Harry Warren, prolific movie melody man and constant hit-getter, was never a household name, never a media darling like George Gershwin or Irving Berlin. His name was never up on a marquee. Indeed he would show up at the Academy Awards, where he won three Oscars, and fans would peer in his car and pronounce; “Who’s he? Oh- it’s nobody!”
But in fact Harry Warren wrote as many hits as all the famous Broadway writers. He was, however, working in the Hollywood dream factory, far from prestigious, highfalutin, Broadway. The world sang his melodies, pumped relentlessly from the silver screen: “I Only Have Eyes for You", “We’re in the Money”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. Fred Astaire sang his songs, so did Bing Crosby. Just prior to the coming of rock & roll he gave Dean Martin a screen-produced hit in “That’s Amore”. Ironic that his last hit should be an Italian title, since all-American Harry was the son of Italian immigrants: his real name was Salvatore Antonio Guaragna.
Warren's greatest period was in the 1930s when he and his lyricist Al Dubin created hit songs for a string of Warner Bros. musicals, starting with the classic 42nd Street. He’d written pop hits in the jazz age 1920s but it was in Hollywood that he truly flourished. He could write in any style, running the gamut rom sweet and sentimental love ballads like ‘You’ll Never Know” (an Academy Award winner) to hip jazzy stuff like “Jeepers Creeper” and “Lulu’s Back In Town”--he kept up with the times quietly. But his heart wad still home in New York among the sterling simple songs he’d plugged in his youth in Tin Pan Alley.
Ian Whitcomb learned this in the early 1970s when Harry was a sprightly septuagenarian and ready to talk about his life--having been overlooked by the media for all these years. Ian was researching for his book After The Ball and Harry entertained him with stories of how he came to write his songs, about the influence of Catholic Church music on his style. Then he’d sit at his little spinet piano and demonstrate one of those heartfelt foursquare Songs he’d been moved by back in his happy Alley days. Such as “I Miss You Most of All” (“The chairs in the parlor all miss you; the pictures all frown on the wall”) He had Ian sing him some British Music Hall songs. He loved Gilbert & Sullivan.
Just before Harry’s death at 87 in 1981, Ian phoned Harry from London to tell him that a Royal Military Band had just played on BBC TV a Warren song in honor of the Queen Mother’s birthday; “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” So Warren music had reached royal ears. He was mighty pleased. A dear man. Ian has many more stories from Harry, mostly about the vagaries of the song industry and his fellow songwriters--all pithy.