Monaco, James V.

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Monaco, James V.

Monaco, James V., Italian-born American composer and pianist; b. Formia, Italy, Jan. 13, 1885; d. Beverly Hills, Calif., Oct. 16, 1945. Monaco made his name in N.Y. writing songs for Broadway, notably “You Made Me Love You.” When sound films were introduced, he became one of the first composers to head west and contribute songs to the movies, gaining his greatest prominence through the songs he and Johnny Burke wrote for Bing Crosby’s films of the late 1930s and early 1940s, among them “Only Forever.”

Monaco immigrated to America with his family in 1891, initially settling in Albany, N.Y. A self-taught musician, he played piano in local cabarets during his teens. After his family moved to Chicago, he became known as a nightclub entertainer called Ragtime Jimmy.

Monaco moved to N.Y. in 1910, where he played at Café Bohemia and in Coney Island. His first published song (for which he wrote both words and music) was “Oh, Mr. Dream Man (Please Let Me Dream Some More)” (1911); it was featured in vaudeville by the trio of singing baseball pitchers Jack Coombs, Chief Bender, and Cy Morgan, and became a record hit for Ada Jones in 1912. By then he had had his first song interpolated into a Broadway show: “Row, Row, Row” (lyrics by William Jerome), used in The Whirl of Society (N.Y., March 5, 1912), where it was sung by emerging star Al Jolson. Widely recorded, it was a hit for Jones, for the team of Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan, and for The American Quartet. Meanwhile, the musical revue Hanky- Panky (N.Y., Aug. 5, 1912) introduced Monaco’s “Oh! You Circus Day” (lyrics by Edith Maida Lessing), which also became a record hit for Collins and Harlan.

Jolson interpolated Monaco’s “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)” (lyrics by Joseph McCarthy) into The Honeymoon Express (N.Y., Feb. 6, 1913); it became one of Jolson’s signature songs and the most widely heard song Monaco ever wrote. Jolson had a hit with it in 1913, as did William J. Halley. Bing Crosby made a chart record of it in 1940, and Harry James and His Orch. had a gold record with it in 1941. It was also featured in several motion pictures over the years, most notably in Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), in which a young Judy Garland, making only her second screen appearance, sang it to a picture of Clark Gable.

Monaco and McCarthy were a successful songwriting team over the next few years. Manuel Romain had a record hit with their “I Miss You Most of All” in 1914; that same year both Eddie Morton and the team of Jones and Billy Murray hit with “I’m Crying Just for You”; Irving Kaufman had a hit with “If We Can’t Be the Same Old Sweethearts (Well Just Be the Same Old Friends)” in 1915; and Jones had another hit with Monaco, McCarthy, and Grant Clarke’s “Beatrice Fairfax, Tell Me What to Do!” in 1916.

Monaco had not abandoned Broadway for the record stores, although he contributed interpolations rather than writing full scores. His and McCarthy’s “While They Were Dancing Around” was used in the Jolson musical Robinson Crusoe Jr. (N.Y., Feb. 17, 1916), but a more successful insertion was “What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?” (lyrics by McCarthy and Howard Johnson), which had been popularized in vaudeville by Emma Carus and was used in the musical Follow Me (N.Y., Nov. 29, 1916). It became a record hit for Jones and Murray the following year and later turned up in two 1940s films, The Merry Monahans and Incendiary Blonde, the latter leading to a 1945 chart record by the film’s star, Betty Hutton.

Monaco’s next successful song was the comic “Ten Little Bottles” (lyrics by Ballard MacDonald), which was a hit for Bert Williams in 1920. That same year “Caresses” (for which he wrote his own lyrics) was interpolated into the musical Afgar (N.Y., Nov. 8, 1920); it became a hit for Paul Whiteman and His Orch. in 1921. That year, Monaco also contributed to the revues Snapshots of 1921 (N.Y., June 2, 1921) and Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 (June 21, 1921), and in the fall Jolson introduced “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” (lyrics by Edgar Leslie, Grant Clarke, and, supposedly, Jolson) in Bombo (N.Y., Oct. 1, 1921).

There were three hit recordings in 1923, one by Marion Harris, another by Irving Kaufman with Ben Selvin’s Orch., and an instrumental version by Selvin’s Orch. alone. Monaco’s next few hits were reserved for singers and recording stars: “You Know You Belong to Somebody Else (So Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone)” (lyrics by Eugene West) was introduced by Nora Bayes but became a hit record for Henry Burr in 1923; “Me and the Boy Friend” (lyrics by Sidney Clare) was a hit for Jane Green in 1925; and “The Only, Only One for Me” (music cowritten by Harry Warren, lyrics by Bud Green) was a hit for Gene Austin, also in 1925.

The film The Jazz Singer opened in N.Y. on Oct. 6, 1927. In it Jolson sang “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face,” the first synchronized song performance in a motion picture. Jolson recorded the song in March 1928, and it was a hit again by June. Meanwhile, Monaco contributed several songs to Harry Delmar’s Revels (N.Y., Nov. 28, 1927), but his future as a songwriter was in record stores and movie theaters. His next hit was “Me and the Man in the Moon” (lyrics by Leslie), which was successfully recorded by Helen Kane, Ted Weems and His Orch., and Cliff Edwards in 1929.

By 1930, sound was an established fact in the movies, and the need for composers was great. Monaco, as the first composer whose music had been used in a sound film, was sought after by the studios. “Me and the Boy Friend” had been used in the MGM picture Our Dancing Daughters in 1928, but Fox gave him his first steady work. In addition to the three features on which he was credited as composer, The Golden Calf, Not Damaged, and The Solid Gold Article, he contributed songs to a remarkable 12 other films released by the company in 1930, most of which had lyrics by Cliff Friend.

