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Martin, Hugh, and Ralph Blane (Uriah Hunsecker)

Martin, Hugh, and Ralph Blane (Uriah Hunsecker)

Martin, Hugh, and Ralph Blane (Uriah Hunsecker), American songwriting team. Martin (b. Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 11, 1914) and Blane (b. Broken Arrow, Okla., July 26, 1914; d. there, Nov. 13, 1995), who both wrote music and lyrics, worked together on stage and movie musicals for 48 years, beginning with the Broadway hit Best Foot Forward in 1941 and ending with the Broadway adaptation of their best-known film, the 1944 hit Meet Me in St. Louis, in 1989, a score that contained the standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the Academy Award nominee “The Trolley Song.”

Martin began studying piano with Edna Gussen at the Birmingham Cons. at age 5; later he studied with Dorsey Whittington. After attending Birmingham Southern Coll., he went to N.Y. to pursue a career as a musician. Blane attended Northwestern Univ., then went to N.Y. to become a singer, studying with Estelle Liebling. He made his Broadway debut in the revue New Faces of 1936 (N.Y., May 19, 1936).

Martin and Blane first worked together in the cast of the Broadway musical Hooray for What! (N.Y, Dec. 1, 1937) as part of vocal arranger Kay Thompson’s singing group the Rhythm Boys. When Thompson left the show, they stepped in to finish the vocal arrangements and soon were doing the same work on other shows, together and separately. Martin was the vocal arranger for The Boys from Syracuse (N.Y., Nov. 23, 1938); Martin and Blane were the vocal arrangers for Stars in Your Eyes (N.Y., Feb. 9, 1939); and Martin was the vocal arranger for The Streets of Paris (N.Y, June 19, 1939) and appeared in the revue, along with comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Martin organized a group, the Martins, with Blane as one of the singers. They performed on a bill with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney at the Capitol Theatre in N.Y. on Aug. 17, 1939, in connection with the opening of the Garland film The Wizard of Oz. But their main activity continued to be vocal arranging for musicals: Martin worked on Too Many Girls (N.Y., Oct. 18, 1939), and Martin and Blane did Very Warm for May (N.Y., Nov. 17, 1939), DuBarry Was a Lady (N.Y, Dec. 6, 1939), and Louisiana Purchase (N.Y., May 28, 1940). They also appeared in Louisiana Purchase as part of the Martins, by now a vocal quartet completed by the sisters Jo Jean and Phyllis Rogers. Over the next two years the Martins also performed on network radio and recorded for Columbia Records.

Martin was the vocal arranger for Walk with Music (N.Y., June 4, 1940), and Martin and Blane were the musical arrangers for Cabin in the Sky (N.Y., Oct. 25, 1940). In the fall of 1941 producer/director George Abbott, who had worked on several musicals with them, gave them the chance to write the songs for the musical Best Foot Forward, a romantic comedy set at a boys’ prep school. The songwriters took an unusual approach to their collaboration: they wrote songs separately, then polished them together. The show ran 326 performances; when MGM bought it to make a film adaptation, Martin and Blane were signed to the studio, and they moved to Calif. They wrote three new songs used in the movie version of Best Foot Forward, which was released in June 1943, then collaborated with Roger Edens on “The Joint Is Really Jumping” sung by Judy Garland in Thousands Cheer, released in September.

Martin and Blane next worked on MGM’s adaptation of Very Warm for May, which was released in April 1944 under the title Broadway Rhythm with their newly written “Brazilian Boogie” and “What Do You Think I Am?” from Best Foot Forward. They then wrote three songs, along with their arrangement of the traditional “Skip to My Lou,” for the Judy Garland film Meet Me in St. Louis, released in November. Among their contributions, “The Trolley Song” was recorded by many artists, becoming a Top Ten hit for the Pied Pipers, for Garland, and for Vaughn Monroe, it earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, while “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” became a seasonal standard. The film ranked second only to Going My Way as the biggest box office hit of the year.

Martin and Blane wrote songs in 1945 for a movie version of Huckleberry Finn that was never produced, and for Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, released in November. They also worked on Ziegfeld Follies, not released until March 1946. But their partnership was interrupted when Martin entered the service and was sent to Europe. Blane remained at MGM, where he did vocal arrangements and wrote songs with various collaborators for such films as the box office hit Thrill of a Romance (May 1945), The Harvey Girls (January 1946), the box office hit Easy to Wed (July 1946), No Leave, No Love (October 1946), and Two Smart People (December 1946).

When Martin returned from Europe, he did not go to Calif, to work with Blane. Instead he went to N.Y. to work in the musical theater. He was the vocal arranger for the Broadway musicals Barefoot Boy with Cheek (N.Y, April 3, 1947) and High Button Shoes (N.Y., Oct. 9, 1947). Blane, meanwhile, wrote lyrics to Harry Warren’s melodies for an unproduced version of the film Take Me Out to the Ball Game. The most successful song of 1947 for either Martin or Blane was the product of their partnership on “Pass That Peace Pipe,”which they wrote with Roger Edens for Huckleberry Finn and which had been considered for Ziegfeld Follies; it was finally used in the film Good News, released in December. Margaret Whiting recorded it for a Top Ten hit, and the song earned an Academy Award nomination.

