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"For the role of the English dancer [Ann Ashford], Freed wanted to cast Moira Shearer who had created a sensation in The Red Shoes. Freed gave up the idea when Astaire remarked, 'I know she's wonderful, but what the hell could I do with her?'" (p. 216, hardcover Ed.)
"Adele Astaire, one of the first true pop icons of the twentieth century and, for the duration of their professional partnership, a bigger star than her brother, retired from show business in March 1932 to marry Lord Charles Cavendish. . . . It is Fred's name that remains in the mainstream cultural consciousness, and it is Ginger Rogers who has been immortalized as his most famous dancing partner."
Fred and Adele Astaire, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, are always the featured dance partners in the shows and movies in which they appeared together, (Fred and Adele always on stage, Fred and Ginger, always on screen). Unlike Fred and Ginger, Fred and Adele never played romantically involved characters. This, no doubt, because being brother and sister in real life would have made audiences uncomfortable, then or now. This, of course, is also true for the brother and sister act played by Fred and Jane Powell in Royal Wedding.
The composition of "You're All the World to Me" has a somewhat convoluted history its music having had a previous life. In fact it's music was written for one movie, Kid Millions, 1934, and its lyric for another, Royal Wedding, 1951. In the 1934 film Burton Lane's tune was used for a song titled "I Want To Be a Minstrel Man" and had a lyric by Harold Adamson. It is interesting to note both times the melody was used in a film, it became the centerpiece for a performance by one of the greatest tap-dancers of all time. In Kid Millions the dancer was child prodigy Harold Nicholas (accompanied by the 1934 Goldwyn Girls). Harold with his brother xxx went on to form the Nicholas Brothers who still often win the vote for the greatest tap team of all time. The other performer who danced to Lane's music (with a lyric by Alan Jay Lerner) was Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding in 1951. The song was "You're All the World to Me."
Harold Nicholas and
The Goldwyn Girls, sing and dance to
"I Want To be a Minstrel Man" in the 1934 movie Kid Millions.
The little history above means that Lane had that melody lying around for some fifteen years (1934-1949), after "I Want To Be a Minstrel Man was introduced in Kid Millions. As Deborah Grace Winer (long time director of the venerable Lyrics and Lyricists series at the 92nd Street Y in New York) recounted to the audience at one of the shows (The Astaire-Rogers Songbook, March, 2010) Lane gave the melody to Lerner while they were working on the score for Royal Wedding so he could furnish a lyric. He did this instead of writing a new melody because it came to him that when he wrote "I Want To Be a Minstrel Man" he had had a feeling the tune would make a great song for Fred Astaire. Now he finally had the chance to make this happen. Lerner took the music and and rather promptly came back with a very good lyric, but not being able to leave well enough alone took it back to revise -- which he did obsessively until he finally returned with the exact same lyric that we now know as "You're All the World To Me." But Lane again seemed foiled when the song was not assigned to Astaire to perform.
