Arlen's first hit was “Get
Happy,” written with lyricist Ted
The song was introduced in 1930 by Ruth
Etting in “The Nine-Fifteen Revue.”
If you’ve seen Doris Day in the movie “Love
Me or Leave Me,” that was Ruth Etting she
Twenty years after Etting introduced the
song, Judy Garland sang it in the movie
It became one of Judy's signature numbers:
Arlen and Koehler wrote a passel of songs
for The Cotton Club revues in the early
They had a number of hit songs in these
annual revues, but the biggest for them was
At the time, everyone thought the definitive
version was sung by the song’s originator,
Until Lena Horne sang it a decade later in a
movie called, appropriately enough, “Stormy
And then, 40 years ago, the two of us went
to the first preview of Lena Horne’s
one-woman show on Broadway.
We went to the first preview because these
kinds of shows often opened and closed very
quickly. Blink and you could miss
Not this one. It was a smash!
Horne sang lots of songs we knew, including
Weather, and lots of songs we
Near the end of the second act, she started
a song that seemed unfamiliar. We --
and much of the audience -- were stunned to
hear what the song was.
Maybe you will be, too:
Arlen’s most famous song by far, written
with E.Y. Harburg, is “Over
The rest of the score to “The Wizard of Oz”
-- the lemon drop songs, as Arlen called
them -- came easily and quickly.
But it took Arlen forever to come up with
the melody for “Over
In general, he liked to write the melody
first and then hand it over to the lyricist.
Inspiration finally came to him while he was
driving at night on Sunset Boulevard.
However -- once written, the song struggled
to stay in the movie.
“The Wizard of Oz” was frequently previewed
to make sure it was as perfect as it could
Three times, studio executives ordered the
“It slows down the picture.”
“It’s too mature a song for Dorothy.”
And three times, Associate Producer Arthur
Freed threw hissy-fits to get the song
The rest is musical history.
It won an Oscar for Best Song, and is
consistently voted the Best Song Ever
Written for a Movie.
Here it is, as honest and affecting as it
was 82 years ago:
Surprisingly, this was Arlen’s only Oscar
(out of 9 nominations).
Here's a funny story:
In 1947, Harold and one of his best friends,
songwriter Harry Warren, were driving with
their wives to Palm Springs.
It was Oscar night and, even though he was
nominated for the song “On
The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,"
after two wins and 8 nominations, sitting in
a ballroom with a hundred nervous nominees
was not Harry Warren's idea of fun.
They listened to the live Oscar show on the
radio and were delighted when Warren and
Johnny Mercer were announced as the winners
-- giving Warren his third Oscar win.
The Arlens and the Warrens arrived in Palm
Springs shortly thereafter and, as they were
about to get out of the car, Warren turned
to Arlen and said: “Please walk two Oscars
Some of the best songs Arlen wrote were with
lyricist Johnny Mercer.
Among them was this song from the 1943 movie
“The Sky’s the Limit”:
That same year, Harold Arlen wrote a new
song with E.Y. Harburg for the film musical
“Cabin in the Sky.”
Perhaps Ethel Waters found this a
consolation prize for Lena Horne usurping
(And, as you can imagine, this song is very
popular at our house):
a great story about the song “The
Man That Got Away.”
The song was written by Arlen and Ira
Gershwin for Judy Garland’s comeback
movie, “A Star is Born.”
They had pretty much finished the song,
and Arlen was going off to Palm Springs
for the weekend with Judy and her
husband Sid Luft.
Ira was still insecure about what they
had created, and he made Harold promise
not to play the song for Judy.
The next day, the Lufts and Harold were
golfing, and Harold was absent-mindedly
humming the intro to “The
Man That Got Away.”
Ever-vigilant, Judy stopped and said:
“What is that? Is that for our
picture? What are you humming?"
Cornered, Harold fessed up, found a
piano in the clubhouse, and played the
Predictably, Garland went
Arlen then fessed up to Gershwin, who
was so relieved that Judy loved it, he
forgave Harold for breaking his
If you like musicals, it doesn't get any
better than this:
told you that Harold, early on, earned
his living singing.
Here he is in a 1933 Paramount soundie
singing a medley of four of his songs:
are dozens of Arlen songs we could
insert into this mini-bio, but we
know you have a life outside of
looking at our website, so we’re
going to leave you now with Harold
Arlen’s favorite song, performed
memorably by Frank Sinatra: