Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE (www.oxfordhandbooks.com). © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 July 2019

Rescoring Anything Goes in 1930s Hollywood

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter concludes the volume with a study of Hollywood’s commercial approach to making musicals. Focusing on the 1936 movie adaptation of Anything Goes, the chapter looks at its production environment, one in which interpolations were common, song sales mattered more than wit, and risqué content was frowned upon, a combination that proved deadly for Porter’s score. Although some of Porter’s songs were retained, the studio’s music department head Nathaniel Finston assigned Leo Robin, Richard Whiting, and several others to write some new numbers for the film. In the context of a Hollywood in which studios capitalized on purchasing publishing companies and then copyrighting new songs by (usually, staff) Hollywood songwriters to in-house publishing firms, it is unsurprising for the chapter to conclude that faithful film adaptations are unlikely. Hollywood was devoted to commercial music while Broadway was divorced from it; and fidelity to Broadway’s canonized songwriters ran contrary to the commercial goals of Hollywood’s tunesmiths. Such tensions run throughout this book and help to explain the culture behind the unsettling but fascinating phenomenon of the stage-to-screen musical adaptation.

Keywords: Anything Goes, Cole Porter, Leo Robin, Richard Whiting, Nathaniel Finston

On 24 January 1936, Paramount released Anything Goes, a musical starring Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman. Based on the Broadway show of the same name, it met with frustration from Richard Watts Jr, a New York Herald Tribune film critic familiar with the stage version:

[T]he cinema edition of ‘Anything Goes’ is, despite its attractive pictorial background, a dull and commonplace musical comedy, with several good songs and a great mass of ineffective comedy and romance. Since on the stage it was one of the outstanding musical shows of recent seasons, I think that I may not be altogether wrong in blaming its decline on the failure of the picture to follow the original edition more carefully.1

Watts’s main complaint was the film’s purging of Cole Porter’s ‘distinguished and exhilarating’ music; gone were ‘All through the Night,’ ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow,’ and other songs.

Watts’s critique of Anything Goes mirrors many accounts of Broadway-to-Hollywood musical adaptations, which are typically judged by their fidelity to a cherished songwriter’s original score. Most damning is when the studios replace the music of a Broadway giant with tunes by Hollywood songwriters. ‘In Hollywood nothing is sacred, especially a New York songwriter,’ Thomas Hischak grumbles; ‘Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, and all the great songwriters saw their Broadway scores skewered beyond recognition.’2 Why Hollywood producers altered Broadway’s music in the 1930s is rather straightforward. In order to avoid expensive synchronization licences and to profit from sheet music and record sales, the film industry had made a substantial investment in music publishing companies in the late 1920s. Newly written songs by Hollywood songwriters were then copyrighted to in-house publishing firms, and the (p. 614) studios subsequently made money from songs plugged in their films. There was thus financial incentive to drop an old score and add a new one when a studio bought and adapted a stage property.

That said, the studios’ financial motivations were intertwined with an aesthetic division within the songwriting community itself, and in many ways, the Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley mergers finalized rather than initiated Broadway’s separation from a popular music industry focused primarily on stand-alone, hit songs. Below, I detail how this economic, aesthetic, and cultural context shaped Paramount’s film adaptation of Anything Goes. At the studio, the musical confronted a production environment in which interpolations were common, song sales mattered more than wit, and risqué content was frowned upon, a combination that proved deadly for Porter’s score. I detail the cuts and revisions to his music as well as the songs that the studio added after music department head Nathaniel Finston assigned Leo Robin, Richard Whiting, and other songwriters to the film. The resulting adaptation epitomizes Hollywood’s commercial approach to making musicals, much as the stage version reflects Broadway’s increasing disinterest in songs that appealed to as broad an audience as possible. Hollywood’s devotion to and Broadway’s divorce from hit songwriting makes faithful film adaptations unlikely, I argue, especially when ‘fidelity’ is defined by allegiance to Broadway’s canonized songwriters rather than the commercial goals of Hollywood’s tunesmiths.

Paramount, Music Publishing, and Studio Songwriters

In the summer of 1928, seven years before Paramount would begin production on Anything Goes, the studio offered to buy the song catalogues of Harms and Robbins Music, then the two largest music publishing companies in the United States.3 The studio’s bid, the first of its kind in Hollywood, ultimately failed, but in August of the same year, the studio struck a more modest deal with Harms, in which Paramount and the publishing firm together created Famous Music Corp. The first songs entered into the Famous catalogue were theme songs associated with moving pictures; Paramount and Harms agreed to split evenly any royalties earned from sheet music sales and licencing fees.4 In 1929, however, Warner Bros. purchased Harms and its associated firms, including Famous Music Corp., which complicated Paramount’s original deal with the publishing company. Paramount reacted by purchasing 80 percent of the stock of Spier & Coslow, Inc., a small independent publishing company headed by Larry Spier and Sam Coslow.5

This purchase and other labyrinthine deals between the studios and publishing houses affected how individual songwriters like Spier and Coslow obtained contracts in Hollywood. At first, lyricists and composers who went west following the Tin Pan Alley mergers moved from studio to studio, in part because songwriter contracts in the film industry were only six- or twelve-month agreements. But following the Warner (p. 615) Bros.-Harms deal, many songwriters saw their agreements revised, and in the early 1930s, each studio contracted a more or less stable group of songwriters as studio music departments were established and associated publishing houses stabilized. At Paramount, Nathaniel Finston hired Coslow (who received a five-year contract with the studio when it acquired his publishing firm), Leo Robin, Richard Whiting, Gus Kahn, Fred Ahlert, Roy Turk, and Walter Donaldson.6 Cole Porter was not a member of this cohort; in the 1920s Harms published his songs, and after 1935 he worked with Max Dreyfus’s Chappell, Inc., a publishing house that remained independent from the Hollywood studios.7

The film and music industry mergers affected not only which studios hired which songwriters but also the songs they produced for Hollywood films. For starters, different studios had access to different existing catalogues—Warner Bros., for example, could use the music of George Cohan, Victor Herbert, and Sigmund Romberg free of charge after a deal with Witmark.8 The main goal of Hollywood’s acquisition of publishers, however, was to control copyright of new songs plugged in their pictures. In adaptations of stage works, this focus resulted in shredded Broadway scores, as studio songwriters replaced existing songs with their own. It also affected the kinds of songs they added. Though the stage and screen shared the same popular song conventions, there were nonetheless important stylistic differences between Broadway and Hollywood songs.9 The film industry, with its close ties to music publishers, continued to rely on Tin Pan Alley’s approach to songwriting, while Broadway songwriters, especially those who worked on book musicals, deliberately moved away from a broadly popular aesthetic. ‘In effect,’ Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson note, ‘writing songs for Hollywood was less like writing for a Broadway musical and more like working on Tin Pan Alley.’10

Broadway’s stylistic separation from Tin Pan Alley was apparent as early as the 1910s, when some publishers claimed that stage hits were more of a gamble. A song that went over on the stage could potentially sell sheet music and earn profit for a publisher, but it was not what Edward M. Wickes, author of Writing the Popular Song (1916), referred to as a ‘natural hit’ that ‘could be made popular by any up-to-date publisher.’11 ‘In saying that a stage song does not sell,’ Wickes explains, ‘I mean that the average stage song is like a hundred-to-one-shot in a horse race. There is always a slim chance for either to win out, but few like to bank on the chance.’12 Notably, what made a stage song risky was not its structure, which Wickes describes as similar to a ‘straight comic song,’ with ‘short verses, extra choruses, and obvious puns in the lines preceding the repetition of the title at the end of the chorus.’ There was, however, a difference in the overall quality, in that in ‘the majority of cases the stage song is a cleverly written piece of work, containing some very good lines.’13

