Born Julius Styne in London in 1905, Jule
Styne moved with his family to Chicago when
he was 8.
He started piano lessons and proved to be
such a prodigy, he was performing with the
Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit Symphonies
before he was 10.
In his 20s, he played pop music with name
bands in Chicago.
He landed in Hollywood in his 30’s, where he
did vocal coaching at 20th Century
Alice Faye and Tony Martin were easy to
coach. But not so Shirley
8-year-old Shirley preferred playing
badminton to working.
Whenever her mother said it was time to
rehearse with "Mr. Styne," Shirley would
reply: “Look. I earn all the money in this
family. Don’t tell me what to
Styne finally got around to songwriting in
1940, getting a staff composer job at
Republic Studios. Republic did
low-budget films, mostly Roy Rogers and Gene
They also had John Wayne under
In 1941, Republic lent Wayne to Paramount
and, in exchange, got the services of
lyricist Frank Loesser (see Day 5 of
Holiday Advent Calendar) for one
When Loesser first met with Styne to
collaborate, Styne started to play Loesser a
10 seconds into hearing it, Loesser said:
“Shhhh. Quick! Put that one
away. It’s too good for here.
We’ll write that song together at
And, within a year, they did, after Loesser
requested that Paramount borrow
The song, from the movie “Sweater Girl,” was
Want to Walk Without You."
It became a #1 hit for the Harry James
Orchestra and Helen Forrest.
At the time of the song’s release, Irving
Berlin said: "This is the greatest
song I wish I’d written."
Here’s the James/Forrest version:
Styne soon began what would become an 8-year
partnership with lyricist Sammy Cahn (see
Day 11 of the Holiday Advent Calendar)
that sent their careers into the
The way they worked was for Cahn to give
Styne a title or a bit of a lyric.
Styne would then compose the music.
Styne’s son, Stanley, used to listen at the
door of his dad’s study when Cahn and Styne
worked together. He says the words and
music came very easily to each of
them. And they both liked to work
Among their 1940’s hits still familiar are:
Many of these songs were hits for Frank
Sinatra, and Styne and Cahn quickly became
Sinatra's go-to songwriters.
Styne and Sinatra became very close friends,
and, for the rest of his working life, Styne
always thought of Sinatra first whenever he
wrote potential hit songs.
Like many, if not most, of the Hollywood
composers, Styne got the “Broadway
Bug.” He wanted the prestige of
writing a Broadway score.
In 1947, he and Cahn wrote “High Button
Shoes,” which had a very healthy two-year
run on Broadway.
Styne was immediately -- and
permanently -- hooked.
Cahn? Not so much.
Styne and Cahn were no longer joined at the
They periodically collaborated on songs, and
had one more gigantic hit up their sleeves
Coins in the Fountain” -- which won
the Oscar for Best Song in 1954.
It was Styne’s ninth nomination, and only
Here’s the song, sung by Sinatra (of
(Another great thing about looking at that
clip? In less than 4 minutes, you’ve
gotten to watch a mini-version of a pretty
mushy, soupy movie. (Although the
two of us don't quite agree on that
In 1949, Jule wrote the music (to Leo
Robin’s lyrics) for the Broadway show
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," which made a
star of Carol Channing.
Styne was actually responsible for Channing
getting the part.
Anita Loos (who wrote the book upon which
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is based as well
as the book for the musical) said of
Channing’s performance in an earlier show,
“Lend An Ear”:
“I like the satire in her.”
Styne capitalized on that element of
Channing’s stage persona in coaching her
through all her numbers.
Here’s Channing doing “Diamonds
Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the
And here’s Marilyn Monroe’s version from the
movie in 1953:
In the 1950s, Styne formed a sturdy
partnership with lyricists/librettists Betty
Comden & Adolph Green (see Day 4
of the Holiday Advent Calendar).
The three of them did a series of musicals
“Two On the Aisle”
“Bells Are Ringing”
“Do Re Mi”
among others, and many of them were quite
Then, in 1959, Styne was signed to write the
music for “Gypsy,”
based on the memoir by the celebrated
stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.
The show’s star, Ethel Merman, personally
selected Styne for the job. Stephen
Sondheim did the lyrics.
Here are three good Styne stories from
Jule Styne loved to compose music, but he
also loved to write hits.
And, as we mentioned earlier, he especially
loved to write hits for Frank Sinatra to
Styne had given Sondheim the tune for “Small
World,” which Styne was certain had
written all over it.
Sondheim went home, carefully crafted his
lyric for the characters and the situation,
and then played the completed song for
When Sondheim got to the lyric:
"Lucky, you’re a man who likes children.
That’s an important sign.
Lucky, I’m a woman with children.
Small world, isn’t it?
Styne went ballistic!
“Woman with Children?!! Woman with
"How am I ever gonna get Sinatra to sing a
song that goes 'woman with children'?”
From the movie “Gypsy” with Rosalind
Russell, here's the song about the woman
One of the best songs in “Gypsy” is “You’ll
Never Get Away From Me,” sung here
by Bernadette Peters in a 21st century
Broadway revival of the show:
Now, every composer has what they call
"trunk songs" -- music they’ve written, but
which has never been used.
Styne expanded the definition of “trunk
songs” to include music he’d written in the
past but would be perfect for the current
project EVEN THOUGH IT HAS ALREADY BEEN
INCLUDED IN A PRIOR SHOW.