Martin wrote the songs and did the vocal arrangements for the Broadway musical Look Ma, I’m Dancin’ (N.Y., Jan. 29, 1948), which ran 188 performances. He was also the vocal arranger for the musicals Heaven on Earth (N.Y., Sept. 16, 1948) and As the Girls Go (N.Y., Nov. 13, 1948). Blane, meanwhile, wrote lyrics to Harry Warren’s music for the film Summer Holiday (June 1948), including “The Stanley Steamer,” which Jo Stafford recorded for a chart entry; he also wrote both music and lyrics for the songs in One Sunday Afternoon (December 1948), which marked his move from MGM to Warner Bros. In 1949, Blane wrote songs for the Warner Bros, films South of St. Louis, released in March, and My Dream Is Yours, released in April. Martin was the vocal arranger for the musical Gentlmemen Prefer Blondes (N.Y., Dec. 8, 1949).

In 1950, Blane collaborated with Harold Arlen on the lyrics for Arlen’s melodies to the songs for 20th Century-Fox’s My Blue Heaven, released in September, while Martin returned to movie work, writing Grandma Moses Suite (New England Suite) for the film Grandma Moses, released in October, and doing the vocal arrangements for The West Point Story, released in December. In 1951, Martin wrote the songs and did the vocal arrangements for the Broadway musical Make a Wish! (N.Y., April 18, 1951), which ran 102 performances, and was the vocal arranger for the musical Top Banana (N.Y., Nov. 1, 1951). Blane wrote the lyrics to “My Castle in the Sand” (music by Alfred Newman) for the 20th Century-Fox film Half Angel, released in June 1951. He then wrote the songs for the Broadway musical Three Wishes for Jamie (N.Y., March 21, 1952), which ran 91 performances, and set lyrics to Harry Warren’s music for the film Skirts Ahoy!, released by MGM in May 1952.

Martin wrote the music and collaborated with Timothy Gray on the lyrics for the musical Love from Judy (London, Sept. 25, 1952), which ran 594 performances. Martin was the vocal arranger in 1953 for the Broadway musical Hazel Flagg (N.Y., Feb. 11, 1953), while Blane again collaborated on lyrics with Harold Arlen to Arlen’s tunes for the 20th Century-Fox film Down Among the Sheltering Palms, released in June. He and Robert Wells then cowrote the lyrics to Josef Myrow’s music for RKO’s The French Line, released in May 1954.

After nearly a decade apart, Martin and Blane reunited at MGM to write the songs for Athena, released in December 1954, followed by The Girl Rush, which Paramount issued in August 1955 and which featured “An Occasional Man,” recorded for a chart entry by Jeri Southern. The duo returned to performing, recording the album Martin & Blane Sing Martin & Blane, released by Harlequin Records in 1956. Their final cinematic collaboration came with RKO’s The Girl Most Likely, released in December 1957. Turning to television, Martin wrote “Breezy and Easy,” the theme for The Patrice Munsel Show, which ran during the 1957–58 season, and the songs for the TV musical Hans Burinker or the Silver Skates, broadcast on NBC Feb. 9, 1958.

Martin and Blane mounted a stage version of Meet Me in St. Louis at the Municipal Opera in St. Louis, opening June 9, 1960. Their score featured nine new songs in addition to those they had contributed to the film. In 1961, Blane collaborated with Wade Barnes on the music, lyrics, and libretto for a television musical, Quillow and the Giant, produced for the BBC. He and Martin teamed up again to revise Best Foot Forward for an Off-Broadway revival in 1963. The show, which marked the theatrical debut of Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, opened April 2 and ran 224 performances. Martin again collaborated with Timothy Gray on the songs, book, and vocal arrangements for High Spirits (N.Y., April 7, 1964), a musical version of Noël Coward’s play Blithe Spirit. It ran 375 performances and the cast album spent more than four months in the charts.

Martin and Blane worked on a new musical, Tattered Tom, in 1968, but it was never produced. Timothy Gray mounted They Don’t Make ’Em Like That Anymore (N.Y., June 6, 1972), an Off-Broadway revue of his work with Martin featuring new and old songs; it ran 24 performances. In their 70s, Martin and Blane came out of retirement to write new songs for a Broadway production of Meet Me in St. Louis that opened in 1989 and ran 253 performances. Martin accompanied Michael Feinstein on the album Michael Feinstein Sings the Hugh Martin Songbook, released in September 1995. Blane died of Parkinson’s Disease at age 81 in November 1995.

Works

(only works for which Martin and Blane are credited together as primary songwriters are listed):musicals/revues (dates refer to N.Y. openings):Best Foot Forward (Oct. 1, 1941); Meet Me in St. Louis (Nov. 2, 1989). films:Best Foot Forward (1943); Meet Me in St. Louis (1944); Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945); Athena (1954); The Girl Rush (1955); The Girl Most Likely (1957).

— William Ruhlmann

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