McHugh, Jimmy (actually, James Francis)

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McHugh, Jimmy (actually, James Francis)

McHugh, Jimmy (actually, James Francis), American song composer; b. Boston, Mass., July 10, 1894; d. Beverly Hills, Calif., May 23, 1969. McHugh worked mainly in the movies after beginning his career writing nightclub and Broadway revues. Although the productions are largely forgotten, the songs are not: “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and “I’m in the Mood for Love” (all with lyrics by Dorothy Fields). Collaborating primarily with Fields and Harold Adamson, Johnny Mercer, and Frank Loesser, McHugh earned five Academy Award nominations.

McHugh’s parents were James A. and Julia Ann Collins McHugh; his father was a plumber, his mother a pianist who gave him his earliest lessons. He also studied with Augustus Cuents, which led him to a job at the Boston Opera House during his high school years and while he was attending Holy Cross Coll. Initially hired as an office boy, he became a rehearsal pianist and was offered a scholarship to the New England Cons, of Music. Instead, he took a job as a song plugger at the Boston office of Irving Berlin’s publishing company. His first published song was “Carolina, I’m Coming Back to You” (lyrics by Jack Caddigan; 1916). During World War I he served in the Mass. 101st Cavalry.

McHugh married after the war and fathered a son, James Francis McHugh Jr., who would marry one of Eddie Cantor’s daughters and become a theatrical agent; McHugh’s marriage ended in divorce. In 1921 he moved to N.Y. and became a partner at Mills Music, a publisher. He began composing material for the shows at the Cotton Club shortly thereafter.

McHugh had his first song in a Broadway musical with “How’d You Like to Be a Kid?” (lyrics by Bennett Sisters and Billy Colligan), which was interpolated into Al Jolson’s Bombo (N.Y, Oct. 6, 1921). In 1922 he and lyricist Jack Frost updated the 1866 song “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” (music and lyrics by J. A. Butterfield and George Johnson) to create “When You and I Were Young, Maggie, Blues,” which became a hit at the end of the year. McHugh’s second hit also drew inspiration from an earlier model: “What Has Become of Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo?” (lyrics by Al Dubin and Irving Mills, music also by Irwin Dash), a comedy song popularized by Ernest Hare and Billy Jones in 1924, was a follow-up to the World War I song “Mademoiselle from Armentières.”

In 1925, McHugh was involved in the writing of two early hits for Gene Austin. “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” (music and lyrics by McHugh, Mills, and Austin) became a successful duet record for Austin with Aileen Stanley in the spring, and “Everything Is Hotsy Totsy Now” (lyrics by Mills), the flip side of Austin’s first best-seller, “Yes Sir! That’s My Baby,” hit in September “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me” (lyrics by Clarence Gaskill) is included in the sheet music for the Broadway revue Gay Paree (N.Y, Aug. 18, 1925) and was performed by Aida Ward at the Cotton Club, but it did not become a record hit until two years later in an instrumental rendition by Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orch.

McHugh and Mills themselves, billed as the Hotsy Totsy Boys, introduced “The Lonesomest Girl in Town” (lyrics by Dubin and Mills) on radio; Morton Downey had the hit recording the following January. McHugh’s last notable song of 1925 was his first for the motion picture The Big Parade, “My Dream of the Big Parade” (lyrics by Dubin). The death of silent film star Rudolph Valentino on Aug. 23, 1926, gave McHugh the inspiration for “There’s a New Star in Heaven Tonight—Rudolph Valentino” (lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan and Mills); Vernon Dalhart’s recording was popular in November.

Around this time, McHugh met Dorothy Fields. They wrote songs for the next edition of the Cotton Club Revue, performed by Duke Ellington and His Orch. in December. They then wrote the score for the all-black Broadway revue Blackbirds of 1928, which ran for 519 performances and established the writing team as a success. Among the songs was “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” which they had written earlier. (Unsubstantiated rumor holds that “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” was actually written by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf and sold to McHugh.) The song generated a series of recordings, the most successful of which was by Cliff Edwards, a best- seller in October, and the show also produced hits in “Diga Diga Doo” and “Doin’ the New Low-Down,” released on either side of a Duke Ellington single in November, as well as “I Must Have That Man,” recorded by Ben Selvin and His Orch.

McHugh and Fields’s second show, Hello, Daddy!, starred Fields’s father, comedian Lew Fields, and lasted 197 performances, with “In a Great Big Way” becoming a modest hit for Annette Hanshaw in May 1929. During that year McHugh and Fields wrote two editions of the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic and placed their first song in a sound motion picture, “Collegiana,” used in Warner Bros,’ The Time, the Place, and the Girl.

