Fain, Sammy (originally, Samuel Feinberg)

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Fain, Sammy (originally, Samuel Feinberg)

Fain, Sammy (originally, Samuel Feinberg), durable American composer; b. N.Y., June 17, 1902; d. Los Angeles, Dec. 6, 1989. In a professional career lasting more than 50 years, Fain was rivaled only by Harry Warren as the most productive songwriter in Hollywood; his songs were used in more than a hundred features between the dawn of the sound era and the mid- 1970s. These efforts brought him 10 Academy Award nominations and two Oscars, for “Secret Love”and “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.” Though he had less success on Broadway, he wrote the songs for the longest- running show up to its time, Hellzapoppin, and unlike many of his peers he did not abandon the theater for film. Many of his songs became record hits, and five sold over a million copies, including his two Oscar winners, “I Can Dream, Can’t I?,” “Dear Hearts and Gentle People,” and “April Love.” In addition, his “I’ll Be Seeing You” was one of the most popular songs of the World War II era. His primary lyric collaborators were Irving Kahal and Paul Francis Webster, but he also worked with many of the major lyricists of his time, including Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Sammy Cahn, Howard Dietz, Al Dubin, Mack Gordon, E. Y. Harburg, and Ted Koehler.

The son of a cantor, Fain was a self-taught musician. After graduating from high school he found a job as a song plugger for a music publishing company, then launched a vaudeville and radio performing duo with Artie Dunn while trying to establish himself as a songwriter. “Hay-Long” (lyrics by comedians Eugene and Willie Howard) may have given him his first placement in a Broadway revue, The Passing Show of 1921 (N.Y., Dec. 29, 1920), though it’s not certain the song was performed onstage. The first definite interpolation Fain achieved was “In a Little French Cafe” (lyrics by Mitchell Parish), used in the revue Chauve Souris (N.Y., Feb. 1, 1922). His first published song came in 1924 with “Nobody Knows What a Red Headed Mama Can Do” (lyrics by Irving Mills and Al Dubin).

Fain met Kahal, a fellow vaudevillian, in 1927 and they formed a regular though not exclusive songwriting partnership. Their first successful collaboration was “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” (lyrics also by Francis Wheeler), which the still-active team of Fain and Dunn introduced in vaudeville and which was recorded for a hit in April 1928 by Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orch. They broke into the movies with “Judy” (music and lyrics by Fain, Kahal, and Pierre Norman Connor), which was used in the film Romance of the Underworld, released at the end of 1928. In May, Gene Austin scored a hit with Fain and Kahal’s “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine” (lyrics also by Willie Raskin). Fain, meanwhile, had not yet given up the idea of a performing career, and in November he scored a minor hit with his recording of Joe Burke and Al Dubin’s “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine.”

Fain and Kahal signed to the Paramount film studio and contributed music to six movies released in 1930. Their most substantial work was for Young Man of Manhattan, released in April and starring Ginger Rogers; they wrote four of the songs (all cocomposed by Pierre Norman Connor). Their most successful effort for the year was “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me” (music also by Connor), which Maurice Chevalier sang in The Big Pond, released in May. Chevalier also scored a hit recording of the song, although the most popular version was by Paul Whiteman and His Orch. with vocals by Bing Crosby.

Hollywood temporarily lost interest in movie musicals after 1930, and Fain and Kahal returned to Tin Pan Alley and Broadway in 1931. “When I Take My Sugar to Tea” (music and lyrics by Fain, Kahal, and Connor) became the Boswell Sisters’ first hit in April, and Fain and Kahal wrote their first Broadway musical with Even/body’s Welcome in the fall. Though no hits emerged from the show, it ran 139 performances.

