Thursday, October 15, 2009

Turner Classic Movies Celebrates the Legacy of Singer-Songwriter Johnny Mercer in a Special by Clint Eastwood


When Turner Classic Movies contacted me about reviewing a show about Johnny Mercer, my immediate thought was, “Johnny who?” I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never heard of Johnny Mercer! But when I heard some of the titles of the songs he wrote, I became intrigued to find out more about the “man behind the music.” He may not be a household name (at least not for those who are my age or younger), but Johnny Mercer co-wrote some of the best loved songs of the 20th century, such as:

“Hooray for Hollywood”
“Jeepers Creepers”
“That Old Black Magic”
“Moon River”
“The Days of Wine and Roses”
“Too Marvelous for Words”
“You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby”
“One for My Baby (and One for the Road)”
“Accentuate the Positive”
…and many, many more

Johnny Mercer was born in 1909 in Savannah, Georgia. His parents were fairly well-off, but Johnny was always described as a “country boy,” with his gap-toothed smile and everyman looks. One of his ancestors was in military service under George Washington’s command! But Johnny left his home to make it big on Broadway and in Hollywood. He initially set out to be a film star, but eventually became better known for the songs he penned. Bing Crosby sang a lot of his songs and helped him to make it in Hollywood. And Johnny co-wrote songs with more than 170 people, eventually earning 18 Oscar nominations (and winning 4 of them), writing songs for nearly 100 Broadway shows, and selling more than 12 million records. He received a posthumous Tony nomination in 1983 when Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (one of my favorite musicals) went to Broadway. He was also a co-founder of Capitol Records, where he made the bold move of signing up the unknown Nat King Cole, which broke a lot of racial barriers in the industry during that time.

Turner Classic Movies is now commemorating the life of this remarkable man with a new special and film series. On Wednesday, November 4, at 8:00 PM EST, they will premiere the special, Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me, executive-produced by Clint Eastwood. This special has interviews with many famous people, including Julie Andrews, John Williams, Andre Previn, Cleo Laine, Leonard Maltin, Jack Lemmon, and more. It also delves into Johnny’s personal life, including his family’s history as prominent citizens of Georgia, his marriage to Ginger (the child of Russian Jewish immigrants), his love story with Judy Garland, his struggles with alcohol, his many friendships, and the adoption of his two children. He died in 1976 after surgery to remove a brain tumor and is now buried in his beloved Savannah.

Numerous performances of Johnny’s work are shown in this highly entertaining special by legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Fred Astaire, Andy Williams, Pearl Bailey, Dinah Shore, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, and Lena Horne. Past interviews with Johnny himself are also highlighted. After Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me airs on Wednesday, November 4, TCM will present several classic films on which Johnny worked every Wednesday night in November. They include:

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Blues in the Night (1941)
Hollywood Hotel (1937)
The Harvey Girls (1946)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
The Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Li’l Abner (1959)
The Belle of New York (1952)

On November 18, the anniversary of his birth, TCM will show an entire day’s worth of Mercer’s shows. If you’re a fan of Mercer’s work, you’ll definitely want to catch this series and, especially, the special by Clint Eastwood. If, like me, you weren’t familiar with Johnny Mercer’s name before now, please do yourself a favor and learn about this brilliant man. All music, film and theater lovers should know about the remarkable contributions that Johnny Mercer made during the 20th century.

Visit Turner Classic Movies at http://www.tcm.com/movienews/index/?cid=254875 to learn more about Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me.

And enjoy the trailer below for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which features a terrific selection of songs from the movie. (Those viewing this review via email will need to click on the title of this post to go to the blog page.)







DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of the DVD, Johnny Mercer: The Dream's on Me, to facilitate this review. No other compensation was provided.

4 comments:

  1. WHOA WHOA WHOA! Yes, I agree that Johnny Mercer was a great lyricist, and occasionally wrote his own music. But, please give credit where credit is due. Of all the songs you list as being composed by Mr. Mercer, he actually wrote the music for none of them. For example, when "Moon River" or "Days of Wine & Roses" are heard, how can you not think of Henry Mancini, the composer.

    So, as much as I look forward to seeing this documentary, your blog is giving people the wrong impression, that Johnny Mercer is solely responsible for some of our most beloved songs.

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  2. I did note that Johnny Mercer worked with more than 170 collaborators. Often, according to the special, he did the lyrics and somebody else did the music, or they worked on it together. I never meant to imply that Johnny Mercer deserves SOLE credit for many of those songs. However, without a doubt, most of them would not have existed without Mercer's contribution.

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  3. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Johnny Mercer fan, but the whole article could be fixed and made more accurate by changing the word "wrote", before your list of songs, to "co-wrote".

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  4. Thank you for your suggestion. I appreciate your sharp eyes and attention to detail. I just made the change.

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