Call him irrepressible—Sammy Cahn always had a way with words. As a skinny, bespectacled kid, it kept him out of trouble with his parents and the neighborhood bullies. As an adult, his way with words made him one of the most popular and successful lyricists of all time.
Young Samuel Cohen was not a good student in the classroom, but he studied the theater voraciously; from an early age, he would cut classes to see movies and watch vaudeville shows. One time when he had been at the theater instead of at school, he was spotted by a friend of his mother, who reported Sammy’s truancy. He avoided punishment by brazenly lying his way out of the jam.
As a kid, he played the violin. But this was only a hobby until he was 13. At his bar mitzvah, he saw his mother pay the musicians and realized he could make money playing the violin. A year later he joined the small Dixieland orchestra his mother had hired, the Pals of Harmony. The group played local gigs and then began traveling to perform in hotels in Atlantic City and the summer resorts of the Catskills.
Sammy Cohen, who adopted the professional surname Cahn, wrote his first song when he was about 16 years old. As he recalled in his autobiography, I Should Care, “It was actually Jackie Osterman at the Academy of Music on 14th Street who inspired my song writing career.... In the middle of the act, [Osterman] took a change of pace and said he’d like to sing a song he’d written. It was a fascinating thing for me to be actually looking at a songwriter—in person.... Walking home... I began to frame a song in my head. By the time I reached home I had actually written a lyric.... The song was a piece of idiocy called “Like Niagara Falls, I’m Falling for You—Baby!” But if, as... somebody said, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, that was the first step.” Soon he teamed up with the pianist from the Pals of Harmony, Saul Chaplin, and a songwriting team was born.
The duo of Cahn and Chaplin soon began to have some success at writing specialty numbers for vaudeville acts, but they could not get their songs published. Then one day in 1935, a friend told them that the bandleader Jimmy Lunceford, who was then playing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, needed a song. They wrote “Rhythm Is Our Business,” which was recorded for the Decca label and became a modest hit. They began to write for
For the Record…
Born Samuel Cohen, June 18, 1913, in New York, NY; son of Abraham and Elka Riss Cohen; died of congestive heart failure, January 15, 1993, in Los Angeles, CA; married Gloria Delson, 1945 (divorced, 1964); married Virginia “Tita” Basile, 1970; children: Steven, Laurie.
Joined Dixieland group Pals of Harmony as violinist, 1927; wrote first song, c. 1929; with pianist Saul Chaplin, wrote specialty songs for vaudeville acts; wrote songs for big-band singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, mid-1930s; wrote English lyrics to Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That Your Grand),” 1937; worked for Vitaphone Studios, New York City, late 1930s; split from Chaplin and began working with Jule Styne; worked with Frank Sinatra, early 1940s; worked with various composers; mounted Broadway show Words and Music, 1974; toured with show, 1975-early 1990s. President of Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Contributed music to films, including Lady of Burlesque, 1943; Anchors Aweigh, 1945; Tonight and Every Night, 1945; Wonder Man, 1945; The Kid From Brooklyn, 1946; Romance on the High Seas, 1948; West Point Story, 1950; April in Paris, 1953; Peter Pan, 1953; Three Coins in a Fountain, 1954; You’re Never Too Young, 1955; The Court Jester, 1956; All the Way, 1956; The Man With the Golden Arm, 1956; Serenade, 1956; The Joker Is Wild, 1959; A Hole in the Head, 1959; High Time, 1960; A Pocketful of Miracles, 1961; Papa’s Delicate Condition, 1963; Robin and the Seven Hoods, 1964; Where Love Has Gone, 1964; Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967; and Star, 1968.
Awards: Academy awards, 1954, for “Three Coins in a Fountain,” from Three Coins in a Fountain; 1957, for “All the Way,” from The Joker Is Wild; 1959, for “High Hopes,” from A Hole in the Head; 1963, for “Call Me Irresponsible,” from Papa’s Delicate Condition. National Cash Box Award, 1959, for “High Hopes.” Inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1972.
other big-band stars like Ella Fitzgerald (“If You Ever Should Leave”), were accepted as members of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and were on their way.
The song that made Cahn and Chaplin famous and rich enough for Cahn to buy his parents a new house was the specialty number “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand).” Cahn heard this Yiddish song at the Apollo Theater and thought an English version would work well. He had trouble selling the idea at first, but then an as-yet-unknown sister act from the Midwest heard the song. Cahn explained in his autobiography: “One day Lou (Levy) brought the Andrews Sisters, Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne up to our apartment. On the piano was this copy of a song in Yiddish. Patty asked... ‘How does it go?’ I played it for them, and they started to sing right along and to rock with it. ‘Gee,’ said Patty, ‘can we have it?’ Cahn penned English lyrics to the song, the Andrew Sisters recorded it, and it shot both Cahn and the Sisters to national fame, eventually selling over one million copies.
