Memories of My Father

By Margaret Whiting
(written as an introduction to
a songbook of his compositions)

The greatest memory I have of my father, Richard, is sitting by his side at the piano listening to his latest song. When I would come home from school, I’d go into his studio and would hear whatever song he was writing or the latest Rodgers & Hart, or Jerome Kern, or George Gershwin songs. Those composers were some of his dearest friends, and he kept up with everything they wrote. He would bring home advance copies from his publisher or the studio. At that time, even though I was very young, I guess I was one of the first to hear “My Funny Valentine,” “Too Marvelous For Words,” or “On The Good Ship Lollipop.” Speaking of that, he often said I was the inspiration for that song. One day I went into the studio after school with a big lollipop in my hand. I leaned over to give him a kiss, and he looked up and said, “Margaret, get away with that sticky lollipop. You’re going to get it all over the piano and me.” He’d been working on a song for Shirley Temple, who was one of the biggest stars the movies ever had. Suddenly, he looked at me and said, “That’s it, that’s it! That’s just what I need for Shirley!” He called the lyric writer, Sidney Clare, on the phone and said, “My kid, Margaret, just came in with a lollipop and got that sticky stuff all over me and the piano. But it gave me a good idea for Shirley. What about ‘On The Good Ship Lollipop?’” I think of that every time I hear the song or see someone with a lollipop.

My father worked for the Jerome Remick Music Company in Detroit, Michigan. This company later became part of what is now the Warner-Chappell Music Company. My father was signed to Remick’s as a young composer and ran the office from 1912-1924. There was a young man working as a bank teller where Remick did his banking whose name was Raymond Egan. He wanted to be a lyric writer, so Mr. Remick got my father and Egan together. Their first song was a bit of a masterpiece called “The Japanese Sandman,” which sold millions of copies of sheet music. The was war on, and the Michigan Theatre was having a war song contest. Mr. Remick was going to publish the winning song. One day while cleaning out my father’s office, Remick’s secretary, who played the piano (and if they ever do a movie of this, she could be played by Doris Day) started emptying my father’s wastepaper basket and discovered a manuscript my father had thrown away. She played it over on the piano, and then took it to Mr. Remick the next day. She thought it should be entered in the war song contest. Mr. Remick asked my father about the song. My father said, “It’s not very good. Ray and I threw it away.” Mr. Remick asked the title and my father said, “’Auf Wiedersehen,’ but it means ‘Till We Meet Again.’” Remick said “No ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ with the war on. It’ll be ‘Till We Meet Again,’” and he entered it into the war song contest. It won, and became one of the all-time biggest sheet music sellers ever.

My father and Leo Robin were the first song-writing team to go out to Hollywood in 1929. They were signed by Paramount Pictures, and wrote many big hits while they were there. The studio had just signed a brilliant international entertainer from Paris, Maurice Chevalier, to star in their pictures. He was a charming, very intelligent man, who knew that he would have trouble with certain lyrics because of the language barrier. So Chevalier requested them to write simple words for him to sing. In one picture, he needed a simple song to sing about someone he was dreaming of. That’s how “My Ideal” came about -- a very honest melody with simple lyrics that he could pronounce. He did it beautifully on the screen, and my favorite singer later recorded it -- Frank Sinatra. I will always be thrilled that Johnny Mercer picked that song for me to do as my first record on the Capitol Label. It’s kind of become my theme song. Another song they wrote for Chevalier was “One Hour With You.” It was his song until Eddie Cantor decided to make it HIS theme song, and he would sing every week on his broadcast “And I’d love to spend this evening with you.”

Another great star at Paramount was Jeanette MacDonald, who was Chevalier’s leading woman in many pictures. Ernest Lubitsch was to star her in a picture called “Monte Carlo.” In the movies, she was a princess from some mythical kingdom, and her father decreed that she was to marry a man of his choosing that the princess didn’t care for. So she decided to run away. One of the most fascinating sequences ever filmed for motion pictures was the scene in which she ran down the palace stairs in nothing but a teddy and a mink coat. She gets on a railroad train, goes into a compartment, takes off her mink coat, and looks out the window as the train departs. With tears in her eyes, she looks at the workers in the field. She waves to them, they wave to her, she waves back again, they wave back again, she waves back and starts to sing “Beyond the Blue Horizon.” My father was asked to write music that sounded like a train for the verse, which he managed to do, and all in all not only was it a great scene for the picture, but it became a classic song. The biggest kick I get is hearing a lot of contemporary singers do their version of “Horizon,” sometimes way out, but very interesting.

“You’re An Old Smoothie” and “Eadie Was a Lady” were two songs from a Broadway show called “Take A Chance,” written for the fabulous Ethel Merman. My father told me there was never a voice like that lady’s. She had a voice like a clarion bugle. We became friendly many years later, and all I can say is, that’s one singer with perfect diction. You could hear every word she sang.

The biggest influence in my life, besides my father, was Johnny Mercer. He came out from New York to write with my father for the Warner Brothers studio. There was a picture for which they had to write a song that Ross Alexander, the star of the picture, was to sing to his secretary, describing the girl he loved (Ruby Keeler). The letter was to be opened by Ruby Keeler and read aloud to several of her girlfriends. The the Busby Berkeley dancers were to become part of the typewriter and type out the lyrics of the third chorus. This became a memorable scene in the picture, “Ready, Willing and Able” and, of course, the song was “Too Marvelous For Words.”

A little later on, the boys were asked to write a score for a picture called “Hollywood Hotel.” The producer asked them to write a song for the Benny Goodman Band, Morey Amsterdam, Mabel Todd and others to sing to Dick Powell at the Kansas City Airport while he was getting on a plane to go to Hollywood. He had just been signed to star on the “Hollywood Hotel” radio show with other luminaries such as Francis Langford, Kenny Baker, Louella Parsons and Raymond Paige and His Orchestra. I think this was the hardest assignment either Johnny or my father ever had, and they labored over it for six weeks. They really didn’t care for the song, and Johnny always called it “the little piece of material.” Well, it became “Hooray for Hollywood,” which was not only a smash hit in the picture, but is now the theme of dear old Tinseltown, and is probably the biggest copyright either my father or Johnny ever had.

My father thought I was going to become a singer, and gave me some great advice. “Sing the songs the way we wrote them. We worked a long time on them.” And he was right.

* * * *

Richard was born in Peoria, Illinois on November 12, 1891. After graduating from Los Angeles’ Harvard Military School, Whiting began his career as a staff writer for various music publishers and in 1912 became a personal manager. He moved to Hollywood in 1919 and wrote film scores for many pictures of the 20s and 30s, as well as songs that are standards of American's popular song collaborating with the best lyricists and composers of Tin Pan Alley.

He was married to Eleanor Youngblood Whiting with whom he had two daughters, Margaret, a singer, and Barbara an actress. Richard Whiting died in Beverly Hills, California on February 10, 1938.

Richard was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.