In the 1920s and 1930s, the clever quality of stage songs, also referred to as production songs, became more pronounced. In The Art of Song Writing (1928), Al Dubin explains that though production songs and hit songs encompass the same genres—ballads, novelty songs, comedy songs, dance songs, semi-classic songs, and patriotic songs—production songs ‘have a style that is somewhat different from the average popular song which can be noted only by studying them carefully.’14 Abner Silver and Robert Bruce’s (p. 616) How to Write and Sell a Song Hit (1939) offers more detail on this stylistic difference. Production songs, they argue, were distinguished by qualities that conveyed professionalism, artistry, and complexity. They altered the standard 32-bar form and used the ABAC song form more often than the average AABA hit, because that pattern ‘has the advantage of enabling the writer to give an unusual ‘punch’ ending to the song.’15 The lyrics were often ‘more outstanding than the tune’ and contain ‘tricky and clever rhyming schemes’—Silver and Bruce cite Cole Porter’s ‘You’re the Top’ as an example, as well as the songs by Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and Irving Berlin.16 Finally, production songs required ‘a trained singer to give the melody full justice.’17 ‘The amateur should steer away from attempting to write this type of song,’ Silver and Bruce write. ‘It is obvious that the producer of a musical show or a musical picture would insist upon having recognized professional writers work on the musical score.’18

The shift towards sophistication on the stage has been observed by scholars of the musical and is typically attributed to changes in stage productions. In the 1910s, up-and-coming songwriters usually interpolated songs into existing shows, but by 1920, Geoffrey Block notes, ‘Berlin, Kern, and Gershwin had also composed Broadway scores of their own.’19 Most of these scores were associated with a story, requiring songs that were ‘conceived or revised for specific characters in specific situations.’20 Narrative complexity thus led to musical complexity, Block argues, as songwriters supported character and plot development. Similarly, Phil Furia argues that the ‘self-contained songs and sketches’ of 1920s and 1930s revues encouraged attention to ‘particularized character or situation,’ which led to ‘wit and sophistication’ in lyrics and music.21 Like Block, he suggests that the format of stage productions—in this case revues rather than book shows—created a shift in musical and lyrical style.

Writing in 1930, Tin Pan Alley chronicler Isaac Goldberg had a different interpretation. He attributed the increasing sophistication of Broadway lyrics not to book shows or witty revues but to the aesthetic goals of ‘modern’ songwriters like Porter, Hart, Ira Gershwin, Howard Dietz, Paul James, and Dorothy Fields. These men and women belonged to what Goldberg called an ‘undiscriminating cult of sophistication,’ and with their ‘sometimes distressingly self-conscious’ lyrics, they hoped to restore ‘the words to something like the importance that they had in the flourishing period of our higher class musical show.’ Their efforts, Goldberg writes, ‘may yet help to improve dialogue, and so lead to plot and to a more organic conception of what we loosely call comic opera.’22 But there were consequences in striving for a highbrow art. ‘So doing,’ Goldberg warns, ‘they endanger their popularity, as truly good words always endanger a song in Tin Pan Alley. They make, as truly good music makes, for smaller and better audiences. This may be art, after a fashion, but as business it is no fashion at all. Wherever we find a pronounced quality in words or music we may be sure that we have begun the ascent from Tin Pan Alley.’23 Here, Goldberg identifies the divide that would define Hollywood and Broadway throughout the 1930s: the wit and sophistication of Broadway was rarely at home in the blatantly commercial setting of Hollywood’s Tin Pan Alley.

A desire to write highbrow songs likely had special significance for Broadway songwriters who were Jewish, as their ethnic identity remained closely associated with (p. 617) commercial entertainment. As Andrea Most notes, the most successful Broadway songwriters were the ‘Ivy League-educated, ‘uptown’ Jews,’24 and for them, achieving a sophisticated aesthetic on Broadway parallelled their rise in sociocultural status. Most writes, ‘As they achieved success, they moved from urban Jewish neighborhoods to exclusive (and often restricted) addresses in Manhattan, Long Island, Connecticut, and rural Pennsylvania. During the Depression and war years, they largely distanced themselves from Jewish organizational and religious life.’25 This distancing from some aspects of Jewish experience included, it seems, an aesthetic distance from Tin Pan Alley, where many first-generation Jews got their start in show business. Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, and Richard Rodgers likely sought the labels they earned in one of Louis Sobol’s ‘Voice of Broadway’ columns: Fields was called ‘most sophisticated,’ Kern, ‘most erudite,’ and Rodgers, ‘most elite.’26

Not all Jewish Americans felt the need or desire to separate themselves from Tin Pan Alley, and for those who continued to work in ‘lowbrow’ entertainment outlets like Hollywood, the upward mobility of Fields, Kern, and Rodgers was as much a break from Jewish identity as it was a source of inspiration. Rodgers’s initial meeting with Jack Warner underscores that the Jewish producers in Hollywood were well aware and somewhat wary of songwriters’ aspirations. Upon welcoming him and Lorenz Hart to Hollywood in the 1930s, Rodgers remembers that Warner greeted them ‘in the thickest Yiddish accent I’ve ever heard. “I dun’t van’t none of your highbrow sunk-making,” he warned us as his smile quickly vanished.’27 It was a joke, but one with a bite. Kurt Weill experienced a similar reprimand in 1937 from producer Walter Wanger, who told Weill his music was not ‘popular enough’ for his picture. When Weill told Wanger that he could write ‘as popular songs’ as Ralph Erwin and Robert Stoltz ‘but better,’ Wanger replied, ‘To hell with better, I don’t want better.’28 Broadway retained clear highbrow associations for songwriters who were not Jewish as well. Al Dubin’s daughter Patricia McGuire remembers Dubin saying that he too could have written ‘nothing but sophisticated lyrics’ like Porter if he ‘had been a millionaire’s son.’ ‘Cole Porter didn’t have to please Warner Brothers,’ Dubin complained; ‘I have to write lyrics that the general public will buy; songs that have commercial appeal; that make money. If I could have written whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, I might have been a lot better lyric writer.’29

By the early 1930s, songwriters who worked on opposite sides of the highbrow-lowbrow divide started having a difficult time working together. The collaboration between Richard Whiting and Oscar Hammerstein on the book show Free for All (1931) is a case in point. Whiting had established himself as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter in the 1910s and 1920s and had been on staff at Paramount since 1929 writing hits for Maurice Chevalier, and Hammerstein had recently collaborated with Kern on several book shows in the 1920s. Whiting claimed Hammerstein was difficult to work with, however, because he did not write lyrics that ‘meant something in every line.’ Robert Russell Bennett clarifies,

[Whiting] probably meant that every line of a pop lyric has to make its own point. ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’ means all it will ever mean as long as it lives. ‘Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby’ and you go and cash your ticket. ‘Ain’t She Sweet!’ That’s all you (p. 618) need to know or ever will know. In Oscar’s theater you have time to develop your story: ‘Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. I gotta love one man till I die. Can’t help lovin’ that man of mine.’30

Hammerstein was, in other words, the modern lyricist described by Isaac Goldberg. ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man’ has a catch like any other Tin Pan Alley hit, but it resonates because of the allusions to inevitability that build to the hook: fish swim, birds fly, I love. Whiting, by contrast, preferred lyrics that did not need an elaborate buildup.

