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“Yip” Harburg at Fleischer

Did you know songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg (lyricist of The Wizard of Oz, Gay Purr-ee and much else) wrote material for the Max Fleischer studio?

Neither did I.

Harburg historian Nick Markovich of The Yip Harburg Foundation has recently discovered evidence that Harburg lyrics were written for at least three Fleischer cartoons from the 1929-30 period — when Harburg was writing for Paramount-Astoria Studios on Long Island. Markovich wrote us, looking for early Fleischer films for research. He says:

“Harburg was employed by Paramount’s Astoria, Long Island studio for a few years starting in 1929 — hence the Fleischer connection. For Paramount he wrote lyrics with such composers as Vernon Duke (with whom he later wrote April in Paris for a Broadway revue) and Jay Gorney (with whom he wrote Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? for another Broadway revue). It’s possible that other lyrics or verses he wrote ended up uncredited in other Fleischer cartoons. The only way to tell definitively would be to watch every single one of them, listen carefully and compare to the dozens of obscure lyric sheets in Harburg’s collection. In the last two years alone I have discovered that several Gorney-Harburg songs were performed in two features, one featurette, and one cartoon from that era, all uncredited. So who knows what’s out there — either in animated shorts or live action features and featurettes?

In The Shade Of the Old Apple Tree — A blurb in the January 19, 1930 Film Daily states: “E.Y. Harburg…composes those captivating lines which make you want to join in with the crowd on Paramount’s Fleischer cartoon singing reels. His ‘Old Apple Tree’ number is a darb.”

Harburg also apparently provided material to the Screen Song short, The Prisoner’s Song. Also, there is a typewritten lyric sheet by Harburg entitled “Bedtime Story” — a satire of Grimm-type fairy stories that frighten children. A handwritten note at the top of this sheet says “Verse for Fleischer picture.”

The “Bedtime Story” piece, reprinted below, is obviously a first draft for the Bedtime Story broadcast at the end of Radio Riot (1930), one of Fleischer’s earliest Talkartoons. Compare the draft below with the finished film (below it). It wouldn’t surprise me if Harburg wrote all the dialogue in the film — it’s quite clever.


Announcer: Good evening, children. This is station GORe. Tonight you shall have the extreme pleasure of listening to Uncle Grim, the author of Grim=E 2s Fairy Tales, who has a very interesting Bed Time story for you. Children, meet uncle Grim.

Uncle Grim:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of a child named Goldy-Locks Schnitzelbeer;
Who always wore
Medals galore
For conduct, and virtues that folks all adore.

As she strolled thru the woods in her little red cape,
The clink of her medals attracted an APE!

The Apiest Ape
With unbearable hands,
With horrible ears,
And terrible glands!
His breath was fire.
His eyes were green
His claws were wire
And his GROWL WAS M-E-A-N !X!X!

And Goldylocks Schnitzelbeer said with a laugh,
“Oh Grandpa,
Vas loffly fillings your back teeth haff!”

Then the Ape he tore her from limb to limb…
‘Cause there was no monkeying ‘round with him.

He cracked her ribs
With a thunderous thud,
And crunched her skull
In a pool of blood,
And there he wallowed
In spleen and gall
Until he swallowed
Her, medals and all.

Till all that remained of Goldylocks
Was a wish bone wrapped in one of her socks.

Now dear children, go to bed. Sleep tight.
Be kind. Be sweet. Happy dreams. Good night!

Announcer: You have just listened to a bed time story by Uncle Grim, President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

He comes to you every Doomsday evening thru the courtesy of the Sheepshead Bay Fur Co., manufacturers of Mice Skin Rugs, Bear Skin Coats and Cat Guts for Tennis Rackets.

(Thanks, for numerous reasons, to Mark Kausler)