Harold Arlen

Harold Arlen (February 15, 1905 ??? April 23, 1986) was an American composer of popular music. Having written over 500 songs, a number of which have become known the world over. In addition to being the composer of The Wizard of Oz, Arlen is a highly regarded contributor to the Great American Songbook. His 1938 song "Over the Rainbow??? was voted the twentieth century's No. 1 song by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).


Arlen was born Chaim Arlook, in Buffalo, New York, the child of a Jewish cantor. His twin brother died the next day. He learned the piano as a youth and formed a band as a young man. He achieved some local success as a pianist and singer and moved to New York City in his early 20s. He worked as an accompanist in vaudeville. At this point, he changed his name to Harold Arlen. Between 1926 and about 1934, Arlen appeared occasionally as a band vocalist on records by The Buffalodians, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Leo Reisman and Eddie Duchin, usually singing his own compositions.

In 1929, Arlen composed his first well-known song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler). Throughout the early and mid-1930s, Arlen and Koehler wrote shows for the Cotton Club, a popular Harlem night club, as well as for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films. Arlen and Koehler's partnership resulted in a number of hit songs, including the familiar standards "Let's Fall in Love" and "Stormy Weather." Arlen continued to perform as a pianist and vocalist with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra.

Arlen's compositions have always been popular with jazz musicians because of his facility at incorporating a blues feeling into the idiom of the conventional American popular song.

In the mid-1930s, Arlen married, and spent increasing time in California, writing for movie musicals. It was at this time that he began working with lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. In 1938, the team was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz. The most famous of these is the song "Over the Rainbow" for which they won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. They also wrote "Down with Love", a song later featured in the 2003 movie Down with Love.

Arlen was a longtime friend and former roommate of actor Ray Bolger who would star in The Wizard of Oz, the film for which "Over the Rainbow" was written.

In the 1940s, he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer, and continued to write hit songs like "Blues in the Night", "That Old Black Magic," "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" .

Arlen composed two defining tunes which bookend Judy Garland's musical persona: as a yearning, innocent girl in "Over the Rainbow" and a world-weary, "chic chanteuse" with "The Man that Got Away".

Harold Arlen timeline

Arlen with George Gershwin (L) in 1934

1905 Arlen born in Buffalo, New York

1920 (Age 15) He formed his first professional band, Hyman Arluck's Snappy Trio.

1921 (16) Against his parent's wishes he left home.

1923 (18) With his new band - The Southbound Shufflers, performed on the Crystal Beach lake boat "Canadiana" during the summer of 1923.

1924 (19) Performed at Lake Shore Manor during the summer of 1924.

1924 (19) Wrote his first song, collaborating with friend Hyman Cheiffetz to write "My Gal, My Pal". Copyrighting the song as "My Gal, Won't You Please Come Back to Me?" and listed lyrics by Cheiffetz and music by Harold Arluck.

1925 (20) Makes his way to New York City with the group, The Buffalodians, with Arlen playing piano.

1926 (21) Had first published song, collaborating with Dick George to compose "Minor Gaff (Blues Fantasy)" under the name Harold Arluck.

1928 (23) Chaim (Life) (or Hyman) Arluck renames himself Harold Arlen, a name that combined his parents' surnames (his mother's maiden name was Orlin).

1929 (24) Landed a singing and acting role as Cokey Joe in the musical "The Great Day"

1929 (24) Composed his first well known song - (Get Happy) under the name Harold Arlen.

1929 (24) Signed a yearlong song writing contract with the George and Arthur Piantadosi firm.

1930-1934 (25-29) Wrote music for the Cotton Club.

1933 (28) At a party, along with partner Ted Koehler, wrote the major hit song "Stormy Weather"

1933 (28) Billboard heralded Shakespeare as the most prolific playwright in history, and Arlen as the most prolific composer.

1935 (30) Went back to California after being signed by Samuel Goldwyn to write songs for the film "Strike Me Pink"

1937 (32) Married 22-year-old Anya Taranda, a celebrated Powers Agency model and former Earl Carroll and Busby Berkeley showgirl, actress, and one of the Original "Breck Girls."

Sheet music cover for The Wizard of Oz.

1938 (33) Hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz.

