Dubin, Al(exander)

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Dubin, Al(exander)

Dubin, Al(exander), Swiss-born American lyricist; b. Zurich, June 10, 1891; d. N.Y., Feb. 11, 1945. He was the first lyricist to work for a major film studio. Though he found success in Tin Pan Alley and on Broadway before and after his sojourn in Hollywood, Dubin did his best and most popular work writing for a series of early movie musicals in collaboration with either Joseph A. Burke or Harry Warren. Among his biggest hits are ’Tip Toe through the Tulips with Me/’ “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me/7 “I’ll String Along with You, r/ “Lullaby of Broadway/7 “I Only Have Eyes for You/7 and “September in the Rain.”

Dubin’s parents were Russian emigres. His father, Simon, was a doctor; his mother, Minna, a chemist. The family immigrated to the U.S. in 1896, settling in Philadelphia. By his teens, Dubin was traveling to N.Y. to place his lyrics in Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville. “Prairie Rose77 (music by Morris Siltmitzer) and “Sunray77 (music by Charles P. Shisler) were his first songs to be published, in 1909. He attended Perkiomen Seminary from 1909 to 1911, after which he worked as a singing waiter in a restaurant in Philadelphia. But soon he moved to N.Y. and went to work in music publishing.

Dubin’s first song to be placed in a Broadway show was “7Twas Only an Irishman’s Dream77 (lyrics also by John O’Brien, music by Rennie Cormack), used in Broadway and Buttermilk (N.Y, Aug. 15,1916). He had his first major song hit with “All the World Will Be Jealous of Me77 (music by Ernest R. Ball), which enjoyed a popular recording by Charles Harrison in August 1917.

Dubin was drafted into the Army after the U.S. entry into World War I and saw action in France in 1918. He married vaudeville entertainer Helen McClay in 1919; they had a son, who died shortly after birth, and a daughter. “Crooning77 (music by William F. Caesar) became a hit in September 1921 for the Benson Orch. of Chicago, albeit in an instrumental rendition. Henry Burr had a popular record with “Just a Girl That Men Forget77

(lyrics also by Fred Rath, music by Joe Garren) in November 1923. “A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You77 (lyrics also by Billy Rose, music by Joseph Meyer) was interpolated into the British Chariot Revue of 1926(N.Y, Nov. 10, 1925), sung by Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan, who made a hit recording of it.

“The Lonesomest Girl in Town77 (music by Jimmy McHugh and, supposedly, Irving Mills) was a modest hit for Morton Downey in January 1926. Dubin wrote the songs for the musical White Lights (N.Y, Oct. 11, 1927) with composer J. Fred Coots, but the show lasted only 31 performances. “Memories of France77 (music byJ. Russel Robinson) was given a hit recording by Gene Austin in September 1928, and Lou Gold and His Orch. had a minor hit with “I Must Be Dreaming77 (lyrics and music by Dubin and Al Sherman) in October. (Dubin’s biographer claims he wrote the lyrics to “Among My Souvenirs77 [music by Lawrence Wright] and sold them to the credited lyricist, Edgar Leslie. The song became a best-seller for Paul Whiteman and His Orch. in March 1928 and was revived as a gold-selling Top Ten hit by Connie Francis in December 1959.)

Dubin earned his first screen credit as lyricist for Paramount’s The First Kiss in 1928; in 1929 he found himself under contract with Warner Bros, when the studio bought his music publisher. That year he moved to Hollywood and was the credited lyricist on two films while writing songs for at least another five. Gold Diggers of Broadway drew his most successful efforts, both with Burke: “Tip Toe through the Tulips with Me77 became the biggest record hit of 1929 for Nick Lucas, who appeared in the film. Lucas also had a hit with “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine.”

Dubin wrote the lyrics for four more films in 1930 and contributed to several others. His most successful film song of the year was “The Kiss Waltz77 (music by Burke) from Dancing Sweeties, a hit for George Olsen and His Orch. But his biggest hit of the year was a song cut from Dancing Sweeties, “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes/7 which became a best-seller for Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orch. in June.