During the late 1930s the team of Cahn and Chaplin wrote under contract for New York City’s Vitaphone Studios, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. that produced short feature films. The duo wrote songs sung in these films by performers such as Betty Hutton, Bob Hope, and Edgar Bergen. In 1940 Vitaphone Studios closed, and Cahn and Chaplin, still under contract to Warner Bros., moved out to Hollywood. But they had no luck with the western studios, got no commissions, and parted ways.
About the time Cahn was becoming frantic from lack of work, he was asked to write songs with composer Jule Styne. “From the beginning it was fun,” he remembered. “He went to the piano and played a complete melody. I listened and said ‘Would you play it again, just a bit slower?’ He played and I listened.... I then said, ‘I’ve heard that song before’—to which he said, bristling, ‘What the hell are you, a tune detective?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘that wasn’t a criticism, it was a title: “I’ve Heard That Song Before.’” This song, the first of many Cahn and Styne hits, led to a fruitful series of film collaborations. The duo wrote songs for the films Anchors Aweigh (1945), Tonight and Every Night (1945), Wonder Man (1945), The Kid From Brooklyn (1946), Romance on the High Seas (1948), and The West Point Story (1950). Their songs include “I’ll Walk Alone,” I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night in the Week,” “As Long as There’s Music,” “Come Out, Come Out,” “Five Minutes More,” and “The Things We Did Last Summer.”
Cahn wrote many songs specially for certain singers. After he met young Frank Sinatra singing with the Tommy Dorsey Band, he provided Sinatra with a number of songs that became hits and helped to make both men stars. In the early 1940s Sinatra was signed by MGM to appear in the musical Anchors Aweigh; he refused to sing unless Cahn wrote the material. In 1954 Cahn and Styne wrote “Three Coins in a Fountain” for Sinatra to sing in the film Three Coins in a Fountain. The song garnered Cahn his first Oscar.
During his long career, Cahn worked with many different composers. In 1957 Cahn and composer Jimmy Van Heusen won an Oscar for their song “All the Way,” from the movie The Joker Is Wild; they won another in 1959 for “High Hopes,” from A Hole in the Head, and in 1963 they won their third Oscar for the song “Call Me Irresponsible,” from the film Papa’s Delicate Condition. The duo also received Academy Award nominations for their songs “To Love and Be Loved,” “Second Time Around,” “High Time,” “My Kind of Town,” “Where Love Has Gone,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “A Pocketful of Miracles,” and “Star.” Other Cahn collaborators included Nicholas Brodsky, Sammy Fain, Arthur Schwartz, Sylvia Fine, Vernon Duke, Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston, and Gene de Paul.
In 1974 Sammy Cahn starred in his own Broadway show. Two years earlier he had been asked to put together a show to run as part of a now-legendary series at the 92nd Street YMCA called “Lyrics and Lyricists.” The audience loved him. When he finally took the act, titled Words and Music, to Broadway, critics raved, and Cahn became the toast of the town. His show ran for nine months on Broadway and almost two decades on tour before declining health put an end to Cahn’s performing career.
Cahn died of congestive heart failure on January 15, 1993, at Cedars-Sinai Medial Center in Los Angeles. In 1972 he had been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and had later served as its president. He had labored hard to establish a Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Museum, and he never lost his love for popular music of any variety. In 1992 he told Pulse! that he would love to write songs for contemporary singers like belter Michael Bolton or superstar Madonna. “My opinion of the music of today,” he told Pulse!, “is simply put: Whatever the number-one song in the world is at this moment, I wish my name were on it.”
Walking Happy, Capitol, 1966.
An Evening With Sammy Cahn, DRG, 1978, reissued, 1993.
Frank Sinatra Sings the Songs of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, Vintage Jazz Classics, 1993.
Cahn, Sammy, I Should Care: The Sammy Cahn Story, Arbor House, 1974.
Cahn, Sammy, Sammy Cahn’s Rhyming Dictionary, Warner Bros. Publications Inc., 1983.
Songs With Lyrics by Sammy Cahn, Cahn Music Co., 1982.
Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, January 29, 1993.
Gentlemen’s Quarterly, July 1991.
Facts on File, January 21, 1993.
London Times, January 18, 1993.
Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1990; January 16, 1993.
New York Times, January 16, 1993.
Newsweek, January 25, 1993.
People, February 1, 1993.
Pulse!, April 1992; October 1992.
Time, January 25, 1993.
Variety, January 25, 1993.
Washington Post, July 11, 1990; January 16, 1993.
