Happy 100, Hank and Harold
Harold ARLEN was responsible for the music for the Oscar-winning tune “Over the Rainbow” as well as such standards as “Let’s Fall in Love,” “Get Happy,” “Stormy Weather,” “One for My Baby” and “The Man That Got Away.”
Oscar winner Henry Fonda was one of cinema’s most beloved “everymen.” Like his peers Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, he was adept at both dramas and comedies and possessed an earnestness, quiet strength and likability that endeared him to audiences for nearly half a century. Both artists would have turned 100 this year. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is commemorating their centennials with separate tributes this week at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
“A Centennial Tribute to Harold Arlen,” hosted by one of the composer’s most ardent interpreters, Michael Feinstein, takes place Thursday. “Henry Fonda: Legend of Hollywood,” hosted by film historian Robert Osborne, follows on Friday evening and features a newly restored print of the 1946 John Ford classic “My Darling Clementine,” in which Fonda plays Wyatt Earp. Friday also marks the first day of issue of the Legends of Hollywood Henry Fonda 37-cent stamp.
Arlen, who collaborated with such lyricists as Ted Koehler, E.Y. Harburg, Johnny Mercer, Leo Robin and Ira Gershwin during his career, is not as well known as such contemporaries as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter or George Gershwin.
“There are a number of reasons why he isn’t,” says his only child, Sam Arlen, a tenor saxophonist who also has a publishing company, which owns the majority of his father’s copyrights. “He worked with a number of lyricists so he is not viewed as a writing team. Secondly, a lot of his songs were used in movies and Broadway shows that didn’t have good story lines.”
Feinstein points out that several composers who were under contract to a studio during the 1930s and ‘40s worked in obscurity. “And not all of the Broadway shows he wrote were successful.”
Still, Feinstein adds, “he did write a number of songs that are enduring songs from movies that didn’t endure. It’s a testament to his great talent that his songs have outlasted the sometimes creaky films for which they were created.”
His father, says Arlen, never really wanted to be in the limelight. “So he let his music do the talking,” he says. “He was even and level-tempered. He was a gentle person. He was a true gentleman.”
Sam Arlen says his father, who died in 1986, enjoyed working in Hollywood. “The socializing was wonderful, and he was out there with all of his friends who were composing. But he always said it gets to be a lonely place when you are not working, so after he spent a good 20 years there writing for Hollywood, in the early ‘50s he started heading back to New York to work on Broadway shows.”
Sometimes a melody would come to him while he was driving or even playing golf. “He wrote ‘Over the Rainbow’ in front of Schwab’s Drugstore,” says Arlen. “He heard it in his head. He was driving and pulled over and wrote it down. Then when he went back to the piano he would develop it.”
Arlen is scheduled to speak at the evening of clips and music. “We will have a cross-section of his work,” says Feinstein, who may perform some Arlen tunes. “We are still toying with the idea. There are certain songs ... that don’t well represent his work as a songwriter, so we may have a piano there for me.”
The Fonda legacy
During his 45-year film, theater and TV career, Fonda, who died in 1982 shortly after receiving his only best actor Oscar, for “On Golden Pond,” made 85 movies and worked with such directors as Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Preston Sturges.
Despite his “good guy” screen image, the taciturn Omaha native was often a distant father to his actor children Jane and Peter Fonda and was married five times. “He was a complicated person,” says Osborne. “He had gotten some award and it was rather late in his life and a friend of mine said to him, ‘It’s well deserved. You’re such a nice man.’ And Fonda said, ‘I am not a nice man. I played nice men,’
Though Fonda seemed incapable of giving a bad performance, he received only two Oscar nominations for his acting -- 1940’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and 1981’s “On Golden Pond.” He also picked up a nomination for producing the 1957 best picture nominee “12 Angry Men.”
“I think those people who were never bad never got their due,” says Osborne. “It was much easier to be John Wayne and be somewhat wooden in some movies and do a really good job [in other movies] to show the contrast to how good he was. I think one of the great oversights of the academy was the year he did ‘Grapes of Wrath.’ Jimmy Stewart, in one of the least demanding roles of his career, won the Academy Award for ‘The Philadelphia Story.’ ”
But, says Osborne, Fonda was a “victim of timing.” Film historians believe that Stewart was given the Oscar for his comedic performance because he had lost the year before for his stronger turn in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
“When you see those films like ‘Lillian Russell,’ ‘The Magnificent Dope’ and ‘The Story of Alexander Graham Bell,’ where he plays the second lead, he is so good in what he adds to those films that wasn’t in the script. What he adds is what an actor is suppose to bring to a part -- something unique and distinctive. He was truly one of the best.”
Besides Osborne, Jane Fonda is scheduled to participate in the evening. Other family members and Fonda co-workers are also anticipated.
‘A Centennial Tribute to Harold Arlen’ and ‘Henry Fonda: Legend of Hollywood’
Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
When: 8 p.m. Thursday (Arlen) and 7:30 p.m. Friday (Fonda)
Price: $5 for Arlen; free for Fonda -- limit of two tickets
Contact: (310) 247-3600 or go to www.oscars.org