Sunday, 29 March 2015

Johnny Green

Phil Harris was the most popular bandleader on the Jack Benny radio show but the most celebrated may have been Johnny Green.
Green’s fame doesn’t come from leading an orchestra but from his composing. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 for such standards as “Body and Soul,” “Coquette” and his movie scores for “Easter Parade,” “An American in Paris” and “West Side Story” (later in life, he preferred to be known as “John Green.”
Here’s a piece on him from the radio column Brooklyn Eagle of October 6, 1935. Of interest to Benny fans will be the reference to Michael Bartlett, the singer who left the show a few weeks into the 1935-36 season. None of the shows with him are known to exist.

Out of a Blue Sky
Radiography of Johnny Green, Graduate of Fair Harvard—Studio Happenings

RADIOGRAPHIES . . . the victim of our microscope today, ladies and gentleman, is Johnny Green, Jack Benny’s new music-master . . . the college boy gone Broadway . . . and in a mighty big way . . . the graduate of fair Harvard who is more at home on Tin Pan Alley than he is at the polo matches . . . Johnny’s every day conversation is an accurate gauge of his crazy-quilt background . . . “Listen, Toots, cahn’t you gimme haalf (with a very broad “a”) an octave higher on those horns?"
He pleads earnestly to his brass section in rehearsal . . . Massa Jack "Ebenezer" Benny may be the "frustrated fiddler," but our hero, Johnny Green, is the frustrated dialectician . . . that deliciously-funny Sunday night program is full of suppressed desires and you don't have to be a student of Freud or Jung to see it . . . Mary aches to be a poet . . . Mike Bartlett wants to read the commercial announcements and Don Wilson wants to sing . . . a house full of unhappiness, a Russian mansion, no less . . . but back to our hero, we must go . . Green is known as a composer . . . he always wears a French beret when he is writing new tunes and it doesn't seem to affect him for he has produced such big winners as "Body and Soul" (wotta a tune! wotta a tune!) and "I Cover the "Waterfront" (little resemblance, however, to the Max Miller book) . . . he is one of the shrewdest businessmen among the radio artists . . . what else would you expect from a Harvard Bachelor of Economics . . . he is an official of Mr. William S. Paley’s network (that's the Columbia Broadcasting System, in case you don't know), holding down his job as Columbia's musical adviser, although this season finds him broadcasting exclusively on one of the ace comedy shows of Mr. Merlin H. Aylesworth’s up-and-coming group of stations (National Broadcasting Company, if you please) . . . you ask Johnny Green how he is getting along his serious composing and he answers by querying if you have heard the latest one about the two, etc. . . . whether you have or not, he proceeds to tell it to you in the most butchering dialect these ears have ever heard . . . Lou Holtz couldn't do it any better . . . Johnny is married . . . tall . . . dark-haired . . . brown-eyed . . . his hair is always too long . . . of course, that's what the boys on the Main Steam and Radio Row call showmanship . . . a maestro, it seems, is always supposed to appear as if he were cheating the barber . . . otherwise he would look just like the rest of us mortals . . . he is definitely a member of Gotham's "smart set," the entrance requirements to which are talent and not money or family . . . get him in front of an orchestra and Johnny is no longer "the old smoothie" . . . gone is the Harvard poise (or should it be pose?) . . . he screws his countenance into amazing shapes and almost terrifying grimaces result . . . he began his career as an arranger for the highly-successful (financially, of course) Lombardos . . . later, he was musical boss of the Paramount theater here in Brooklyn . . we saw a lot of the guy then . . . that was back in the dim and distant days when stage shows were part of show business . . . a gentleman with what is so freely referred to as "a grand sensayuma" (and in this case it is genuine), Green manages to work his appreciation of fun and funny business into his arrangements . . . once in a while he is accused of making his orchestrations a touch complicated . . . but that is the desire for speaking in exaggerated dialect cropping up again . . . apparently he is saying it with music . . . right now Johnny thinks he is a little overweight and hopes to get rid of some of his excess poundage while he is out on the West Coast . . . how does he hope to accomplish it? . . . by reclining on the beach at Santa Monica . . . if Jack Benny is smart, he will build up Green as a wise-guy . . . because Johnny is an expert at repartee . . . but he is too well-behaved to bore you with his flippancy outside of the studio.

1 comment:

  1. Johnny Green composed some fine scores for "The Man Called X" during its run on CBS radio.