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.