Cahn, Sammy (Samuel Cohen)
Cahn, Sammy (Samuel Cohen)
Cahn, Sammy (Samuel Cohen), romantic American lyricist; b. N.Y., June 18, 1913; d. Los Angeles, Jan. 15, 1993. Remarkably prolific, in a career lasting more than 50 years—from the 1930s to the 1980s—Cahn wrote lyrics for songs used in at least 137 motion pictures. He maintained long-running collaborations with composers Saul Chaplin, Jule Styne, and James Van Heusen, but also worked with many others. He earned 26 Academy Award nominations for Best Song, far more than any other songwriter, and he won four Oscars, for “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way,” “High Hopes,” and “Call Me Irresponsible.” Among his other major hits were “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” He enjoyed a special relationship with Frank Sinatra, who recorded many more of his songs than those of any other lyricist. Though Cahn prided himself on being a professional able to turn out lyrics on demand, he was also a craftsman noted for intricate internal rhymes, and an unabashed romantic whose songs were mostly devoted to hopeful declarations of love.
Cahn was the son of Polish immigrants Abraham and Elka Riss Cohen; his father ran a restaurant. Cahn took violin lessons as a child, and as a teenager he joined the group Frankie Miggs and His Pals of Harmony. He wrote both music and lyrics to his first published song, “Shake Your Head from Side to Side,” but soon entered into a songwriting partnership with the group’s pianist, Saul Kaplan, whom he persuaded to change his name to Chaplin. (Cahn changed his own name from Cohen to Kahn to avoid confusion with a comedian named Sammy Cohen, then altered the spelling to Cahn to avoid confusion with lyricist Gus Kahn.)
Cahn and Chaplin began writing special material—comic dialogue, song parodies, etc.—for vaudeville performers. (Cahn continued to write special material for performers throughout his career, usually without credit or payment.) Their first song success came with “Rhythm Is Our Business,” written for and recorded by Jimmie Lunceford and His Orch., which became a best-seller in August 1935. (In return for his sponsorship, Lunceford was “cut in” on the writing of the song, which was credited as music by Lunceford, lyrics by Cahn and Chaplin.) The two wrote a follow-up, “(If I Had) Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes” (music credited to Lunceford and Chaplin, lyrics to Cahn and Don Raye), which was recorded by Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven and spent five weeks in the hit parade starting in January 1936. They returned to the hit parade in August with their revision of the 1931 song “Till the Real Thing Comes Along” (music and lyrics by L. E. Freeman and Mann Holiner); as “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” it was recorded by Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy and spent 11 weeks in the chart. “If It’s the Last Thing I Do” (music and lyrics by Cahn and Chaplin) was recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orch. and spent seven weeks in the hit parade starting in November.
Cahn and Chaplin first topped the hit parade in January 1938 with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schôn,” recorded by the Andrews Sisters with a competing version by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. The songwriters were credited with writing the English lyrics for the song, which had music by Sholom Secunda and had been featured in the 1933 Yiddish musical I Would If I Could, with Yiddish lyrics by Jacob Jacobs. Meanwhile, Cahn and Chaplin were working for the Vitagraph studios in Brooklyn, writing songs for film shorts. One of these, “Please Be Kind,” was recorded by Red Norvo and His Orch. with Mildred Bailey on vocals and topped the hit parade in May. The following April, Larry Clinton and His Orch. spent a week in the chart with Cahn and Chaplin’s “I Want My Share of Love.”
Warner Bros., Vitagraph’s parent company, closed the studio, and Cahn and Chaplin were sent to Holly-wood. There they made their first notable contributions to feature films with two songs in the September 1940 release Ladies Must Live, one of which was “I Could Make You Care,” recorded for a minor hit by Tommy Dorsey with Sinatra on vocals. But the songwriters stayed at Warner Bros, only briefly before moving to the low-budget Republic studios and then the slightly more prestigious Columbia Pictures. They wrote songs for half a dozen films released during 1941 and another couple released in the first several months of 1942 without scoring any hits. This led them to decide to split up.
