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Jimmy Van Heusen
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Jimmy Van Heusen Profile

When the producers of the hit series The Walking Dead needed a standard to keep an older resident of Woodbury in touch with his fondest past memories, it's no surprise they picked a song by Jimmy Van Heusen ("It Could Happen to You"). The prolific songwriter wrote more than 800 songs during his five-decade career, with at least 50 of them becoming enduring hits and four winning Oscars® for Best Song. He also was the songwriter most frequently recorded by his friend Frank Sinatra, with a total of 85 songs on the singer's albums. When he was among the first honorees inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, it seemed a fitting tribute and the perfect capper to one of Hollywood and the music world's greatest careers.

Van Heusen took his name from the famed shirt makers when he was 16. He was born Edward Chester Babcock in Syracuse, NY, January 26, 1913 and seems to have had the show biz bug from an early age. He was even expelled from high school for an impromptu song performance. While working as a disc jockey at the local radio station, he ran a promotion to write music for song lyrics sent in by listeners, charging $10 for his services as composer. Since the medium was still young, he managed to get several of his songs on the air long before he achieved national fame. It was also during his radio days that he changed his name to the more "show biz" James Van Heusen.

During his college days, he became friends with Jerry Arlen, brother of famed songwriter Harold Arlen, who helped him place some songs at Harlem's famed Cotton Club. Before long he was churning out hits like "Darn That Dream," introduced by Louis Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan and The Dandridge Sisters in the 1939 Broadway musical Swingin' the Dream.

By 1940, Van Heusen was working in Hollywood, where he began work with his first long-time collaborator, Johnny Burke. They started working together at Paramount Pictures, creating songs for Mary Martin in the Jack Benny-Fred Allen vehicle Love Thy Neighbor (1940). One of the first great film stars to perform their music was Bing Crosby, starting with Road to Zanzibar (1941). Crosby introduced their "Moonlight Becomes You" in another of the Road pictures, Road to Morocco (1942) and sang their first Oscar®-winner "Swinging on a Star" in Going My Way (1944). Other Crosby pictures for the team included Dixie (1943), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), Road to Utopia (1946), Welcome Stranger (1947) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949). The singer valued Van Heusen's contributions so much that when he and Bob Hope reunited for a final road film, The Road to Hong Kong (1962), Hope's character was named Chester Babcock in his honor.
br<> Van Heusen and Burke also wrote the scores for two failed Broadway musicals, Nellie Bly, starring Victor Moore, and Carnival in Flanders, in which Dolores Grey introduced another of their biggest hits, "Here's That Rainy Day." Their last collaboration was "To See You Is to Love You," an uncredited song written for Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). With Burke's health failing, he retired from the team, and Van Heusen started looking for another partner.

He found it in Sammy Cahn, with whom he began a second long and very fruitful partnership. They started working together in 1955, winning an Emmy for "Love and Marriage," which Frank Sinatra introduced in a television musical version of Our Town, and an Oscar® nomination for another Sinatra song, the title number from The Tender Trap (1955). That association with Sinatra, who was already a close friend of Van Heusen's, would lead to the team's first two Oscars®, for "All the Way," introduced in The Joker Is Wild (1957), and "High Hopes," from A Hole in the Head (1959). The latter would also become future president John F. Kennedy's campaign song. Other Sinatra hits they wrote for the big screen included "To Love and Be Loved" from Some Came Running (1958-Oscar® nomination), "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" from Ocean's Eleven (1960) and "My Kind of Town" from Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964-Oscar® nomination). In addition, the two produced his four television specials in 1959 and 1960 and wrote such other hits as "Come Fly With Me" and "Come Dance With Me."

On their own, Van Heusen and Cahn collaborated on two Broadway musicals, Skyscraper and Walking Happy. They won a third Oscar® together for "Call Me Irresponsible" from Papa's Delicate Condition (1963) and picked up nominations for the title songs for Pocketful of Miracles (1961), Where Love Has Gone (1964), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and Star! (1968). Even as the screen musical was fading, the team was in demand writing title songs for other popular films, including Come Blow Your Horn andUnder the Yum Yum Tree (both 1963).

Off-screen, Van Heusen was an accomplished pilot and did test flights for Lockheed Air Base during World War II. Flying would continue to be a major part of his life for years, and he frequently flew his own plane to visit friends. Although prematurely bald, he was also known around Hollywood as a popular ladies man, though he remained a bachelor until 1969, when he married former singer Bobbe Brox, the widow of producer William Perlberg. They remained together through his retirement in 1970, living in his home in Rancho Mirage, CA. Van Heusen died of complications from a stroke in 1990 and was buried in the Sinatra family plot in Desert Memorial Park in California. The marker on his grave reads, "Swinging on a Star."

Turner Classic Movies is proud to salute Jimmy Van Heusen in January with eight films made richer by his music. On Thursday, January 24, catch Road to Morocco(1942) at 8 p.m., Welcome Stranger (1947) at 9:30 p.m., Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) at 11:30 p.m., Some Came Running (1958) at 2:15 a.m. and Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) at 4:45 a.m. The Tender Trap (1955) airs Friday, January 25, at 8 p.m., followed by Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964) at 10 p.m. and Ocean's Eleven (1960) at 12:15 a.m.


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