The film studios, with their associated publishing firms, were happy to exploit the rift in the songwriting community, as most Hollywood songwriters wanted hits as badly as the studios that hired them. Sam Coslow describes what Hollywood meant to him:

By means of the film, the song was pounded into the ears and brains of millions of people—literally captive audiences. With radio, you could keep on talking, reading, playing cards, or doing any number of things that might take your attention away from the music. But in a movie house, you had no choice but to listen—and we made damn sure that [a song] was reprised vocally a few times in the film, and scored orchestrally at the hint of any love scene. It was far and away the most effective form of songplugging the public had ever been exposed to, and the Hollywood music crowd capitalized on it to the hilt. … Instant hits—the songwriter’s Utopia!31

Broadway songwriters interested in book musicals found Hollywood anything but a utopia. ‘He never told me in so many words, but Jerry Kern must have been miserable in Hollywood, and I know Oscar Hammerstein was,’ Richard Rodgers writes in his autobiography. ‘The people who succeeded in moving pictures—and I’m talking primarily about lyricists and composers—were those who did not have an extended background in the theatre.’32

Rodgers speaks from his own experience. He and Hart had contributed songs to Paramount’s 1932 film Love Me Tonight, a musical that remains beloved by critics for a score that blurs the boundary between spoken and sung dialogue in order to give ‘the entire film a firmer musical structure,’ in Rodgers’s words.33 The film was less impressive, however, from a commercial perspective. Paramount’s music department head Nathaniel Finston received stats on song sales from Love Me Tonight along with other musicals produced at the studio between 1929 and 1933. ‘Isn’t It Romantic?’, the top song from Love Me Tonight, sold fewer than 40,000 copies (see Table 27.1). Only one film produced in the same five-year period, the lackluster Paramount on Parade, had a less impressive return. By contrast, The Big Broadcast, a musical starring Bing Crosby and released the same year as Love Me Tonight, sold over 200,000 copies of Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger’s song ‘Please.’34 Love Me Tonight may have been a critical darling, but the bottom line was that Rodgers and Hart did not produce a mega-hit for the studio. That Paramount turned to musicals featuring Bing Crosby singing hit songs made financial sense.

Table 27.1 Top-selling songs in Paramount musicals, 1929–1933

Production

Year

Song title

Composer

Lyricist

No. Copies sold

Innocents of Paris

1929

‘Louise’

Whiting

Robin

385,058

Sweetie

1929

‘My Sweeter Than Sweet’

Whiting

Marion, Jr.

175,315

Love Parade

1929

‘Dream Lover’

Schertzinger

Grey

70,146

The Big Pond

1930

‘You Brought a New King of Love to Me’

Fain, Kahal & Norman

275,750

Honey

1930

‘Sing You Sinners’

Harling

Coslow

110,229

Paramount on Parade

1930

‘Sweeping the Clouds Away’

Coslow

Coslow

36,221

Monte Carlo

1930

‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’

Harling & Whiting

Robin

80,957

Playboy of Paris

1930

‘My Ideal’

Whiting & Chase

Robin

64,309

The Big Broadcast

1932

‘Please’

Rainger

Robin

216,035

One Hour With You

1932

‘One Hour With You’

Whiting

Robin

75,100

Love Me Tonight

1932

‘Isn’t It Romantic?’

Rodgers

Hart

37,266

Hello, Everybody

1933

‘Moon Song’

Coslow

117,084

This quantitative focus on song sales also points to how Hollywood songwriters were assigned to films. Department heads like Finston took a songwriter’s artistic strengths (p. 619) into account when delegating production assignments, but the biggest factor was a songwriter’s capacity to write a top-selling tune. Those writers who made a studio the most money were rewarded with more films and higher salaries in hopes of replicating past successes. In 1934, only one Paramount film, the Bing Crosby vehicle She Loves Me Not, boasted especially strong song sales: collectively, the four songs featured in the film—‘Straight from the Shoulder, Right from the Heart,’ ‘I’m Hummin’, I’m Whistlin’, I’m Singin’,’ ‘Put a Little Rhythm in Everything You Do,’ and ‘Love in Bloom’—sold more than 350,000 copies.35 The two songwriting teams who worked on that picture, Robin and Rainger and Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, were already at the top of the studio’s payroll and had received several production assignments (see Table 27.2).36 When Paramount purchased the rights to Anything Goes in January of 1935, the studio saw no reason to disrupt this system. Producers informed Finston that ‘it may be necessary to select songs written by our writers for Bing Crosby’37 rather than hire Cole Porter to write new songs, as they had planned to do. Robin and Richard Whiting, who had written songs for the crooner in several other films, were assigned to Anything Goes on 9 August 1935;38 they worked with Frederick Hollander to create three new songs, while Hoagy Carmichael and Edward Heyman sold the studio one more.39 Paramount clearly hoped to put more song hits in the mouth of their best songplugger.

(p. 628) Table 27.2 Songwriter salaries at Paramount, 1934

Songwriter

Total Salary Earned

No. Productions

Assigned

Mack Gordon

44,300.00

12

Ralph Rainger

30,800.00

16

Leo Robin

25,783.32

14

Harry Revel

24,200.00

12

Arthur Johnston

21,000.00

11

Sam Coslow

19,525.00

14

Lorenz Hart

7,500.00

1

Richard Rodgers

7,500.00

1

Ray Noble

7,500.00

3

Richard Whiting

6,750.00

3

Sam Fain

2,250.00

1

Irving Kahal

2,250.00

1

Ann Ronnell

1,500.00

1

(p. 620) Anything Goes from Stage to Screen

For Paramount, the prospect of an Anything Goes film adaptation had undeniable commercial appeal: with more than 400 performances on Broadway, the stage show was a financial and critical success. Brooks Atkinson writing for the New York Times called it ‘a thundering good musical show’ and ‘hilarious and dynamic entertainment.’40 The Los Angeles Times critic was equally effusive: ‘“Anything Goes” is one of those pat successes, the kind that a first-night audience senses immediately, the kind that producers dream of in their more optimistic vagaries.’41 The actual producer in this case was Vinton Freedley, an experienced Broadway veteran who with Alexander Aarons had overseen the popular Gershwin musical comedies of the 1920s. In Anything Goes, he had a Cole Porter score and a dynamite cast that included Ethel Merman, William Gaxton, and Victor Moore.

The show’s status as a hit belies the fact that it was, as Geoffrey Block writes, ‘hastily, perhaps even frantically, put together.’42 The book was not finished when rehearsals began on 8 October 1934. Freedley had received two drafts from Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse; these scripts, whose working titles included Crazy Week and Hard to Get, told a story that included a bomb threat on an ocean liner. An oft-told anecdote claims that the tragic, real-life sinking off the coast of New Jersey of the SS Morro Castle led Freedley to demand revisions. Bolton and Wodehouse biographer Lee Davis convincingly argues, however, that Freedley’s hope for a Hollywood adaptation—before the Broadway show even had been staged—led him to seek changes.43 Like several other Broadway shows in the early 1930s, the first Bolton-Wodehouse draft of Anything Goes was a Hollywood satire: it featured an ex-Hollywood scenario writer as one of the main (p. 621) characters, and Bolton and Wodehouse, drawing from their own experiences in the studios, peppered the book with digs at and jokes about the film industry.44 Freedley, according to Bolton, objected.45 Bolton and Wodehouse’s second draft removed the Hollywood treatment, kept the ocean liner catastrophe, and was once again turned down by Freedley, this time because it was, as Davis writes, ‘a hopeless mess.’46 Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse completed the third rewrite, which kept only the basic outline of the first two drafts.47

The completed Lindsay-Crouse book for Anything Goes takes place on the SS American as it travels from New York to London. The two main characters are Reno Sweeney (Merman), an evangelist turned entertainer, and Billy Crocker (Gaxton), who despite his affection for Reno, deflects her advances. Before the ship departs, Billy travels to the dock to see Reno, who is booked to perform onboard; he stows away on the ship once he realizes that Hope Harcourt (Bettina Hall) is one of the ship’s passengers. Hope, an American heiress, is engaged to Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Leslie Barrie), a British nobleman who seems more interested in studying American slang than in interacting with his fiancée. In order to stay on the boat, Billy accepts the help of Moonface Martin (Moore), a gangster who is travelling undercover as a priest. Unbeknownst to Billy, Moonface gives him the ticket and passport of another gangster who never made it onboard, Snake Eyes Johnson, the FBI’s Public Enemy Number One. Billy, mistaken for Snake Eyes, must prove his innocence in order to win Hope. By show’s end, Billy pairs romantically with Hope and Reno with Sir Evelyn.

Freedley negotiated with Paramount less than two months after the show’s opening on 21 November 1934, unsurprising given that he had asked for a studio-friendly book. According to a Variety report, Freedley received ‘eighty-five thousand dollars, plus 10 per cent of gross, once rentals passed the one-million-dollar mark.’48 The Hartford Courant called the deal ‘the major theatrical buy of the season’ and reported that ‘W.C. Fields will re-create the part played by Victor Moore; Bing Crosby will assume the role played by William Gaxton and Queenie Smith is up for the Ethel Merman part. Cole Porter’s music, including ‘You’re the Top,’ is part of the purchase, with Porter contracted to write three new numbers for the screen presentation.’49 Of these proposed production details, only one, Bing Crosby’s role, would come true.

Production on the film version of Anything Goes began in the late summer of 1935. Directed by Lewis Milestone, it used a shooting script by Walter DeLeon, Sidney Salkow, John C. Moffitt, and Francis Martin that Thomas Hischak describes as ‘pretty much an abridged version of the stage libretto.’50 Some of the stage show’s original dialogue is included more or less verbatim, like the pun-filled conversation between Moonface and high society matron Mrs Wentworth. Most cuts were an effort to please the Hays Office, Hollywood’s self-imposed censorship office that in 1934 gained new power under Joseph Breen. His office requested, for example, that the show’s memorable phrase ‘hot pants’ be removed, as well as comedic situations deemed questionable.51 All of the characters transferred more or less intact, with only a few minor changes. Hope is no longer an American debutante, for example, but rather ‘an English heiress on the run,’52 and Sir Evelyn is her handler, charged with bringing her home to marry a man whom she does (p. 622) not love. The relationships between characters remain the same: Reno is still sweet on Billy yet ends up with Sir Evelyn, and Billy wins over Hope by the time the credits roll.

The film adaptation had an almost entirely new cast. British-born actress and singer Ida Lupino won the role of Hope, perhaps explaining why the character’s nationality switched from American to British, and comedic actor Charles Ruggles took the role of Moonface. Crosby was cast as Billy and received top billing above Merman, who reprised her role as Reno. The studio’s marketing of the film focused on him, often at the expense of her: studio press releases, according to Caryl Flinn, ‘maintained that Ethel had an unrequited crush on Crosby and other nonsense,’53 depicting Merman as yet another woman swooning over the crooner’s charms rather than as an established star in her own right. Clearly, the studio was tapping into Crosby’s celebrity persona that it cemented in his feature films leading up to Anything Goes, especially She Loves Me Not (1934), Here Is My Heart (1934), and Mississippi (1935). All of these films depict Crosby as a good-natured singer (or songwriter, in the case of She Loves Me Not), who wins over the girl with a sincere and well-timed croon.54 With a cost of $1.1 million, Anything Goes was reportedly Paramount’s most expensive Crosby production up to that point,55 and as such, it is best understood as one in a series of Bing Crosby films as much as an adaptation of the stage show.

Indeed, if the stage production revolved around Merman, the film version of Anything Goes orbits around Crosby (see Table 27.3).56 The film cuts five Porter songs that do not feature Crosby’s character Billy, including the ensemble numbers ‘Bon Voyage’ (act 1, scene 2), ‘Where Are the Men?’ (act 1, scene 4), and ‘Public Enemy Number One’ (act 2, scene 1), as well as the solos for Moonface and Hope, ‘Be Like the Bluebird’ (act 2, scene 2) and ‘The Gypsy in Me’ (act 2, scene 3). One Porter song, ‘Sailor’s Chantey,’ was revised to include Crosby’s character in its reprise. Three of the new songs—‘Sailor, Beware,’ ‘Moon Burn,’ and ‘My Heart and I’—were added specifically for Crosby’s crooning persona; these were the songs that the studio hoped had hit potential, and they also served to replace Billy and Hope’s duet ‘All through the Night,’ reportedly cut for censorship reasons discussed below. The remainder of the film’s score gives Merman a chance to perform the stage show’s most popular songs, including ‘Anything Goes,’ ‘I Get a Kick Out of You,’ and ‘You’re the Top.’ All of these Porter songs were revised, however, and Crosby figures prominently in the latter. The new finale number, ‘Shanghai-De-Ho,’ features both Merman and Crosby.

Table 27.3 Song order in stage and film versions of Anything Goes

Stage: Anything Goes (1934)

Film: Anything Goes (1936)

Act I

Scene 1: ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ (Reno)

‘Anything Goes’ (Reno)

Scene 2: ‘Bon Voyage’ (Boys/Girls)

‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ (Reno)

‘All through the Night’ (Billy/Hope/Sailors)

‘Sailor’s Chantey’ (Four Sailors)

Scene 3: ’Sailor’s Chantey’ (Four Sailors)

‘Sailor Beware’ (Billy)

Scene 4: ’Where Are the Men?’ (1st & 2nd

Girls/Girls’ Chorus)

’You’re the Top’ (Reno/Billy)

Scene 5: Reprise: ‘Sailor’s Chantey’ (Four Sailors)

Scene 6: ‘Anything Goes’ (Reno/Four Sailors)

Reprise: ‘You’re the Top‘ (Reno)

Act II

Reprise: ‘Sailor’s Chantey’ (Billy/Four Sailors)

‘Moon Burn’ (Billy)

‘My Heart and I’ (Billy)

‘You’re the Top’ (Reno/Billy)

Reprise: ‘You’re the Top’ (Reno/Billy/Moonface)

‘Shanghai-De-Ho’ (Reno/Billy/Chorus)

Scene 1: ‘Public Enemy Number One’ (Four

Sailors/Passengers)

‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ (Reno/Company)

Scene 2: ‘Be Like the Bluebird’ (Moonface)

Reprise: ‘All through the Night’ (Hope/Billy)

Reprise: ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’

Scene 3: ‘The Gypsy in Me’ (Hope)

Reprise: ‘Anything Goes’ (All)

The revisions to the Porter songs retained in the film were mostly the result of demands from the Hays Office, which was not receptive to Porter’s risqué lyrics. Richard Watts Jr, whose review opens this chapter, points out the most noticeable lyric change: in ‘I Get a Kick Out of You,’ he complains, ‘the timorous manufacturers refuse to allow Miss Merman to sing anything about cocaine, and make her use the radio’s bowdlerized substitute about “that perfume from Spain.”’57 It was Breen and his employees who deemed the sniff of cocaine problematic.58 There were similar revisions to ‘Sailor’s Chantey.’ The film retains that song’s first verse and refrain, changing the word ‘hell’ to ‘heck,’ but the reprise of the song drops the adulterous second verse, in which a sailor ‘hankerin’ for the (p. 623) dames’ is encouraged to seek out ‘certain passengers’ wives.’ In its place, a newly written verse has the sailors complain of being out at sea.59 If minor tweaks saved ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ and ‘Sailor’s Chantey,’ the title song ‘Anything Goes’ was beyond help: the Hays Office worried that even naming the film Anything Goes ‘might be objected to’ given the ‘flavour’ of the title song’s lyrics.60 Paramount producers tried their best to make the song work and hired the poet and lyricist Brian Hooker to revise the song. But as Gary Giddins notes, ‘despite three rewrites and submissions,’ ‘Anything Goes’ never receives a full performance in the film; Merman sings only the first phrase during the opening credits.61 The censors also had problems with ‘All through the Night’ and Reno’s ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow.’ The first was deemed too suggestive in its description of love and ‘ecstasy,’ and the latter, they worried, might be interpreted as a burlesque of religion.62 The film version discards both. Given Paramount’s dedication to Crosby and its own songwriters, producers might have done so anyway.63

