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.

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Snapshot in Prose: Ozzie and Harriet

In this installment of Snapshot in Prose, we pay a visit to Ozzie Nelson and his then-future wife, Harriet, in 1935, when they were performing together and hotly rumored to be an item behind the scenes. Ozzie, then unmarried, was a very popular bandleader and singer, and Harriet was his girl singer, a married woman (though not for long) awaiting her final divorce decree.

Ozzie and Harriet went on to huge television success in the 1950s, of course, and it’s for “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” that they’re best remembered today. But it’s intriguing to revisit a time when they were recording stars, and hadn’t yet tied the knot.

As we learn from this story, from the June 1935 issue of Popular Songs magazine, they were both considered heart-throbs in their day, and one can’t help but wonder what advice they offered their son Rickie in the 1950s, when his star rose so suddenly and he became a teen idol.

It seems inevitable that Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard should meet and fall in love. Their romance of the past two years had Broadway agog, but the principals, themselves would rather discuss almost anything else.
     Why? For several reasons. One of them is said to be that Harriet has not yet received her final divorce papers from an almost mythical, out-of-sight, out-of-mind husband which she seems to have acquired somewhere, sometime; another is that too much attention of their interest in each other might slow down the millions of debs who regard Ozzie with wide eyes of admiring wonder and the college boys who flock nightly to the ringside tables wherever Harriet is appearing.
     Both Ozzie and Harriet might be called grown-up child prodigies who, contrary to general rule, made good. A cursory glance at Ozzie’s record will suffice to show that musically and romantically he was destined to be a leader.
     He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in March, 29 years ago. He was christened Oswald George Nelson but there is no record that during his school days he was taunted with cries of “Oh Os—wald!” from his companions, for he was too rugged a lad to inspire such comment, and the consequences were feared.
     Ozzie was the youngest Eagle Scout in the United States when he was 14, in 1920, and when the Boy Scout Jambouree went to Europe for the Olympic games, he and his brother sang together before King Albert of Belgium.
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