Lerner must have finished his lyric and provided it to Lane in late 1949, because that is when the song was copyrighted. But it wasn't introduced until Royal Wedding opened in New York on March 21, 1951. Between the finishing of the song in '49 and the opening of the movie, seven other songs were placed in the film before they got around to finding a place "You're All the World to Me" (and for that matter "Too Late Now" which also remained unplaced until late in the production schedule. The delay in getting to "You're All the World to Me" is a story unto itself. The tale begins when the first actress assigned to play Astaire's sister, June Allyson, became pregnant and had to withdraw from the cast. Allyson was replaced by Judy Garland and the You're All the World to Me" was then assigned to her. Judy, however, never got to sing it because she was soon dropped form the cast (indeed from MGM altogether, never to return) on or about June 19, 1950, when she refused to cooperate with the rehearsal schedule very close to the time shooting was to begin. The very fact of her having been cast was enough to cause the director Charles Walters, who had worked with her previously, to quit. He had been her director in Easter Parade (with Astaire) and Summer Stock. "I'm terribly sorry," he said, "but I can't go through it again" (Thomas, p. 218). Walters was then replaced by Stanley Donen, who had just co-directed Singin' in the Rain with Gene Kelly but never before directed solo. After frantically looking around for a replacement for Garland, producer Arthur Freed asked Fred Astaire how he felt about the very young Jane Powell. His response was, "Grab her---please!" (Steps in Time, p. 298). Powell's casting, however, did not settle what was to be done with "You're All the World to Me." Freed believed the song was unsuitable for Powell and this led, in fact, to it being reassigned to Astaire himself, because he had liked it when it was first shown to him, and because he had been looking for a number that would be suitable to do a choreography that had, he claimed, come to him long before in the middle of the night. He wanted to dance not only on the floor but on the walls and ceiling as well. So Freed decided to use "You're All the World to Me" to satisfy his star's fetish and found a place for it in Royal Wedding. Thus, out of Garland's tempestuous exit and Powell's arrival grew one of the most famous dance numbers in the history of American film musicals. Fred dances on the walls and ceiling while gazing at a photo of his love interest, the woman his character would marry later in the movie, Anne Ashmond, played by Sarah Churchill, a British actress who in real life and of no little note, was the daughter of Winston Churchill (Fordin, pp. 299-301, hard cover Ed.). Furthermore, this not only fulfilled Astaire's desire to dance in such an extraordinary fashion, but also finally satisfied Burton Lane's desire, going back to 1934, to have Astaire perform to this this melody of his. (Go to TheCafe Songbook Critics Corner below for more on this.)
Fred Astaire claims that the idea for such a dance came to him while in bed at 4 a.m. According to the movie's screenplay writer and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, a similar germ for the choreography for Astaire's magically spectacular dance to "You're All the World to Me" came from him, also in the middle of the night. In his comments about Royal Wedding in his autobiography, Lerner writes:
Although Burton Lane wrote some spiffy songs and Fred danced in a way that made all superlatives inadequate, my contribution left me in such a state of cringe that I could barely straighten up. Even the one creative moment I liked had nothing to do with me consciously. One night I dreamed that Fred was dancing up the wall, all across the ceiling and down the other wall. I mentioned it to Arthur [Freed--the producer of the film] at lunch the following day and lo, in the film Fred danced up one wall, across the ceiling and down the other wall (Lerner, p. 140).
Fred sings Alan Jay Lerner's lyric for "You're All the World To Me" to a photo of Sarah Churchill and performs one of his most famous dances to Burton Lane's music in Royal Wedding, 1951.
How much of the idea for Astaire's legendary dance came form Lerner's dream and or Freed's middle-of-the-night terpsichorean fantasy is impossible to tell. It should be noted, however, that this was not the first time the concept of dancing on the ceiling was featured in an American musical. "The idea had been attempted before in a 1930 London production of Rodgers and Hart's
Ever Green, which featured a couple dancing on a stage furnished with an inverted chandelier; if neither Lerner nor Astaire were aware of this precedent, they were both familiar with its song, "Dancing on the Ceiling.)" Lerner biographer Edward Jablonski points out that Astaire's interest in this kind of routine goes back at least to 1945 when Fred "confided in an interview published in Metro's house organ, Lion's Roar, that he had always wanted to choreograph something like that and one day maybe would come across a screenwriter who could find 'a reason for it' (Jablonski, p. 62).
The story for Royal Wedding, written by Lerner, has a couple of sources in real life. First is the obvious one, the royal wedding of the current Queen Elizabeth II, then a princess, to Philip Mountbatten, now Duke of Edinburgh, that took place two years before the movie was made. Film footage of the actual wedding was secured, with great effort and even greater expense, by MGM for use during the movie's denouement. Second was the real life story of Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. Fred began his career in show business when still a child as a partner to his older sister in any of a number of productions culminating in hit Broadway and West End shows. In fact, Adele was often thought of as the bigger star. Their joint career lasted until Adele left to marry a British nobleman, Lord Cavendish. She remained his wife and essentially out of show business for the rest of her life. Fred, of course, went on to even more spectacular successes on stage and in Hollywood.
