Warren, Harry (originally, Guaragna, Salvatore)

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Warren, Harry (originally, Guaragna, Salvatore)

Warren, Harry (originally, Guaragna, Salvatore), productive American film-song composer; b. N.Y., Dec. 24, 1893; d. Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 1981. Warren was the first major American song composer to write primarily for film. Immediate predecessors such as Jerome Kern worked extensively on Broadway before turning to motion pictures. Fifty-six feature films released between 1933 and 1961 carry Warren7 credit as songwriter; add all the Hollywood movies in which newly written or existing Warren songs were used between 1929 and 1975, and that number swells to an astonishing 135. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song 11 times, he won three Oscars: for “Lullaby of Broadway” (lyrics by Dubin), “You’ll Never Know” (lyrics by Gordon), and “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (lyrics by Mercer). His other major hits included “I Found a Million-Dollar Baby (In a Five-and-Ten-Cent Store)” (lyrics by Mort Dixon and Billy Rose), “I Only Have Eyes for You” (lyrics by Dubin), “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” (lyrics by Mercer), “Jeepers Creepers” (lyrics by Mercer), “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (lyrics by Gordon), and “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo” (lyrics by Gordon).

Warren was the son of Italian immigrants Antonio and Rachel Deluca Guaragna, who settled in Brooklyn. His father, a bootmaker, legally changed the family name to Warren when he was a child. Warren showed an early interest in music, but his parents could not afford lessons. Though he went without formal training, he taught himself to play his father’s accordion, sang in the church choir, and, by the age of 14, had also begun to earn money as a drummer. He dropped out of high school to play drums in a band led by his godfather, Pasquale Pucci, in the Keene and Shippey traveling carnival. Back in Brooklyn, he taught himself to play piano and worked as a fruit seller and as a stagehand at local theaters before finding employment at the Vita-graph Motion Picture Studios, where he did everything from acting and assistant directing to piano playing; he also worked as a pianist in cafés and silent-movie houses. On Dec. 19,1917, he married Josephine Wensler; they had a son and a daughter. In 1918 he joined the navy and was stationed on Long Island.

Warren began to write songs while in the service, “I Learned to Love You When I Learned My ABCs” (lyrics by Warren), though it wasn’t published, earned him a job as a song plugger with Stark and Cowan, a music-publishing company, in 1920. His first published song, “Rose of the Rio Grande” (music also by Ross Gorman; lyrics by Edgar Leslie), became a record hit for Marion Harris in April 1923. He and Leslie tried another song with a river theme, “By the River Sainte Marie,” but it was rejected by publishers until Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians had a best-selling record with it in March 1931. Warren and Leslie’s “Back Home in Pasadena” was published by Shapiro, Bernstein and Company in 1924, and the firm took Warren on as staff composer. (In 1961 the Temperance Seven revived “Pasadena” for a U.K. Top Ten hit.)

Working with lyricist Bud Green, he wrote two hits for Gene Austin, “The Only, Only One for Me” (music also by James V. Monaco) in July 1925 and “Ya Gotta Know How to Love” in September 1926, and one for Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, “I Love My Baby” in May 1926. Warren worked with Al Dubin for the first time in 1926 and wrote “Too Many Kisses” (lyrics also by Billy Rose), though their partnership would not flourish until four years later. Teaming with Mortimer Weinberg and Charley Marks, he then wrote another hit for Waring, “Where Do You Work-a, John?” in March 1927. “One Sweet Letter from You,” a hit for Ted Lewis and His Band, among others, in July 1927, was a collaboration with lyricists Lew Brown and Sidney Clare.

Warren moved to the Remick publishing company in 1928 and there found a regular collaborator in Mort Dixon starting with another Ted Lewis hit, “Hello, Montreal!” (lyrics also by Rose) in July 1928; their “Old Man Sunshine, Little Boy Bluebird” became a hit for George Olsen and His Orch. in September and “Nagasaki” scored for the Ipana Troudadors in October. Warren wrote a few songs with Gus Kahn, notably “Where the Shy Little Violets Grow,” which became a hit for Lombardo in February 1929, though his most significant work with Kahn would not take place for another decade.

