Irving Berlin


Composer, Songwriter
Irving Berlin

About

Also Known As
Israel Isidore Beilin
Birth Place
Russia
Born
May 11, 1888
Died
September 22, 1989

Biography

Undeniably the most successful songwriter of the 20th century, Irving Berlin gained legendary status with a vast catalogue of Broadway hits and Hollywood showstoppers, all which aimed to reach the heart of the average American. Incredibly, Berlin couldn't read music and only played the piano in one key, but his uncomplicated and direct compositions instantly struck a chord with mainstrea...

Photos & Videos

Top Hat - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Follow the Fleet - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Easter Parade - Irving Berlin Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Family & Companions

Dorothy Goetz
Wife
Her death from typhoid fever five months after their 1912 marriage inspired Berlin to write "When I Lost You".
Ellin Mackay
Wife
Writer, socialite, silver mining heiress. Married on January 4, 1926; born c. 1903; died in July 1988.

Bibliography

"Irving Berlin: American Troubadour"
Edward Jablonski, Henry Holt & Co (1999)
"Irving Berlin: Songs From the Melting Pot: The Formative Years, 1907-1914"
Charles Hamm, Oxford University Press (1997)
"Berlin, Kern, Rodgers, Hart, and Hammerstein: A Complete Song Catalogue"
Steven Suskin, McFarland (1990)
"As Thousand Cheers: The Life of Irving Berlin"
Laurence Bergreen

Notes

"Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He IS American music." --Jerome Kern

Began using the name Irving Berlin after a printer's error for his first song credited him as I. Berlin (instead of Baline).

Biography

Undeniably the most successful songwriter of the 20th century, Irving Berlin gained legendary status with a vast catalogue of Broadway hits and Hollywood showstoppers, all which aimed to reach the heart of the average American. Incredibly, Berlin couldn't read music and only played the piano in one key, but his uncomplicated and direct compositions instantly struck a chord with mainstream audiences, dominating both stage and screen for nearly four decades. A significant contributor to the Great American Songbook, Berlin's work has also topped the charts on 25 separate occasions, received eight Academy Award nominations and helped to raise the spirit in his adopted homeland during two world wars.

Born Israel Isidore Berlin near Mogilev, Russia in 1888, Berlin emigrated to New York City with his family aged five. Following his father's death in 1901, he took to the streets to help support his mother and eight siblings with various odd jobs before eventually becoming a singing waiter. Having taught himself to play the piano, Berlin then wrote his first song, "Marie From Sunny Italy," in 1907 and a year later began collaborating with songwriters Edgar Leslie and George A. Whiting at a saloon in the Union Square neighbourhood. While in 1909, he achieved his first big break when he was hired as a staff lyricist for the Ted Snyder Company.

Described by George Gershwin as "the first real American musical work, " 1911's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" helped to establish Berlin as a major Tin Pan Alley talent and was followed by his first complete score, "Watch Your Step," his first ballad, "When I Lost You" - a million-seller inspired by the tragic death of his first wife Dorothy Goetz - and a number of songs capitalizing on the various dance crazes of the era. Such was his esteemed reputation that in 1917, he was drafted into the army: not to fight, but to write patriotic songs and compose an all-soldier revue, "Yip Yip Yaphank," that would later be transferred to Broadway.

On his return to New York, he teamed up with producer Sam H. Harris to construct the Music Box Theater, the first Broadway house built to accommodate the works of a single songwriter, and made his film composer debut on "The Toll Of The Sea" (1922) before entering arguably the most prolific and successful phase of his career. Indeed, as well as scoring two editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and four Music Box revues, Berlin spent the 1920s penning hit after hit, from the number one ballad "What'll I Do" (later recorded by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole) to future Marilyn Monroe favorite "Lazy" to dedications to his second wife Ellin Mackay ("Always") and his first daughter ("Blue Skies").

After the latter appeared in the very first feature sound film "The Jazz Singer" (1927), Berlin also began to establish himself in Hollywood with a series of light romantic musicals, typically starring performers like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Judy Garland, including "Top Hat" (1935), "On The Avenue" (1937) and "Gold Diggers In Paris" (1938). But he achieved his biggest hit with "Holiday Inn" (1942) and more notably, the Bing Crosby-sung number "White Christmas," which not only gave Berlin his first and only Academy Award but also went onto become one of the best-selling and most recorded songs in history.

