Fields, Dorothy

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Fields, Dorothy

Fields, Dorothy, affectionate American lyricist and librettist; b. Allenhurst, N.J., July 15, 1904; d. N.Y., March 28, 1974. Fields was the most successful female theater lyricist of the 20th century. With her primary collaborators, Jimmy McHugh, Jerome Kern, and Cy Coleman, she contributed extensively to Broadway shows and Hollywood films over a period of nearly 50 years, including the musical Sweet Charity and the film Swing Time. Her most popular songs were some of her earliest, notably “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and “I’m in the Mood for Love.” In addition to her main partners, she also worked on at least one project each with Arthur Schwartz, Sigmund Romberg, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, and Burton Lane, among others, bringing a distinctively female perspective to lyrics that were warm, humorous, and sophisticated, their frequent earthiness tempered by an insouciant tone. She was also an accomplished librettist and screenwriter.

Fields was the daughter of Rose Harris and Lew M. Fields (real name, Moses Schoenfeld). Her father was a vaudeville comedian whose successful partnership with Joe Weber broke shortly before her birth; he then continued alone and became a theatrical producer. Fields’s two older brothers, Herbert and Joseph, became playwrights and librettists, and she worked with each of them. In fact, her earliest connection with the theater came with a series of amateur shows written by her brother Herbert with aspiring songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in which she appeared in the early 1920s, two of them at the Benjamin School for Girls, which she attended. After graduating she became the school’s drama teacher. In 1925 she married Dr. JackJ. Weiner, a surgeon, but despite remaining married for a decade, the couple separated shortly after their marriage.

After publishing light verse in magazines, Fields came to the attention of composer J. Fred Coots, with whom she wrote song lyrics. Coots introduced her to Jimmy McHugh, who was writing music for revues at the Cotton Club. Together they wrote the songs for the llth edition of the Cotton Club Revue, which opened Dec. 4, 1927, starring Duke Ellington and His Orch. This led to their being hired by producer Lew Leslie for the all-black Broadway revue Blackbirds of 1928. The show was an enormous success, running 519 performances. The biggest hit to emerge from it was “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” which earned many recordings, the most popular of them a best-seller for Cliff Edwards in October 1928. (It has long been speculated that the song was actually written by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf and purchased by McHugh.) Three other songs from the show also became hits: “I Must Have That Man” for Ben Selvin and His Orch., and “Diga Diga Doo” and “Doin’ the New Low-Down” for Duke Ellington.

Lew Fields hired his daughter and McHugh to write songs for his next musical, Hello, Daddy!, for which he served as producer and star, with book by Herbert Fields. The family show ran 197 performances and produced a hit for Annette Hanshaw with “In a Great Big Way.”

Fields and McHugh continued to write for various nightclub revues and in 1929 placed their first song in a motion picture with “Collegiana,” used in The Time, the Place, and the Girl, which opened in July. They returned to Broadway in February 1930 with Lew Leslie’s The International Revue, which ran only 95 performances but contained two hits: “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” recorded by Ted Lewis and His Band, and “Exactly Like You,” recorded by Ruth Etting, among others.

Fields and McHugh signed to MGM and went to Hollywood in 1930. They wrote songs for one film, Love in the Rough, released in September, and one of them, “Go Home and Tell Your Mother,” became a hit for Gus Arnheim and His Orch. But as the movie studios temporarily lost interest in musicals, the team shuttled back to N.Y. where they wrote songs for The Vanderbilt Revue, codirected and coproduced by Fields’s father. The score included “Blue Again,” a hit for Red Nichols and His Five Pennies in February 1931; but the success came too late for the show, which ran a mere 13 performances in November 1930.

Fields and McHugh provided song interpolations for several shows in the first half of 1931, then wrote songs for two films released at the end of the year: a movie version of the De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson musical Flying High, and a vehicle for opera singer Lawrence Tibbett, The Cuban Love Song. Jacques Renard and His Orch. scored a hit with their recording of the latter’s title song, which was cocomposed by Herbert Stothart.