Working apart from Kahal, Fain had two hits in the first half of 1932, “Was That the Human Thing to Do?” (lyrics by Joe Young), recorded most successfully by Bert Lown and His Orch., in February, and “Hummin’ to Myself” (lyrics by Herb Magidson and Monty Siegel), the most popular version of which was by Johnny Hamp and His Orch., in May. He then signed a film contract with Warner Bros., and he and Young contributed two songs to Crooner, both of which became hits prior to the movie’s release in August: “Now You’ve Got Me Worryin’ for You,” for Eddy Duchin and His Orch., and “Banking on the Weather,” for Ted Black and His Orch.

The reestablished team of Fain and Kahal provided the songs for two Warner Bros, movie musicals in the fall of 1933, Footlight Parade and College Coach, and the former brought them a hit with “By a Waterfall,” recorded with equal success by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians and Leo Reisman and His Orch.

Hollywood’s renewed enthusiasm for musicals was reflected in Fain and Kahal’s busy schedule in 1934. They contributed to at least ten movies released during the year, Fain being the primary composer for four. Mandalay, released in February, contained “When Tomorrow Comes,” recorded for a hit by Freddy Martin and His Orch. Among the five songs the team contributed to Harold Teen was a hit for Guy Lombardo in May, “How Do I Know It’s Sunday?” The Mills Brothers had a hit with “Money in My Pockets” in June, though when they sang it in RKO’s Strictly Dynamite the following month, it was called “Money in My Clothes.” Fain added acting to his credits in August when he turned up in Dames playing a songwriter.

Fain and Kahal’s last major screen effort for Warner Bros, was Sweet Music starring Rudy Vallee, released in February 1935, from which Victor Young and His Orch.

found a hit with “Ev’ry Day/7 They then moved to Paramount for the troubled production of Mae West’s Coin’ to Town, released in May

After a relatively inactive 1936, Fain signed to RKO in 1937 and, with Lew Brown, wrote songs for New Faces 0/1937, released in July But his greatest success for the year was ’That Old Feeling” (lyrics by Brown), featured in United Artists’ Vogues of 1938, which despite its title was released in August 1937. Shep Fields and His Orch. took the song to the top of the hit parade in October, and it earned Fain his first Academy Award nomination.

Fain and Kahal reunited and returned to Broadway at the start of 1938 for the musical Right This Way. It ran only 15 performances, but two of its songs would be among Pain’s most successful. “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” was taken into the hit parade by Tommy Dorsey and His Orch. in February, after the show had closed, while “I’ll Be Seeing You” would wait years for recognition.

The 1,404-performance run of the revue Hellzapoppin, which opened in the fall of 1938, generally is ascribed not to Fain and lyricist Charles Tobias’s songs, but to the antics of the comedy team of (Ole) Olsen and (Chic) Johnson; in any case, it was the most successful Broadway musical in history until Oklahoma! came along.

Fain stayed in N.Y. to appear in the brief run of Blackbirds of 1939 (N.Y, Feb. 11, 1939), to which he contributed a few songs with lyrics by Mitchell Parish. Parish was also the lyricist for “The Moon Is a Silver Dollar,” which reached the hit parade in a recording by the Lawrence Welk orchestra in April. Fain was then hired to contribute the songs for what turned out to be the final edition of George White’s Scandals, among them “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?” (lyrics by Jack Yellen), actually used earlier in the second edition of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and taken into the hit parade in October by Tommy Dorsey. The show ran 120 performances.

Fain worked on two stage shows for the fall of 1940: the revue Boys and Girls Together starring comedian Ed Wynn, who was responsible for its run of 191 performances, and She Had to Say Yes, a musical on which Fain collaborated with Al Dubin that closed during previews in Philadelphia.

Fain married Sally Fox on June 18, 1941. They had one son and divorced in 1954. In the fall Fain collaborated with Jack Yellen on Sons o’ Fun, a sequel to Hellzapoppin starring Olsen and Johnson; it ran 742 performances and featured some of the last lyrics written by Irving Kahal, who died Feb. 7, 1942.