Berlin also spent much of the same period in patriotic mode, composing several songs for various government agencies during the Second World War and producing a stage show, "This Is The Army," which he toured around international military bases for three years, receiving a Medal of Merit from President Harry S. Truman for his efforts. His "God Bless America," a song penned in 1918 but only unveiled for the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, quickly became adopted as the country's second national anthem.

Invited by Rodgers and Hammerstein to take over composing duties from the late Jerome Kern on "Annie Get Your Gun," Berlin then scored one of his biggest hits with the hillbilly musical and its signature tune, "There's No Business Like Show Business," in particular. Following two more Hollywood ventures in "Blue Skies" (1946) and "Easter Parade" (1948), Berlin returned to the stage, firstly with the poorly-received "Miss Liberty" and then with the return-to-form political satire, "Call Me Madam," which landed him a Tony Award for Best Score.

Berlin remained inactive for most of the next decade and after making a brief Broadway comeback in 1962 with the respectable but unspectacular "Mr. President," officially announced his retirement. But he continued to be showered with accolades, receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1968, a place in the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1970 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. Berlin died from natural causes at the age of 101 in 1989, leaving behind a body of work that remains unmatched by any other songwriter.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

This Is the Army (1943)
Himself

Writer (Feature Film)

Blue Skies (1946)
Based on an Original idea by
Holiday Inn (1942)
Based on an idea by
Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)
Developed from an unpublished story by
On the Avenue (1937)
Original Story
Reaching for the Moon (1931)
Story

Music (Feature Film)