"Cahn, Sammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cahn-sammy
"Cahn, Sammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cahn-sammy
Lyricist. Nationality: American. Born: Samuel Cohen in New York City, 18 June 1913. Family: Married 1) Gloria Delson, 1945 (divorced 1964); one son and one daughter; 2) Tita Curtis, 1970. Career: Violinist in vaudeville band, then formed band with Saul Chaplin; lyricist from 1935, often working with composers Jules Styne, Jimmy Van Heusen; 1974—appeared on Broadway in Words and Music. Awards: Academy Awards for songs "Three Coins in the Fountain," 1954; "All the Way," 1957; "High Hopes," 1959; "Call Me Irresponsible," 1963. Died: 15 January 1993.
Films as Lyricist:
Argentine Nights (Rogell); Ladies Must Live (Smith)
Time Out for Rhythm (Salkow); Go West, Young Lady (Strayer); Sing for Your Supper (Barton); Rookies on Parade (Santley); Two Latins from Manhattan (Barton); Honolulu Lu (Barton)
Two Yanks in Trinidad (Ratoff); Johnny Doughboy (Auer); Blondie Goes to College (Strayer); Blondie's Blessed Event (Strayer); Youth on Parade (Rogell)
Crazy House (Cline); Lady of Burlesque (Wellman); Let's Face It (Lanfield); Thumbs Up (Santley); The Heat's On (Ratoff)
Follow the Boys (Sutherland); Knickerbocker Holiday (Brown); Jam Session (Barton); Carolina Blues (Jason); Step Lively (Whelan); Jamie (Curtiz); A Song to Remember (C. Vidor); Tonight and Every Night (Saville)
Anchors Aweigh (Sidney); The Stork Club (Walker); Thrill of a Romance (Thorpe)
The Kid from Brooklyn (McLeod); Cinderella Jones (Berkeley); Earl Carroll Sketchbook (Rogell); Tars and Spars (Green); The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (Bernhard); It Happened in Brooklyn (Whorf)
Ladies Man (Russell)
Romance on the High Seas (Curtiz); Sons of Adventure (Canutt); Two Guys from Texas (Butler); Miracle of the Bells (Pichel)
It's a Great Feeling (Butler); Borderline (Seiter); Always Leave Them Laughing (Del Ruth); Anna Lucasta (Rapper)
Young Man with a Horn (Curtiz); The Toast of New Orleans (Taurog); The West Point Story (Del Ruth)
Rich, Young and Pretty (Taurog); Sugarfoot (Marin); Two Tickets to Broadway (Kern); Double Dynamite (Cummings)
April in Paris (Butler); She's Working Her Way Through College (Humberstone); Stazione Termini (Indiscretion of an American Wife) (De Sica)
Because You're Mine (Hall); Peter Pan (Luske, Geronimi, and Jackson); Three Sailors and a Girl (Del Ruth) (+ pr)
Three Coins in the Fountain (Negulesco); Vera Cruz (Aldrich)
The Tender Trap (Walters); Love Me or Leave Me (C. Vidor); The Court Jester (Panama and Frank); Anything Goes (Lewis); Pete Kelly's Blues (Webb); You're Never Too Young (Taurog); How to Be Very, Very Popular (Johnson); Ain't Misbehavin' (Buzzell); The Seven Year Itch (Wilder)
Meet Me in Las Vegas (Rowland); Written on the Wind (Sirk); Quincannon, Frontier Scout (Selander); Serenade (A. Mann); Somebody Up There Likes Me (Wise); Forever Darling (Hall); The Opposite Sex (Miller) Pardners (Taurog); Beau James (Shavelson)
Pal Joey (Sidney); The Joker Is Wild (C. Vidor); Until They Sail (Wise); Ten Thousand Bedrooms (Thorpe); Don't Go Near the Water (Walters); This Could Be the Night (Wise)
The Long Hot Summer (Ritt); Indiscreet (Donen); Paris Holiday (Oswald); Some Came Running (Minnelli); Home Before Dark (LeRoy); Rock-a-Bye Baby (Tashlin); The Sound and the Fury (Ritt); Party Girl (Ray); Kings Go Forth (Daves)
A Hole in the Head (Capra); Who Was That Lady? (Sidney); The Best of Everything (Negulesco); Career (Anthony); They Came to Cordura (Rossen); This Earth Is Mine (H. King); Say One for Me (Tashlin); Holiday for Lovers (Levin); Journey to the Center of the Earth (Levin); Night of the Quarter Moon (Haas)
High Time (Edwards); Wake Me When It's Over (LeRoy); Let's Make Love (Cukor); Oceans Eleven (Milestone); The World of Suzie Wong (Quine)
The Pleasure of His Company (Seaton); Pocketful of Miracles (Capra); By Love Possessed (J. Sturges)
Boys' Night Out (Gordon); The Road to Hong Kong (Panama); How the West Was Won (Ford, Marshall, and Hathaway); Gigot (Kelly)
My Six Loves (Champion); Papa's Delicate Condition (Marshall); Come Fly with Me (Levin); Come Blow Your Horn (Yorkin); Johnny Cool (Asher); Under the Yum Yum Tree (Swift); 4 for Texas (Aldrich)
Robin and the 7 Hoods (Douglas); Honeymoon Hotel (Levin); Looking for Love (Weis); The Pleasure Seekers (Negulesco); Where Love Has Gone (Dmytryk)
Licensed to Kill (The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World) (Shonteff) (song in US version)
The Oscar (Rouse); Texas Across the River (Gordon)
The Bobo (Parrish); Thoroughly Modern Millie (Hill); The Cool Ones (Nelson); The Odd Couple (Saks); Jack and the Beanstalk (Kelly)
Star! (Wise); A Flea in Her Ear (Charon); Bandolero! (McLaglen)
The Great Bank Robbery (Averback)
Journey Back to Oz (Sutherland)
The Heartbreak Kid (May); A Touch of Class (Frank)
Paper Tiger (Annakin)
Whiffs (Post); I Will, I Will . . . for Now (Panama)
The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (Frank) (co)
The Stud (Masters)
Heidi's Song (Taylor—animation)
By CAHN: book—
I Should Care (autobiography), New York, 1974.