McHugh and Fields began 1930 with The International Revue, which ran for only 96 performances on Broadway but produced hits with “On the Sunny Side of the Street” for Ted Lewis and “Exactly Like You” for Ruth Etting, among others. They then signed a $50,000 contract with MGM and went to Hollywood to write their first movie musical, Love in the Rough. Released in the fall, the film contained five new McHugh-Fields songs, among them “Go Home and Tell Your Mother,” which became a hit for Gus Arnheim and His Orch. Back in N.Y., the team wrote The Vanderbilt Revue, which ran only 13 performances but included “Blue Again,” a hit for Red Nichols and His Five Pennies in February 1931.

McHugh and Fields had two songs in the revue Rhapsody in Black (N.Y., May 4, 1931), one in the musical Shoot the Works (N.Y., July 21, 1931), and they wrote two of the three songs used in the play Singin’ the Blues, which ran 46 performances in the fall. Returning to Hollywood, they contributed to two MGM films released before the end of the year:The Cuban Love Song, for which they wrote the title song (music also by Herbert Stothart), a hit for Jacques Renard and His Orch., and Flying High. The year 1932 was less busy, but the team did write “Goodbye, Blues” (lyrics also by Arnold Johnson), which became a hit for the Mills Brothers in April and was adopted as their theme song, as well as the stage show opening Radio City Music Hall in December, in which they also appeared.

The year 1933 saw an upsurge in McHugh and Fields’s movie work, but they spent the early part of the year working on a revue, Clowns in Clover, which closed in Chicago but featured “Don’t Blame Me,” a hit for Ethel Waters and others during the summer. They contributed the title song, not used, to Dinner at Eight, which became a hit for Ben Selvin in October, plus songs used in Meet the Baron, The Prize Fighter and the Lady, and Dancing Lady. To start 1934, their “Full of the Devil” was included in the MGM film Fugitive Lovers. They wrote “Thank You for a Lovely Evening” for Phil Harris’s nightclub act, though Don Bestor and His Orch. had the hit recording in July. “Lost in a Fog” was written for the Dorsey Brothers Orch., which was introduced at the Riviera Café in N.Y. with McHugh singing. Both songs were interpolated into the MGM feature Have a Heart in October.

Although McHugh and Fields maintained their partnership, Fields began working independently toward the end of 1934 while retaining McHugh’s name as collaborator. Thus, “Serenade for a Wealthy Widow,” (music composed by bandleader Reginald Foresythe) has a lyric credit to McHugh and Fields; Foresythe’s hit recording in November was instrumental. McHugh is also nominally co-credited as a lyricist on the Fields songs in the 1935 film version of Roberta composed by Jerome Kern, including the hits “Lovely to Look At,” which topped the hit parade in April 1935 and was nominated for an Academy Award, and “I Won’t Dance.” (Both enjoyed their most popular recordings by Eddy Duchin and His Orch.).

McHugh and Fields’s partnership ended with three films released in the summer of 1935. “Music in My Heart” was used in The Nitwits in June; Hooray for Love, released in July, included “I’m Livin’ in a Great Big Way,” which reached the hit parade in a recording by Louis Prima and His Orch.; and Every Night at Eight, released in August, included “I’m in the Mood for Love,” which topped the hit parade for Little Jack Little and His Orch. in September.

McHugh signed a short-term contract with 20th Century-Fox. His first assignment was King of Burlesque, for which he collaborated with Ted Koehler, notably on “I’m Shootin’ High,” which reached the hit parade for Jan Garber and His Orch., and “Lovely Lady,” in the hit parade for Tommy Dorsey and His Orch. He and Koehler also wrote four songs for the Shirley Temple vehicle Dimples. With Gus Kahn, he wrote two hit songs for two films: “With All My Heart,” from Paramount’s Her Master’s Voice and “Let’s Sing Again.” McHugh’s third collaborator of the period was his most long-lasting. With Harold Adamson he wrote songs for the 1936 releases The Voice of Ann Bugle (MGM), and back at Fox, Banjo on My Knee, featuring the hit “There’s Something in the Air,” which Shep Fields and His Orch. took to the hit parade in February 1937.

McHugh and Adamson signed to Universal in 1937 and the low-budget studio put them to work: They contributed to eight Universal releases for the year, their most notable efforts being Top of the Town, with “Where Are You?” on the hit parade for Mildred Bailey in the spring of 1937, and the title song “You’re a Sweetheart” on the hit parade for Dollie Dawn in early 1938.

McHugh and Adamson contributed new songs to six Universal features in 1938. The highlights of the year came with two musicals starring Deanna Durbin. Mad About Music included “I Love to Whistle,” which Fats Waller took to the hit parade in the spring, and That Certain Age included “My Own,” a hit parade entry for Tommy Dorsey in the fall and McHugh’s second song to be nominated for an Academy Award.

