a crowd gathered in the studio to watch Sinatra record, and Dave Cavanaugh at Capitol recreated the club atmosphere by turning off the lights except for one that shined on Sinatra. “The atmosphere in that studio was exactly like a club,” said Sinatra. “Dave said, ‘Roll ’em,’ there was one take, and that was that. The only time I’ve known it to happen like that.”

Irvin Berlin, Bing Crosby and a White Christmas

Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. Born in Imperial Russia he arrived in the United States at the age of five and published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy”, in 1907.  He received 33 cents for the publishing rights!  Four years later – in 1911 – he had his first major international hit – “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” – and that sparked an international dance craze in places as far away as Berlin’s native Russia.  Over the years he was known for writing music and lyrics in an American uncomplicated, simple and direct style with the stated aim to “reach the heart of the average American,” whom he saw as the “real soul of the country”. 

He wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits, which made him famous before he turned thirty. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 20 original Broadway shows and 15 original Hollywood films.

It was in 1942 when words and music came from Irving Berlin and a response came from on Bing Crosby.  That response was because Bing had heard ‘White Christmas’ and wanted to use it!  However – it didn’t stop Berlin fretting about the song in the first few months of its life.  The often brash and always insecure Irving approached each new song as if his life depended on it.  He insisted on being in the room with Crosby to hear it for himself – but to make sure he got a genuine reaction, he stayed out of sight until he heard Crosby’s favorable comments.  Berlin had originally based White Christmas on his own memories of spending Christmas in the Beverly Hills’ sunshine, among the palm trees, longing to be with his family in snowy New York.  In an original draft the song dealt with

White Christmas” is a 1942 Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. The version as sung by Bing Crosby is the world’s is recorded as being the best-selling single with estimated sales in excess of 100 million copies worldwide.  Other versions of the song, along with Crosby’s, have sold over 50 million copies.

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song. One story is that he wrote it in 1940, in warm La Quinta in California, while staying at the La Quinta Hotel, a frequent Hollywood retreat also favored by writer-director-producer Frank Capra, although the Arizona Biltmore also claims the song was written there. He often stayed up all night writing—he told his secretary, “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”

The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio show ‘The Kraft Music Hall’ on Christmas Day, 1941. He subsequently recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers and for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78 rpms discs from the musical film ‘Holiday Inn. At first, Crosby did not see anything special about the song. He just said “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.” The song established that there could be commercially successful secular Christmas songs – in this case, written by a Jewish-American songwriter.

The song initially performed poorly and was overshadowed by Holiday Inn‘s first hit song: “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”. By the end of October 1942, “White Christmas” topped the ‘Your Hit Parade’ chart and remained in that position until well into the New Year. It has often been noted that the mix of melancholy—“just like the ones I used to know“—with comforting images of home—”where the treetops glisten”—resonated especially strongly with listeners during WW2. A few weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbour, Crosby introduced “White Christmas” on a Christmas Day broadcast. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song. The recording is noted for Crosby’s whistling during the second chorus.

In 1942 alone, Crosby’s recording spent eleven weeks on top of the Billboard charts. The original version also hit number one on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks, Crosby’s first-ever appearance on the black-oriented chart. Re-released by Decca, the single returned to the No. 1 spot during the holiday seasons of 1945 and 1946 (on the chart dated January 4, 1947), thus becoming the only single with three separate runs at the top of the U.S. charts. The recording became a chart perennial, reappearing annually on the pop chart twenty separate times before Billboard magazine created a distinct Christmas chart for seasonal releases.

The version most often heard today on the radio during the Christmas season is the 1947 re-recording. The 1942 master was damaged due to frequent use. Crosby re-recorded the track on March 19, 1947, accompanied again by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, with every effort made to reproduce the original recording session. The re-recording is recognizable by the addition of flutes and celesta in the beginning.  Although Crosby dismissed his role in the song’s success, saying later that “a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully,” he was associated with it for the rest of his career.

In 1941 people were asking ‘How About You’.

How About You? was a popular song composed by Burton Lane, with lyrics by Ralph Freed that was introduced in the 1941 film ‘Babes on Broadway’ by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  Now the lyrics of the song are often changed depending on the recording artist but in its original form it was a humorous romantic duet, though rarely has it been recorded that way!

Certain lyrics, especially those with topical references, are often changed based on the time of the performance’s release. For example, the line “Frank Roosevelt’s looks give me a thrill” was changed to “James Durante’s looks” in a 1950s recording by Sinatra, though he did sing it in its original form with Dorsey back in the 1940s.