Hollywood’s early enthusiasm for film musicals waned in 1931 after several of them flopped at the box office, and Dubin had only one major screen credit during the year, for Her Majesty Love, which he wrote with composer Walter Jurmann. But he and Burke had an independent hit in August with “Many Happy Returns of the Day/7 recorded by Bing Crosby. The drought continued into 1932, during which Dubin had no major screen credits, though “Too Many Tears/7

which he wrote with Warren, became a best- selling record for Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in March, and “Three’s a Crowd/7 also composed by Warren, was used in the film The Crooner and became a hit for Tom Gerun in September.

The dearth of film musicals ended for Dubin and for Hollywood in general with the release of 42nd Street in March 1933. The box office smash featured four DubinWarren hits: “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” was a best-seller for Crosby, backed by Lombardo; also a best-seller was “Forty-Second Street” in a recording by Don Bestor and His Orch.; Bestor and Hal Kemp and His Orch. had equally successful recordings of “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”; and Crosby and Lombardo’s recording of “Young and Healthy” was also popular. Within months, Dubin and Warren were back in theaters with Gold Diggers of 1933, which boasted the hits “Shadow Waltz,” a best-seller for Crosby, “We’re in the Money” (also known as “The Gold Diggers’ Song”), recorded most successfully by Ted Lewis and His Band, and “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song,” another hit for Crosby. By the end of the year they had also worked on Footlight Parade, featuring “Honeymoon Hotel,” a hit for Leo Reisman and His Orch. Dubin had been loaned to United Artists for the Eddie Cantor vehicle Roman Scandals, which contained “Keep Young and Beautiful,” a hit for Abe Lyman and His California Orch.

Dubin and Warren had four film musicals in release in 1934, each of which added to their catalog of song hits. Moulin Rouge (also for United Artists), released in February, included “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a hit for Jan Garber and His Orch.; “Coffee in the Morning (Kisses at Night),” recorded by the Boswell Sisters, who appeared in the film; and “Song of Surrender ” recorded by Wayne King and His Orch. Wonder Bar, the film adaptation of Al Jolson’s stage success, featured the interpolations “Why Do I Dream Those Dreams?” by Eddy Duchin and His Orch., and “Wonder Bar/7 recorded by Emil Coleman and His Palais Royal Orch. Twenty Million Frenchmen had Dubin and Warren’s biggest hit of the year, the best-seller “I’ll String Along with You,” recorded by Ted Fiorito and His Orch., as well as “Fair and Warmer” by the film’s star, Dick Powell. And Dames introduced one of the duo’s most frequently revived songs, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” initially a hit for Ben Selvin and His Orch.; the film’s title song was also a hit for Duchin.

Dubin was the credited lyricist on six Warner Bros, films released in 1935, and he contributed lyrics to several more, resulting in 15 song hits during the year. For Gold Diggers of 1935, he and Warren wrote “Lullaby of Broadway,” which topped the hit parade in a recording by the Dorsey Brothers Orch. in May and went on to win an Academy Award. Little Jack Little and His Orch. had a minor hit with “I’m Coin’ Shoppin’ with You,” also from the film. Dubin and Warren’s title song from the Rudy Vallee film Sweet Music became a hit for Victor Young and His Orch. Ozzie Nelson’s Orch. had the most successful recording of “About a Quarter to Nine,” from the Jolson-Ruby Keeler vehicle Go into Your Dance, which also featured “The Little Things You Used to Do” and the title song, both hits for Johnny Green and His Orch., and “She’s a Latin from Manhattan,” another hit for Young.

In the summer of 1935, Broadway Gondolier introduced “Lulu’s Back in Town,” with which Fats Waller scored a hit, and “The Rose in Her Hair,” a hit for Russ Morgan and His Orch. Kemp’s recording of Dubin and Warren’s title song for Page Miss Glory was in the hit parade in August. The team’s major films for the fall were Shipmates Forever and Stars over Broadway. The former included the hits “I’d Love to Take Orders from You” (for Phil Harris), “I’d Rather Listen to Your Eyes” (for Jacques Renard and His Orch.), and “Don’t Give Up the Ship” (for Tommy Dorsey and His Orch.), adopted as the official song of the Naval Academy. The latter featured the hits “Where Am I? (Am I in Heaven?)” (for Little) and “You Let Me Down” (for Teddy Wilson and His Orch., with vocal by Billie Holiday).