After McHugh’s Universal contract expired in 1939, he went back to N.Y. and collaborated with Al Dubin, another exile from Hollywood, on a Broadway revue, The Streets of Paris. The show, which ran 274 performances, was notable for introducing Carmen Miranda, who sang “South American Way.” McHugh returned to Hollywood on a freelance basis, writing four songs with Frank Loesser for Paramount’s Buck Benny Rides Again, a spring 1940 release starring Jack Benny. The most successful of them was “Say It,” which was in the hit parade for Glenn Miller and His Orch. McHugh and Dubin then mounted a second Broadway show with Keep Off the Grass, but at 44 performances it was a flop. So, McHugh went back to Hollywood and collaborated with Johnny Mercer on RKO’s You’ll Find Out, featuring Kay Kyser and His Orch. Among the six songs were the hits “You’ve Got Me This Way,” for Tommy Dorsey, and “The Bad Humor Man,” for Jimmy Dorsey, but “I’d Know You Anywhere” brought McHugh his third Oscar nomination.

McHugh’s most significant work of 1941 was a second effort with Mercer, six songs for Paramount’s You’re the One. In 1942 he wrote six songs with Loesser for RKO’s Seven Days’ Leave, among them the hits “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” recorded by Kyser, and “A Touch of Texas” and “I Get the Neck of the Chicken,” both recorded by Freddy Martin and His Orch.

McHugh enjoyed an unusually busy year in 1943, writing songs for three films and composing his most successful song that wasn’t written for film or theater. His first film of the year was the Paramount musical Happy Go Lucky, for which he wrote five songs with Loesser, among them the hilarious “’Murder’ He Says,” performed by Betty Hutton but recorded for a hit by Dinah Shore, and “Let’s Get Lost” and “The Fuddy Duddy Watchmaker,” both recorded by Kyser. All the recordings were made a cappella due to the musicians’ union recording ban; after it ended, the Andrews Sisters had a fourth hit from the film, “Sing a Tropical Song,” in July 1944.

Inspired by the words of pilot and former football star Sonny Bragg, who wrote to him that his injured plane returned from an air battle “on one engine and a prayer,” McHugh renewed his partnership with Adam-son and the two wrote “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer,” one of the most successful war-themed songs of World War II. The Song Spinners had the most successful of several recordings, topping the charts in July 1943, and the song sold a million copies of sheet music. McHugh had another success with a similar subject in “Say a Prayer for the Boys Over There” (lyrics by Herb Magidson), which was interpolated into the Deanna Durbin film Hers to Hold and nominated for an Academy Award.

McHugh and Adamson wrote seven songs for the next Kay Kyser film, Around the World, which opened in November and produced a hit in “Don’t Believe Everything You Dream,” recorded by the Ink Spots. The duo had nine songs in Higher and Higher, Frank Sinatra’s first feature film. Sinatra’s recordings of “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” and “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening” became hits, as did a version of “The Music Stopped” by Woody Herman and His Orch. “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” gave McHugh his fifth Academy Award nomination. The McHugh-Adamson partnership continued in 1944 with two major films for 20th Century-Fox, Four Jills in a Jeep and Something for the Boys. Dick Haymes, who appeared in Four Jills in a Jeep, scored hits with “How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You?” and “How Blue the Night.” The duo also contributed to RKO’s Heavenly Days, The Princess and the Pirate, and McHugh teamed with Ralph Freed to write songs for MGM’s Two Girls and a Sailor.

McHugh and Adamson had another three films in release in 1945:Bring on the Girls featured six of their songs; Nob Hill had another four, among them the Harry James hit “I Don’t Care Who Knows It”; and Doll Face’s five songs included two hits for its star, Perry Como—the gold-selling “Dig You Later (A-Hubba-Hubba-Hubba)” and “Here Comes Heaven Again.”

McHugh’s war-related activities hit a peak during this period. He wrote the songs for the seventh and eighth war-bond drives, “Buy, Buy, Buy a Bond” and “We’ve Got Another Bond to Buy” (both lyrics by Adamson), featured in the short films All Star Bond Rally and Hollywood Bond Caravan. He also held a bond rally in Beverly Hills that raised $28 million—a record. His efforts earned him a presidential citation from Harry Truman in February 1947.

McHugh and Adamson had only one new song in a film in 1946, “(I’m Sorry) I Didn’t Mean a Word I Said” in 20th Century-Fox’s Do You Love Me? But they scored three films in 1947: Universal’s Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, Republic’s Calendar Girl and Hit Parade of 1947. That year, McHugh married for a second time, again fathering a son, James Francis McHugh III; McHugh and his second wife separated on Dec. 12, 1949.

