Youmans, Vincent (Millie)
Youmans, Vincent (Millie)
Youmans, Vincent (Millie), American composer and theatrical producer; b. N.Y., Sept. 27,1898; d. Denver, April 5, 1946. Youmans wrote some of the defining songs of the 1920s, including “Tea for Two” “I Want to Be Happy” and “More than You Know.” Despite a career shortened by illness, he was the primary composer of 11 Broadway musicals, including No, No, Nanette, and he worked with many of the major lyricists of his day, including Ira Gershwin, Otto Har-bach, Oscar Hammerstein II, and B. G. De Sylva.
Youmans was the son of Vincent Miller and Lucy Gibson Millie Youmans. His family owned a chain of N.Y. hat stores, and he grew up in the wealthy N.Y. suburb of Larchmont, attending private schools and beginning college at Yale’s engineering school. His interest in becoming an engineer quickly waned, however, and after briefly working in the family business, he took a job making piano rolls and selling pianos for the Aeolian Company. With the U.S. entry into World War I in April 1917, he enlisted in the navy and was sent to the Great Lakes Training Station near Chicago, where he played piano in a band and wrote music, including a march that was adopted by John Philip Sousa and that Youmans later adapted into the song “Hallelujah!” for his 1927 musical Hit the Deck! Youmans went to Tin Pan Alley after the war, working as a song plugger at Jerome H. Remick, music publisher. Remick gave him his first song publication, “The Country Cousin” (lyrics by Alfred Bryan) in 1920, and the same year two of his songs were used in the revue Piccadilly to Broadway, which closed out of town but launched his association with Ira Gershwin. They teamed up again for Two Little Girls in Blue (which also had music by Paul Lannin); it was a moderate success, running 135 performances and featuring “Oh Me! Oh My!,” which became a hit for Frank Crumit and the Paul Biese Trio in November 1921, after the show had closed in N.Y. and embarked on a successful road tour.
Youmans collaborated with composer Herbert Sto-thart and lyricist-librettists Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II on the operetta Wildflower, the longest-running show of the 1922-23 season at 477 performances. It produced two big hits, “Bambalina,” which became a best-seller for Paul Whiteman and His Orch. in June 1923, and the title song, recorded by Ben Bernie and His Orch. Youmans, Stothart, and Hammerstein then teamed with lyricist-librettist William Cary Duncan for Mary Jane McKane, a modestly successful musical that opened on Broadway in December 1923, beating by a month the Youmans-Zelda Sears musical Lollipop, also a modest success. Youmans next wrote the music for No, No, Nanette, which had lyrics by Otto Harbach, who co-wrote the libretto with Frank Mandel. After the show’s tryouts in Detroit and Cincinnati, two new songs with lyrics by Irving Caesar were inserted: “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy.” The show then became such a success in Chicago that it stayed there for the 1924-25 season while spawning other touring versions and a London production that ran 665 performances. Meanwhile, recording artists began to discover the score: among the many versions of “I Want to Be Happy,” the most popular was the one by Vincent Lopez and His Orch., while Marion Harris had the best-selling record of “Tea for Two” in February 1925. Thus, when No, No, Nanette finally reached N.Y. in September it was already an international success. It conquered Broadway too, running 321 performances. Youmans’s next Broadway show, Oh, Please!, a vehicle for Beatrice Lillie, was a failure in N.Y. (it eventually made money on the road), but “I Know that You Know” (lyrics by Anne Caldwell) from the score became a hit for Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orch. in April 1927. The show is also notable for its chorus, which contained both of the women Youmans would marry. The first was dancer Anne Varley, whom Youmans married on Feb. 7, 1927, while she was still appearing in Oh, Please! They became the parents of twins, but the marriage foundered in its first year, and they divorced in 1933. Youmans formed a longer lasting liaison with dancer Mildred Antoinette Boots, who was his companion for years prior to their marriage on Oct. 21,1935. Youmans scored the third and final Broadway hit of his career with Hit the Deck!, which had a naval theme and which he co-produced. The show ran 352 performances and featured two hit songs, the most popular recordings of which appeared on either side of a single disc, Victor 20599: on one side was Nat Shilkret’s recording of Youmans’s World War I march, “Hallelujah!” (lyrics by Leo Robin and Clifford Grey); on the other, Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orch.’s version of “Sometimes I’m Happy.” The latter song had a history too. As “Come On and Pet Me” (lyrics by William Cary Duncan and Oscar Hammerstein II), it was written for Mary Jane McKane but cut before that show opened. With a new lyric by Irving Caesar, it was put into Youmans’s failed 1925 musical A Night Out—which never reached N.Y.—before finally finding favor two years later in Hit the Deck! Youmans’s tendency to reuse melodies from earlier shows was not unique among composers, but the extent of his cannibalization was unusual.
