Richard A. Whiting

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  • Biography
  • Back Stories
  • First Person
  • The Great Songs

Richard A. Whiting was born in Peoria, Illinois, on November 12, 1891.  He started writing songs while in high school, and after graduation from military academy, he played piano for vaudeville shows. Soon, he started an act with Marshall “Mickey” Neilan, who went on to become a famous Hollywood director.

In 1914, Whiting had his first successes, “I Wonder Where My Lovin’ Man Has Gone” (lyric by Earle C. Jones) and “It’s Tulip Time in Holland” with a lyric by Dave Radford.

In 1913, Whiting began his professional writing career when publisher James H. Remick published his first songs and hired the young man as the manager of his Detroit office for which he was paid $25 per week. In the evenings, Whiting worked as a member of a local hotel’s Hawaiian band, in light blackface, for an additional $10 a week. In 1914, Whiting had his first successes, “I Wonder Where My Lovin’ Man Has Gone” (lyric by Earle C. Jones) and “It’s Tulip Time in Holland” with a lyric by Dave Radford. His pay for the rights to the latter song was a Steinway grand piano. This turned out to be a bad deal—the  song sold over one-and-a-half million copies of sheet music, roughly equal to $50,000 in royalties.

Whiting then teamed up with bank clerk Raymond B. Egan to write a succession of hits including, “Mammy’s Little Coal Black Rose” (1916), “They Made It Twice as Nice as Paradise and They Called It Dixieland” (1916), “Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow” (1917), and his biggest seller, “Till We Meet Again (Auf Wiedersehn).” In 1919, Whiting wrote three stage scores, Toot-Sweet, Overseas Revue, and George White’s Scandals, from which no standards emerged.

Whiting and Egan’s success continued unabated in the 1920s with “Japanese Sandman” (1920), “Bimini Bay” (1921—Egan collaborating with Gus Kahn), “Sleepy Time Gal” (1925--Egan, Joseph R. Alden, and Ange Lorenzo), and “Ukelele Lady” (lyric by Kahn), “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze,” “Horses (1926—Byron Gay lyric), “Honey” (1928—Haven Gillespie and Seymour Simons), and “My Future Just Passed (1929—George Marion) . Whiting switched roles for one of his best standards, “She’s Funny That Way,” Writing the lyrics to music by Charles N. Daniels. Whiting supplied both music and lyric for a song that defined the decade, 1921’s “Ain’t We Got Fun?”

When talkies came in, Whiting was summoned to Paramount Pictures and teamed with lyricist Leo Robin. Their output was extraordinary: they contributed to Innocents of Paris (1929—“Louise”), Dance of Life (1929—“True Blue Lou”), Safety in Numbers (1929—“My Sweeter Than Sweet”), Monte Carlo (1930—“Beyond the Blue Horizon”), Playboy of Paris (1930—“My Ideal,” with music also by Newell Chase), One Hour with You (1932—title song) and others.

Whiting returned to Broadway for Free for All (1931) and the Ethel Merman vehicle Take a Chance, on which he, Nacio Herb Brown, and B.G. De Sylva teamed to write a spiffy score including “You’re an Old Smoothie” and “Eadie Was a Lady.”

In 1933, Whiting and Ted Koehler wrote “On the Good Ship Lollipop” as part of their score for the Shirley Temple film Bright Eyes. He stayed at the studio until 1935, when he moved to Warner Brothers. He and Walter Bullock wrote a good score for Sing, Baby, Sing (1936—“When Did You Leave Heaven?”), and then began a partnership with Johnny Mercer. Ready, Willing and Able (1937—“Too Marvelous for Words”), the exceptionally fine score for Varsity Show (1937—“Have You Got Any Castles,” “We’re Working Our Way Through College,” “You’ve Got Something There”), Hollywood Hotel (1937—“Hooray for Hollywood,” “I’m Like a Fish Out of Water,” “Let That Be a Lesson to You”), and The Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938—“Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride”) were the films they wrote for the studio. During production of the last film, Whiting suffered a heart attack and died on February 10, 1938. (KB)

Trash to treasure

In 1918, a Detroit theatre held a contest for a war song. Remick’s Music asked its employee, Whiting, to enter the contest. He and lyricist Raymond B. Egan worked on a number but didn’t think it good enough and threw it away. His canny secretary took the song out of the garbage and entered it into the contest—and of course it won. “Til We Meet Again” went on to sell over eleven million copies of sheet music, the most of any song before or since.Till We Meet Again

Remember the accent

When Whiting and Robin were hired to write the songs for Innocents of Paris, Chevalier told them that when writing for him they should keep in mind his strong French accent. They tried out many women’s names on Chevalier before choosing “Louise.”Louise

Where did you get...that's it!

Whiting was struggling to find a song for Shirley Temple when one day his daughter Margaret came into his room with a big, sticky lollipop. She managed to get her father, his piano, and his music sticky. As she tells it, he said, “Get away from me, where did you get that lollip….” He stopped mid-sentence. “That’s it!” He rushed to the phone, called Ted Koehler, and said, "I’ve got the title!”On the Good Ship Lollipop

Johnny Mercer to Max Wilk

"Buddy Morris at Warners asked me who I’d like to write with and I said, ‘I’d rather work with Dick Whiting than anybody.’ Another of my idols, I had heard all his songs. I loved them. He had a lot of quality, and he was an original. A dear fellow, too. Modest and sweet, and not at all pushy like a lot of New York writers are. He came from Detroit, and he was kind of a shy man. He wasn’t too well by that time, but we were really good friends."Johnny Mercer

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Recordings
If I Could Spend One Hour with You
Margaret Whiting, with Skitch Henderson
My Ideal
Margaret Whiting, with Skitch Henderson
Sleepy Time Gal
Margaret Whiting, with Skitch Henderson
Till We Meet Again
Margaret Whiting, with Skitch Henderson
Till We Meet Again (close)
Margaret Whiting, with Skitch Henderson
When Did You Leave Heaven
Margaret Whiting, with Skitch Henderson
The 3 part PBS Series
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