In 1942, Cahn accepted an offer to collaborate with Jule Styne on songs for the film Youth on Parade at Republic. Released at the end of the year, the film featured “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” which was recorded by Harry James and His Orch., resulting in a chart-topping million-seller that was the biggest hit of 1943. The song was Cahn’s first to be nominated for an Academy Award. He and Styne formed a songwriting partnership. Their next hit was the war-themed song “Vict’ry Polka,” recorded by Crosby and the Andrews Sisters; it made the Top Ten in January 1944. Also reflecting on the war was “I’ll Walk Alone,” sung by Dinah Shore in the all-star April 1944 film Follow the Boys and recorded by her for a #1 hit, which brought the team its second Academy Award nomination. Signing to Columbia Pictures, they wrote the songs for the Kay Kyser vehicle Carolina Blues which was released in Dec. and featured “There Goes That Song Again,” taken into the Top Ten by Russ Morgan and His Orch. Also included in the score, though not written for the film, was “Poor Little Rhode Island,” which became a hit for Guy Lombardo and was adopted as R.I.’s state song.
Cahn and Chaplin attempted to mount a Broadway musical, Glad to See You, in the fall of 1944. It closed out of town on New Year’s Eve after tryouts in Philadelphia and Boston, but Jimmy Dorsey and His Orch. recorded “Can’t You Read Between the Lines?” for a Top Ten hit, and the score also featured “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” which went on to become a standard.
Sinatra took Cahn and Styne’s “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” into the Top Ten in March 1945. The same month saw the release of the film Tonight and Every Night, which featured “Anywhere,” their third Academy Award nominee. May saw the release of Thrill of a Romance, for which Cahn, Axel Stordahl, and Paul Weston wrote “I Should Care”; Sinatra recorded it for a Top Ten hit. In July, Sinatra starred in the movie musical Anchors Aweigh one of the most successful films of the year, with a Cahn-Styne score that included “What Makes the Sunset?” which he recorded for a minor hit, and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” another Academy Award nominee. On Sept. 5, Cahn married actress Gloria Delson, with whom he had two children. They divorced on April 13, 1964. He and Styne ended 1945 with a song for the G.I.s returning after the war, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” Recordings by Crosby with Les Paul and His Trio and by Harry James each topped the charts in November and Dec.
Cahn wrote the lyrics for songs used in four movie musicals released during 1946, but all his hits for the year came from independent songs. The seasonal “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (music by Styne), recorded by Vaughn Monroe and released in Dec. 1945, went to #1 in January, and Sinatra took “Day by Day” (music and lyrics by Cahn, Stordahl, and Weston) into the Top Ten in March, “Five Minutes More” (music by Styne) to #1 in September, and “The Things We Did Last Summer” (music by Styne) into the Top Ten in Dec. Sinatra starred in It Happened in Brooklyn, released in March 1947, and recorded two of the songs from the Cahn-Styne score on a single: “I Believe” hit the Top Ten, and “Time after Time,” also a chart entry, went on to become a much-revived standard. Cahn and Styne were successful in their second attempt at a Broadway show in the fall, as High Button Shoes ran 727 performances, making it the biggest musical hit of the 1947-48 season.
Cahn and Styne returned to Hollywood and signed to Warner Bros., where they wrote the songs for Romance on the High Seas, released in June 1948. The film featured “It’s Magic,” sung by Doris Day, who became a movie star as a result of her performance. Her recording reached the Top Ten, and the song was Cahn’s fifth to be nominated for an Academy Award. “Put ’Em in a Box, Tie ’Em with a Ribbon (And Throw ’Em in the Deep Blue Sea),” also heard in the film, was recorded for a chart entry by Eddy Howard. Cahn and Styne’s score for Two Guys from Texas, released in August, included “Ev’ryday I Love You (Just a Little Bit More),” which provided a chart entry for Vaughn Monroe. It’s a Great Feeling, released in August 1949, marked the formal end of Cahn and Styne’s partnership, as Styne moved to N.Y. and worked in the theater, while Cahn remained in Hollywood. But the break was amicable, and the two worked together occasionally thereafter. The title song from It’s a Great Feeling brought them another Academy Award nomination.
Always Leave Them Laughing, a vehicle for comedian Milton Berle released in November 1949, featured songs with lyrics by Cahn and music by Cahn, Berle, or Heindorf; it marked the beginning of a six-year period during which Cahn had no permanent writing partner. His next hit was the novelty song “Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep” (music by Fred Spielman), which peaked in the Top Ten for Mary Martin and Arthur Godfrey in April 1950. The nearest Cahn had to a regular collaborator during the early 1950s was composer Nicholas Brodszky, with whom he teamed up to write the songs for the September 1950 release The Toast of New Orleans, a vehicle for opera singer Mario Lanza. Lanza’s recording of “Be My Love” from the score became a chart-topping million-seller, and the song brought Cahn his seventh Oscar nomination. He earned his eighth, again with Brodszky, for “Wonder Why,” featured in the July 1951 release Rich, Young and Pretty. Vic Damone, who appeared in the film, recorded the song for a chart entry, and the soundtrack album was a Top Ten hit.