Dubin and Warren wrote the songs for three Warners musicals released in 1936 and contributed to other films, their most successful efforts being “I’ll Sing You a Thousand Love Songs” in Cain and Mabel (which topped the hit parade for Duchin in December), “My Kingdom for a Kiss” in Hearts Divided (recorded by Powell, the film’s star), and “With Plenty of Money and You” (another hit parade chart-topper for Henry Busse and His Orch. in February 1937). The team worked on another half-dozen films released in 1937, resulting in the hits “Summer Night” from Sing Me a Love Song (recorded by Enoch Light and His Light Brigade), “How Could You?” from San Quentin (recorded by Anson Weeks and His Orch.), “September in the Rain” from Melody for Two (which topped the hit parade in May and June for Lombardo), “Remember Me?” from Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (at the top of the hit parade in November for Crosby and an Academy Award nominee), and, from The Singing Marine, “I Know Now” (recorded by Lombardo) and “’Cause My Baby Says It’s So” (recorded by Kay Kyser and His Orch.).

Warner Bros, brought in Johnny Mercer to work on The Singing Marine after Dubin became undependable in the wake of an operation that led to an addiction to morphine. Mercer also contributed to the two films Dubin worked on in 1938, Gold Diggers in Paris and Garden of the Moon, the latter producing hits in the title song (for Red Norvo and His Orch.) and “The Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish” (for Lombardo). Dubin then obtained his release from Warner Bros, and moved back to N.Y. to work on Broadway.

Dubin wrote lyrics to McHugh’s music for The Streets of Paris (N.Y, June 19, 1939), which ran 274 performances and generated the hits “Rendezvous Time in Paree” (for Dorsey), “South American Way” (for Lombardo), and “Is It Possible?” (for Ray Noble and His Orch.). Dubin set lyrics to a 1919 piano piece by Victor Herbert to create “Indian Summer,” which Dorsey took to the top of the hit parade in February 1940. Dubin’s next musical, Keep Off the Grass (N.Y, May 23, 1940), lasted only 44 performances, but he was back in the hit parade in June with Charlie Barnet and His Orch.’s recording of “Where Was I?” (music by W. Franke Harling) from the film ’Til We Meet Again. “Along the Santa Fe Trail” (music by Will Grosz) was written for the December 1940 film Santa Fe Trail; though it was not used, it was published, and Crosby scored a chart hit with it in February 1941.

Dubin’s last major film credit came with the songs he and composer James V. Monaco wrote for the film Stage Door Canteen (1943), including the Oscar-nominated “We Mustn’t Say Goodbye.” In the last year of his life Dubin worked on the shows Laffing Room Only (N.Y, Dec. 23, 1944), apparently contributing only the title to the song “Feudin’ and Fightin’” (music by Burton Lane), the lyrics for which were written by Lane and/or Frank Loesser, and She Had to Say Yes with composer Sammy Fain, which closed out of town. Dubin died of barbiturate poisoning.

Dubin’s songs continued to become hits after his death. “Feudin’ and Fightin’” was held back from recording for years by a dispute between the Shubert Organization and ASCAP; Dorothy Shay scored a Top Ten hit with it in September 1947. “September in the Rain” enjoyed a chart revival in a recording by Sam Donohue and His Orch. in December 1948, followed by a Top 40 revival by Dinah Washington in November 1961. Dubin and Burke’s early 1930s composition “For You” belatedly made the hit parade for Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orch., also in December 1948, and the song was revived by Rick Nelson for a Top Ten hit in January 1964. An instrumental version of “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” by Mantovani and His Orch. was in the charts in April 1952. The Flamingos took “I Only Have Eyes for You” into the Top Ten in July 1959, followed by chart revivals in June 1966 (the Letter men) and May 1972 (Jerry Butler), and a Top 40 revival in September 1975 by Art Garfunkel that topped the charts in the U.K. in October.

Ukulele-strumming novelty performer Tiny Tim took ’Tip Toe Through the Tulips with Me” into the Top 40 in June 1968. The show 42nd Street opened on Broadway as a stage musical on Aug. 25, 1980, its film score augmented by songs from other Dubin-Warren movie musicals of the 1930s. The show ran 3,486 performances, one of the longest runs in Broadway history.


P. McGuire (his daughter), Lullaby of Broadway: Life and Times of A. D. (1983).

—William Ruhlmann

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