Tom Strini
This Week at MSO Pops

Hooray for Hollywood

By - Apr 8th, 2010 02:06 am
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Ilana Setapen

Guest conductor Jack Everly’s Milwaukee Symphony Pops movie program overflows with epic scores from epic films: Gone with the Wind (music by Max Steiner), King’s Row (Erich Korngold), Ben Hur (Miklós Rózsa), Titanic (James Horner) and so on. Associate concertmaster Ilana Setapen will have a solo turn in John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List, a favorite of no less than Itzhak Perlman.

But Everly will open with something more modest, an old song we all know: Hooray for Hollywood, which also serves as the title for this program.

You’ve heard the show-biz anthem a thousand times; read on and click the links to learn the story behind the song.

Richard Whiting

Richard Whiting

Richard Whiting (1891-1938) wrote the music and Johnny Mercer (1909-1976) wrote the lyrics in 1937. The song’s debuted in typically crazed Busby Berkeley musical, Hollywood Hotel.

There really was such a hotel, 1903 getaway with gardens and gracious public places. It stood until 1956, so everyone involved in the Warner Brothers picture knew the place. A long list of A-listers and B-listers appeared in the film, but the real star was Benny Goodman’s band. Hot swing was at its peak, and Goodman’s was the hottest band of all.

Whiting was an old Hollywood hand, with long experience at Paramount and Fox before he jumped to Warner. Whiting co-wrote Louise for Maurice Chevalier in 1929. That song helped to make the French music-hall singer an American movie star. He wrote Shirley Temple’s signature tune, On the Good the Good Ship Lollipop. In his youth in New York, Whiting wrote such enduring hits as Till We Meet Again and Ain’t We Got Fun. He was versatile and prolific.


Johnny Mercer

Mercer had some success in New York as a singer and songwriter. Mercer co-wrote some songs with Harold Arlen, who became a life-long friend. He also won an audition and landed a job singing with Paul Whiteman’s band. He and two other guys replaced the Rhythm Boys, a trio that included Bing Crosby. Crosby’s life and Mercer’s intertwined from then on. (For starters, Mercer ended up marrying Ginger Meehan, a chorus girl who had carried on a torrid affair with Crosby.) In 1936, Crosby scored a major hit with Mercer’s I’m an Old Cowhand, and that was a big step in Mercer’s career.

In 1933, Mercer, like many in show business, moved from Depression-crushed Broadway to booming Hollywood. He would eventually co-found Capitol Records and become fabulously wealthy, but Mercer was still building his career in 1937. He regarded Whiting as a mentor as well as collaborator. Warner Brothers assigned them to Berkeley’s Hollywood Hotel.

The director needed a song to go with a nutty automotive parade that got Goodman and his band to an airport for their flight to Hollywood in an early scene in the film. He asked Whiting and Mercer for a rousing march. Because the scene goes on an on, Mercer had the daunting task of writing  extended lyrics. He responded with some of the most virtuosic wordplay in American popular song. No one ever gets through all of the lyrics, and apparently they did not all run with the published version.

Jack Everly

Jack Everly

Watch and listen closely to Berkeley’s Hollywood Hotel auto parade sequence and see how many words you can catch. This movie passage introduced the song to the world.

We think of Hooray for Hollywood as celebrating the movies, but it’s actually satire. Mercer poured some of his frustrations with the movie industry — “screwy, ballyhooey Hollywood” — into the song. Mercer said “Hollywood seemed to me like a big put-on, and I just tried to make a little fun of it.”

The MSO Pops will play at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 9-11, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St.

Tickets range from $25 to $93. Call 414-291-7605, visit the MSO’s website, or call the Marcus Center box office,  414-273-7206.

Sources: America’s Songs, by Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, Routledge Publishing; The American Songbook, by Ken Bloom, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers; Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Categories: Classical

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