Fain returned to Hollywood in 1943 and signed to MGM, getting his first credit for the Red Skelton film I Dood It, released in November, even though most of his songs were cut. Working with lyricist Ralph Freed, he had songs in five MGM features released in 1944, although the scores contained many interpolations. His big hit of the year was a surprise: spurred by the poignant separations necessitated by the war, “I’ll Be Seeing You” enjoyed a massive revival, with Bing Crosby’s recording hitting the top of the charts in July, beating out the reissue of an earlier recording by Tommy Dorsey featuring Frank Sinatra.

In 1945, Fain contributed to another three MGM features and to a film version of George White’s Scandals at RKO. He had songs in four MGM films in 1946, after which he briefly returned to Broadway for the 60-performance flop Toplitzky of Notre Dame. As a result he was less active on the MGM lot, contributing to only one 1947 feature, This Time for Keeps, released in December. He concluded his MGM contract by contributing “The Dickey-Bird Song” (lyrics by Howard Dietz) to the February 1948 release Three Daring Daughters; in May it became a Top Ten hit for Freddy Martin.

At the end of 1949, Fain enjoyed two major hits simultaneously. The Andrews Sisters revived “I Can Dream, Can’t I?”; their recording topped the charts in January 1950, selling a million copies. Meanwhile, the newly written “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” (lyrics by Bob Hilliard, based on a note found in Stephen Foster’s pocket at the time of his death) drew numerous recordings, the most popular of which were those by Bing Crosby (another million-seller) and Dinah Shore.

Fain wrote songs in 1950 for a couple of Broadway revues, notably Alive and Kicking (N.Y, Jan. 17, 1950), which represented his first work with Paul Francis Webster, who would become his lyric partner for much of the rest of his career. He also wrote songs for the Jimmy Durante feature The Milkman at Universal. In 1951 he had three very different works in release with three different lyricists. Call Me Mister, to which he contributed three songs with lyrics by Mack Gordon, opened in January, a typical service comedy starring Betty Grable. The politically oriented stage musical Flahooley, with lyrics by E. Y Harburg, was a satire on the toy industry; it ran only 40 performances. Next, Fain teamed with Hilliard for the Walt Disney animated film Alice in Wonderland, which opened in July.

The long production periods required for animated films meant that Pain’s next Disney project, Peter Pan, on which he collaborated with Sammy Cahn, was not released until February 1953. In the meantime he signed to Warner Bros, and wrote songs for a remake of The Jazz Singer with Jerry Seelen; it was released in January 1953. He had two Warner Bros, musicals for the fall: Three Sailors and a Girl, another collaboration with Cahn, in November; and, released two weeks earlier, Calamity Jane, starring Doris Day, his first major collaboration with Paul Francis Webster. “Secret Love,” recorded by Day, became a #1 hit in February 1954, sold a million copies, and won the Academy Award for Best Song. (It also became a Top Ten country hit for Slim Whitman.)

Not surprisingly, Fain and Webster were assigned to the next Doris Day film for Warner Bros., Lucky Me, released in April 1954. They responded with a score that included “I Speak to the Stars,” which Day recorded for a hit. In May the Four Aces revived “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine” for a chart entry. The newly divorced Fain married Jane Fischer on Sept. 11, 1954; they divorced on May 22, 1957.

Fain completed his Warner Bros, contract with another Doris Day film, Young at Heart, released in January 1955, after which he worked for the studios on a freelance basis. Returning to Broadway, he collaborated with Dan Shapiro on the musical Ankles Aweigh, which failed to turn a profit despite a run of 176 performances. He and Webster wrote the title song for the film Love Isa Many-Splendored Thing, released in August; the Four Aces’ recording topped the charts in October, selling a million copies, and the song won Fain his second Academy Award.

Fain and Webster contributed “If You Wanna See Mamie Tonight” to the May 1956 release The Revolt of Mamie Stover, resulting in a chart record for the Ames Brothers, and wrote the songs for the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy Hollywood or Bust, released in December. Their major assignment for 1957 was to write the songs for the Pat Boone movie April Love, released in November. Boone’s recording of the title song went to #1 in December and sold a million copies; the soundtrack album spent three months in the charts; and “April Love” brought Fain his fourth Oscar nomination.

