The history of the song “Easter Parade,” by Irving Berlin

19 Apr


My first thought was “Clifton Webb! I didn’t know he could sing.” Apparently, he can. I had to hear it to believe it, though.

I was looking up the history of the song “Easter Parade,” when I came across this little nugget of information. I originally knew of the song from the 1948 film Easter Parade, with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, which I knew featured a variety of songs by Irving Berlin that he had introduced thirty years earlier, though there were a few new songs, written specifically for the film.

I’ve also heard it sung by Bing Crosby in 1942, in Holiday Inn (which also had Fred Astaire). However, I always had the impression that the song was written specifically for Holiday Inn, since so many of the other songs that appear in the movie were originals by Irving Berlin (“White Christmas was introduced in Holiday Inn).

So I knew Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby sang it. But Clifton Webb?

I’ve seen him as the dapper, aristocratic man in Titanic (1953) and Laura (1944) and he played the father in Cheaper By The Dozen (1950). He had this educated, British accent and it was hard for me to imagine him in song. He only started doing movies in his mid-fifties; beforehand he exclusively did stage. I thought he must have been doing something serious, like Shakespeare, but apparently he was a ballroom dancer and did vaudeville and musicals and introduced quite a number of Great American Songbook standards by Berlin, George Gershwin and Arthur Schwartz. One of those songs was “Easter Parade.”

He and Marilyn Miller (a hugely popular musical star in the 20s and 30s – Marilyn Monroe changed her name from Norma Jeane Mortenson to Marilyn Monroe in imitation of her) introduced the song in the 1933 musical, “As Thousands Cheer,” with the music written by Irving Berlin. The musical was a collection of musical numbers and sketches that were meant to correspond to different newspaper lines, the newspaper line preceding each scene. At the end of Act 1, the line was Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue – 1883. Clifton Webb and Marilyn Miller apparently step out of a rotogravure image and sing the now famous song.

The song did not entirely originate in “As Thousands Cheer,” however. The melody was originally written for a song called “Smile and Show Your Dimples” in 1917. The song didn’t go anywhere, but Berlin revived the melody for “As Thousands Cheer” and gave it different lyrics.

For proof that Clifton Webb sings, here is his version (without Marilyn Miller). Also, a somewhat oddly tinted clip of Bing Crosby, singing the song to Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn. And finally, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire sing in the finale of Easter Parade

Happy Easter!

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Posted by on April 19, 2014 in Music


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