Lerner roughly based the story of Ellen and Tom Bowen, the sister and brother at the center of the story of Royal Weeding, on the the final years of the career of the team of Fred and Adele Astaire. Lerner biographer Edward Jablonski explains the real life basis for the plot of Royal Wedding this way:
Like Fred and Adele, the film's Ellen and Tom Bowen are a brother-and-sister singing and dancing act; after the closing of their New York hit (In real life it would have been the Gershwins' Funny Face.), they sail for London, where they repeat their New York success. During the Astaires' London run, after doing two final shows [in 1928] with her brother, Adele . . . met Lord Charles Cavendish, [married him and retired from show business]. In Royal Wedding, Ellen meets a mildly philandering Lord John Brindale [Peter Lawford], and they marry, too. In a departure from strict biographical fact, her brother Tom [the Fred Astaire character] also marries in the final scene, on the same day as Princess Elizabeth and Philip [but in a somewhat more modest church than Westminster Abbey]. The film is unusual in that Astaire dances with [Sarah Churchill, his love interest in the film] for less than a minute; his more elaborate duets are accomplished with his 'sister' [Jane Powell]" (Jablonski, p. 55, hardcover Ed.)
Fred Astaire, his sister Adele and Marilyn Miller are seen here in one of the very rare pieces of film of the Astaires together on stage (or anywhere for that matter). During a rehearsal for Smiles on Broadway in 1930, director Flo Ziegfeld (on the left) says as they enter, "I didn't call for my ten-thousand-dollar-a-week dancers" -- and so they quickly improvise an exit as if it were part of the routine, almost without missing a beat.
Benny Green calls the phenomenon of the song like "You're All the World to Me" with a double life "rare but not unknown." One example that occurs to us is a song originally written by Arthur Schwartz and Lorenz Hart when they were counselors together at Bryant Lake Camp in the Adirondacks. It was about a dreamy boy who spent too much time in bed, titled "I Love to Lie Awake in Bed." Schwartz says this was the first melody he wrote that he liked. It is now, in a second life, slightly better known, with a lyric by Howard Dietz as "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan."
In his comments accompanying the lyric for "You're All the World to Me," music critic Benny Green begins by noting that the song is one, as has already been pointed out above, with "a double life." It's music was used in one production, the Eddie Cantor movie Kid Millions from 1934, with one set of lyrics (by Harold Adamson), and in another, Royal Wedding from 1951, with a new set of lyrics by Alan Jay Jay Lerner, where it is sung and danced to by Fred Astaire. Green goes on to convey more specifically, and revealingly, what Burton Lane had to say about the birth and reincarnation of his melody. Green quotes Lane as follows:
I [originally] wrote the melody as my expression of what I would like to do if I were to write a song for Astaire. Then someone suggested we make the tune fit Eddie Cantor. I said okay. So we wrote a song which I never felt realized everything the tune could have. I was never happy with "I Want To Be a Minstrel Man." But it worked in the picture. Many Years later when I got the assignment to do Royal Wedding, I remembered this tune, and I said, I'm gonna see if I can get the rights back from Sam Goldwyn, because this is the tune I always dreamed would be good for Astaire and when I played it for Astaire, he loved it (Benny Green, A Hymn to Him, p. 64 hardcover Ed.).
Green points out that the Astaire version "is slowish and intensely romantic," but in 1934, when Lane had first conceived it, the piece had been "designed as an up tempo spectacular performed by the precocious Nicholas brothers, Harold and Fayard" (though in the clip above, we see only Harold). Green continues that it is "revealing to compare the urbanity of Lerner's version with the energetic celebration of a dead tradition [minstrelsy] which Lane and Adamson had written."
Perhaps the most shocking revelation was that when Green asked Lerner about having written a new set of lyrics for an old melody of Lane's with an earlier set of words, the lyricist claimed not to have known about the song's first life. Green had a hard time believing this and later came to the conclusion that Lerner, a scholar of the musical, did know about the song written for Cantor. Finally Lane recalled of Goldwyn, not known as the most easy going of studio heads, that "when I inquired about the rights, Goldwyn was very generous with me, very decent."
Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson discuss the trend in Hollywood musicals during the late forties and early fifties toward adapting successful Broadway shows and away from original musicals made for the screen. The trend was accelerated by the poor showings of the original productions made by the Freed Unit at MGM such as Pagan Lovesong, Royal Wedding and The Belle of New York. In all of these films, according to the authors, musical numbers "are staged with spectacular effects that actually detract attention from the song itself,* Furia and Patterson continue:
In Pagan Love Song, Esther Williams swims in the night sky and sings "The Sea of the Moon" as a lavish water ballet unfolds around her. In Royal Wedding,* Fred Astaire sings "You're All the World to Me" then dances on the wall and ceiling of his room, a feat made possible by the construction of a set where every object was nailed down inside a box that could be rotated along with the camera. In a variation of the same idea, The Belle of New York has Astaire rising into the air when he finds himself in love with Vera Ellen. When he tells her he is "numb" in her presence, she says when you're in love you should be "elated" and he takes off as he sings "Seeing's Believing," dancing atop the Washington Square Arch as pigeons flutter about him, then soaring into the clouds. In such films it is the spectacle that makes an impact not the song; their "visual styles and performance energy" observes Gerald Mast, "carry them further than their songs" (Furia and Patterson, p.187).
*Royal Wedding, it should be noted, was a success at the box office.
Radio host and Songbook expert Jonathan Schwartz has claimed that a reason why "You're All the World to Me" never became a full-fledged standard, is because it was overshadowed in its original incarnation in Royal Wedding by Astaire's spectacular dance. Tony Bennett while introducing the song in his live performance (Main Stage above) says much the same thing.
refrain of "You're All the World To Me," as included in Benny Green, Ed., A Hymn to Him: The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, New York: Limelight Editions, 2004, is presented below as a means of helping to understand the adjacent commentary on "You're All the World To Me."
You're Lake Como
When Dawn is aglow.
You're Sun Valley
Right after a snow.
A Persian palace,
You're my shining
You're like Christmas
At home by a tree
The blue calm of
A tropical sea.
You're all the places
That leave me breathless;
And no wonder,
You're all the world to me.
The music-video below is a performance of "You're All the Word to Me," sung by members of the cast of Glee. The lyric appears superimposed over photos of the singers. The portion of the lyric they sing begins with the
verse, although there is some indication that as originally set down by the lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, the verse appears in the middle between the two
refrains. In any case, the lyric on this video follows the verse with the first refrain, and in so far as it goes, is exactly as Lerner wrote it, but instead of proceeding to the second refrain inserts a musical interlude before the singers repeat the first refrain. Lerner's second refrain is omitted. (You can read it in the left column.) More significantly Lerner's second refrain is omitted Royal Wedding itself, not only in Astaire's famous dance scene but in the movie as a whole. (See below for more on this.)
Members of the cast of the TV show Glee, sing "You're All the World to Me"
with the printed lyric superimposed over a photo of the performers. As in many performances including the original in Royal Wedding,
the second refrain is omitted.