Cahn enjoyed two song revivals in 1952. Jane Fro-man sang “I’ll Walk Alone” on the soundtrack of her film biography, With a Song in My Heart, a box office hit released in April. Her recording of the song made the charts, but it was outdistanced by a Top Ten rendition by Don Cornell. And in October, Ralph Flanagan and His Orch. peaked in the Top Ten with their recording of “I Should Care.” Cahn’s most successful new song for the year was the title tune of the Lanza vehicle Because You’re Mine, written with Brodszky and released in September. Lanza’s recording of the song reached the Top Ten, and his Because You’re Mine album went to #1; the song also earned an Oscar nomination.
Hollywood grew less interested in original movie musicals in the early 1950s and more interested in title songs for nonmusical movies. Cahn, with his ability to write quickly and to order, responded well to this trend. He again teamed up with Styne to write “Three Coins in the Fountain,” the title song for a film romance. Released in May 1954 with Sinatra singing the song during the credits, the picture became a box office hit; the song was taken into the Top Ten by Sinatra, but to #1 and to million-seller status by the Four Aces; with it, Cahn finally won the Academy Award for Best Song on his tenth nomination. He also enjoyed more hits during the year: Nat “King” Cole recorded “Make Her Mine” (music by Chester Conn) for a chart entry in July; the Four Aces made the charts with “It’s a Woman’s World” (music by Cyril J. Mockridge), the theme from the September film release Woman’s World and the DeCastro Sisters peaked in the Top Ten with “Teach Me Tonight” (music by Gene de Paul) in December.
In 1955, the year he finally found a new regular writing partner, Cahn collaborated with six different composers on songs for six films and a television musical, as well as a seventh composer for an independent hit. With Brodszky he wrote “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” for the Ruth Etting film biography Love Me or Leave Me, starring Day and released in May. Day’s recording of the song made the charts, and the song-writers earned another Academy Award nomination. In July, Cahn had songs in Ain’t Misbehavin’, written with Johnnie Scott, and How to Be Very, Very Popular with Styne. In August came the box office hit Pete Kelly’s Blues, starring Jack Webb, Peggy Lee, and Ella Fitzgerald. Cahn collaborated with Heindorf on the title song, which became an instrumental chart record for Ray Anthony, and the film generated three Top Ten albums: one on Columbia Records featuring Heindorf’s score, one on Decca sung by Lee and Fitzgerald, and one on RCA with Webb’s narration. Also in August, the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy You’re Never Too Young was released with songs by Cahn and Arthur Schwartz.
But it was Cahn’s sixth songwriting partner of 1955 who would prove the most significant. At the behest of Frank Sinatra, he began working with James Van Heusen, who had been freelancing with different lyricists since the demise of his partnership with Johnny Burke. Cahn and Van Heusen wrote songs for a musical version of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, broadcast on television in September and featuring Sinatra. From their score, “Love and Marriage” became a Top Ten hit for Sinatra, and the song won an Emmy Award for Best Musical Contribution. Also in September, Sinatra charted with “Same Old Saturday Night/’ which Cahn wrote with Frank Reardon. In November came the Sinatra film The Tender Trap, for which Cahn and Van Heusen wrote “(Love Is) The Tender Trap/7 Sinatra took the song into the Top Ten, and it earned Cahn his second Oscar nomination of the year.
The success of “Love and Marriage” and “(Love Is) The Tender Trap” led Cahn and Van Heusen to form a permanent partnership, but unlike Cahn’s previous teamings with Chaplin and Styne, this one was not exclusive, at least for Cahn. Throughout the 14 years he wrote with Van Heusen, Cahn continued to work with other composers as well. He contributed songs to nine films released in 1956, working with five different composers, and wrote an independent song with two other songwriters that was a hit during the year. Among the highlights: his title song for the February release Forever Darling (music by Bronislau Kaper) became a Top 40 hit for the Ames Brothers; from his score for the March release Meet Me in Las Vegas, on which he collaborated with Brodszky, the Four Aces scored chart entries with “If You Can Dream” and “The Gal with the Yaller Shoes”; the Lanza vehicle Serenade, released in March, with songs by Cahn and Brodszky, resulted in a Top Ten Lanza LP of the songs; the title song to The Man with the Golden Arm (music by Van Heusen), not actually heard in the motion picture itself, was recorded as an instrumental theme by several artists, including Richard Maltby, while Dick Jacobs and His Orch. had the most successful vocal version, a Top 40 single in April; Perry Como scored a Top 40 hit with the title song of the July release Somebody Up There Likes Me (music by Kaper); Tony Martin reached the charts with “It’s Better in the Dark” (music by Van Heusen) in September; Frank Sinatra hit the Top Ten in December with “Hey! Jealous Lover” (music and lyrics by Cahn, Kay Twomey, and Bee Walker); and Written on the Wind, which opened at the end of the year, featured a title song (music by Victor Young) that was nominated for an Academy Award and became a Top 40 hit for the Four Aces.