Indeed, the Hays Office cannot claim all of the changes made by the studio. Breen did not target ‘You’re the Top,’ for example, and yet the studio made significant lyrical (p. 624) revisions to the song. Here, the changes suggest that the studio perceived Porter’s trademark sophistication as a problem. In the film, Merman and Crosby’s performance retains the initial verse of the song but deletes the majority of the eight original choruses. In their place are four mostly new refrains contributed by Porter’s second cousin lyricist Ted Fetter.64 Fetter drops most of the European references in Porter’s lyrics. Gone are the Colosseum, the Louvre, Strauss, Shakespeare, the Mona Lisa, and Camembert, and added are references to St. Louis pitcher Dizzy Dean, Niagara Falls, Boston beans, and Paramount star Mae West. One new pop culture reference seems especially crafted for Crosby: Merman sings, ‘You’re Paul Whiteman’s tummy,’ to which Crosby responds, ‘Oh, you should see him!’ (Crosby, who in 1926 signed with the Rhythm Boys in Whiteman’s band, had seen Whiteman’s tummy.) The film version of ‘You’re the Top’ does include some of the Porter’s original highbrow references—Botticelli, Keats, and Shelley still get a shout out—but overall, Fetter aims at a middlebrow American demographic, not at Porter’s typical New York audience, which Miles Krueger has described as a ‘constricted group of cognoscenti, who went to the same night spots, read the same newspaper columns, and spent weekends at the same estates.’65

The added choruses of ‘You’re the Top’ also tap into another popular culture phenomenon—that of writing new lyrics for Porter’s song. As promotion for the stage production, Freedley had set up songwriting competitions in which fans could submit additional refrains to Porter’s hit songs, the prizes being free tickets to the show.66 This fan activity apparently went far beyond Freedley’s initial contests. Ten months after the show premiered, New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson describes how ‘You’re the Top’ in particular was subject to creative extrapolations: ‘Now that Mr. Porter has set the pattern of it,’ he writes, ‘every one enjoys composing additional verses for private consumption—satiric, humorous or ribald, as the case may be.’67 Merman and Crosby’s screen performance of ‘You’re the Top’ participates in this game, as can be seen in Rescoring Anything Goes in 1930s Hollywood video example 27.1. Merman opens the first refrain by singing that Crosby is ‘the Swanee River,’ a line from Porter’s act 1 reprise of the song. She then adds new lyrics about a V8 flivver, the walls of China, and Santa Claus. Crosby exclaims, ‘Make more!’ after she finishes her new refrain, and she appeases him. There is no embarrassment in rewriting Porter’s song, because, after all, audience members were doing it too.

Nor was Paramount apologetic about adding new songs to the film. In a way, Crosby needed new songs, given that most of Porter’s score had been handcrafted for the original Broadway cast. As Porter told Merman biographer Peter Martin, ‘I really tailor-made [my songs] for her because I know her range so well.’68 He particularly appreciated Merman’s nuanced rhythmic delivery and her diction, qualities that suited the syncopation and fast-paced lyrics of ‘You’re the Top,’ ‘Anything Goes,’ and ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow.’ Crosby had an excellent sense of rhythm too, as proved by his jazz-inflected scatting in the ‘Dinah’ number from The Big Broadcast (1932). But he was not known for delivering a tumble of lyrics in quick succession; his crooning style was laid back and more suited to songs that left space for his trademark Irish mordent. With this crooning style in mind, ‘All through the Night’ was not a great fit for Crosby either. Porter wrote the song especially for the original Billy, William Gaxton, who needed a (p. 625) song with a limited range.69 As I suggest below, the new song ‘My Heart and I’ suits Crosby much better than Porter’s song.70

If Crosby needed songs that fit his singing style, he also needed more to sing than Porter’s score offered his character Billy. Three of the film’s new songs—‘Sailor Beware’ by Leo Robin and Richard Whiting, ‘Moon Burn’ by Edward Heyman and Hoagy Carmichael, and ‘My Heart and I’ by Robin and Frederick Hollander—fit the bill. Collectively, these songs depict Billy’s slow but sure wooing of Hope, creating a familiar crooning narrative that is present in nearly every Crosby film of the early to mid-1930s. The numbers also effectively plug the studio’s newly copyrighted music: no other star performance interrupts the succession of Crosby songs in the middle portion of the film’s total running time.

For the first Crosby song, ‘Sailor Beware,’ Robin and Whiting’s title is suspiciously similar to Porter’s ‘Buddie, Beware,’ a song that was originally sung in act 2 of the stage production before it was replaced by a reprise of ‘I Get a Kick Out of You.’71 In the stage show, the song was Reno’s warning to men that she would be an expensive wife, one who requires first-row seats at a show and wine with dinner. Robin and Whiting’s rewrite of the song is now a warning from Billy to the sailors, as can be heard in Rescoring Anything Goes in 1930s Hollywood video example 27.2. He describes the ‘Oriental’ and ‘Continental’ girls who live in the East and the West; the musical arrangement, in which drums bang out a ‘primitive’ rhythm, suggests that while these women may be appealing, they are also dangerous. The best women for the sailors are at home, and as Crosby reminds them that ‘some bonnie lies over the ocean,’ the melody quotes the familiar tune ‘My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.’ In using this musical quotation, Robin and Whiting construct a catchy song that already feels familiar to listeners.

Though directed at the ship’s sailors, ‘Sailor Beware’ is the first song in which Hope hears Billy’s voice. He sings outside of her cabin, perched from a crow’s nest as he addresses the men on deck; she lies asleep her in cabin, dressed in a revealing nightgown and resting her head on a ruffled pillow (see Rescoring Anything Goes in 1930s Hollywood video example 27.3). The camera cuts to a close-up of her just after Billy sings the ‘My Bonnie’ reference, indicating visually that she is Billy’s bonnie. As his voice spills into her room, she opens her eyes, cocks her head slightly as she listens, and cracks a knowing smile, entranced by the man outside her window. This sequence parallels earlier Crosby numbers like ‘With Every Breath I Take’ in Here Is My Heart (1934) and the reprise of ‘Soon’ in Mississippi (1935), which show Crosby’s voice, not his physical body, cracking the veneer of feminine propriety and awakening a woman’s sexuality. Paramount was playing with Crosby’s identity as a crooner who seduced women via the radio and recordings.

After a female character falls in love with Crosby’s voice, she then has to experience his charms in person. Crosby films are thus filled with romantic serenades in which he sits close to a woman and pleads his case. Anything Goes is no exception, with Billy singing directly to Hope in both ‘Moon Burn’ and in ‘My Heart and I.’ The first number gets him close but not quite close enough. Hope sees Billy from her cabin as he paints the ship’s porthole windows while perched on a suspended platform over the sea. She peers out of her window, and at the sight of her, he impulsively pulls the platform up to her (p. 626) level and launches into ‘Moon Burn’ (see Rescoring Anything Goes in 1930s Hollywood video example 27.4), a song that details how he will be burned by the moonlight as she embraces and kisses him that evening. As Billy leans into her cabin through the window, Hope powders her nose, checks herself in the mirror, and dons a hat, enjoying his attention. She does not reply whether she will join him under the moon, but she is clearly open to his advances. In ‘My Heart and I,’ Billy completes his seduction of Hope in the privacy of a lifeboat. The song has all the trademarks of a crooning ballad: it is performed at a slower tempo than the previous two numbers, and it features an octave drop in the A phrase, which allows Crosby to slide seductively into sustained notes that showcase his lower register. Initially, the song is filmed in a two-shot; Hope and Billy sit next to each other as Billy leans into her. But for a repeat of the song, the camera moves to a close-up of Hope’s face as she gazes into the distance, immersed in his voice. She turns to him when he kisses her, marking the end of the number, the shot, and the scene itself, as seen in Rescoring Anything Goes in 1930s Hollywood video example 27.5. After three Crosby songs, Hope has fallen for Billy.

