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Harry Warren -- TCM Spotlight
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Harry Warren Profile

"I've always written music the way I felt it. I write for the public because I feel like the public, the way they would write if they could. You don't have to know anything about music to understand what I write."

Those are the modest words of Harry Warren (1893-1981), who may be the movies' least heralded great composer, with an amazingly prolific output that has been estimated as high as 500 original songs for more than 100 different movies. He set a record on the radio program Your Hit Parade during the years 1935-1950 by having 42 of his songs place in the Top Ten. (Runner-up Irving Berlin scored only 33!)

Warren had 11 Oscars® nominations for Best Song and won three Oscars® including those for "Lullaby of Broadway" from Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935) and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" from The Harvey Girls (1946). Among his other best-remembered songs are "You'll Never Know," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "I Only Have Eyes for You." His illustrious collaborators included Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Billy Rose and Al Dubin.

Born Salvatore Anthony Guaragna in Brooklyn, Warren was a drummer in a carnival band before entering films at the Vitagraph studios as a stagehand and assistant director. He wrote his first successful song, "Rose of the Rio Grande," in 1922.

Warren's big break in films came when choreographer Busby Berkeley suggested him to Warner Bros. as songwriter for 42nd Street (1933). Working with Dubin, Warren created such instant standards as "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and the movie's title tune, as well as a lovely, untitled instrumental love theme. The latter melody was said to be the first of his compositions that Warren heard played live by a Hollywood orchestra; the sensitive songwriter reportedly burst into tears when conductor Leo Forbstein cued his musicians to begin the piece.

In quick succession that same year, Warren collaborated with Berkeley and Dubin on two more Warners musicals, Gold Diggers of 1933 ("We're in the Money") and Footlight Parade ("Honeymoon Hotel"). In addition to his work at Warners, Warren composed songs for Fox, MGM and Paramount, where he gave Dean Martin one of his biggest hits with "That's Amore" in The Caddy (1953).

by Roger Fristoe

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