Fain and Webster wrote the songs for Boone’s next film, Mardi Gras, released in November 1958, and Boone made a Top 40 hit out of “I’ll Remember Tonight.” Their other assignments for the year were for single songs for nonmusical films, rather than full scores. For Marjorie Morningstar they wrote “A Very Precious Love,” taken into the Top 40 by the Ames Brothers, and the title song “A Certain Smile” became a Top 40 hit for Johnny Mathis; both songs were nominated for the 1958 Academy Award.

Fain did extensive work on the Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty, but most of it was cut from the final film, released in February 1959. Though opportunities for movie songwriting had become more sporadic by the end of the 1950s, Fain and Webster wrote songs for Big Circus, released in July, and for a television musical, A Diamond for Carla. In 1960 they returned to Broadway for the musical Christine, but it ran only 12 performances. A stage adaptation of Calamity Jane (St. Louis, June 5, 1961) was given a tryout by the St. Louis Municipal Opera but did not move to N.Y. The following year the St. Louis Municipal Opera staged Fain and lyricist Harold Adamson’s version of Around the World in Eighty Days (St. Louis, June 11, 1962), which retained much of the Victor Young score from the 1956 film version. The show was mounted by Guy Lombardo at the Jones Beach Marine Theatre on Long Island during the summer of 1963, but it never ran on Broadway.

Pain’s final theatrical work, directed by Jule Styne, was Something Morel with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It reached Broadway in 1964 but ran for only 15 performances.

Meanwhile, Fain continued to place songs in films occasionally. His title song for Tender Is the Night (1962) with lyrics by Webster earned his seventh Oscar nomination. He wrote songs for two Warner Bros, films with Adamson: Island of Love, released in June 1963, and The Incredible Mr. Limpet, released in March 1964, after which he worked less frequently. But he earned an eighth Oscar nomination for “Strange Are the Ways of Love” (lyrics by Webster) from the 1972 film The Stepmother, a ninth for “A World That Never Was” (lyrics by Webster) from the 1976 film Half a House, and, at the age of 75, a tenth for “Someone’s Waiting for You“(lyrics by Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins) from the animated Disney film The Rescuers (1977). Meanwhile, in 1975, Freddie Fender revived “Secret Love“for a #1 country and Top 40 pop hit. Fain died of a heart attack at the age of 87.


(only works for which Fain was a primary, credited composer are listed): MUSICALS/REVUE S (all dates refer to N.Y. openings): Everybody’s Welcome (Oct. 13, 1931); Right This Way (Jan. 4, 1938); Hellzapoppin (Sept. 22, 1938); George White’s Scandals (Aug. 28, 1939); Boys and Girls Together (Oct. 1, 1940); Sons o Fun (Dec. 1, 1941); Toplitzky of Notre Dame (Dec. 26, 1946); Flahooley (May 14, 1951); Ankles Aweigh (April 18, 1955); Christine (April 28, 1960); Something More! (Nov. 10, 1964). FILMS: Young Man of Manhattan (1930); Footlight Parade (1933); College Coach (1933); Fashions of 1934 (1934); Harold Teen (1934); Gentlemen Are Born (1934); Sweet Music (1935); Coin’ to Town (1935); New Faces of 1937 (1937); I Dood It (1943); Swing Fever (1944); Meet the People (1944); Maisie Goes to Reno (1944); George White’s Scandals (1945); Two Sisters from Boston (1946); No Leave, No Love (1946); The Milkman (1950); Alice in Wonderland (1951); The Jazz Singer (1953); Peter Pan (1953); Calamity Jane (1953); Three Sailors and a Girl (1953); Lucky Me (1954); Hollywood or Bust (1956); April Love (1957); Mardi Gras (1958); The Big Circus (1959); Island of Love (1963); The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). TELEVISION: A Diamond for Carla (1959).

—William Ruhlmann