Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering the Greats

Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering the Greats

Article excerpt

Am-ong the more illustrious namedrops in `You're The Top', Cole Porter also found time to rhyme `Gifted humans/ Like Vincent Youmans' (though, on reflection, `humans/Youmans' is more of an 'identity' than a rhyme). Youmans was born on 27 September 1898, the day after George Gershwin, another gifted human whose centenary is being celebrated somewhat more noisily this month. In fact, the two composers had much in common: both wrote enduring standards; both wrote songs with Ira Gershwin, and both enjoyed their biggest hits with another lyricist, Irving Caesar -- Gershwin and Caesar wrote 'Swanee', Youmans and Caesar wrote `Tea For Two'. And both were among that group of New York writers whom the '29 Wall Street crash and the consequent lack of dough among Broadway producers forced into `taking the Chief - the train west, to Hollywood and talking pictures.

The Gershwins arrived first, getting $100,000 from Fox (not bad post-crash) to write songs for Delicious, starring the leading romantic couple of the day, Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. Today, Farrell is remembered as an effete ninny and Miss Gaynor has been posthumously outed as a lesbian, and their chemistry is about what you'd expect from such a coupling. Ira's big moment in the picture was a lyric about the vacuousness of Hollywood theme songs:

Blah, blah, blah, blah, moon

Blah, blah, blah, above

Blah, blah, blah, blah, croon

Blah, blah, blah, blah, love

- which seems a touch ungrateful for a hundred thousand bucks. Delicious never did much business and the boys returned happily to New York.

Vincent Youmans, on the other hand, hit the heights immediately with Flying Down to Rio. The nominal stars were Gene Raymond, Dolores Del Rio and the doe-eyed Brazilian tenor Paul Roulien in a ludicrous love triangle pursued with a louche sexual breeziness: as Miss Del Rio puts the moves on Raymond, one of her pals sighs, `What have these South Americans got below the equator that we haven't?' But the only reason we're interested in the picture these days is the fourth and fifth names on the bill: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the latter a last-minute replacement for Dorothy Jordan, who quit the movie so she could marry its executive producer.

Youmans's title song is thrown away on a famous but silly routine: the scantily clad chorines standing on the wings of the plane and making strange semaphoric hand movements as if to confuse air traffic control back in Rio. Halfway through the number, one of the girls falls off, but fortunately the chorus on the wings of the first aeroplane she passes on the way down are able to catch her. The last shot in the picture is of Astaire and Rogers, sipping champagne and gazing mystified at the cavorting above, as well they might. …

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