Cahn was equally busy in 1957, working with eight collaborators on seven motion pictures as well as writing an original children’s musical for records, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (music by Mary Rodgers), recorded by Crosby and released on Golden Masterpiece Records in October. His greatest success for the year came with Van Heusen on “All the Way,” a song written for the Sinatra film The Joker Is Wild, which opened in September. Sinatra recorded the song for a Top Ten hit, and it won Cahn his second Academy Award.
Cahn contributed music to eight films in 1958 and wrote songs for records, nightclub acts, and television. He used Van Heusen more frequently, notably on the title songs for two Sinatra albums, “Come Fly with Me” and “Only the Lonely” (both albums topped the charts, and the latter went gold), and on “To Love and Be Loved,” the Oscar-nominated theme from the Sinatra film Some Came Running. But he also worked with five other composers, most successfully with Alex North on the title song from the film The Long Hot Summer, which was recorded for a chart entry by Jimmie Rodgers. In 1959, Cahn collaborated with Van Heusen on seven of the nine films he worked on, and his only notable song during the year not by Van Heusen was the title song from The Best of Everything (music by Alfred Newman), which was recorded for a chart entry by Johnny Mathis and nominated for an Academy Award. With Van Heusen, Cahn won the 1959 Academy Award for Best Song for “High Hopes” from the Sinatra film A Hole in the Head, a box office success. Sinatra enjoyed a Top 40 hit with the song, which also was nominated for a Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Cahn and Van Heusen again wrote title songs for two Sinatra albums during the year, Come Dance with Me and No One Cares; both hit the Top Ten, and the former went gold. Mean-while, Louis Prima and Keely Smith revived “Bei Mir Bist Du Schòn” and the McGuire Sisters rerecorded “Teach Me Tonight” in a cha-cha treatment for chart entries.
Cahn collaborated with Van Heusen on all seven of the 1960 films to which he contributed. Their major success of the year was “The Second Time Around,” from the Crosby vehicle High Time, which earned Academy and Grammy Award nominations for Best Song and became a chart record for Sinatra. They also enjoyed chart entries with Andy Williams’s recording of the title song from Wake Me When It’s Over, and with revivals of “The Last Dance” by the McGuire Sisters (earlier recorded by Sinatra) and “Time after Time,” by Frankie Ford.
Cahn’s songwriting opportunities for the movies began to diminish after 1960, though he worked regularly in Hollywood for the next four years. He contributed only title songs to three motion pictures released during 1961, among them “Pocketful of Miracles” (music by Van Heusen), which was nominated for an Academy Award and which Sinatra recorded for a Top 40 hit. Cahn and Van Heusen also wrote the title song for Sinatra’s Top Ten 1961 album Ring-a-Ding Ding! In 1962, Patti Page charted with the title song from the film Boys’ Night Out (music by Van Heusen); on the charts again were “Teach Me Tonight” (a Top 40 hit by George Maharis) and “It’s Magic” (by the Platters). Cahn and Van Heusen had songs in four films released in 1963, their greatest success for the year coming with “Call Me Irresponsible” from the Jackie Gleason-starring Papa’s Delicate Condition, which the two had actually written in the 1950s when Fred Astaire was attached to the project. The song won the Academy Award and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Jack Jones recorded it for a chart entry.
In 1964, Cahn and Van Heusen scored the Sinatra movie musical Robin and the 7 Hoods, which brought them an Oscar nomination for the song “My Kind of Town” and a charting soundtrack album that earned a Grammy nomination. They were also nominated for the Academy Award for their title song for the film Where Love Has Gone, which was recorded for a chart entry by Jones. And Gloria Lynne had a chart revival of “I Should Care.”