Last Christmas (2019)
Song
Green Book (2018)
Song
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Song
Hotel Transylvania 3 (2018)
Song
Ice Age: Collision Course (2016)
Song
She's Funny That Way (2015)
Song
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (2014)
Song
And So It Goes (2014)
Song
Low Down (2014)
Song
The Best of Me (2014)
Song
The Call (2013)
Song
The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld (2013)
Song
The Master (2012)
Song
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Song
A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas (2011)
Song
Cracks (2010)
Song
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Song
For Colored Girls (2010)
Song
Red (2010)
Song
The Killer Inside Me (2010)
Song
My Life in Ruins (2009)
Song
Me and Orson Welles (2009)
Song
Four Christmases (2008)
Song
The Savages (2007)
Song
Expired (2007)
Song
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
Song
This Christmas (2007)
Song
Fierce People (2007)
Song
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Song
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)
Song
The Wedding Weekend (2006)
Song
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2006)
Song
Hollywoodland (2006)
Song
Confetti (2006)
Music Composer
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Song
Romance and Cigarettes (2005)
Song
Prime (2005)
Song
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Song
The Polar Express (2004)
Song
Miracle (2004)
Song
The Human Stain (2003)
Composer
Love Actually (2003)
Song
Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
Song
Anger Management (2003)
Song
Normal (2003)
Song
Ghosts of the Abyss (2003)
Song ("Alexander'S Ragtime Band")
Spun (2003)
Song
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Song
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Song
The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
Song Performer (What'Ll I Do?)
Rollerball (2002)
Song
The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)
Song ("What'Ll I Do?")
Love's Labour's Lost (2000)
Song
The Next Best Thing (2000)
Song
Joe Gould's Secret (2000)
Song
The Story of Us (1999)
Song
Baby Geniuses (1999)
Song
The Cider House Rules (1999)
Song
The Green Mile (1999)
Song
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Song
Snow Day (1999)
Song ("Heat Wave")
Patch Adams (1998)
Song
Meet Joe Black (1998)
Song
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1998)
Song
For Richer or Poorer (1997)
Song
Out to Sea (1997)
Song
Titanic (1997)
Music
The Sixth Happiness (1997)
Song ("Always" 'What'Ll I Do")
Breaking Up (1997)
Song ("They Say It'S Wonderful")
Sleepers (1996)
Song
The English Patient (1996)
Words And Music ("Check To Check" (Irving Berlin Music Company))
The Associate (1996)
Song
Underworld (1996)
Song
I'm Not Rappaport (1996)
Music
The Late Shift (1996)
Song
Les Miserables (1995)
Music Composer
Les Miserables (1995)
Music
That's Entertainment! III (1994)
Song
The Santa Clause (1994)
Song
Baby's Day Out (1994)
Song
With Honors (1994)
Song
Radioland Murders (1994)
Song
It Could Happen to You (1994)
Song
Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)
Song ("Top Hat, White Tie And Tails")
Grumpy Old Men (1993)
Song ("Heat Wave")
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Music
Noises Off (1992)
Song
The Long Day Closes (1992)
Music Composer
Consenting Adults (1992)
Song
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Song
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Music Lyrics
Straight Talk (1992)
Song
A Stranger Among Us (1992)
Song
The Fred Astaire Songbook (1991)
Song
The Butcher's Wife (1991)
Song
Die Hard 2 (1990)
Song
Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989)
Song
Tap (1989)
Song
When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
Song
Forbidden City U.S.A (1989)
Song
Communion (1989)
Song
Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989)
Song
Biloxi Blues (1988)
Song
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Song ("Puttin' On The Ritz")
Who's That Girl? (1987)
Song
Ishtar (1987)
Song
September (1987)
Song
The Golden Child (1986)
Song
Death of a Soldier (1986)
Song
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Song
Before Stonewall (1985)
Song
Once Upon A Time In America (1984)
Song
Once Upon a Time in America - Extended Cut (1984)
Song
Le Bal (1984)
Song
The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)
Song
Pennies From Heaven (1981)
Song ("Let'S Face The Music And Dance")
All That Jazz (1979)
Song
Lost, Lost, Lost (1975)
Theme Lyrics
Sayonara (1957)
Composer
The Big Show (1957)
Composer
Love Me or Leave Me (1955)
Composer
White Christmas (1954)
Composer
There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)
Composer
So This Is Love (1953)
Composer
Call Me Madam (1953)
Composer
Meet Danny Wilson (1952)
Composer
Belles on Their Toes (1952)
Composer
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Composer
Big City (1948)
Composer
Easter Parade (1948)
Composer
The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)
Composer
The Jolson Story (1947)
Composer
Blue Skies (1946)
Composer
Christmas Holiday (1944)
Composer
Coney Island (1943)
Composer
This Is the Army (1943)
Composer
The Pride of the Yankees (1943)
Composer
Hello Frisco, Hello (1943)
Composer
Holiday Inn (1942)
Composer
Home in Wyomin' (1942)
Composer
Moontide (1942)
Composer
Louisiana Purchase (1941)
Composer
Second Fiddle (1939)
Composer
Idiot's Delight (1939)
Composer
Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)
Composer
Carefree (1938)
Composer
On the Avenue (1937)
Composer
Way Out West (1937)
Composer
Follow the Fleet (1936)
Composer
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Composer
Top Hat (1935)
Composer
Cynara (1932)
Composer
Young Bride (1932)
Composer
Reaching for the Moon (1931)
Music
Body and Soul (1931)
Composer
De bote en bote (1931)
Composer
Applause (1930)
Composer
Mammy (1930)
Composer
Puttin' on the Ritz (1930)
Composer
Hallelujah (1929)
Composer
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Composer
Coquette (1929)
Composer
Glorifying the American Girl (1929)
Composer
Lady of the Pavements (1929)
Composer
The Time, the Place, and the Girl (1929)
Composer
The Awakening (1928)
Composer
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Composer
What Shall I Do? (1924)
Composer

Music (Special)