Each of these new Crosby songs features an easy-to-sing melody, generalized lyrics, and an oft-repeated hook, but Robin and Hollander’s ‘My Heart and I’ was designed to be the film’s bestseller. In addition to Crosby’s onscreen performance, it is also referenced in dialogue throughout the film, arranged as underscoring, and used as the film’s closing musical tag. Superficially, ‘My Heart and I’ shares many characteristics with Porter’s cut song, ‘All through the Night.’ The lyrics of both relate to the relationship of Billy and Hope, and they share an AABA form in which the second and third A phrases differ slightly from the first. The songs’ similarities prove less important, however, than their differences, which demonstrate what separates a Hollywood hit from a sophisticated Broadway song.

Leo Robin wrote pop lyrics in which the meaning was clear and to the point. Certainly, the conceit of ‘My Heart and I’ is apparent in the song’s opening phrase: Billy sings that he has conferred with his heart about his feelings for Hope and then professes his love to her. Robin’s rhymes (charms-arms, start-heart, and true-you) are predictable, but nonetheless, the song is a bit coy. His heart, defined as a separate entity, gives Billy a team member of sorts; he never has to sing the vulnerable phrase, ‘I love you,’ and instead can couch his feelings with the phrase, ‘We’re so in love with you.’ By contrast, Porter’s song is more suggestive in its depiction of love and reveals the significance of the phrase ‘all through the night’ only at the end of the chorus. At first, the song appears to describe an intimate meeting between Billy and Hope that lasts all night. Porter incorporates several internal rhymes (night-delight, night-height, above-love) before making an especially creative rhyme at end of the first two A phrases (me with ecstasy). Only in the last A phrase does Porter clarify that Billy and Hope’s meeting is imagined rather than real, lasting all through the night because it occurs in a dream. As Raymond Knapp writes, the song is ultimately ‘about being apart,’ even though it purports to describe the most intimate of encounters.72

The melodies of ‘My Heart and I’ and ‘All through the Night’ suit their respective lyrics. ‘My Heart and I’ is easy to sing. The opening phrase spans the range of an octave and contains only diatonic pitches, which rest comfortably within a standard progression (p. 627) that moves from I to ii7 to V. This harmonic predictability helps the amateur singer to stay in tune. ‘All through the Night,’ written for the limited range of Gaxton, was also supposed to be easy to sing, but like Porter’s witty lyrics, presents its own difficulties. As Knapp observes, the tune consists of ‘an obsessively descending chromatic scale’ that often maintains ‘an aching major-seventh or minor-ninth dissonance with the bass as it falls.’ The result, Knapp notes, is that one loses ‘the reality of the home key along the way,’73 and only at the end of the first phrase, when the melody finally breaks away from the descending half steps and leaps upward to the fifth scale degree, does a clear sense of harmonic stability return. The chromatic melody and harmony make sense from a lyrical and narrative perspective, as they convey the disorientation of desire that Billy and Hope feel. But from a commercial perspective, the song is not easy to hum.

Moreover, the hook of ‘My Heart and I’ is far more memorable than the hook of ‘All through the Night.’ Robin repeats the song’s title at the beginning of every A phrase, and each time, Hollander pairs ‘my heart and I’ with the same melodic shape: an ascending third for ‘my heart,’ and then an octave lower, an ascending second for ‘and I.’ The octave displacement creates a lovely call-and-response effect, as if the heart calls out first and is answered by the head; it also makes the hook stand out from the rather mundane stepwise melody that fills the rest of each A phrase. Compare that hook construction with the A phrases of ‘All through the Night.’ Porter uses the title lyrics at the beginning of the first and second A phrases, but rather than highlight them melodically, he essentially buries the hook’s lyrics in the sinking chromatic melody. The half-step descent that sets ‘all through the night’ is similar to the half-step descent of the following lyrics ‘I delight’ and ‘in your love.’ The A phrase, as a result, does not offer a tuneful motive that is easily detached from its context. Nor does Porter offer his listeners many repetitions of the hook. In the last A phrase, the final iteration of the song’s title is set to a short melodic turn that ends on the upper tonic, the highest pitch in the song. Knapp argues that this final melodic cadence ‘completes an ascending registral shaping across the “A” phrases’ that peaks at the end of the chorus.74 But as satisfying as that registral shaping might be, changing the hook’s contour in its final appearance diminishes the song’s ability to plug itself.

Like ‘My Heart and I,’ the other songs added to Paramount’s Anything Goes were designed to get in the ears of the audience. Even so, producers did not leave their appeal to chance, and in Sam Coslow’s words, they ‘made damn sure’ to repeat and reprise the songs whenever possible. The choruses of ‘Moon Burn’ and ‘My Heart and I’ are each repeated in their initial performances, giving listeners the chance to hear the lyrics twice. The latter song’s repeat even gets narrative reinforcement from Hope: ‘Could we hear it again,’ she implores, ‘‘My Heart and I’?’ The song that gets the most repetitions is ‘Sailor Beware.’ Crosby sings the chorus twice, and male and female vocal choruses join him for two more repeats. The quadruple plugging of this song seemed to work on Richard Watts Jr, the New York Herald Tribune critic who was otherwise unimpressed by Paramount’s treatment of Porter’s score. Watts conceded, ‘It should be reported on the picture’s behalf, though, that there is a good new song called “Sailor, Beware.”’75 Even a Porter fan, it seems, was susceptible to the plugging of Hollywood.

On Fidelity

In his comments on Paramount’s changes to Porter’s score, Watts argues he is justified in criticizing the film for not following the stage version more clearly. Fidelity here, as in other critiques of Hollywood adaptations of stage musicals, is defined as faithfulness to the original score. It is worth asking, however, if Broadway itself abides by the same standards that it expects from Hollywood. Stage musicals are, after all, in a constant state of revision during rehearsals, try-outs, initial Broadway runs, and subsequent revivals. Criticizing Paramount’s Anything Goes for not being faithful to Porter’s original score is less persuasive when one considers that in the second half of the twentieth century, Broadway and the West End were not particularly faithful to the 1934 stage production, either.

The revivals of Anything Goes were shaped by the Rodgers and Hammerstein model that developed in the 1940s and 1950s. These postwar musicals typically feature serious plots borrowed from existing plays and novels; characters who have clear psychological motivations; and so-called integrated scores, in which songs relate to the plots and characters at hand. Anything Goes does not fit this model at all. Its plot is satiric, comedic, and haphazard; its characters don disguises and make wisecracks as much as they express their true feelings; and most of the songs, though tied to the story, were crafted for the performers as much as the characters. In an attempt to fix these issues, Block notes, ‘producers and directors for the past thirty years’ have continually revised the book and interpolated additional songs.76

Some of the problems perceived in the 1934 book are relatively easy fixes. Most Broadway revivals update the dialogue to remove the 1930s topical humour as well as the racially insensitive treatment of the show’s two Chinese characters. Deficiencies in the show’s characters and plot take more work. The relationship between Reno and Sir Evelyn is especially vexing. In the original production, Sir Evelyn is depicted as effeminate and does not sing, while Reno is boisterous and has the major hits of the show. That they end up together does not abide by modern expectations of musical comedies.77 To make the relationship more persuasive, the 1962 revival gives Evelyn a risqué duet with Reno (‘Let’s Misbehave,’ originally written for Porter’s 1928 show Paris), and the 1987 revival gives him his own solo (‘The Gypsy in Me,’ a song sung by Hope in the 1934 production). The 1987 revival treats the other main characters ‘more seriously’ as well: Timothy Crouse, who worked with John Weidman on the revised book, explained, ‘If there is one emotional ingredient we’ve added, it’s passion for the characters,’78 and director Jerry Zaks described Reno, Billy, Hope, and Sir Evelyn as ‘people dealing with the ramifications of trying to fall in love,’ citing the show’s working title Hard to Get as support for his interpretation. ‘Even though so many improbable things go on,’ Zaks noted, ‘we strove to ground everything in a recognizable reality.’79

Is the 1936 film version more or less faithful than these stage revivals? Paramount’s Anything Goes retains much of the 1934 production’s humour, even with the changes requested by the Hays Office, so in terms of the book, it is far more faithful than the stage (p. 629) revivals. But the sticking point for the film adaptation remains Porter’s music: it contains less of it, while the stage revivals add more of it. The 1962 revival of Anything Goes, Block points out, ‘incorporated no less than six songs out of a total of fourteen from other Porter shows,’80 though no mention of these additions is made in Lewis Funke’s Times review of the show. Reporting on the 1987 revival, Times critic Stephen Holden writes that it is ‘quite a different creature from the 1934 romp’ but does not judge it more harshly as a result. Frank Rich’s review of the same show calls its interpolation of Porter songs as ‘keeping with contemporary practice.’81 The 1936 film version’s interpolations are completely typical of 1930s Hollywood practice, and yet its status as a faithful adaptation remains in question. At issue, of course, are the authors of the new music: Leo Robin, Richard Whiting, and Frederick Hollander are not Cole Porter.