Cahn and Van Heusen wrote the title song for Frank Sinatra’s August 1965 album September of My Years. The LP reached the Top Ten and went gold, and the song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Song of the Year. With less work forthcoming from Hollywood, the songwriters accepted an offer to write a Broadway musical, resulting in Skyscraper, which ran 248 performances and produced a cast album that charted for two months. They followed it in November 1966 with another show, Walking Happy, which ran 161 performances. In Dec, Chris Montez reached the Top 40 with another revival of ’Time after Time.”
Returning to Hollywood, Cahn found occasional work in the movies. His and Van Heusen’s title song for the box office hit Thoroughly Modern Millie, which starred Julie Andrews, earned an Academy Award nomination in 1967, and the soundtrack album spent more than six months in the charts. Star!, which opened in October 1968, also starring Andrews, was an expensive flop, but the Cahn-Van Heusen title song earned another Oscar nomination. Cahn teamed up again with Styne for the Broadway musical Look to the Lilies in 1970, but it was unsuccessful. On Aug. 2, 1970, he married fashion consultant Virginia “Tita” Basile Curtis.
Cahn earned his 25th Academy Award nomination for “All That Love Went to Waste” (music by George Barrie), used in the 1973 film A Touch of Class. In November 1973, Sinatra reached the charts with “Let Me Try Again (Laisse Moi le Temps),” a French song composed by Michel Jourdan for which Cahn and Paul Anka had fashioned an English lyric about Sinatra’s return to performing after a brief retirement. In 1974, Cahn starred in an autobiographical revue, Words and Music, singing many of his best-known songs and telling stories about his career. The show ran on Broadway for 127 performances, after which he toured with it throughout the U.S. and in England. He earned his final Oscar nomination for “Now That We’re in Love” (music by George Barrie) from the 1975 film Whiffs. He continued to write songs during the 1980s, placing his last in a motion picture with “How Much I Care” (music by Clint Eastwood) in Heartbreak Ridge in 1987. He died in 1993 of congestive heart failure at 79.
(only works for which Cahn was a primary, credited lyricist are listed): films:Ladies Must Live (1940); Rookies on Parade (1941); Time Out for Rhythm (1941); Two Latins from Manhattan (1941); Go West, Young Lady (1941); Honolulu Lu (1941); Blondie Goes to College (1942); Youth on Parade (1942); Johnny Doughboy (1943); Lady of Burlesque (1943); Thumbs Up (1943); Pistol Packin Mama (1943); Step Lively (1944); Carolina Blues (1944); Tonight and Every Night (1945); Anchors Aweigh (1945); Tars and Spars (1946); Cinderella Jones (1946); The Kid from Brooklyn (1946); Earl Carroll Sketch Book (1946); Ladies’ Man (1947); It Happened in Brooklyn (1947); Romance on the High Seas (1948); Two Guys from Texas (1948); It’s a Great Feeling (1949); Always Leave Them Laughing (1949); The Toast of New Orleans (1950); West Point Story (1950); Rich, Young and Pretty (1951); Double Dynamite (1951); She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952); Because You’re Mine (1952); April in Paris (1952); Peter Pan (1953); Small Town Girl (1953); Three Sailors and a Girl (1953); You’re Never Too Young (1955); The Court Jester (1956); Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956); Serenade (1956); Pardners (1956); The Opposite Sex (1956); Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957); This Could Be the Night (1957); The Joker Is Wild (1957); Paris Holiday (1958); Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958); Say One for Me (1959); A Hole in the Head (1959); Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959); Ocean’s Eleven (1960); Let’s Make Love (1960); High Time (1960); Boys’ Night Out (1962); The Road to Hong Kong (1962); Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963); Come Blow Your Horn (1963); Honeymoon Hotel (1964); Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964); The Pleasure Seekers (1964); Thoroughly Modem Millie (1967); The Bobo (1967); The Great Bank Robbery (1969); Journey Back to Oz (1974); Whiffs (1975); The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976); The Stud (U.K., 1978; U.S., 1980); Heidi’s Song (1982). musicals/revues(dates refer to N.Y. openings): High Button Shoes (Oct. 9, 1947); Skyscraper (Nov. 13, 1965); Walking Happy (Nov. 26, 1966); Look to the Lilies (March 29, 1970); Words and Music (April 16, 1974). television:Our Town (Sept. 9, 1955); Jack and the Beanstalk (Feb. 26, 1967); The Night the Animals Talked (1971); Saturday Night (1977).
I Should Care: The S. C Story (N.Y., 1974); The Songwriter’s Rhyming Dictionary (N.Y., 1983); S. G Songbook (1986); The New S. C Songbook (1989); S. C’s Rhyming Dictionary (1995).