Burton Lane is said to have approached song writing ‘the way a carpenter approaches cabinet making’!  In doing some digging on the matter I find that he had dropped out of school at the age of 15 and was found playing the piano in an Atlantic City hotel where he was heard by George Gershwin’s mother Rose.  The tune that he was playing at the time was ‘S’wonderful’ by George Gershwin.  Rose allegedly said to him, ‘Not only do you play like George, you look like him’. Lane idolized Gershwin, so that was praised indeed.  Burton Lane later claimed that it was George who had encouraged him to start writing popular songs.   They certainly remained close friends for the rest of George’s short life – he died on 11th July 1937 just 39 years old.

A 1941 song that asked the question ‘How About You?’

How About You? was a popular song composed by Burton Lane, with lyrics by Ralph Freed that was introduced in the 1941 film ‘Babes on Broadway’ by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.  Now the lyrics of the song are often changed depending on the recording artist but in its original form it was a humorous romantic duet, though rarely has it been recorded that way!

Certain lyrics, especially those with topical references, are often changed based on the time of the performance’s release. For example, the line “Frank Roosevelt’s looks give me a thrill” was changed to “James Durante’s looks” in a 1950s recording by Sinatra, though he did sing it in its original form with Dorsey back in the 1940s.

Burton Lane is said to have approached song writing ‘the way a carpenter approaches cabinet making’!  In doing some digging on the matter I find that he had dropped out of school at the age of 15 and was found playing the piano in an Atlantic City hotel where he was heard by George Gershwin’s mother Rose.  The tune that he was playing at the time was ‘S’wonderful’ by George Gershwin.  Rose allegedly said to him, ‘Not only do you play like George, you look like him’. Lane idolized Gershwin, so that was praised indeed.  Burton Lane later claimed that it was George who had encouraged him to start writing popular songs.   They certainly remained close friends for the rest of George’s short life – he died on 11th July 1937 just 39 years old.

My music of choice for 1940

Rodgers and Hart were an American song writing partnership between composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and the lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895–1943) that worked together on 28 stage musicals and more than 500 songs from 1919 until Hart’s death in 1943.  My favorite one is “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” – a show tune and popular song from 1940.   The song was first introduced on stage by Vivienne Segal on 25th December 1940. It was during Act I, Scene 6, and again as a reprise in Act II, Scene 4 during the Broadway production of Pal Joey.

The story was full of proper and literate rhymes as it explored a single moment of pure emotion without offering any psychological insight into the actual character.

‘I’m wild again; Beguiled again; A simpering, whimpering child again’

It was – it is – classic Lorenz Hart.

The story was actually based on a novella by John O’Hara about a night-club singer and the stage show was true to the spirit of the elegiac book.  The book was also felt to be a natural subject for Frank Sinatra and he bought the movie rights.

Now we can read a book!

It was Monday 6th September 1852 that saw the opening, in Manchester, of the United Kingdom’s first free lending library.

On Wednesday 8th the Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser reported that:

‘The opening of the Manchester Free Public Library has been looked forward to with a good deal of interest, and it will not be a matter of surprise that great anxiety was manifested by the public to be present on the occasion. The ceremony took place in the spacious room in which are stored the volumes designed as a library for reference, whilst the distinguish visitors intending to take part in the proceedings were received in a room of corresponding proportions on the first floor, containing the books which form the public lending library. At twenty minutes past eleven o’clock, when the noblemen and gentlemen invited to take part in the proceedings had taken their seats in the upper room, there were nearly a thousand persons present, a great portion of who were ladies. Sir John Potter presided, and the following noblemen and gentlemen took their seats on either side of the chair’. Here is not the place to list them all but a Mr Thackery and a Mr Charles Dickens were amongst the gathering. The latter was –‘received with the most cordial cheering and gave an introductory speech which provoked laughs and cheers’.

The York Herald later told us that ‘the total cost of the building, in its present state, with its fittings and furniture, was £6,963 6s 2d. The extent of shelving already provided would accommodate from 6,000 to 7,000 additional volumes. The number of volumes purchased to date is 18,028 and their aggregate cost was £4,156 – or about 4 shillings 7 pence per volume on the average. In addition to the books thus acquired, 3,292 volumes have been presented to the library. The number of volumes at present contained in the library of reference is 16,103’.

I just love the specific publishing of data in the newspapers of the time.