The Hollywood Musical: The Saga of Harry Warren

Here’s a recent and tantalizing library sale find. Tony Thomas’s book, “The Hollywood Musical: The Saga of Harry Warren,” is not simply a collection of songs composed by Harry Warren, whose career spanned decades, from 1920s Broadway through Hollywood in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. While it is a songbook, it’s also a biography and a remembrance of the prolific Warren and a pictorial and musical guide to the many films and shows to which he contributed songs and scores — movies like “42nd Street” and “An Affair to Remember,” songs such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “I Only Have Eyes for You.”

When I picked up this thick volume (344 pages!), I hoped it would contain the sheet music for “You Let Me Down,” Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s 1935 song about a woman scorned. I love Billie Holiday’s shambling and sassy rendition, and for years I’ve been keeping my eye out for the hard-to-find sheet music. Okay, so the book let me down on that score.

However, Harry Warren also wrote “That’s Amore,” and that is one of the pieces included here. When I got the book home and sat down at the piano, I was delighted to see that this arrangement was true to Dean Martin’s original recording. I have another, abridged version of the song in one of those spiral-bound Reader’s Digest collections (in this case, Remembering the ’50s: 100 Top Hits to Play and Sing). But since I adore the movie “Moonstruck,” I prefer my “That’s Amore” with the playfully corny “In Napoli / where love is king / when boy meets girl / here’s what they sing…” introduction that welcomes us into the silver-dappled world of “Cosmo’s moon” before waltzing us into the hilarious and affectionate dream of Loretta Castorini’s unexpected, opera-infused love triangle.

A still from the movie, The Caddy, showing a scene in which Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Barbara Bates, and Argentina Brunetti sing the song, "That's Amore."
A still from the 1953 Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie, “The Caddy,”
which introduced the Jack Brooks and Harry Warren tune, “That’s Amore.”

Like Harry Warren’s list of credits — and like some of the Busby Berkeley shows that Warren worked on — this tome seems to be bursting with a cast of thousands. Perhaps not thousands, but browse through the pages and you’ll spot famous faces like Carmen Miranda, Olivia de Havilland, Dorothy Dandridge, Shirley Temple, Cesar Romero, Sonja Henie, Glenn Miller, Betty Grable, Fred Astaire. There’s also sheet music for 25 songs, including “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Jeepers Creepers.” And interspersed throughout the chapters you can find melody lines for the key songs that Warren composed for each project.

I’ll need to explore this book further and then report back about any more of its highlights. In the meantime, pardon me while I sit down at the piano and take another lilting stroll to “Napoli…”

A Harry Warren autograph invokes the opening melody for the song "At Last," which Warren composed with Mack Gordon.
Harry Warren (with Mack Gordon) also composed the classic love ballad “At Last,”
which was originally featured in the 1942 film, “Orchestra Wives.”
Where to find it:
"The Hollywood Musical: The Saga of Songwriter Harry Warren"
by Tony Thomas

VINTAGE SONGBOOK: on Amazon, on eBay, on AbeBooks
Publisher: Citadel Press (1975)
ISBN: 0863694241 (paperback) or 0806504684 (hardcover)
Status (2019): Out of Print

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Here’s a Spotify playlist of Harry Warren compositions, featuring mainly those songs whose sheet music is included in the book, “The Hollywood Musical: The Saga of Songwriter Harry Warren,” by Tony Thomas. I felt compelled to include “At Last” because… well, Etta James. But the sheet music for “At Last” is not included in the book.

A helpful hint included in The Hollywood Musical: The Saga of Harry Warren.