Warren’s first song to be written for a motion picture was “Mi Amado” (lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young), which was used in Paramount’s The Wolf Song (1929). After Warner Bros, acquired Remick in 1929 and thus became his employer, Warren went to Hollywood to work on the screen adaptation of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s Spring Is Here (1930), writing six songs with Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young, including “Have a Little Faith in Me,” a hit for Lombardo in January 1930, and “Cryin’ for the Carolines,” a hit for Waring among others in February. Also written for the film was “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (For Someone Else),” a hit for Bernie Cummins and His Orch. in June. The same month, Nick Lucas had a hit with “Telling It to the Daisies,” which Warren wrote with Joe Young.

Despite the success of the songs from Spring Is Here, Warren did not enjoy his sojourn in Calif., and the studios lost interest in movie musicals with the advent of the Depression. Consequently, he returned to N.Y to write songs for Billy Rose’s Broadway revue Sweet and Low (N.Y, Nov. 17, 1930); he wrote “Cheerful Little Earful” (lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Rose), a hit for Tom Gerun and His Orch. in December, and “Would You Like to Take a Walk?” (lyrics by Dixon and Rose), a hit for Rudy Vallée in March 1931.

Warren was the primary composer of a Broadway show for the first time with Billy Rose’s Crazy Quilt, which ran for only 67 performances but featured a best-selling hit in “I Found a Million-Dollar Baby (In a Five-and-Ten-Cent Store)”; Waring had the most popular recording in July, with Bing Crosby and the Boswell Sisters close behind. Even more successful was The Laugh Parade, produced by, directed by, and starring comedian Ed Wynn, which ran 243 performances and spun off a double-sided hit record for the Arden-Ohman Orch. of “You’re My Everything” and “Ooh! That Kiss” (both lyrics by Dixon and Joe Young) in the fall.

Warren and Dubin had their first major hit with “Too Many Tears,” which became a best-seller for Lombardo in March 1932. Given the success of his songs in the hands of Vallée and Crosby, Warren must have seemed a perfect choice to write for the Warner film Crooner (1932), a satire on such singers. “Three’s a Crowd” (lyrics by Dubin and Irving Kahal) was used in the picture and became a hit for Gerun in September 1932. By that time Warren had accepted another assignment from Warner Bros, to return to Hollywood and collaborate with Dubin on an original movie musical, 42nd Street. A box office smash, the film was the turning point in his career, and it restored the studios’ faith in musicals. Of the five songs the team wrote for it, four became hits: “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” a best-seller for Crosby backed by Lombardo’s band; the title song, a best-seller for Don Bestor and His Orch.; “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” which was equally successful for Bestor and for Hal Kemp and His Orch.; and “Young and Healthy,” also for Crosby and Lombardo.

The success of 42nd Street caused Warner to go into production with another musical, Gold Diggers of 1933, once again with five songs by Warren and Dubin. This time the hits were the best-seller “The Shadow Waltz” and “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song,” both for Crosby, and “We’re in the Money” (or “The Gold Diggers’ Song”) for Ted Lewis, among others. After this film too became a hit, Warner signed Warren to the first of a series of renewable one- year contracts. He and Dubin next contributed two songs to Footlight Parade, one of which was “Honeymoon Hotel,” which became a hit for Leo Reisman and His Orch. in December 1933. The team was allowed to write the songs for Eddie Cantor’s movie musical Roman Scandals though it was an independent production released through United Artists; their score included “Keep Young and Beautiful/7 a hit for Abe Lyman and His Calif. Orch. in February 1934.

Warren and Dubin’s next picture was also released by United Artists when Warner loaned the team out for Moulin Rouge. All three of the songs they wrote were hits, also in February 1934: “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams” for Jan Garber and His Orch.; “Coffee in the Morning (Kisses in the Night)” for the Bos well Sisters, who appeared in the film; and “Song of Surrender” for Wayne King and His Orch.

Back at Warner the pair had three more musicals in release during 1934. Wonder Bar, an adaptation of the Al Jolson stage show with Jolson starring featured the title song, which scored for Emil Coleman and His Orch. in March, and the April hit for Eddy Duchin and His Orch., “Why Do I Dream Those Dreams?” Among the four songs Warren and Dubin wrote for Twenty Million Sweethearts were the hits “I’ll String Along with You,” a best-seller for Ted Fiorito and His Orch., and “Fair and Warmer,” a hit for Dick Powell, who was in the film; both of these songs were hits in May. Dames produced a hit for Duchin in its title track, but it is best remembered for “I Only Have Eyes for You,” initially a hit in July 1934 for Ben Selvin and His Orch., among others; it subsequently became a standard.

