An unclaimed valentine.
Lorenz Hart was not attractive. At least that's what he thought as he looked into the mirror at a man who didn't quite measure five feet from the tips of his toes to the tip of his receding hairline. He was said never to have had a girlfriend (or boyfriend). When a writer for the magazine Popular Song interviewed him during the thick of his successful songwriting career and asked whether he was a bachelor, he replied, "Of course. No one would want me."
It's a sad irony that a man convinced he had no hope of romance penned the lyrics for the most popular Valentine's Day song of all time. Writing on a touchy topic that struck so close to home might have been tough on Hart, but the initial stirrings of "My Funny Valentine," and of the Broadway show it was part of, were a walk in the park--child's play. One day in 1936, he and his songwriting partner, Richard Rodgers, were hanging out in Central Park when they found themselves caught up watching kids invent games. The co-writers of the hits "Blue Moon" and "Lover" wondered what would happen if children tried to put on a full-blown musical. There they had the kernel of a production that turned into Babes in Arms.
Babes in Arms opened at the Shubert Theater on April 14, 1937, and ran for almost 290 performances--not bad for a patchwork quilt of song and dance draped on a thin plot. Playing the young Billie Smith, Mitzi Green sang "My Funny
Valentine" to her co-star's Valentine "Val" LaMar, a character renamed specifically to fit Hart's lyric. The only recording made of the song at the time was an instrumental by two pianists from the show's orchestra. Completely missing, of course, were the sort of quips that would make the song famous: "Your looks are laughable / Unphotographable / Yet you're my favorite work of art."
It wasn't until late 1944 that a singer committed the words to 78 RPM. Ruth Gaylor went into the studio with Hal McIntyre and his orchestra on December 29. By early 1945, as millions of GI Valentines remained separated from their sweethearts by an ocean, "My Funny Valentine" was a hit, though it climbed to only 16 on the charts and stayed there for only one week. Classic status for the song would have to wait until Frank Sinatra put it on his 1954 comeback album Songs for Young Lovers. Since then, some 600 artists have taken a shot at it.
Hart was already long gone. In November 17, 1943, the Rodgers and Hart musical A Connecticut Yankee opened for a revival at the Marin Beck Theater. Hart was thrown out of the festivities for being drunk. He left his overcoat behind and caught a chill. A few days later, he died in the hospital, just 48 years old. He never got to see "My Funny Valentine" hit the charts at all, let alone become the Valentine's Day song for the ages.
editor of America in WWII
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|Title Annotation:||78 RPM; Lorenz Hart|
|Publication:||America in WWII|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2015|
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