Snapshot in Prose: Gordon & Revel

Though he would go on to work with other composers (and have his songs be nominated for the best original song Oscar nine times), Mack Gordon spent the 1930s paired with English pianist and composer Harry Revel. The duo were very successful indeed, penning a string of popular songs that included “Underneath the Harlem Moon,” “College Rhythm,” and our personal favorite Gordon-Revel tune, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?”

This Snapshot in Prose captures the pair in 1934, at the height of their shared success. Read to the end of the piece, and you’ll find some of our favorite renditions of a few Gordon-Revel compositions.

MACK GORDON and Harry Revel must often grin these days and ask each other if they are not a couple of dreams walking.
They were born with an ocean between them but that couldn’t keep their words and music apart.
Mack Gordon is a native of Brooklyn. He is only now twenty-nine. While he was a youngster in school, Mack had a great flair for writing poems. Today, his lyrics are keeping millions of us romantic.
As soon as he was knee-high to a grasshopper he was trying to write shows for the whole school. Every one in the neighborhood knew him as “the little fat comedians.”
Mack’s family wanted him to be a lawyer He was too agreeable to disagree with them. So he went to law school. But not long, for he convinced his family he’d never make a lawyer.
After a year or two, Mack knew that he belonged to the theatre, to you and me.
From 1923 to 1930, Gordon played in vaudeville. Again he pitched in to run the show. He wrote his own entire acts—sang, danced, and clowned.
Of course, the lyrics writers soon cocked up their own ears and listened. Generously, they exclaimed:
“Why don’t you leave the stage and write songs?”
They were real friends, those Tin Pan Alley boys. Fortunately for Mack, he finally took their advice.
About this time, something prompted young Harry Revel to leave England and come to America. Though he had travel all over the world, Harry felt a terrific urge to try his luck as a composer in New York.
Harry had played in orchestras in many countries and when the orchestras didn’t play, Harry turned to his other talent, languages. Acting as interpreter, not matter where he happened to be. For Harry speaks, reads and writes nearly a dozen languages. It is fun to watch this London chap, American songwriter (for he is now a naturalized citizen), calmly reading Chinese.
We mention Harry’s extraordinary gift for languages because it seems to us to illustrate the marvelous sensitiveness of his ear to sound. Whether on his travels Harry heard Russian, Spanish or Hungarian, his ear held the impression of the words like a phonograph record.

Mack Gordon and Harry Revel met at a little dinner party in New York.
Mack heard Harry ripple off a few of his melodies, and said: “Boy! You’re pretty good.”
Then Revel listened to Mack’s impassioned recital of some of his love lyrics. He whistled, and said: “Bully! You’re even better than pretty good!”
With this exchange of orchids was born the popular team of songwriters.

At first, these composers of “An Orchid to You,” confined their earlier efforts to the writing of material for vaudeville acts.
Then Gene Buck, president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, who, at the time, was helping the late Florenz Ziegfeld prepare the Follies of 1931, heard some of their songs. He didn’t lose a minute engaging them to write for the Follies.
Wow! What a sensation the music of these boys caused. The Schuberts grabbed them right off for a number of shows, and George Olsen engaged them to write for his radio broadcasts.
It followed that they were kept so busy on production music that they did not even find time to contemplate the writing of popular numbers, until along came another real friend—Bobby Crawford—also a Tin Pan Alley boy who had only their best interests at heart.
“You fellows have a versatility that hasn’t even been sounded,” he told them. “You can add to your reputation—the sky will be the limit if you show the world what you can do with popular songs.”
This man is to Gordon and Revel what the great engine in the ship is to the most gigantic Atlantic liner. His power puts them across. Quietly. You do not read about him very often. He avoids publicity. But what a head he has! What a story! Bobby Crawford.
You can bet Gordon and Revel had faith in him. They still have!
Then there came an avalanche of Gordon and Revel popular song hits. You know them all.
“Underneath the Harlem Moon.”
“Listen to the German Band.”
“A Boy and a Girl Were Dancing.”
“A Tree Was a Tree.”
“It Was a Night in June.”
“My, Oh, My!”
It looked like the crucial moment in a football game the way the song publishers started out to sign these boys on a contract. But they didn’t have a chance. The boys knew that they wanted to put their future into the hands of Robert Crawford, president of DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, music publishers. From that hour they have fairly shot up like a couple of comets.
Crawford’s secret is to keep his hand on the public’s pulse. Not so long ago, his “patient” began to show a mounting fever of interest in musical motion pictures. Realizing Gordon and Revel’s unusual qualifications—their ability to write dialogue and comedy situations as well as song hits, he decided that the motion picture field was the next ground for them to conquer.
He told Lew Diamond of Paramount Pictures about this marvelous song team. Diamond listened to his ravings. He had often heard others raved about but he was willing to listen to the boys.
He heard them. Immediately he communicated with the Paramount Studios on the West Coast. He earnestly recommended that they sign up Gordon and Revel.
And now a remarkable coincidence happened. At the very hour when Diamond was dictating his letter in New York, Charles Rogers, one of Paramount’s producers, realized that he desperately needed some good songs for a picture which he was about to film. In was starring Jack Haley and Jack Oakie.
Rogers asked Abe Lyman, the orchestra leader, and Jack Haley whom they would recommend.
They yelled out in unison: “Get in touch with that Crawford fellow in New York and see if you can get Gordon and Revel.”
When Rogers opened his next mail he read Diamond’s letter, urging him to sign the boys. It was like an answer to a prayer. He wired Diamond to put Gordon and Revel under contract.
The boys are now prospering under three contracts. First, they are under the sole management of their friend, Bobby Crawford. They are under contract to Paramount Pictures, for the motion picture rights of their numbers. And lastly, the film of DeSylva, Brown and Henderson has the sole privilege o publishing their songs.
Gordon and Revel, at first, were given a contract by Paramount just to do the one picture called “Sitting Pretty.” They started on their first engagement by writing a song hit which swept the nation and helped enormously to make the picture a success, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking.”
At the conclusion of this work Paramount handed them their long-term contract.
The boys followed up “Sitting Pretty” by writing the score for Bing Crosby‘s picture “We’re Not Dressing,” with such song hits as “Love Thy Neighbor,” “May I,” “She Reminds Me of You,” “Goodnight Lovely Little Lady” and “Once in a Blue Moon.”
Then came that whirlwind hit “With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming” for Paramount’s “Shoot the Works.”
And now, Gordon and Revel have just completed the score for “College Rhythm,” with such stars as Joe Penner, Lanny Ross, Jack Oakie, and Lyda Roberti, and the songs, “Let’s Give Three Cheers for Love,” “College Rhythm,” and “Take a Number from One to Ten.”
While the boys are enjoying a few days vacation jolly Mack Gordon is finding his greatest relaxation in playing with his two sweet little kiddies. And Harry Revel is hard at work learning more languages.

Ambrose and His Orchestra—“College Rhythm”
Gene Austin—“Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?”
Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra—“Underneath a Harlem Moon”

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