The busiest year in Warren’s career was 1935; he and Dubin were the primary songwriters on five films and contributed to another eight. The result was a series of hits that began in March when Victor Young and His Orch. had a successful recording of the title song from Sweet Music. Among the three songs in Gold Diggers of 1935 was “Lullaby of Broadway,” which topped the hit parade in May, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year in a recording by the Dorsey Brothers Orch. and winning the Academy Award. Go into Your Dance, a vehicle for Jolson and his wife, Ruby Keeler, who had become a film star in 42nd Street, brought “She’s a Latin from Manhattan” into the hit parade for Victor Young, while Ozzie Nelson and His Orch. scored with “About a Quarter to Nine.” Russ Morgan and His Orch. had a hit with “The Rose in Her Hair” from Broadway Gondolier, which also featured “Lulu’s Back in Town,” a hit for Fats Waller.

As a navy veteran Warren had a special feeling for the subject of Shipmates Forever, and “Don’t Give Up the Ship” not only became a hit for Tommy Dorsey and His Orch., it was also adopted by the U.S. Naval Academy as its official song. Hal Kemp had the hit recording of the title song from Page Miss Glory, and at the end of the year Stars Over Broadway produced a hit in Little Jack Little’s recording of “Where Am I?”

Warren and Dubin had primary responsibility for four films released during 1936 while contributing to four more. Their major hits were “I’ll Sing You a Thousand Love Songs” from Cain and Mabel, which topped the hit parade in December for Eddy Duchin, and “With Plenty of Money and You” from Gold Diggers of 1937, on top in February 1937 for Henry Busse and His Orch.

The next year found Warren and Dubin writing songs for six Warner features. “September in the Rain” from Melody for Two was recorded by Lombardo and topped the hit parade in May and June, becoming the biggest hit of the year. Lombardo also took “I Know Now” from The Singing Marine into the hit parade, and the film gave a hit to Kay Kyser and His Orch. with “’Cause My Baby Says It’s So.” Anson Weeks and His Orch. had a hit with “How Could You?” from San Quentin, and Bing Crosby topped the hit parade in November with “Remember Me?” from Mr. Dodd Takes the Air, a Best Song Oscar nominee.

Although Warren was the primary song composer for four Warner films in 1938 and contributed songs to two more, earning his usual number of hits, the year marked the end of a number of associations for him. Personally, he lost his teenage son Harry Warren Jr. to pneumonia on April 2. Professionally, his partnership with Al Dubin gave way as the lyricist became unreliable and was replaced by Johnny Mercer. Though Warren coped with the changes at first, he opted not to renew his Warner contract after 1939. Nevertheless, there were hits, all of them written with Mercer: “Day Dreaming” from Gold Diggers in Paris for Vallee, who starred; and “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” from Hard to Get, at the top of the hit parade in December and January 1939 for Crosby; and “Jeepers Creepers” from Going Places, which topped the hit parade in January and February 1939 for Al Donohue and His Orch. and was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1939, Warren’s final two films for Warner, Naughty but Nice and Wings of the Navy, were released, and he was loaned out to MGM to work with Gus Kahn on Honolulu. However, his only song in the hit parade during the year was “Tears from My Inkwell” (lyrics by Dixon) for Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orch. in May. In 1940 he signed to 20th Century-Fox, headed by Darryl Zanuck, who had brought him to Warner Bros, eight years before. With lyricist Mack Gordon he wrote a new series of musicals, most of them starring Alice Faye and/or Betty Grable and nominally set in exotic locations, many featuring the leading swing bands of the day. In anticipation of those efforts, Glenn Miller and His Orch. scored a minor hit in June 1940 with “Devil May Care,” an independent song on which Warren collaborated with Johnny Burke. Warren’s most successful work of the year came on his second Fox feature, Down Argentine Way, which produced the near-title song “Down Argentina Way,” an Oscar nominee most successfully recorded by Bob Crosby and His Orch., with many competing versions, and “Two Dreams Met,” recorded by Tommy Dorsey among others.