The Fox contract may have been a one-year agreement, since Monaco’s songs stopped turning up in the company’s films after that year, although they were used by others. Warner Bros.’ Road to Singapore (1931) included Monaco, Leslie, and Ned Washington’s “Hand in Hand,” while The Bos well Sisters sang Monaco and Leslie’s “Crazy People” in Paramount’s The Big Broadcast (1932), the first film to star Crosby.

Monaco continued to enjoy record hits with his songs in the early 1930s. “Lonesome Lover” (lyrics by Alfred Bryan) was a hit for Isham Jones and His Orch. in 1931; “You’ve Got Me in the Palm of Your Hand” (lyrics by Friend and Leslie) was successfully recorded by Gus Arnheim and His Orch. in 1932; and Jan Garber and His Orch., Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orch., and Harry Reser’s Orch. each recorded a hit version of “You’re Gonna Lose Your Gal” (lyrics by Joe Young) at the end of 1933.

Monaco moved to Beverly Hills in 1936 and signed a contract with Paramount that gave him a plumb assignment: writing the music to Burke’s lyrics for Crosby’s pictures. As Crosby was the most successful recording artist in the country and among the most successful film stars and radio personalities as well, the job practically guaranteed Monaco a string of hits, and they were forthcoming. Shortly before the May 1938 opening of Doctor Rhythm, Crosby’s recording of “On the Sentimental Side,” a song featured in the film, became a Top Ten hit. Sing, You Sinners, Monaco’s second assignment with Crosby, was in theaters in August, and by fall Crosby’s recording of “I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams” from the picture was dueling with a competing version by Russ Morgan and His Orch. for the top of the hit parade. Crosby also scored a hit with the film’s “Don’t Let That Moon Get Away.”

Monaco was not involved in the next Crosby film, Paris Honeymoon (1939), perhaps because he was on his own honeymoon, having married former Ziegfeld Follies girl and actress Virginia Case (real name, Esther Virginia Kaiss Greene) on Nov. 15, 1938. Crosby slyly alluded to the match in his next film, East Side of Heaven. Playing the part of a singing telephone messenger, he called up Mr. and Mrs. James Monaco, only to find them fighting. The film, released in April 1939, had the usual compliment of Monaco-Burke hits introduced and recorded by Crosby: the title song, “Sing a Song of Sunbeams,” and “That Sly Old Gentleman (from Featherbed Lane)” were all successful.

Another three hits emerged from Monaco’s fourth film with Crosby, The Star Maker, which appeared in August 1939. “An Apple for the Teacher” (on which Crosby duetted with Connee Boswell), “Go Fly a Kite,” and “A Man and His Dream” were all in the hit parade in September and October. The only similarity between the 1931 film Road to Singapore and the identically titled film that opened in March 1940 was that Monaco worked on both. The later film, which marked the beginning of the successful series of films Crosby made with Bob Hope, produced a major Monaco-Burke-Crosby hit in “Too Romantic” and another success in “Sweet Potato Piper.”

Monaco’s sixth Crosby picture, If I Had My Way, resulted in three more hit records in June 1940: “April Played the Fiddle,” “I Haven’t Time to Be a Millionaire,” and “Meet the Sun Half Way.” The Monaco-Burke-Crosby team hit its peak with the songs from Rhythm on the River, which opened in August and featured the hits “That’s for Me,” “Only Forever,” and “When the Moon Comes Over Madison Square.” “Only Forever” topped the charts for weeks and inspired cover records by Tommy Dorsey and His Orch. and by Eddy Duchin and His Orch. before earning an Academy Award nomination.

Notwithstanding this success, Monaco had left Paramount, and thus Burke and Crosby, at the conclusion of his contract in the summer of 1940. He had already scored another hit: the title song from the upcoming Universal feature Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga (lyrics by Charles Newman) charted for Jimmy Dorsey and His Orch. and Charlie Barnet and His Orch. Still, suggestions that he abandoned the three-picture-a-year Crosby schedule due to failing health seem justified by his relative inactivity over the next couple of years.

Monaco placed an instrumental, “Romance and Rhumba,” in the Carmen Miranda vehicle Weekend in Havana (1941), and enjoyed a modest hit in the fall of 1942 with “Ev’ry Night about This Time,” which was recorded by the Ink Spots and by the orchestras of Jimmy Dorsey and Kay Kyser. But his next major film work did not come until 1943, when United Artists released the all-star Stage Door Canteen. Credited as composer, he wrote ten songs with lyrics by Al Dubin, including “We Mustn’t Say Goodbye,” which earned him his second Academy Award nomination.

In 1943, Monaco signed a two-year contract with 20th Century-Fox. He paired with lyricist Mack Gordon to write songs for the 1944 films Irish Eyes Are Smiling; Pin-Up Girl, including “Once Too Often,” which became a chart record for Ella Fitzgerald; and Sweet and Low-Down, including “I’m Making Believe,” which became a #1 gold-selling hit for Fitzgerald with the Ink Spots and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Monaco died of a heart attack just as “I Can’t Begin to Tell You,” his final film song, was appearing in The Dolly Sisters. It was also his final hit, as Crosby teamed with Carmen Cavallaro’s Orch. for a #1 gold record. It garnered Top Ten hits for James in a version featuring the film’s star, Betty Grable, on vocals, Andy Russell, and Sammy Kaye and His Orch. It was his fourth song to be nominated for an Academy Award.

—William Ruhlmann