Rainbow, which Youmans wrote with Hammerstein, was seen as something of a sequel to Hammerstein’s ambitious 1927 musical Show Boat, but a disastrous opening night doomed it. Youmans then determined to better control his works: he leased the Cosmopolitan Theatre and produced his next musical, Great Day, himself. Unfortunately, it was another flop, but after it closed three of its songs became hits: the title song was a best-seller for Paul Whiteman with Bing Crosby on vocals in December 1929; Whiteman and Crosby also had a hit with “Without a Song;” and Ruth Etting scored with “More than You Know” (all lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu). The introduction of sound films in 1928 led to a slew of movie musicals, and several of Youmans’s shows were adapted for the screen in 1930, beginning with No, No, Nanette. In the wake of the film’s release, the Ipana Troubadors had a revival hit with “Tea for Two,” and Red Nichols and His Five Pennies brought back “I Want to Be Happy.” (Those were the only songs in the movie retained from the stage version.) Then came Song of the West, a film version of Rainbow, and Hit the Deck (sans exclamation mark). Youmans wrote a new song for each. He also wrote three songs for What a Widow!, his first original score for a motion picture. Youmans’s next stage musical was the Florenz Ziegfeld production Smiles, which featured Fred and Adele Astaire. It was a failure, but a year after it opened on Broadway, there were two hit recordings of one of its songs, “Time on My Hands” (lyrics by Harold Adamson and Mack Gordon), the first by Smith Ballew and His Piping Rock Orch., the second by Leo Reisman and His Orch. with a vocal by Lee Wiley. Youmans again acted as his own producer for Through the Years, which flopped, although Reisman made a hit out of “Drums in My Heart” (lyrics by Edward Heyman) in March 1932. Nacio Herb Brown and Richard A. Whiting were the credited composers of the successful musical Take a Chance (N.Y., Nov. 26, 1932), for which B. G. De Sylva served as co-producer, co-librettist, and lyricist, but Youmans contributed five tunes, his last for Broadway, including “Rise ’n Shine,” which became a hit for Paul Whiteman in January 1933. Youmans spent May to August 1933 in Hollywood writing songs for Flying Down to Rio. The film is remembered for establishing the dancing team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In his four songs, all of which became hits, Youmans demonstrated an affinity for Latin rhythms. The dance tune “The Carioca” was recorded by several artists; the most popular version was by Enric Madriguera and His Orch., a best-seller in March 1934. (It was also nominated for an Academy Award.) Astaire and Rudy Vallée divided the other songs between them, with Vallée having the most successful version of the tango “Orchids in the Moonlight” and Astaire the biggest hit with “Music Makes Me,” while the two had equally popular recordings of the title song. (All lyrics were by Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu.)
Unfortunately, Flying Down to Rio marked the end of Youmans’s career as a composer. He contracted tuberculosis in 1934 and retired to Colo, for his health. Aspiring to write serious music, he studied with various teachers and spurned offers to write for Hollywood or Broadway. He produced but did not write music for Vincent Youmans’ Revue (Baltimore, Jan. 27,1944), which closed out of town. He and his second wife divorced in January 1946. He died of tuberculosis in April at the age of 47. Four months later, Perry Como had a chart revival of “More than You Know.” Les Paul made the charts in 1952 with an instrumental treatment of “The Carioca,” and in 1955 MGM released an all-star remake of Hit the Deck that contained a previously unused Youmans melody. But by far the most frequently revived Youmans work was No, No, Nanette, along with its songs “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy.” In 1958 the Tommy Dorsey Orch. Starring Warren Covington had a Top Ten, gold-selling record of “Tea for Two Cha Cha,” following with a chart record of “I Want to Be Happy Cha Cha” that was also recorded by Enoch Light and the Light Brigade. A more conventional revival of “Tea for Two” was a chart record for Nino Tempo and April Stevens in 1964. A Broadway revival of No, No, Nanette (N.Y., Jan. 19, 1971) became the biggest hit of the 1970-71 season, running 861 performances, and its cast album reached the charts.
(only works for which Youmans was a primary, credited composer are listed): MUSICALS/REVUES (dates refer to N.Y. openings unless otherwise indicated): Two Little Girls in Blue (May 3, 1921); Wildflower (Feb. 7, 1923); Mary Jane McKane (Dec. 25, 1923); Lollipop (Jan. 21, 1924); No, No, Nanette (Chicago, May 5, 1924; London, March 11, 1925; N.Y., Sept. 16, 1925); Oh, Please! (Dec. 17, 1926); Hit the Deck! (April 25, 1927); Rainbow (Nov. 21, 1928); Great Day (Oct. 17, 1929); Smiles (Nov. 18, 1930); Through the Years (Jan. 28, 1932). FILMS: Song of the West (1930); Hit the Deck (1930); What a Widow! (1930); Flying Down to Rio (1933); No, No, Nanette (1940); Hit the Deck (1955).
G. Bordman, Days to Be Happy, Years to Be Sad: The Life and Music of V. Y.(N.Y, 1982).