Diana Krall and Michael Feinstein (2000)
Song
Cincinnati Pops Holiday: A Family Thanksgiving (1999)
Song
Kitty Carlisle Hart: My Broadway Memories (1999)
Song
Great Performers at Lincoln Center: A Celebration of the American Musical (1997)
Music
A Grand Night For Singing - Public Television's Gift to You (1996)
Music
An Evening With Kathleen Battle and Thomas Hampson (1995)
Song
Michael Feinstein: Sing a Song of Hollywood (1995)
Music
Jose Carreras, Diana Ross, Placido Domingo: Christmas in Vienna (1992)
Song
Diamonds on the Silver Screen (1992)
Song
Richard Tucker Gala: A Salute to American Music (1992)
Song
The I Love America Concert (1991)
Song
Michael Feinstein & Friends (1991)
Song
Stars and Stripes: Hollywood and World War II (1991)
Song ("Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning")
Harry Connick, Jr. & His Orchestra: Swinging Out With Harry (1990)
Song
The House I Live In (1990)
Music
Irving Berlin: The Voice of the City (1988)
Songs ("Alexander'S Ragtime Band" "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody" "Puttin' On The Ritz")
Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration (1988)
Song
A Grand Night: The Performing Arts Salute Public Television (1988)
Music
Tony Bennett (1988)
Song
The All-Star Salute to Ford's Theatre (1986)
Song
A Christmas at Pops (1986)
Song
Son of the Not-So-Great Moments in Sports (1986)
Song
Sylvia Fine Kaye's Musical Comedy Tonight III (The Spark and the Glue) (1985)
Music
Steve and Eydie Celebrate Irving Berlin (1978)
Song
Annie Get Your Gun (1967)
Songs

Music (Short)

The Live Ghost (1934)
Music Composer

Writer (TV Mini-Series)

Annie Get Your Gun (2003)
Play As Source Material ("Annie Get Your Gun")

Music (TV Mini-Series)

Annie Get Your Gun (2003)
Songs
Unconditional Love (2002)
Song
The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975)
Song

Life Events

1893

Immigrated to the United States

1907

First song published, "Marie from Sunny Italy" (earned him 37 cents in royalties)

1911

Had first hit song, "Alexander's Ragtime Band"

1919

Formed Irving Berlin Music Corp.

1927

First song used in films, "Blue Skies," sung by Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer"

1935

Wrote first original film musical, "Top Hat"

1942

First stage musical as producer, "This Is the Army" (written for US Army Emergency Relief Fund), also produced film version with Warner Bros. (1943)

Photo Collections

Top Hat - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Top Hat (1935), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and directed by Mark Sandrich.
Follow the Fleet - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Follow the Fleet (1936), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Easter Parade - Irving Berlin Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Easter Parade (1948), featuring songwriter Irving Berlin and the film's cast and crew.
Laugh, Clown, Laugh - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), starring Lon Chaney and directed by Herbert Brenon.

Videos

Movie Clip

This Is The Army (1943) - This Is War! Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Broadway pro Johnny (Ronald Reagan) drops in on his music-store employee gal Eileen (Joan Leslie) with big news, whereupon they see Frances Langford and co. perform "What Does He Look Like?" in Irving Berlin's This Is The Army, 1943.
This Is The Army (1943) - Opening, Mr. Irving Berlin Opening credit sequence as befitting the 1943 Technicolor Irving Berlin/Warner Bros. musical, based on his Broadway and roadshow productions, the profits for everything going to the Army Emergency Relief fund, supporting soldiers and their families, from This Is The Army, 1943.
Holiday Inn (1942) - Be Careful, It's My Heart Jim (Bing Crosby) at his chic holiday-only nightspot unveils his Valentine for Linda (Marjorie Reynolds), only to be usurped by ex-partner and romantic rival Ted (Fred Astaire), with an Irving Berlin tune that was initially a bigger hit than White Christmas, in Holiday Inn, 1942.
Hallelujah! (1929) - Ain't No Nothin' To Buy Director King Vidor's on-location opening, introducing the Johnsons including Zekiel (Daniel L. Haynes) and Mammy (Fanny Belle DeKnight), dialogue likely by Ransom Rideout, the African-American playwright Vidor hired, in the MGM "all-colored" musical Hallelujah!, 1929.
Hallelujah! (1929) - And Zekiel Became A Preacher Zekiel (Daniel L. Haynes) in a wrathful public mourning, over the death of his brother brought about by his own sinful behavior, Harry Gray as Pappy the preacher, ending with the spiritual by Henry Thacker Burleigh, from King Vidor's Hallelujah, 1929.
Hallelujah! (1929) - Waiting At The End Of The Road Leading man Daniel L. Haynes (as "Zekiel") with the younger brother he calls "Spunk" (Everett McGarrity), in another of director King Vidor's impressive location shots, with another Irving Berlin original, the Dixie Jubilee Singers also credited, early in MGM's Hallelujah!, 1929.
Holiday Inn (1942) - You're Easy To Dance With Another Irving Berlin original for the film, Fred Astaire as Ted dances with Virginia Dale as Lila, in their popular New York night club act on Christmas Eve, in Holiday Inn, 1942, also starring Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds.
Holiday Inn (1942) - I'll Capture Your Heart Singing The opening scenes have established that Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) is torn between singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), on what’s supposed to be the final appearance for their threesome, occasioning the fist Irving Berlin tune, in Holiday Inn, 1942.
Holiday Inn (1942) - White Christmas The first movie placement of what is widely seen as the best-selling single of all time, by Irving Berlin, here as a duet by night-club/innkeeper Bing Crosby, with Marjorie Reynolds, (her vocal dubbed by Martha Mears), as her audition, but not the recording on the record, in Holiday Inn, 1942.
Alexander's Ragtime Band - Blue Skies In an all-Irving Berlin musical, the composer's two favorite singers (Ethel Merman as "Jerry", Alice Faye as "Stella," having just met) take turns with "Blue Skies," in Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938.
Carefree (1938) - I Used To Be Color Blind A dream sequence dance famous for the big unprecedented smooch at the end, Ginger Rogers is psychiatric patient Amanda, whose crush on Fred Astaire, as her doc Tony, is revealed, with an Irving Berlin original song, in what was planned, before budget cuts, as a color scene, in Carefree, 1938.
Carefree (1938) - Since They Turned Loch Lomond Into Swing Probably it should be no surprise that Fred Astaire, playing shrink Tony Flagg, has a terrific golf swing, until interrupted by Ginger Rogers as potential patient Amanda, which occasions Fred’s remarkable solo golf-tap piece to an Irving Berlin original instrumental, early in Carefree, 1938.

