Composer and lyricist Mack Gordon racked up one of the most impressive Hollywood songwriting careers ever, earning nine Oscar nominations including six in a row from 1940 to 1945. He finally won for “You’ll Never Know.”
He was born Morris Gittler in Warsaw, Poland, on June 21, 1904, and his family soon emigrated to the United States, settling first in Brooklyn and then the Bronx. Gordon joined a minstrel show as a boy soprano and later played in vaudeville as a comedian and singer, before giving it all up for songwriting.
He wrote his first stage scores in 1925, finally hitting the jackpot with the song “Time on My Hands” for the 1930 show Smiles. Gordon got a preview of his future collaborator Harry Warren when they wrote the song “There Will Be a Girl (There Will Be a Girl)” for the 1931 show, Meet My Sister. But then Gordon teamed up with English émigré Harry Revel in 1931, and they followed the westward exodus to Hollywood in 1933.
Gordon and Revel became an instant sensation in Hollywood, writing scores that included 1933’s Broadway Thru a Keyhole and Sitting Pretty. The latter contained their first Hollywood hit, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” They stayed with Paramount Pictures until 1936, when they began writing for 20th Century-Fox, most notably on Shirley Temple’s pictures. Once in a while Gordon would supply his own music, but mostly he collaborated with Revel.
The team broke up in 1939 and Gordon found a new writing partner almost immediately, his old acquaintance, Harry Warren. They worked on a series of pictures starring the Glenn Miller Orchestra and these films, including Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Orchestra Wives (1942), provided both the band and the songwriters with some of their greatest hits. Among the film scores Warren and Gordon wrote for Fox were Tin Pan Alley (1940), The Great American Broadcast (1941), Weekend in Havana (1941), Iceland and Springtime in the Rockies, both in 1942, Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943), Pin-Up Girl (1944), and Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe and The Dolly Sisters (both 1945).
In 1946 Gordon worked with Josef Myrow on the score for Three Little Girls in Blue and for Mother Wore Tights. He rejoined Warren at MGM for Judy Garland’s last film with the studio, 1950’s Summer Stock. Beyond that, his work failed to make much of an impression on the Hit Parade. His final score was for the Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds songfest Bundle of Joy (1956—Josef Myrow).
Gordon died in New York City on March 1, 1959. (KB)
“I’ve had a lot of titles about places that I’ve never been to. I think everybody around those days was writing about far-off places they’d never been to. A lot of fellas wrote southern songs about Dixie and they’d never been down there, they didn’t know anything about it. But they wrote them just the same. I’ve written songs like ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo.’ I’ve gone through Buffalo but I never stayed in Buffalo. Like Kalamazoo. The city of Chattanooga, I’m an honorary citizen, but I’ve never been there.”Chattanooga Choo Choo
Carmen Miranda asked Warren how he came up with all those great Brazilian-influenced tunes for her. He answered, “Honey, they’re not Brazilian – they’re Italian. But don’t tell anybody.”I Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much)
“I’ve had a lot of titles about places that I’ve never been to. I think everybody around those days was writing about far-off places they’d never been to. A lot of fellas wrote southern songs about Dixie and they’d never been down there, they didn’t know anything about it. But they wrote them just the same. I’ve written songs like ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo.’ I’ve gone through Buffalo but I never stayed in Buffalo. Like Kalamazoo. The city of Chattanooga, I’m an honorary citizen, but I’ve never been there.”I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo
Written for Smiles, this song didn’t satisfy star Marilyn Miller. She insisted that Youmans write her something as good as “Wild Rose,” a Jerome Kern song she’d sung in Sally. Nothing the composer came up with was good enough. Youmans wrote Ziegfeld, “This is the usual request for nearly every number I have written in the shows you have made. In other words, it has been ‘Write me a number like so and so or so and so.’”Time on My Hands
Harry Warren: "I had a dum-dum-dum-dum rhythm going in my head, which was why Johnny Mack [Mack Gordon] and I decided to spell out the name. And I had been in Kalamazoo when I was very young and had carved my name on the wall of the railroad station there. I guess maybe that was the basis for the lyric. It wasn’t the first song to spell out its title, but it was an angle that worked."I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo