Wednesday, September 22, 2021

“Once Upon a Time,” a Beautiful Song from a Broadway Show that a New York City Newspaper Strike Killed, a Strike Which also Killed so Much Else

By Nicholas Stix

My understanding is that this show, All American, was a casualty of a massive, 1962 New York newspaper strike, which was the first of a series of three newspaper strikes in 1962, 1965, and 1966. The last such strike killed off the greatest daily newspaper in New York City history, the New York Herald-Tribune. My now 91-year-old mom used to sing the praises of the old Herald-Tribune.

(If students of New York City history are feeling like it’s deja vu all over again, it’s because in the mid-to-late 1960s, the city would be crippled, first by a garbagemen’s strike, then by a series of three newspaper strikes, and then by a series of three teachers’ union strikes. However, whereas the newspaper strikes were caused by greedy labor unions, and the garbagemen’s strike by the weakness of new mayor John Lindsay, the teachers’ strikes were in response to black supremacists illegally taking over city schools, and seeking to violently drive out competent, white, especially Jewish teachers and administrators, and steal their jobs.)

The paper’s first-string theater critic, Walter Kerr, found work at the new york times, but had to settle for being second-stringer, behind the mediocre Clive Barnes.

When I was in college, my mom and I had a subscription to an off-Broadway theater, and once caught a show called Cold Storage (1977), about two patients in a hospital cancer ward. The older one was played by the star, Martin Balsam, as an irony-enriched Archie Bunker type. The younger one, a humorless liberal, may have been played by Sam Waterston (actually Michael Lipton). Once, the younger one says, “You must hate the ACLU,” to which the older one says, “No, I’m a member of the ACLU!” And he whips out his wallet, and the overflowing card section rolls out to the floor. “I’m a member of everything!”

So, I get back to school, and what do I see? Someone in the Humanities Department had posted Walter Kerr’s review of the show on the wall outside the office. (I assumed it was the sexy, 40ish department secretary, Edna, but I’m no longer sure.) Kerr talked lovingly about how Balsam was constantly blowing his lines and improvising. I’d had no idea! My mom and I had just assumed that Balsam was giving exact line readings of the script.

It was the most beautiful theater review I’ve ever read.

Walter Kerr’s wife, Jean, was a bestselling novelist and playwright, who often wrote humorously of her home life. Her thinly-veiled novel, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, about the Kerrs’ move from New York City to the suburbs, became a popular, 1960 movie comedy starring Doris “Dodo” Day, then the world’s biggest movie star, with David Niven playing Walter Kerr. The story was then turned into a short-lived but entertaining, eponymous TV series with a catchy theme (which skillfully used a piccolo), starring the stunning, shapely Pat Crowley and a huge sheep dog.

A writer of a certain age who’s new to me, who writes with a very assured yet old-fashioned style, but who according to google only started writing professionally a few years ago, Penelope Bareau, has written a lovely article on the 1960s newspaper strikes which killed the Herald-Tribune, as well as several other New York dailies.

(I’m thinking maybe she’d been a writer in the Dark Ages before the Internet, and then raised a family, before coming back to being an ink-stained kvetch. Or perhaps she used to write under different names. You don’t just wake up one morning with that sort of literary skill.

Apparently, she worked as an editor, variously punching up or restraining other writers’ styles. And I’m sure she religiously read The New Yorker during its Golden Age.)

That newspaper strike killed the Broadway show, All American, which starred Ray Bolger, who’d played the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939), and Eileen Herlie.

When I was a teenager, I was introduced (by Jonathan Schwartz, I believe) to the show’s big number, “Once Upon a Time,” as sung by Jack Jones. Now, I love Jack Jones, and I’ve always been very fond of his rendition of what is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. However, I have since found the original duet by Ray Bolger and Eileen Herlie much more moving, even though Jones was a much better singer. However, this song has to be sung as a duet, and the original, Broadway orchestration was heart-breaking. (I suspect the charts were by the same arranger who did the original, off-Broadway version of The Fantasticks, starring a young Jerry Orbach, and which featured “Try to Remember.”)

I once heard that one of the newspaper strikes killed—among many other shows—a show starring Bert Lahr (presumably The Beauty Part), who’d played the cowardly lion in Oz.

“Once Upon a Time”
Music by Charles Strouse; Lyrics by Lee Adams

The Man

Once upon a time, a girl with moonlight in her eyes,
Put her hand in mine, and said she loved me so,
But that was once upon a time, very long ago.

Once upon a hill, we sat beneath a willow tree,
Counting all the stars and waiting for the dawn,
But that was once upon a time, now the tree is gone.

How the breeze ruffled through her hair,
How we always laughed as though tomorrow wasn’t there,
We were young and didn’t have a care,
Where did it go?

Once upon a time, the world was sweeter than we knew,
Everything was ours, how happy we were then,
But, somehow, once upon a time never comes again.

The Woman

Once upon a time, it seemed the world was painted gold,
And there was a man and, oh, I loved him so,
The world was beautiful to see, very long ago.

On a night like this, we saw the rising of the moon,
All the silver stars, like necklaces were strung,
We spoke of such important things, we were very young.

Open hearts, nothing to conceal,
Every little thought was so exciting to reveal,
All our dreams we knew would soon be real,
Where did they go?

Once upon a time, the world was sweeter than we knew,
Everything was ours, how happy we were then,
But, somehow, once upon a time never comes again.

“Once Upon a Time” (The Original Version by Ray Bolger and Eileen Herlie)

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Here is a great song that not many people know was introduced by Ray Bolger (1904-1987) and Eileen Herlie (1918-2008) in the 1962 musical "All American." It does not get much better than this.

“Once Upon a Time,” as Sung by a Young Jack Jones

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That song would make a great poem.