Michael Feinstein accompanied by composer Burton Lane
on piano sings "You're All the World to Me" with the full lyric
as originally written by Lerner
Michael Feinstein is one of the few performers who has recorded "You're All the World to Me" and included the full lyric beginning with the verse and then going on to the first and second refrains. The only other performance on this page that comes close to not making any changes is that by Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, whose only substantive alteration comes in the second refrain where they change "Como" as in Lake Como in northern Italy to "Tahoe," as in Lake Tahoe in northern California. Cain and Kral are far from the first singers to change up a lyric, and Tahoe is no doubt more familiar to an American audience. Moreover, Tahoe, like Como, is a startlingly beautiful setting, but, it should be noted, that the change alters Lerner's pattern of choosing scenes that leave the singer "breathless" as a result of going up and back between romantic Europe and scenically spectacular America. It is not hard to see that pairing Lake Como and Sun Valley makes a more satisfying metaphor for "all the World" than pairing Sun Valley and Lake Tahoe, which one can, after all, drive between in a day. Changing up a Songbook lyricist's words is risky business, more often than not resulting in more loss than gain.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, Lerner's 2nd refrain is not heard anywhere in the film. After all when you add up the time it takes to sing first refrain and the musical section devoted to Astaire's dance, there is the danger of making the scene too long. Most likely Astaire, Freed and others who were involved in making the decision knew it had to be shortened even though it meant cutting that portion of the lyric out of the film altogether. You're all the World to Me still maintains a major presence in the movie as it is heard as a leitmotif playing in the background repeatedly throughout the film, so it is only the lyric that gets short shrift. Therefore it is left to those who have recorded and otherwise performed the song down through the decades to share the orphaned second refrain with posterity. Even that though has not happened frequently. Only one portion of the second refrain has stubbornly refused to go away, namely the metaphor comparing his love to the Aurora Borealis. Lerner must have really wanted that comparison a lot because finding a rhyme, not to mention a four syllable feminine rhyme, would be no mean feat, but find it he did. Most fans of the song and even of The Songbook itself know well that he succeeded:
You're . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Persian Palace,
You're my shining
Apparently some singers want to sing this passage badly enough that they find a way to eliminate most of the refrain but still get it in. Tony Bennett, for example, only hums most of the refrain but evidently cant resist this magnificent rhyme, not to mention grandly beautiful image depicting his love. Listen to Bennett on the Main Stage above. Listen to Michael Feinstein (often a stickler for singing a lyric exactly as the songwriter wrote it (just above) or in the Record/Video Cabinet, (this page) to hear the entire second refrain.
It is revealing to compare as has been noted, Lerner's lyric for Burton Lane's melody in "You're All the World To Me" (1951), to Harold Adamson's lyric for the same melody in "I Wanna Be a Minstrel Man" (1934).
We always love a minstrel man,
He thrills us like nobody can,
The way he dances sure is dandy.
And sings the songs about his sugar candy.
He's learned to love the Minstrel ways,
Oh, bring them back, the minstrel days,
Give us a man like George M. Cohan,
We want a minstrel man.
Quoted from A Hymn to Him, The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner by Benny Green, p. 44, hardcover Ed.
Green observes that Adamson's lyric for "I'm a Minstrel Man" (just above) expresses the sentiment for reviving, albeit energetically, the "dead tradition" of minstrelsy. while Lerner's lyric for "You're All the World To Me" celebrates how the modern traveler communes with beauty. Adamson's plea to "bring back the minstrel days" may have expressed a desire to return to what some saw as a time of innocence. Now, however, the lyric rings hollow and horribly out of touch.
Adamson does a workmanlike job on his lyric. Lerner is a poet.
Lerner's lyric for "You're the Whole World To Me" conjures up innocence but instead of being depressingly dated achieves through his spare imagery a universal and timeless beauty. The metaphorical motif within Lerner's framework is quite simple: It's a travelog that could have taken its title, with a slight adjustment, from the Rodgers and Hammerstein song "My Favorite Things" (with "things" switched out for "places") -- if that song had been written by 1950. Perhaps the marvel of what Lerner accomplishes is the creation of a series of images that so perfectly and economically evoke the places referred to that the listener or reader doesn't need to have visited them. His minimalist imagery supplies the imagination with the tools necessary to make the visit and thus augments his claims that "Everywhere that beauty is you are" and hence "You're All the World to Me."
Indeed he allows his audience to crisscross the Atlantic and experience, oh so frugally, his world filled with his favorite things: "Paris in April and May, / New York on a Sil'vry day," "The Swiss Alps as the sun grows fainter," "Loch Lomond when autumn is the painter," "Cape Cod looking out at the sea," "Lake Como When dawn is aglow," "Sun Valley right after a snow," "a museum," a Persian palace," his personal "Aurora Borealis." The marvellous trick is that Lerner sums up all these places as "everywhere the angels play,"
expanding them into "all the world" while simultaneously combining them into "what you are." In other words, "You're all the world to me."
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Fred Astaire, Adele Astaire, Flo Ziegfeld, et. al. on screen together, 1930: Fred Mertz Jr
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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet: Selected Recordings of
"You're All the World to Me"
(All Record/Video Cabinet entries
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)
(*indicates accompanying music-video)
Notes: This is the soundtrack album from the movie Royal Wedding of 1951. Johnny Green, who was musical director for Royal Wedding, conducts the orchestra with Fred Astaire vocal. (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
Notes: The track was recorded in 1959. The album Sunday in New York includes liner notes by James Gavin.
"Singer/songwriter Portia Nelson is also an actress, author, painter and photographer. Among her many accomplishments, she has appeared on Broadway in numerous productions, hosted the radio program Sunday in New York,, appeared in films like The Sound of Music, Dr. Doolittle and The Trouble with Angels as well as in the TV soap opera All My Children. She also wrote the book There's a Hole in My Sidewalk, which was made into a musical featuring music, lyrics, direction and a performance by Nelson herself. Her song 'Make a Rainbow' was performed at the 1993 inauguration of President Clinton." ~ Heather Phares at iTunes
"Named after her 1959 radio program, Portia Nelson's Sunday in New York features 17 songs from composers like Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, and Alan Jay Lerner, as well as her own compositions. Nelson's clear, shimmering vocal style shines on 'He Loves and She Loves,' 'Isn't It Romantic,' 'Hi Lili Hi Lo,' and 'For All We Know.' A worthwhile purchase for fans of classic pop singing and songwriting." ~ Heather Phares at CDUniverse.com. (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
Notes: "The album's subtitle: 'A Tribute to Alan J. Lerner,' could have just as easily honored Frederick Loewe and Burton Lane as well since all the tunes are from collaborations Lerner had with these two composers. Jackie Cain and Roy Kral have pretty much stayed with tunes from familiar Broadway musicals like My Fair Lady, Paint Your Wagon, and Brigadoon, but there's a cut from an early Lerner/Loewe production, The Day Before Spring from 1945. Although there is some unevenness in the music in that some of the material sounds a bit dated, everything is done with that inimitable patented singing as one, professional and swinging style Cain and Kral have been using successfully for more than 50 years. For this album, a vibes player has been added to create an airy, glittering tone to the proceeding. Steve Light applies his mallets to excellent effect throughout making his presence felt on such tunes as 'Show Me.' Roy Kral spends most of his time at the piano, leaving the vocalizing to Cain and she takes advantage of the spotlight with poignant readings of 'If Ever I Would Leave You' and the lovely 'Too Late Now.' One More Rose does not rank up there with some other albums this duo has released, but nonetheless it is a very pleasant listen." ~ Dave Nathan at CDUniverse.com personnel: Steve Light, Dean Johnson, Dave Ratajczak, Jackie Cain, Roy Kral. (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
Notes: Michael Feinstein is accompanied by Burton Lane on this album, which has grown to several volumes. This is a well deserved tribute to a composer who has, perhaps, received less attention than is his due. (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)
Notes: A live performance on MTV Unplugged can be seen on the Cafe Songbook Main top of tis page. A studio performance is on the Astaire tribute album Steppin' Out (video just above and commentary just below.
"This highly successful 1993 tribute to Fred Astaire--the video for the title tune established Bennett as a MTV artist for a spell--was the inevitable follow-up to the previous year's Frank Sinatra tribute PERFECTLY FRANK. In both cases, the pretext of a tribute allowed Bennett to take his pick of demonstrably superior songs and record them accompanied only by the great Ralph Sharon Trio. The result is as close as many of us will get to hearing Bennett and company at a small club on a great night.
"The Astaire set is a more light-hearted affair than the Sinatra. However, Bennett's commitment to songs such as 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' and 'Dancing In The Dark' is unquestioned. He performs them with as much verve, wisdom and sheer joy in singing as an entertainer with 40-plus years experience can muster. His voice might be a little rough in spots, but no matter, since that makes his right-on-target climaxes all the more exhilarating. There are few (if any) examples of a singer sounding this good as he ages." fromCDUniverse.com
Personnel: Tony Bennett (vocals); Ralph Sharon (piano); Doug Richeson (bass); Clayton Cameron (drums).
Recorded at Clinton Recording Studio, New York City (Please complete or pause one
video before starting another.)