Not merely a triple threat, Victor Young was known as a violinist,
arranger, film composer, songwriter, conductor and record
producer. This wide experience in all forms of music, from
his first hit song, Sweet Sue, Just You in 1928 to
his tremendous score for "Around the World in 80 Days"
in 1956, was exceptional even by Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood
standards, all the more so because his international reputation
was achieved in such a short lifetime.
Young was born in Chicago on 8 August 1900
into a very musical family, his father being a member of one
Joseph Sheehans touring Opera company. The young Victor
began playing violin at the age of six, and was sent over
to Poland when he was ten to stay with his grandfather and
study at Warsaw Imperial Conservatory with teachers of the
calibre of Lotto, Barcesicz, Statkowsky and Yarsembsky (for
those who recognise the names), achieving the Diploma Of Merit.
While still a teenager he embarked on a career
as a concert violinist with the Warsaw Philharmonic under
Julius Wertheim before returning to Chicago in 1920 to join
the orchestra at Central Park Casino. He then went to Los
Angeles to join his Polish fiancée, finding employment
first as a fiddler in impresario Sid Grauman's Million Dollar
Theatre Orchestra then going on to be appointed concert-master
for Paramount-Publix Theatres.
He went into dance music in 1926 as violinist/arranger
for the Dan Russo-Ted Fio Rito Oriole Orchestra, later that
same year joining Ben Pollack and his Californians, recording
with both bands for RCA Victor in Chicago. But he really made
his mark with the Isham Jones band when, on 16 May 1930 he
rearranged a Hoagy Carmichael up-tempo instrumental piece
as a ballad with his own romantic violin solo. So it was really
Victor Young who gave us Stardust in the form it has
been ever since.
He did RCA sessions with Jean Goldkettes
studio band over the period June-September 1929, directing
the band on two titles and playing violin on the rest, then
conducted trombonist Jesse Staffords 12-piece band in
two 1931 Brunswick sessions. He finally was appointed as MD
of the Brunswick house band including the Dorseys, Bunny Berigan,
Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, Red Norvo, Joe Venuti, Sterling
Bose & co, with vocals by the Boswell Sisters, Dick Robertson,
Lee Wiley and other guests. In l934 it turned into the Decca
house band, but the Victor Young personnel and style remained
the same; interestingly, Victor conducted the first Al Bowlly
New York sessions even before Al made his first NY records
with Ray Noble
All this time he had been producing vaudeville
shows and conducting on radio in Chicago and New York, and
had already started his song writing career with the fore-mentioned
Sweet Sue, to which a fellow vaudeville director-producer,
Will J. Harris contributed the words (Victor never did his
own lyrics). He followed up with standards like Ghost Of
A Chance, A Hundred Years From Today, Love Me
Tonight, Cant We Talk It Over? Love Is
The Thing, all with lyrics by his long-term partner Ned
Washington; Street Of Dreams, Too Late and Lawd
You Made The Night Too Long, all with lyrics by Sam M.
Lewis; Beautiful Love (Wayne King, Haven Gillespie,
Edgar Van Alstyne), and The Old Man Of The Mountain
with lyrics by Billy Hill, who wrote pseudo-country songs
from Tin Pan Alley.
Victor Young went to the West Coast in 1935
and seldom left it, becoming as prolific a writer of film
background scores and title songs as he had been as a songwriter.
In all he did over 300 films, early among them being "Klondike
Annie" (1936), "Wells Fargo" (1937), "The
Glass Key" and "Reap the Wild Wind" (1942).
Then he got into the big stuff with his monumental score for
"For Whom the Bell Tolls", followed by "The
Blue Dahlia", "To Each His Own", "The
Big Clock", "Frenchmans Creek", "The
Searching Wind" and "The Greatest Show On Earth"
He didnt orchestrate everything he
wrote for the screen (I dont imagine he had the time),
but used experienced arranger/composers such as Leo Shuken
and Sidney Cutner to fill out his sketches. It was also a
peak period for Young as a writer of melodic film themes like
Stella By Starlight from "The Uninvited"
and the title song from "My Foolish Heart" (both
lyricised by Ned Washington). Other title songs by Young,
which became evergreens, were Golden Earrings (Livinstone
& Evans) and Love Letters (Edward Heyman).
These brought him up to the 1950s
and a new Decca regime that saw the Victor Young Orchestra
and Singing Strings in a series of LPs that were the precursors
of the Mood Music idiom which was to have such an effect on
popular orchestral material in the years to come. The orchestra
turned out upwards of three dozen LPs of the nature of "Hollywood
Rhapsodies", "Pearls On Velvet", "Cinema
Rhapsodies", "Sugar And Spice", "Love
Themes From Hollywood", "Forever Young", "After
Dinner Music", "Night Music", as well as his
soundtrack albums of such outstanding movies as "The
Quiet Man", "Samson and Delilah", "Johnny
Guitar" and, of course, "Around the World in 80
Days", which earned him a posthumous Academy Award
Victor had started receiving Oscar nominations
as soon as he started work in Hollywood, many of them for
Republic westerns and other pictures nobody ever heard of
at the time or since. But there were major movies for which
he earned nominations, such as "The Emperor Waltz",
"Golden Boy", "Arise My Love", "North-West
Mounted Police", "Hold Back the Dawn" and others....
eighteen in all.
This was in addition to his work on radio
with Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Don Ameche and other stars that
kept him even busier than films. For Decca (Brunswick in the
UK) he did 84 sides with Dick Haymes and as many (or more)
with Crosby, recorded many singles including, would you believe(?)
tapdancing records, and gave beautifully melodic backings
to Tommy Dorseys trombone in "Ecstasy", an
album I wish would reappear on CD. About the same time (1954),
I loved his "Musical Sketches", including three
Young originals that I lost years ago and havent heard
since, In A November Garden, Arizona Sketches
and Manhattan Concerto.
Even in the last years of his life the song
hits kept on coming from this talented man (why dont
we just say genius and be done with it?). With Edward Heyman
he wrote When I Fall In Love and Blue Star,
the theme from TVs "Medic" series, proving
he still had what it takes. He also did the music for Jack
Elliots Weaver Of Dreams, a semi-hit for Nat
King Cole, and The Call Of The Faraway Hills (with
Mack David) from the memorable western "Shane" was
another to add to Victor Youngs treasury of evergreens.
His last-ever hit (and probably his greatest
screen success), was Around The World with Harold Adamson,
but, strangely though Victor won an Academy Award for his
entire score he didnt receive one for the song! It wasnt
all success however, and we should ignore his musical version
of the old (1927/1937) movie "Seventh Heaven", which
flopped on Broadway the year before he died from a heart attack
at his Palm Springs home on 11 November 1956. The world lost
one of its most talented musicians and writers, a man noted
for his melodic gifts, which shone through all he ever did.
For a last word from a contemporary, I remember
asking Gordon Jenkins once what he thought of Victor Young,
his Decca rival. His reply was that Victor was a lovely man
and a wonderful composer, "but he always had a bad band
- full of relatives and refugees from the old country who
NB. Victor Young should not be confused
with another composer of the same name, born in Tennessee
in 1889 who did some early sound film music, made piano rolls,
and also wrote operettas, ballets and novelty songs.
© Arthur Jackson - May 2004