In discussions of fidelity, the focus on the original songwriter and his music relates to the canonization of Broadway songwriters, the very men and women who throughout the 1930s strove to differentiate their music from what they perceived as the lowbrow commercialism of the film studios. In this light, the call for fidelity to a stage score moves beyond a simple desire to see a beloved Broadway production represented accurately onscreen and entangles itself with the aesthetic ideology of highbrow art. Such a belief may suggest a moral high ground in which the art of the stage trumps the money of the screen, but it also downplays the fact that Broadway songwriters used the rhetoric of art for their own promotional and commercial agendas. The ascent from Tin Pan Alley that began in the 1930s was deliberate, and it continued into the 1940s when the notion of ‘integration’ became attached to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Integration, as James O’Leary has demonstrated, was ‘never simply a formal principle to begin with. It was a performative act of cultural positioning.’82 In invoking it, he argues, Rodgers and Hammerstein were able ‘to situate the show in an expansive cultural field that included not only middlebrow Broadway but also highbrow art.’83 The call for faithful Hollywood adaptations of beloved stage scores relies on a similar cultural positioning, in which Broadway aficionados separate themselves from the mainstream, popular aesthetics of Hollywood.

There are, of course, contradictions in this cultural positioning. Broadway songwriters and producers have always had significant commercial interests in the success of their shows, because they, like Hollywood songwriters, want to make money from their efforts. The commercial success of Broadway, moreover, remains closely tied to Hollywood. In the case of Anything Goes, these ties are clear in Vinton Freedley’s careful guidance of the show’s book, in which he rejected a Hollywood satire in hopes of developing a product that could be sold to the film industry down the road. And as Paramount’s resulting adaptation of Anything Goes demonstrates, anything does not actually go in Hollywood: the industry has its own standards, different from those of the stage, which it follows consistently and methodically. Broadway and Hollywood both desire hits, and to hedge bets, each relies on the conventions and stylistic elements associated with their chosen platform, whether the stage or the screen. In this light, Paramount’s Anything Goes is entirely faithful, not to Cole Porter, but to its star Bing Crosby and to the studio’s hit songwriters.

Notes:

(1.) Richard Watts Jr, ‘“Anything Goes”—Paramount,’ New York Herald Tribune, 6 February 1936.

(3.) For an excellent history of the Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley mergers, see the second chapter of Katherine Spring’s Saying It with Songs: Popular Music and the Coming of Sound to Hollywood Cinema (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

(4.) Spring, Saying It with Songs, 54–55.

(5.) Spring, Saying It with Songs, 59–60.

(6.) Spring, Saying It with Songs, 61–63. In addition to a salary, Coslow was also offered ‘a handsome weekly drawing account against royalties.’ Coslow, Cocktails for Two: The Many Lives of Giant Songwriter Sam Coslow (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1977), 96.

(8.) Douglas Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), 109.

(9.) Other scholars have argued that in terms of formal conventions, there are no notable differences between Broadway and Hollywood songs. Spring writes that ‘the popular song form that was characteristic of the 1920s Tin Pan Alley and Broadway productions continued to dominate the output of songwriters who were writing for both stage and film.’ Spring, Saying It with Songs, 61. Charles Hamm makes a similar argument, writing that there is ‘no way to tell, from listening to a song by Irving Berlin or any of his contemporaries, whether it was written for vaudeville, musical comedy, the movies, or simply composed for radio play and possibly recording.’ Hamm, Yesterdays, Popular Song in America (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979), 339. My point is that though formal conventions stayed more or less the same, there is a stylistic difference between songs composed by those songwriters who worked primarily in Hollywood and those songwriters who worked primarily in New York.

(11.) Edward M. Wickes, Writing the Popular Song (Springfield, MA: Home Correspondence School, 1916), 113. Daniel Goldmark, in his survey of fifty songwriting manuals published between 1899 and the late 1930s, argues that these guides offer a clear picture of how the industry wanted outsiders to see their work. See Goldmark, ‘“Making Songs Pay”: Tin Pan Alley’s Formula for Success,’ Musical Quarterly 98, no. 1–2 (Spring–Summer 2015): 3–28. For a thorough account of the rise of Tin Pan Alley, see David Suisman, Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).

(12.) Wickes, Writing the Popular Song, 34.

(13.) Wickes, Writing the Popular Song, 34–35.

(14.) Al Dubin, The Art of Song Writing (New York: Majestic Music Company, 1928), 9–10. Dubin wrote this book very quickly to earn extra cash, which may explain his brief description of production songs. See Patricia Dubin McGuire, Lullaby of Broadway, Life and Times of Al Dubin (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1983), 94–95.

(15.) Abner Silver and Robert Bruce, How to Write and Sell a Song Hit (New York: Prentice Hall, 1939), 54–55.

(16.) Silver and Bruce, How to Write and Sell a Song Hit, 9–10, 27.

(17.) Silver and Bruce, How to Write and Sell a Song Hit, 66–67.

(18.) Silver and Bruce, How to Write and Sell a Song Hit, 66–67.

(19.) Block, ‘The Melody (and the Words) Linger On: American Musical Comedies of the 1920s and 1930s,’ in The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, ed. William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 109.

(20.) Block, ‘The Melody (and the Words) Linger On,’ 116.

(21.) Philip Furia, ‘Sinatra on Broadway,’ in Frank Sinatra and Popular Culture, ed. Leonard Mustazza (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998), 163, 165.

(22.) Isaac Goldberg, Tin Pan Alley, a Chronicle of the American Popular Music Racket (New York: John Day, 1930), 231. For more information on Goldberg, see Ryan Banagale, ‘Isaac Goldberg: Assessing Agency in American Music Biography,’ American Music Review 34, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 8–9, 15.

(23.) Goldberg, Tin Pan Alley, 232.

(25.) Most, Making Americans, 27.

(26.) Quoted in Charlotte Greenspan, Pick Yourself Up: Dorothy Fields and the American Musical (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 70. Greenspan cites an undated clipping in the Dorothy Fields scrapbook held at the Museum of the City of New York.

(27.) Richard Rodgers, Musical Stages, an Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1975), 138.

(28.) Kurt Weill, Speak Low (When You Speak of Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, ed. and trans. Lys Symonette and Kim H. Kowalke (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 220.

(29.) McGuire, Lullaby of Broadway, 147.

(30.) Russell Bennett, The Broadway Sound, the Autobiography and Selected Essays of Robert Russell Bennett, ed. George J. Ferencz (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1999), 125–126.

(31.) Coslow, Cocktails for Two, 98.

(32.) Rodgers, Musical Stages, 166.

(33.) Rodgers, Musical Stages, 156.

(34.) The information for Table 27.1 is compiled from a Paramount Interoffice Memo, dated 9 May 1933, in the Nathaniel Finston Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, box 1, folder 10–1 Exhibits, Estimates & Costs—Paramount.

