Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer

By Schulman, Lawrence | ARSC Journal, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer


Schulman, Lawrence, ARSC Journal


Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer. Kritzerland KR 20028-3 (1 CD).

Jerome Kern (1885-1945) needs no introduction. Composer of more than seven hundred songs, among them "They Didn't Believe Me," "Look for the Silver Lining," "Who?" "Ol' Man River," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "Make Believe," "Bill," "Why Was I Born?," "She Didn't Say Yes," "The Song Is You," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Yesterdays," "All the Things You Are," "I Won't Dance," "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance," "Pick Yourself Up," "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," "The Last Time I Saw Paris," "Dearly Beloved," "I'm Old Fashioned," and "Long Ago (and Far Away)," he worked with such renowned lyricists as Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, PG. Wodehouse, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, B.G. DeSylva and Herbert Reynolds in both theater and film. "The first to find a new form of melodic writing unlike that of his predecessors or contemporaries," according to Alec Wilder's American Popular Song (Oxford University Press, 1972), Kern is one of the giants in the pantheon of the Great American Songbook.

The 1946 Twentieth Century-Fox film Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer, produced and directed by Otto Preminger, turned out to be the last project Kern worked on before he died suddenly on 11 November 1945 of a cerebral hemorrhage while walking at the corner of Park Avenue and 57th Street in New York. An "undernourished score" as Stephen Banfield's Jerome Kern (Yale University Press, 2006) puts it, it nevertheless contains the songs "The Right Romance" (lyrics: Leo Robin), "Up with the Lark" (lyrics: Leo Robin), "Centennial" (lyrics: Leo Robin),"In Love in Vain" (lyrics: Leo Robin), "All Through the Day" (lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II), and "Cinderella Sue" (lyrics: E. Y. Harburg). Another song, "Two Hearts Are Better than One" (lyrics: Johnny Mercer) was published but in the end cut from the film. Other Kern tunes are used, namely "Long Live Our Free America" (lyrics: Leo Robin), "Railroad Song" (lyrics: Leo Robin), as well as Two Dachshunds and various polkas and waltzes as underscoring. Described by Roy Hemming in his The Melody Lingers On (Newmarket Press, 1986) as barely "bearable," Kern's score is not his best. Still, "In Love in Vain" spent thirteen weeks on Your Hit Parade and, according to Billboard's chart information, charted for Margaret Whiting and for Helen Forrest with Dick Haymes; and "AH Through the Day" spent twenty weeks on Your Hit Parade and had three charting records, by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Margaret Whiting. Moreover, the songs he composed with Hammerstein, Harburg and Mercer were retrieved from Kern's trunk of old songs after he grew increasingly frustrated with Robin's tardiness in providing lyrics. In the end, the film received two Academy Award nominations: one for best song ("All Through the Day") and one for best score (Alfred Newman).

Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer was Fox's response to the success of MGM's 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, whose story, based on a series of short stories by Sally Benson, involves a family with three daughters at the time of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Based on a novel by Albert E. Idell, Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer revolves around a family in Philadelphia in the 1870s at the time of the Centennial International Exposition of 1876. Whereas one of the Smith family daughters in Meet Me in St. Louis falls for the boy next door, two of the Rogers daughters in Jerome Kern's Centennial Summer fall for a Frenchman who has arrived to prepare the French pavilion for the exposition. Just as MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939) was a response to Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the Meet Me in St. Louis/Centennial Summer couple is an example of a tried-and-true tit-for-tat copycat Hollywood ritual that continues to this day. Both musicals take place before either World War, which makes them endearing reminders of more innocent, happier times.

The MGM progenitor fared far better at the box office and critically than the Fox replique, which is reflected to this day by the fact that the MGM musical has long been available on VHS back in the day, DVD, and more recently Blu-ray, whereas the Fox offering is still in 2015 unavailable on any video format, save bootlegs. …

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