The year 1932 was less active for the team, although they scored a rare independent hit in April with “Goodbye Blues” (music and lyrics by McHugh, Fields, and Arnold Johnson), recorded by the Mills Brothers and adopted as their theme song. In 1933 they were involved in a Lew Leslie revue, Clowns in Clover, that never made it to Broadway, although their song “Don’t Blame Me” became a hit for Ethel Waters in August. Back at MGM, the pair wrote a promotional title song for the nonmusical film Dinner at Eight, which opened in August, and Ben Selvin recorded it for a hit in October.

Fields and McHugh continued to score stray hits in 1934. “Thank You for a Lovely Evening,” written for Phil Harris to perform at the Palais Royale nightclub, became a hit for Don Bestor and His Orch. in July; “Lost in a Fog,” written for the Dorsey Brothers Orch., became an even bigger hit for Rudy Vallee and His Connecticut Yankees in September; and the team provided lyrics to Reginald Forsythe and His Orch’s November instrumental hit, “Serenade for a Wealthy Widow.”

Fields and McHugh went to RKO, where Fields was asked to revise and add lyrics for songs to the studio’s adaptation of Jerome Kern’s musical Roberta into a vehicle for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. She developed “Lovely to Look At” out of a musical fragment and replaced the Oscar Hammerstein II lyrics to “I Won’t Dance,” a song from Kern’s 1934 London musical Three Sisters. The film was released in March 1935 and both songs became major hits for Eddy Duchin and His Orch., with “Lovely to Look At” topping the hit parade in April and earning an Academy Award nomination. Not surprisingly, Kern wanted to work with Fields again, and this proved to be the beginning of the end of her partnership with McHugh.

Fields and McHugh had two projects in the works, however, and they contained more successful songs. Hooray for Love, released in July 1935, featured “I’m Living in a Great Big Way,” which Louis Prima and His Orch. took into the hit parade. And Every Night at Eight, which opened in August, included “I’m in the Mood for Love,” given its initial hit recording by Little Jack Little, which topped the hit parade and went on to become one of the team’s most popular songs, with hundreds of recordings and millions of copies of sheet music sold.

Notwithstanding this success, the team split up: McHugh signed to 20th Century-Fox, while Fields returned to RKO. Fields teamed with Kern for the November 1935 release I Dream Too Much, a vehicle for opera singer Lily Pons. Neither this nor a couple of other films she worked on during this period produced hits, but she and Kern had much better luck writing the next Astaire- Rogers picture, Swing Time. Released in August 1936, the film featured “The Way You Look Tonight,” which topped the hit parade for Astaire and won the Academy Award for Best Song, and “A Fine Romance,” also a hit parade entry for Astaire.

Fields and Kern contributed a couple of songs to the February 1937 release When You’re in Love, but their next full-scale project, Joy of Living, was delayed when Kern became ill. Finally released in May 1938, it produced a hit in “You Couldn’t Be Cuter,” which was recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orch.

Fields married for the second time to clothing manufacturer Eli D. Lahm (the couple had two children) and moved back to N.Y., where she teamed with Arthur Schwartz on the songs for the Broadway musical Stars in Your Eyes, starring Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante. It ran 127 performances and gave Tommy Dorsey a hit parade entry with “This Is It” in March 1939.

In the early 1940s, Fields eschewed songwriting in favor of writing scripts and librettos with her brother Herbert. They first teamed on the screenplay for the comedy Father Takes a Wife, which was released in September 1941. Then they wrote the books for three straight hit musicals with songs by Cole Porter, Let’s Face It! (Oct. 29, 1941), Something for the Boys (Jan. 7, 1943), and Mexican Hayride (Jan. 28, 1944). They also wrote the book for the 1945 musical Up in Central Park, but this time Fields also wrote the songs with Sigmund Romberg. The show ran 504 performances, and Benny Goodman and His Orch. scored a hit with “Close as Pages in a Book” in May 1945. In July, Jo Stafford revived “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for a hit. Fields enjoyed another song revival in early 1946 when “I’m in the Mood for Love” was featured in the motion picture People Are Funny and recorded for a hit by Billy Eckstine.

Fields was set to write the book for a musical about sharpshooter Annie Oakley with her brother Herbert and the songs with Jerome Kern, but Irving Berlin was enlisted as songwriter when Kern died, and so Fields was only credited as colibrettist for Annie Get Your Gun (May 16, 1946). It was her last credit for nearly four years, until the Broadway opening of Arms and the Girl (1950), for which she cowrote the book with Herbert Fields and director Rouben Mamoulian and the songs with Morton Gould. Featuring Pearl Bailey, the musical ran 134 performances. Fields only wrote the songs for the musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951), her second collaboration with Arthur Schwartz. It ran 270 performances and the cast album was a Top Ten hit.