(35.) ‘Song Writers Assignments and Costs (From January 1st, 1929 to December 1, 1934),’ box 1, Nathaniel Finston Papers, AHC. The 1934 films that had the next highest songs sales were We’re Not Dressing (more than 230,000 song sales), which was also a Bing Crosby film, and Murder at the Vanities (more than 150,000 song sales).

(36.) Data in Table 27.2 come from ‘Song Writers Total Earnings and Number of Assignments (From January 1st, 1929, to January 1st, 1935),’ box 1, Nathaniel Finston Papers, AHC.

(37.) Inter-office communication with subject, ‘Producers’ Tentative Plans for Musical Productions,’ 23 August 1935, box 1, Nathaniel Finston Papers, AHC.

(38.) Inter-office communication with subject, ‘Producers’ Tentative Plans for Musical Productions.’

(39.) Gary Giddins notes that ‘Moonburn’ was Carmichael’s ‘first movie sale.’ Giddins, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, the Early Years, 1903–1940 (Boston: Little, Brown, 2001), 392.

(40.) Brooks Atkinson, ‘The Play: “Anything Goes” as Long as Victor Moore, Ethel Merman and William Gaxton Are Present,’ New York Times, 22 November 1934.

(41.) ‘“Anything Goes” Scores Real Success on Broadway,’ Los Angeles Times, 28 November 1934.

(42.) Geoffrey Block, Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from Show Boat to Sondheim (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 44. My summary of the show’s production history draws from Block’s account as well as the description Caryl Flinn offers in Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 66–73.

(43.) Other sources support Davis’s account of the rewrites, as Block describes in Enchanted Evenings, 43–44. Porter biographer George Eells writes that Freedley had always thought the Bolton-Wodehouse book was tasteless and used the Morro disaster as an excuse to seek another rewrite. Eells, The Life that Late He Led: A Biography of Cole Porter (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1967), 110–111.

(44.) Examples of stage plays and musicals that had satirized Hollywood include George Kaufman and Moss Hart’s Once in a Lifetime (1930), Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s America’s Sweetheart (1931), and Sam and Bella Spivack’s, Boy Meets Girl (1935). Charlotte Greenspan briefly discusses these shows in Pick Yourself Up: Dorothy Fields and the American Musical (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 80–82, 120–126.

(45.) Quoted in Lee Davis, Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern: The Men Who Made Musical Comedy (New York: James H. Heineman, 1993), 331.

(46.) Davis, Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern, 332.

(47.) Davis, Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern, 334–336.

(48.) Quoted in Flinn, Brass Diva, 74. Gary Giddins gives a conflicting report of the deal, writing that the movie rights cost $100,000. Giddins, Bing Crosby, 391.

(49.) ‘Paramount Studios Win “Anything Goes,”’ Hartford Courant, 20 January 1935.

(50.) Hischak, Through the Screen Door, 28.

(51.) One scene was cut, for example, because ‘it could be construed … that a woman passenger was asking directions to the ladies’ room.’ Giddins, Bing Crosby, 392.

(52.) Hischak, Through the Screen Door, 29.

(53.) Flinn, Brass Diva, 75.

(54.) Crosby’s film shorts, in which he usually plays some version of himself, established his masculine crooning persona in the early 1930s. Allison McCracken details these shorts and some of his other films from the early 1930s in Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 288–303.

(55.) Giddins, Bing Crosby, 391.

(56.) This outline of the 1934 stage version is adapted from Geoffrey Block’s breakdown of the show in Enchanted Evenings, 325.

(57.) Watts, ‘“Anything Goes”—Paramount.’

(58.) The letter describing this objection is noted by Giddins, Bing Crosby, 392. Giddins cites a letter Joseph Breen sent to Paramount executive John Hammell, 9 September 1935, MPAA Production Code Administration Files, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

(59.) To my knowledge, there is no archival evidence that the Hays Office requested these changes. I observed these changes when comparing the film performances of ‘Sailor’s Chantey’ with Porter’s original lyrics for the show, available in Kimball, The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter, 166–176.

(60.) Quoted in Flinn, Brass Diva, 74. Flinn cites a letter signed K. L., 29 July 1936, MPAA Production Code Administration Files, AMPAS.

(61.) Giddins, Bing Crosby, 392. The objection to ‘Anything Goes’ is from a letter from Joseph Breen to Paramount executive John Hammell, 9 September 1935, MPAA Production Code Administration Files, AMPAS.

(62.) Flinn, Brass Diva, 75, and Giddins, Bing Crosby, 392. Flinn cites a letter from Vincent Hart to Joseph Breen, 10 January 1935, MPAA Production Code Administration Files, AMPAS.

(63.) Notably, Paramount did not follow all of the censors’ suggestions. The Hays Office had flagged Robin and Hollander’s ‘Shanghai-De-Ho’ because of the ‘plainly vulgar meaning’ in the lyrics, ‘Soon the chows and Pekinese will stay away from cherry trees.’ The line remains in the film, however, sung cheekily by Merman. Giddins, Bing Crosby, 392. Giddins cites a letter from Joseph Breen to Paramount executive John Hammell, 9 September 1935, MPAA Production Code Administration Files, AMPAS.

(64.) Flinn, Brass Diva, 75. Ted Fetter’s role in the rewrite to ‘You’re the Top’ is also discussed in William McBride, Cole Porter, a Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).

(65.) Quoted in Block, Enchanted Evenings, 50.

(66.) Flinn, Brass Diva, 72.

(67.) Brooks Atkinson, ‘Catching Up on Song: Ethel Merman, Cole Porter, and a Couple of Tunes from “Anything Goes,”’ New York Times, 15 September 1935.

(68.) Quoted in Flinn, Brass Diva, 69.

(69.) Initially, Gaxton was supposed to sing Porter’s ‘Easy to Love’ for the act 1 love duet, but that song was deemed too difficult for him. Porter composed ‘All through the Night,’ as a replacement. Block, Enchanted Evenings, 45. Porter’s ‘Easy to Love’ was later sung by Jimmy Stewart in the Eleanor Powell musical Born to Dance (1936).

(70.) Ethan Mordden argues that ‘All through the Night’ ‘would have sounded great on Bing Crosby,’ but Crosby’s glacial performance of the song in the 1956 film adaption of Anything Goes is not particularly engaging. Mordden, When Broadway Went to Hollywood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 122.

(71.) Block, Enchanted Evenings, 325.

(73.) Knapp, The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity, 93.

(74.) Knapp, The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity, 94.

(75.) Watts, ‘“Anything Goes”—Paramount.’

(76.) Block, Enchanted Evenings, 45.

(77.) Knapp posits that Porter suggests a ‘semi-closeted homosexual dimension’ throughout the songs of Anything Goes, a subtext that ‘goes a long way toward explaining why Sir Evelyn himself gets no song to sing, which he would surely have gotten if we were meant to believe that, in the end, he truly “gets the girl” in the conventional sense.’ Knapp, The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity, 89–90.

(78.) ‘Son Helping to Update Crouse’s “Anything Goes,”’ New York Times, 25 August 1987. Also quoted in Block, Enchanted Evenings, 50.

(79.) Stephen Holden, ‘A Glimpse of Olden Days, Via Cole Porter,’ New York Times, 18 October 1987. Also quoted in Block, Enchanted Evenings, 50.

(80.) Block, Enchanted Evenings, 47.

(81.) Lewis Funke, ‘Theatre: “Anything Goes,” Revival of Musical Opens at Orpheum,’ New York Times, 16 May 1962; Frank Rich, ‘The Stage: “Anything Goes,”’ New York Times, 20 October 1987; and Stephen Holden, ‘A Glimpse of Olden Days, Via Cole Porter.’

(82.) O’Leary, ‘Oklahoma!, “Lousy Publicity,” and the Politics of Formal Integration in the American Musical Theater,’ Journal of Musicology 31, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 180.

(83.) O’Leary, ‘Oklahoma!, “Lousy Publicity,”’ 144.