1938 (33) While driving along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and stopping in front of Schwab's Drug Store came up with the song "Over the Rainbow"

1941 (36) Wrote "Blues in the Night"

1942 (37) Along with Johnny Mercer, he wrote one of his most famous songs, "That Old Black Magic"

1943 (38) Wrote "My Shining Hour"

1944 (39) While driving with songwriter partner Johnny Mercer came up with the song "Accentuate the Positive".

1945 (40) In a single evening's work in October with Johnny Mercer came up with the song "Come Rain or Come Shine"

1949 (44) Collaborated with Ralph Blane to write the score for "My Blue Heaven".

1950 (45) Worked with old pal Johnny Mercer on the film "The Petty Girl", out of which came the song "Fancy Free".

1951 (46) His wife Anya was institutionalized in a sanitarium for 7 years after repeatedly threatening her husband and others with physical harm.

1952 (47) Teamed up with Dorothy Fields on the film "The Farmer Takes a Wife"

1953 (48) Harold's father, Cantor Samuel Arluck, died.

1954 (49) The Musical "A Star is Born" starring Judy Garland singing the now classic, Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin collaboration, "The Man That Got Away"

1954 (49) Becomes dangerously ill with a bleeding ulcer and is hospitalized but recovers to work with Truman Capote on the musical House of Flowers.

1956 (51) His mother Celia Arluck dies and Harold doesn't touch music for over a year, mourning her loss.

1961-1976 (55-71) Wrote over 50 songs and continued a successful career.

1970 (65) Arlen's wife Anya Taranda dies from a brain tumor. Arlen begins to lose interest in life, withdrawing from friends and family and becoming more reclusive.

1974 (69) Composes theme song for the ABC sitcom Paper Moon, based on a 1973 Peter Bogdanovich film of the same name.

1986 (81) Harold Arlen dies in New York City and is interred next to his wife at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Works for Broadway

Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1930 (1930) - revue - contributing composer
You Said It (1931) - musical - composer
Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1932 (1932) - revue - co-composer and co-lyricist with Ted Koehler
Americana (1932) - revue - contributing composer
George White's Music Hall Varieties - (1933) - revue - co-composer
Life Begins at 8:40 (1934) - revue - composer
The Show is On (1936) - revue - contributing composer
Hooray for What! (1937) - musical - composer
Bloomer Girl (1944) - musical - composer
St. Louis Woman (1946) - musical - composer
House of Flowers (1954) - musical - composer and co-lyricist
Mr. Imperium (1951) - Movie Musical - featured composer
Jamaica (1957) - musical - composer - Tony Nomination for Best Musical
Saratoga (1959) - musical - composer
The Wizard of Oz (1987) - musical - composer

Major songs

"A Sleepin' Bee" - lyrics by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote
"Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"As Long as I Live" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"Blues in the Night" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"Come Rain or Come Shine" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"For Every Man There's a Woman" - lyrics by Leo Robin
"Get Happy" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"Down with Love" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"Hit the Road to Dreamland" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"Hooray for Love" lyrics by Leo Robin
"I Could Go On Singing" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"If I Only Had a Brain" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"If I Only Had a Heart" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"I Had Myself A True Love" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"Ill Wind" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"It Was Written in the Stars" - lyrics by Leo Robin
"I've Got the World on a String" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"It's Only a Paper Moon" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, Billy Rose
"Last Night When We Were Young" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"Let's Fall in Love" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"Let's Take a Walk Around the Block" lyrics by Ira Gershwin and E.Y. Harburg
"Like A Straw In The Wind"
"Lydia The Tatooed Lady" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"My Shining Hour" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer; theme song of NBC detective series Meet McGraw starring Frank Lovejoy
"Out of This World (Johnny Mercer song)" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"Over the Rainbow" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"Right As The Rain" - lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
"Sing My Heart" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"So Long, Big Time!" - lyrics by Dory Langdon (recorded in Finland by Carola)
"Stormy Weather" - lyrics by Ted Koehler
"That Old Black Magic" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"The Man That Got Away" - lyrics by Ira Gershwin
"This Time the Dream's on Me" - lyrics by Johnny Mercer
"When the Sun Comes Out" - lyrics by Ted Koehler

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