Film Music Review
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Book Review:


Pick Yourself Up: Dorothy Fields and The American Musical

by Charlotte Greenspan

Oxford University Press,
Hardcover, 2010. 298 pages + xvii

Rating: Excellent


This is the one of better books I have seen lately about the life of a popular songwriter. In this case, it is about one of the most prominent and prolific woman lyricists, Dorothy Fields, who wrote over 400 songs.

Her songs were called "urbane" and "sensuous" and "slangy," rather than polite and ladylike. Two of her best known early song lyrics were: "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (music by Jimmy McHugh, 1928), and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (music by Jimmy McHugh, 1930). I've been a big admirer of her witty and stylish lyrics for many years and was pleased to be present a music tribute program on the centennial of her birth in 2005, along with songwriters Harold Arlen and Jule Styne.

Dorothy Fields was also the first woman to receive an Oscar for one of her songs , co-written with Jerome Kern, "The Way You Look Tonight," from the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO musical, SWING TIME.

Charlotte Greenspan's well researched and highly readable book provides a detailed description of the life of Dorothy Fields and focuses on her lyrics and books for plays and also her movie songs.

After the preliminary discussion about the early life and emerging career of Dorothy Fields in the theater, Greenspan writes about her work writing movie songs during the 1930s with such collaborators as Jimmy McHugh ("Hooray For Love" title song, 1935), Oscar Levant ("I've Got A New Lease On Life" from IN PERSON, 1935), and Jerome Kern ("Lovely To Look At" from ROBERTA, 1935). These years are discussed from chapter 7 ("Hello to Hollywood") to chapter 10 ("End of an Era"). Of particular importance is chapter 9 ("The Best of Hollywood") which discusses her work with Jerome Kern, especially for SWING TIME (1936), including the delightfully witty song used as title of the book, "Pick Yourself Up."

Also of note to movie musical fans is chapter 15 ("More Movies") which discusses her lyrics for films of the 1950s, including such lesser known MGM musicals as EXCUSE MY DUST (1951) and TEXAS CARNIVAL (1951), starring Red Skelton.

At the back of the book are several very useful additions. Appendix I has an alphabetical list of all 411 of her songs. Appendix 2 has a list of theater works and movies, also arranged alphabetically. Following that are the Notes for each chapter in the book. Next is a comprehensive list of Songs, Shows and Movies. Finally is the General Index of persons mentioned in the book.

I'd recommend this highly entertaining, well written book by Charloitte Greenspan. Then, as the title song says so cleverly, you can...

"Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again" reading about the wonderful song lyrics of Dorthy Fields.


-Roger Hall, 10 November 2010

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