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Bert Kalmar (1884-1947) began his show business career at a tender age, working as a magician and later a comic. After a knee injury sidelined his vaudeville career he and Harry Ruby formed their famous songwriting partnership in 1920. Their first success was a tune co-written with Irving Berlin that was sung by Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1920. That same year the duo wrote “So Long Oolong (How Long You Gonna Be Gone)” for a pantomime called Bluebeard.
In 1923 they scored their first Broadway show, Helen of Troy, and enjoyed a hit with “Who’s Sorry Now?” written with Ted Snyder. “Thinking of You” was a standout in the 1927 show The 5 O’Clock Girl, and after Sarah Vaughan recorded it in 1950 it became one of her most requested songs. In 1928 Helen Kane, the “Boop-Boop-a-Doop” girl, popularized “I Wanna Be Loved by You” which was later sung by Marilyn Monroe in the 1959 film, Some Like It Hot. The song for Groucho’s character in 1928’s Animal Crackers, “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” provided the theme for his later TV show “You Bet Your Life.” Kalmar and Ruby also wrote the book, music and lyrics for High Kickers in 1941.
In the ‘30s the pair moved from Broadway to Hollywood where they scored five Marx Brothers films between 1930 and 1947. “Everyone Says I Love You” was introduced by Groucho in the 1932 movie Horse Feathers and in 1996 became the title of a Woody Allen film. The duo also contributed “Three Little Words,” performed by Bing Crosby with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, to the Amos and Andy film Check and Double Check (1930). The song became the title of the 1950 movie loosely based on the songwriting team in which Fred Astaire played Kalmar. In 1931 “Nevertheless” was popularized by both Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee and enjoyed a revival with the release of the film Three Little Words.
Kalmar and Ruby also collaborated on several screen plays: The Kid from Spain (1932), starring Eddie Cantor; the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933); Bright Lights (1935), starring Joe E. Brown; and Look for the Silver Lining (1949), a biopic of Marilyn Miller.
As testimony to the enduring nature of Kalmar and Ruby’s work, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” written in 1935 with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, was featured in the 1951 movie The Strip where it was sung by Louis Armstrong. It was nominated for a Best Song Oscar, and Armstrong was forever after associated with the song.
- Sandra Burlingame
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Fred Astaire, Red Skelton, Vera-Ellen, Arlene Dahl, Keenan Wynn
Three Little Words
Warner Home Video
Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis
Some Like It Hot
MGM (Video & DVD)
The Marx Brothers
Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd
Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont
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