Warren and Gordon wrote songs for five Fox films in 1941, their biggest success coming with Sun Valley Serenade, which featured Miller, who performed one of the year’s biggest hits, the million-selling, Oscar- nominated “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” as well as the hits “I Know Why (And So Do You)” and “It Happened in Sun Valley.” Miller also starred in Orchestra Wives the following year, and from that film he recorded the Warren-Gordon hits “At Last,” “Serenade in Blue,” and the chart-topping gold record “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalama-zoo,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. Harry James and His Orch. were featured in Springtime in the Rockies and scored their own gold chart topper with “I Had the Craziest Dream.” Sammy Kaye and His Orch. were featured in Iceland; their Warren-Gordon hit was “There Will Never Be Another You”

The onset of the recording ban by the musicians’ union in 1942 made it more difficult to score newly recorded hits, but Dick Haymes recorded a cappella for a gold #1 hit with Warren and Gordon’s “You’ll Never Know” from Hello, Frisco, Hello in July 1943; the dreamy ballad won the Academy Award and became Warren’s all-time best-seller in sheet music. After Decca Records settled with the union in September, Glen Gray topped the charts in January 1944 with “My Heart Tells Me (Should I Believe My Heart?)” from Sweet Rosie O’Grady. The Gang’s All Here, which found Warren teaming with lyricist Leo Robin, featured Benny Goodman and His Orch. but brought chart records to Judy Garland, with “A Journey to a Star” and Ella Mae Morse with the war-themed “No Love, No Nothin’ (Until My Baby Comes Home).”

Warren moved from Fox to MGM in 1944 after completing work on a final film, Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe, which produced two Top Ten hits for its star, Dick Haymes, in “I Wish I Knew” and “The More I See You” (both lyrics by Gordon). Warren then wrote songs with Arthur Freed for MGM’s all-star Ziegfeld Follies and the Fred Astaire film Yolanda and the Thief. But his first major success at MGM came with The Harvey Girls, which marked a reunion with Johnny Mercer. The two wrote seven songs for the Judy Garland musical, among them “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” which Mercer and the Pied Pipers recorded well in advance of the film’s release, resulting in a chart-topping hit in the summer of 1945; the song went on to win the 1946 Academy Award.

The late 1940s saw a slowing in Warren’s remarkable output as MGM made fewer musicals. “This Is Always” (lyrics by Gordon) was a holdover from his days at Fox; after being used instrumentally in the studio’s September 1946 release Three Little Girls in Blue, it became a Top Ten hit for Harry James. Warren’s next MGM effort, in collaboration with Ralph Blane, was Summer Holiday (1948), an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Ahi Wilderness starring Mickey Rooney. Jo Stafford had a minor hit with “The Stanley Steamer” from the score. Warren and Blane wrote five new songs for a remake of Twenty Million Sweethearts retitled My Dream Is Yours (1949) at Warner Bros., then Warren teamed with Ira Gershwin back at MGM for The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), the final Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film.

The final Judy Garland film at MGM was Summer Stock (1950), on which Warren collaborated with Gordon and with Saul Chaplin and Jack Brooks; the same year he again teamed with Arthur Freed for the Esther Williams musical Pagan Love Song, and 1951 saw him writing for another Esther Williams vehicle, Texas Carnival, with lyricist Dorothy Fields. None of these efforts produced song hits for Warren, but he did return to the charts in the May 1951 with the independent song “Rose, Rose, I Love You” (lyrics by Brooks), a Top Ten hit for Frankie Laine, and in February 1952 Ray Anthony and His Orch. had a Top Ten revival of “At Last.”

Warren later complained that MGM was lax in promoting his songs. After two more musicals, such as the Fred Astaire film The Belle of New York, with lyrics by Mercer and Esther Williams’s Skirts Ahoy! with lyrics by Blane, Warren left the studio and went to Paramount at the request of Bing Crosby to work on Just for You, which resulted in the hit “Zing a Little Zong” (lyrics by Leo Robin). In 1953 Rosemary Clooney and Harry James revived “You’ll Never Know” for a hit while Warren and Brooks wrote songs for the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy The Caddy, among them “That’s Amore,” which became a gold-selling hit for Martin and brought Warren his tenth Oscar nomination. Warren, Brooks, and Martin tried for another Italian-flavored hit with “Innamorata” from the 1955 Martin and Lewis comedy Artists and Models and didn’t do quite as well, though Martin’s recording did get into the Top 40 in April 1956.

By the mid-1950s, Hollywood had lost interest in original movie musicals of the kind it had made in the 1930s and 1940s, and Warren found time to write his first stage musical in 25 years in 1956. Shangri-La was a flop, running only 21 performances, but Warren was back in the pop charts in the fall when The Platters revived “You’ll Never Know” yet again for a Top 40 hit. Back at Paramount, Warren was called upon largely to write title songs and incidental music for essentially nonmusical films. In 1957 he collaborated with Harold Adamson and director Leo McCarey on several songs for the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr romance An Affair to Remember, including the title song, which became a Top 40 hit for Vic Damone (who sang it over the film’s credits) in August; it earned him his 11th Academy Award nomination.

After the breakup of Martin and Lewis, Warren continued to write songs for Jerry Lewis’s Paramount comedies, Rock-a-Bye Baby (with Sammy Cahn; 1958), Cinderfella (with Brooks; 1960), and The Ladies’ Man (with Brooks; 1961) before leaving the studio to work freelance in 1961. He wrote several title songs in the 1960s, the last of which was for the Rosalind Russell film Rosie! in 1967 with Mercer. (He also finished a non film project in 1962, composing the music for a Catholic Mass with a Latin text, although it was not performed in public until 1980 when it was premiered by the Loyola-Marymount Coll. Mixed Chorus in Los Angeles.)

Meanwhile, his songs came in for frequent revival. The Flamingos had the biggest hit of their career with their Top Ten rendition of “I Only Have Eyes for You” in 1959. Bobby Darin had a Top Ten hit with “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” in 1961, the same year that Dinah Washington hit the Top 40 with “September in the Rain.” Floyd Cramer had a Top 40 instrumental recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1962, and Chris Montez reached the Top 40 with two Warren songs, “The More I See You” and “There Will Never Be Another You” in 1966. The Dave Clark Five were in the Top 40 with their version of “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” in 1967. Art Garfunkel’s revival of “I Only Have Eyes for You” made the U.S. Top 40 and topped the U.K. charts in 1975, and Tuxedo Junction had a disco-flavored Top 40 hit with “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1978.

The late 1970s brought a resurgence of theatrical interest in Warren’s music. A series of musical revues was mounted, including Harry’s Back in Town in Toronto in 1976, Mr. Warren’s Profession in London in 1977, and Lullaby of Broadway Off-Broadway in 1979. Finally, in 1980, impresario David Merrick produced a stage adaptation of 42nd Street on Broadway; it used the film’s score plus other Warren songs and ran 3,486 performances, making it one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history. Warren was too ill to attend the opening. At the time of his death he was working on Manhattan Melody, an original movie musical to be directed by James Bridges at 20th Century-Fox.


(only works for which Warren was the primary, credited song composer are listed): MUSICALS/REVUES: Billy Rose’s Crazy Quilt (N.Y., May 19, 1931); The Laugh Parade (N.Y., Nov. 2,1931); Shangri-La (N.Y., June 13,1956); 42nd Street (N.Y, Aug. 25, 1980). FILMS: 42nd Street (1933); Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933); Roman Scandals (1933); Moulin Rouge (1934); Wonder Bar (1934); Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934); Dames (1934); Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935); Go into Your Dance (1935); Broadway Gondolier (1935); Shipmates Forever (1935); Stars over Broadway (1935); / Found Stella Parrish (1935); Colleen (1936); Hearts Divided (1936); Cain and Mabel (1936); Sing Me a Love Song (1936); The Singing Marine (1937); Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937); Gold Diggers in Paris (1938); Garden of the Moon (1938); Hard to Get (1938); Going Places (1938); Naughty but Nice (1939); Honolulu (1939); Young People (1940); Down Argentine Way (1940); That Night in Rio (1941); The Great American Broadcast (1941); Sun Valley Serenade (1941); Weekend in Havana (1941); Charlie Chan in Rio (1941); Orchestra Wives (1942); Iceland (1942); Springtime in the Rockies (1942); Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943); The Gang’s All Here (1943); Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe (1945); Yolanda and the Thief (1945); The Harvey Girls (1946); Summer Holiday (1948); My Dream Is Yours (1949); The Barkleys of Broadway (1949); Summer Stock (1950); Pagan Love Song (1950); Texas Carnival (1951); The Belle of N.Y.(1952); Skirts Ahoy! (1952); Just for You (1952); The Caddy (1953); Artists and Models (1955); The Birds and the Bees (1956); An Affair to Remember (1957); Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958); Cinderfella (1960); The Ladies’ Man (1961).


T. Thomas, H. W. and the Hollywood Musical (Secau-cus, N.Y, 1975).

—William Ruhlmann

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Warren, Harry (originally, Guaragna, Salvatore)

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