Such was the case with the music for "You'll
Never Get Away from Me."
Styne had used the music several years
before in a TV Special that aired just once
-- “Ruggles of Red Gap” -- starring Michael
Redgrave, Peter Lawford, and Jane Powell.
In the TV special, the song was titled “I'm
In Pursuit of Happiness.”
Sondheim only found out about it well after
“Gypsy” had opened and the original cast
album had been recorded and released.
Understandably, he had a fit -- partly
because he prided himself on knowing every
show tune ever recorded.
Almost every musical has an overture to
preview the songs the audience will be
hearing during the course of the
Up until "Gypsy," the typical overture would
consist of short bits of the songs from the
score played sequentially, with some
incidental music thrown in to connect the
Well, Jule Styne wanted to shake the norms
He wrote an overture for "Gypsy" that
blended all of the songs into a sort of
super-charged suite (we’re sure there’s an
exact musical term for this, but that’s
beyond our pay grade) that didn't just
"preview" the songs from the show, but
incorporated the songs into a cohesive
musical composition that built the audience
up into a frenzy of excitement and
anticipation. When the curtain opened,
that audience was primed to have a good
So here's the story:
Styne completes his new-fangled overture and
plays it for the show's director Jerry
Robbins, the show's librettist Arthur
Laurents, and the show's lyricist Stephen
None of them likes it.
Stunned, Styne makes them promise that the
overture can be played at one performance so
that they can all see how the audience
responds (or doesn’t respond).
Styne himself oversaw the rehearsals of the
He talked to a trumpeter in the pit - Dick
Perry - and told him that when it came time
for his trumpet solo, he should stand up,
let go, and blow the roof off the
Styne next went to the lighting booth and
instructed the lighting technician to put a
spotlight on Dick Perry when he did his
After all of this prep, the overture was
played at the next performance.
At the end of the overture, the audience
Up in the balcony, Arthur Laurents said to
“Look! They’re applauding the
A sour Sondheim replied:
“They’re applauding the trumpet.”
Here’s the overture, just as it was played
that first time. (Listen for the
trumpet solo at about the 3:45 mark).
In the summer of 2020, at the height of the
pandemic, a Zoom orchestra got together
virtually to perform this overture.
Remember. They are not in the same
Four years after "Gypsy," Styne had another
gargantuan hit with “Funny Girl,” the
musical comedy version of Ziegfeld Follies
star Fanny Brice’s early career and romance
with Nick Arnstein.
One of the show’s producers was Ray Stark,
who was married to Fran Arnstein Stark, the
daughter of Fanny and Nick.
The producers' first choice for Fanny was …
Mary was pushing 50 and wasn’t in the
slightest bit “ethnic.”
But she was still a huge ticket
Martin was interested, but then quickly
The next choice was Anne Bancroft:
Fran Stark was firmly in favor of Bancroft.
But Bancroft had a limited vocal range and
wanted to hear the songs first before
committing to the role.
In the meantime, Styne had seen Barbra
Streisand at the Bon Soir nightclub in
Greenwich Village and was convinced she was
perfect for the role.
He took director Jerry Robbins and Ray and
Fran Stark to the nightclub to see Streisand
The men liked her, but Mrs. Stark said:
“That girl is not playing my mother!”
Shortly thereafter, Styne ran into the
accomplished lyricist Bob Merrill, who had
written the lyrics for “Carnival,” “Take Me
Along,” and “New Girl in Town.”
Styne asked Merrill if he’d be interested in
writing the lyrics for “Funny Girl” starring
Merrill was interested, but mentioned that
he had dated Bancroft for a while and it
hadn’t ended well.
Styne said not to worry about it.
Styne gave Merrill the tunes he had written
so far, and Merrill quickly lyricized them.
A meeting was set up with Bancroft, who came
to the theater, said hello to Styne at the
piano, and then spotted Merrill -- and
She listened to the songs (which were mostly
outside her limited range), stood up and
said: “I want nothing to do with this
show,” then walked out of the theater.
We'll never know if that was Styne's clever
way to get Bancroft out of the show, just as
we’ll never know what the pillow talk was
between the Starks, but Mrs. Stark came
around to the idea of Streisand, and Jule
Styne got Barbra Streisand cast in the role.
Brice's daughter, Fran Stark, with Barbra
For this show, Styne had picked “People”
to be the hit, but the producers and the
director wanted to cut it because it really
didn’t belong in the scene where it was
placed (or in any other scene, to their way
But Styne and Merrill dug in their heels and
insisted the song stay.
“Why?” they were asked.
“It has to be in the show because it’s the
greatest thing Barbra’s ever
done. She’s just made a single
of it that none of you have heard.
It’s going to be a solid hit. When you
put the spotlight on her opening night and
she sings this song, she’ll bring the house
And she did:
The other standard to emerge from “Funny
Girl” is “Don’t
Rain on My Parade.”
There is no better version of it than the
first act finale in the 1968 movie.
After 1964, Styne worked on Broadway
continually, although with diminishing
High points were 1967’s “Hallelujah Baby”
and 1972’s “Sugar” (the musical version of
“Some Like It Hot”),
but the low points eventually became the
We want to leave you on a high point.
Here’s the overture to “Funny Girl” -- again
with Dick Perry on the trumpet.