Trailer

Family

Moses Baline
Father
Cantor.
Leah Baline
Mother
Gussie Baline
Sister
Ruth Kahn
Sister
Sarah Baline
Sister
Died in 1935 in apparent suicide.
Ben Baline
Brother
Furrier.
Sophie Liebster
Sister
Ethel Robinson
Sister
Mary Ellin Berlin
Daughter
Author, singer. Born on November 26, 1926; wrote memoir about her father.
Irving Berlin Jr
Son
Born on December 1, 1928; died at aged three weeks on December 25, 1928.
Linda Berlin
Daughter
Born on February 1932.
Elizabeth Irving Berlin
Daughter
Born on June 16, 1936.

Companions

Dorothy Goetz
Wife
Her death from typhoid fever five months after their 1912 marriage inspired Berlin to write "When I Lost You".
Ellin Mackay
Wife
Writer, socialite, silver mining heiress. Married on January 4, 1926; born c. 1903; died in July 1988.

Bibliography

"Irving Berlin: American Troubadour"
Edward Jablonski, Henry Holt & Co (1999)
"Irving Berlin: Songs From the Melting Pot: The Formative Years, 1907-1914"
Charles Hamm, Oxford University Press (1997)
"Berlin, Kern, Rodgers, Hart, and Hammerstein: A Complete Song Catalogue"
Steven Suskin, McFarland (1990)
"As Thousand Cheers: The Life of Irving Berlin"
Laurence Bergreen
"Irving Berlin: A Daughter's Memoir"
Mary Ellin Barrett

Notes

"Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He IS American music." --Jerome Kern

Began using the name Irving Berlin after a printer's error for his first song credited him as I. Berlin (instead of Baline).

Berlin, who never learned to read or write music and was only able to compose in F sharp, was once quoted as saying (after being told that the more money he made the more in taxes he would have to pay) "You don't understand. I came to this country from Russia, and look what's happened to me. The country has been wonderful to me. I love this country. I love to pay taxes." Backing his words with action, Berlin gave the government the royalties from "This Is the Army," a total of about ten million dollars. (He also donated the rights to "God Bless America" to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.)

Berlin has the distinction of being the only individual ever to present himself with an Oscar. He was selected to name the winner of the Best Song award and had to inform the audience that the winner was "White Christmas", written by Irving Berlin.

Over the course of his Hollywood career, Berlin received nine Academy Award nominations; seven in the Best Song category and two in the Best Screenwriting category.

He received the Congressional Gold Medal for the song "God Bless America" in 1954/55.

Received the Medal of Merit for the song "This is the Army"

Awarded French Legion of Honor.