Fields signed to MGM and returned to movie work, writing three films released during 1951: in June came Excuse My Dust, a collaboration with Schwartz; in October, Texas Carnival with Harry Warren; and, also in October, Mr. Imperium with Harold Arlen. In 1952 she revised the score of Roberta for a remake called Lovely to Look At. The film was released in May, and its soundtrack LP reached the Top Ten. She concluded her stay in Hollywood again collaborating with Arlen on The Farmer Takes a Wife, released in June 1953.

Fields returned to N.Y. and to working with Arthur Schwartz for the songs and her brother Herbert for the book of the 1954 musical By the Beautiful Sea, which ran 270 performances. More than three and a half years later she collaborated with Burton Lane on songs for Junior Miss, a television musical based on a play written by her brother Joseph and Jerome Chodorov that was broad-cast during the 1957 Christmas season.

Fields was widowed in 1958, and she also lost her brother Herbert during preparations for their next musical, Redhead (1959). The show, which had music by Albert Hague and a book coauthored by Fields, Herbert Fields, Sidney Sheldon, and David Shaw, ran 452 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The cast album reached the charts and won the Grammy Award for Best Show Album.

In 1961, Fields enjoyed Top 40 revivals of “Don’t Blame Me,” by the Everly Brothers, and “The Way You Look Tonight,” by the Lettermen, but she remained inactive until the mid-1960s, when she reteamed with Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse, the star and director of Redhead, for Sweet Charity, which had music by Cy Coleman. It became the longest running show of her songwriting career during her lifetime at 608 performances. The cast album spent several months in the charts, and the score contained four songs that were covered for hits on the easy-listening charts: “Where Am I Going?” by Barbra Streisand; “Big Spender” by Peggy Lee; “Baby, Dream Your Dream” by Tony Bennett; and “There’s Gotta Be Something Better than This” by Sylvia Sims. (The show’s best-known song, “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” did not produce a chart single until it was revived by Linda Clifford in 1978.)

Fields and Coleman wrote some new material for the 1969 film version of Sweet Charity, its soundtrack album spent nearly five months in the charts. They next worked on a musical based on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt that was never produced, but in 1973 they got to Broadway with Seesaw, which ran 296 performances. A year later Fields died of a heart attack at 69. In 1979 many of her songs with Jimmy McHugh were featured in the Broadway revue Sugar Babies, which ran 1,208 performances.


(only works for which Fields was a primary credited lyricist are listed): MUSICALS/REVUE S (dates refer to N.Y. openings): Blackbirds of 1928 (May 9, 1928); Hello, Daddy! (Dec. 26, 1928); Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic (Feb. 6, 1929); Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic (second edition) (1929); The International Revue (Feb. 25, 1930); The Vanderbilt Revue (Nov. 5, 1930); Singin’ the Blues (Sept. 16, 1931); Stars in Your Eyes (Feb. 9, 1939); Up in Central Park (Jan. 27, 1945); Arms and the Girl (Feb. 2, 1950); A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (April 19,1951); By the Beautiful Sea (April 8, 1954); Redhead (Feb. 5, 1959); Sweet Charity (Jan. 30, 1966); Seesaw (March 18, 1973); Sugar Babies (Oct. 9, 1979). FILMS : Love in the Rough (1930); The Cuban Love Song (1931); Flying High (1931); Meet the Baron (1933); Hooray for Love (1935); Every Night at Eight (1935); I Dream Too Much (1935); In Person (1935); The King Steps Out (1936); Swing Time (1936); When You’re in Love (1937); Joy of Living (1938); One Night in the Tropics (1940); Up in Central Park (1948); Excuse My Dust (1951); Texas Carnival (1951); Mr. Imperium (1951); The Farmer Takes a Wife (1953); Sweet Charity (1969). TELEVISION: Junior Miss (CBS, Dec. 20, 1957).


D. Winer, On the Sunny Side of the Street: The Life and Lyrics ofD. F. (N.Y, 1997).

—William Ruhlmann

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Fields, Dorothy

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