On CAHN: articles—
Craig, Warren, in The Great Songwriters of Hollywood, San Diego, California, 1980.
Schwartz, Jonathan, "Call him irreplaceable," in Gentleman's Quarterly, July 1991.
Frank, Michael, "Sammy Cahn," in Architectural Digest, April 1992.
Obituary in Variety, 25 January 1993.
Obituary in Classic Images (Muscatine), April 1993.
* * *
Sammy Cahn was one of the mainstays of Hollywood's popular music industry during its Golden Age from the 1930s to the 1960s. In a remarkable career from 1942 to 1975 he worked as a lyricist with four different composers to garner some 25 Academy Award nominations for best original song. He won four times and will always be remembered for the words to such popular classics as "Three Coins in the Fountain," "All the Way," and "High Hopes." Cahn proved to be a survivor by adapting to the changing musical tastes of a nation. From the Broadway-inspired musical tunes of the 1940s he moved smoothly to ballads for the 1950s and 1960s.
Songwriter Jules Styne and lyricist Cahn churned out hit after hit during the 1940s. They were one of a select team of composer/lyricists who wrote the year's top ten hits, year in and year out. In the 1940s the movies, by and large, introduced the major popular musical hits, and Styne and Cahn contrived their share for such stars as Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh and Danny Kaye in The Kid from Brooklyn.
But movie music moved into different forms, and Cahn, ever the professional, adapted. In the 1950s he teamed with Nicholas Brodszky to write several forgettable songs from movies such as The Toast of New Orleans and Love Me or Leave Me. But with "Three Coins in the Fountain," a major hit in 1953, Cahn's career was off again. The reason was a new partner, Jimmy Van Heusen, and the renewed career of hit-maker Frank Sinatra.
The late 1950s and the early 1960s were a "Golden Age" for Cahn and Van Heusen. Together with Sinatra they provided hit after hit in the face of a revolution in popular music—rock and roll. "All the Way" and "High Hopes" came to be Sinatra standards. Unfortunately the Sinatra rage ended with the coming of the Beatles. Yet Cahn and Van Heusen kept on with the formula music which had worked so well before, and provided the forgettable theme song from the gigantic bust Star! Musical idioms had changed and the contributions of Sammy Cahn would fade into the world of nostalgia.
Sammy Cahn, thus, stands as yet another example of the multitude of top professionals who labored to create the great Hollywood movies of the past. Though working in a niche of the business that is not often taken very seriously, Cahn does deserve a note as one of the film industry's (as well as the popular music industry's) great talents.
"Cahn, Sammy." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cahn-sammy
"Cahn, Sammy." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cahn-sammy
Sammy Cahn (kän), 1913–93, American lyricist, b. New York City as Samuel Cohen. With his first collaborator, Saul Chaplin, he wrote material for vaudeville, and scored his first success (1935) with
"Rhythm Is Our Business."
He was even more successful with a 1938 version of the Yiddish
"Bei Mir Bist du Shoen,"
which became a number-one hit for the Andrews Sisters. Cahn soon moved to Hollywood, where he collaborated with composer Jule Styne (1942–51) to write songs for 19 movies. He also wrote lyrics for several Broadway musicals, beginning with High Button Shoes (1947). Later collaborating with Jimmy Van Heusen, Cahn often worked with Frank Sinatra. The singer recorded 89 Cahn songs, including
"Three Coins in the Fountain"
"All the Way"
"Call Me Irresponsible"
(1963), each of which won Cahn an Academy Award. Toward the end of his active career (1974) he starred in a one-man Broadway show featuring his songs.
See his autobiography, I Should Care (1974).
"Cahn, Sammy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cahn-sammy
"Cahn, Sammy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cahn-sammy