In 1948, McHugh and Adamson contributed to RKO’s Eddie Cantor film If You Knew Susie and to the MGM musical A Date with Judy. Later, they went to N.Y. and wrote the stage musical As the Girls Go, a fantasy set four years in the future after the election of a woman president. The show became a moderate hit, running 420 performances, but due to a second musicians strike its songs were not recorded.

McHugh was less frequently employed in Hollywood after the 1940s. In the spring of 1951, Bing and Gary Crosby had a major revival of “When You and I Were Young, Maggie, Blues,” taking it into the Top Ten. McHugh and Adamson had a song, “You’ll Know,” in the RKO film His Kind of Woman that year. McHugh’s next song in a motion picture came in 1954 with “Long...Long...Long” (lyrics by Jeannine Roger and Jean Pierre Mottier) in MGM’s The Last Time I Saw Paris. McHugh and Adamson wrote a new musical, Strip for Action, which closed out of town in the spring of 1956, but one of its songs, “Too Young to Go Steady,” was recorded by several artists, most successfully by Nat “King” Cole. The Helen Morgan Story (1957) was one of many films to use “On the Sunny Side of the Street” but the only one in which the composer appeared playing his own composition as accompaniment to Ann Blyth, portraying Morgan while being dubbed by Gogi Grant. McHugh wrote the title song for the 1958 film Home Before Dark with Sammy Cahn, but the song was used only as an instrumental. The songs in 1959’s A Private’s Affair had music and lyrics co-credited to McHugh, Jay Livingston, and Ray Evans.

McHugh engaged in several activities outside of songwriting during the 1950s and 1960s. Starting in late 1952, Jimmy McHugh’s Song Stars of Tomorrow, which featured four female singers, an orchestra, and the composer as pianist and emcee, toured clubs throughout the country and made television appearances. During the period, McHugh was president of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and vice president of ASCAR He was also involved heavily in charity work.

McHugh’s last work for motion pictures was in 1960 when he placed songs in the films Let No Man Write My Epitaph and Where the Hot Wind Blows and, with Pete Rugolo, wrote the score for Jack the Ripper. In the fall of 1961 the Everly Brothers had a Top 40 revival of “Don’t Blame Me.” Ten years after his death from a heart attack, McHugh scored his greatest Broadway triumph with Sugar Babies, a revue starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller made up largely of his songs. It ran 1,208 performances.


(only works for which McHugh was the primary, credited composer are listed):musicals/revues:Cotton Club Revue (N.Y, Dec. 4, 1927); Cotton Club Revue (N.Y., 1928); Blackbirds of 1928 (N.Y., May 9, 1928); Hello Daddy! (N.Y, Dec. 26, 1928); Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic (N.Y., Feb. 6, 1929); Blackbirds of 1929 (N.Y., 1929); Cotton Club Revue (N.Y, 1929); The International Revue (N.Y., Feb. 25, 1930); The Vanderbilt Revue (N.Y, Nov. 3, 1930); Singin’ the Blues (N.Y, Sept. 16, 1931); Radio City Music Hall Opening (N.Y, Dec. 27, 1932); The Streets of Paris (N.Y, June 19, 1939); Keep Off the Grass (N.Y, May 23, 1940); As the Girls Go (N.Y, Nov. 13, 1948); Sugar Babies (N.Y, Oct. 9, 1979). films:Love in the Rough (1930); Flying High (1931); Meet the Baron (1933); Hooray for Love (1935); Every Night at Eight (1935); King of Burlesque (1935); Dimples (1936); Banjo on My Knee (1936); Breezing Home (1937); Top of the Town (1937); When Love Is Young (1937); Merry-Go-Round of 1938 (1937); Hitting a New High (1937); You’re a Sweetheart (1937); Mad About Music (1938); Reckless Living (1938); That Certain Age (1938); The Road to Reno (1938); Buck Benny Rides Again (1940); You’ll Find Out (1940); You’re the One (1941); Seven Days’ Leave (1942); Happy Go Lucky (1943); Around the World (1943); Higher and Higher (1943); Four Jills in a Jeep (1944); Two Girls and a Sailor (1944); Something for the Boys (1944); Hi, Beautiful (1944); Bring on the Girls (1945); Nob Hill (1945); Radio Stars on Parade (1945); Doll Face (1945); Ding Dong Williams (1945); Do You Love Me? (1946); Somewhere in the Night (1946); Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947); Calendar Girl (1947); Hit Parade of 1947 (1947); with J. Livingston and R. Evans, A Private’s Affair (1959); with P. Rugolo, Jack the Ripper (I960).

—William Ruhlmann

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McHugh, Jimmy (actually, James Francis)

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