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Yip Harburg

Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist

Harriet Hyman Alonso

Publication Year: 2012

Known as "Broadway's social conscience," E. Y. Harburg (1896-1981) wrote the lyrics to the standards, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," "April in Paris," and "It's Only a Paper Moon," as well as all of the songs in The Wizard of Oz, including "Over the Rainbow." Harburg always included a strong social and political component to his work, fighting racism, poverty, and war. Interweaving close to fifty interviews (most of them previously unpublished), over forty lyrics, and a number of Harburg's poems, Harriet Hyman Alonso enables Harburg to talk about his life and work. He tells of his early childhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, his public school education, how the Great Depression opened the way to writing lyrics, and his work on Broadway and Hollywood, including his blacklisting during the McCarthy era. Finally, but most importantly, Harburg shares his commitment to human rights and the ways it affected his writing and his career path. Includes an appendix with Harburg's key musicals, songs, and films.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music/Interview

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

When I began working on this book, friends and colleagues asked me what it was about. In response to my enthusiastic “Yip Harburg,” I received one of two retorts: (1) “What a great subject! He was such a wonderful songwriter and what a guy. His politics were right on,” or ...

A Note to the Reader

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p. xv-xv

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1. What’s in a Name?

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pp. 1-2

Before taking a look at Yip Harburg’s life and work, we need to briefly consider the evolution of his rather unusual name.1 In addition, we need to keep in mind that as people age, their memories sometimes get fuzzy, so I will note some inconsistencies or possible inaccuracies ...

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2. Early Years

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pp. 3-22

At one o’clock in the morning on April 8, 1896, Isidore Hochberg (our Yip Harburg) was born to a poor Jewish family on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His parents were recent arrivals from Russia; his father Louis, mother Mary, brother Max, and infant sister Anna all disembarked ...

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3. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

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pp. 23-34

Yip Harburg might be the only person in the United States to claim that the Great Depression was the best thing that ever happened to him. As he told the great oral historian Studs Terkel, “I never liked the idea of living on scallions in a Left Bank garret. I like writing in ...

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4. A Pause for Jay Gorney

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pp. 35-39

As Yip himself said about the power of combining words and music, “The reason a song is an important communicative effort is because words make you think thoughts. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought. To think a thought is an intellectual ...

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5. Yip’s Path to Show Business Success

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pp. 40-67

Yip Harburg might be one of the few people who felt lucky that the Great Depression had come his way. He also might be in the minority of folks who gained both monetary and professional success during the era. Broadway, a booming center of entertainment in the 1920s, ...

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6. A Pause for Vernon Duke

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pp. 68-70

Collaborations are not always easy. Sometimes, the writers involved will reveal to interviewers their problems with the partnership, and at other times, they will not. In the case of Yip Harburg and Vernon Duke, the relationship is unclear. Yip, perhaps to protect his self-image ...

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7. From Hollywood to Oz and Back

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pp. 71-101

The Great Depression had hit Broadway hard. By the 1933–1934 season, the very producers Yip Harburg had depended on for his livelihood were cutting back, giving up on revues and big extravaganzas, or they were aging, ill, or had died. These producers included Charles ...

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8. A Pause for Harold Arlen

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pp. 102-107

Yip Harburg’s collaboration with Harold Arlen was one of the happiest and most productive of his lyric- writing career. Together, the two created approximately 150 songs, and although they took breaks from working with each other, they remained friends and always seemed to ...

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9. Human Rights Activism Takes Center Stage

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pp. 108-136

After the writing of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Yip Harburg became known for his commitment to human rights. For close to twenty years, he was able to flex his political muscles, especially because his ideas matched US rhetoric as fascism spread in Europe, imperialism ...

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10. A Pause for Agnes de Mille

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pp. 137-141

During the staging of Bloomer Girl, choreographer Agnes de Mille created the “Civil War Ballet,” a serious performance piece designed to illustrate women’s reactions to war and its effects on them. Once the dance was performed, Yip Harburg, in particular, had a strong reaction ...

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11. Yip’s Case Study of Finian’s Rainbow

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pp. 142-184

After Bloomer Girl opened, there was a lull in Yip Harburg’s musical career as compared with the previous years. Besides his political work, he wrote songs for the 1944 films Hollywood Canteen and Can’t Help Singing, the 1945 stage revue Blue Holiday, and the 1946 film Centennial ...

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12. A Pause for Burton Lane

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pp. 185-188

There are times when collaborators have mixed feelings about their partners. This was certainly the case with Burton Lane. In 1929, when Ira Gershwin introduced the sixteen- year- old Lane to Yip Harburg, Yip was thirty- three years old, so according to Lane, there was a bit of ...

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13. Anger, Frustration, and Persistence During the McCarthy Years

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pp. 189-229

The sense of ambivalence and confusion toward the Soviet Union, and toward communism in general, that had persisted in the United States from 1917 through World War II ended with the surrender of Japan in August 1945. Fear of Soviet incursion into Asia, Eastern Europe, and ...

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14 A Pause for Friendship During Hard Times

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pp. 230-234

It was Burton Lane who first alerted Yip Harburg that he was about to be blacklisted. At the time, the two were working together on Huckleberry Finn. The concern and mutual care for each other is clearly illustrated in the following two letters written in 1950. The first letter, written ...

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15. The New Old Yip

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pp. 235-251

In 1966 Yip Harburg turned seventy, an age when people often frame their lives around retirement. Times had, in a way, forced Yip to do the same. As he himself reported, the cost of mounting a musical was so high that funding was difficult to raise, and he was seen not only as ...

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pp. 253-254

When I was growing up, my parents had strict rules about bedtime. No matter if the sun had not yet set in the summer or if I was still wide awake, by 8:30 (at the latest, 9:00) I had to be in bed with the lights out. I was usually still keyed up from my busy schoolgirl day, so instead of trying to count sheep, I sang . . . and not ...

Appendix: Musicals, Films, and Songs

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pp. 255-257


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pp. 259-275


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pp. 277-284

Lyric Credits

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pp. 285-293


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pp. 295-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780819571243
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819571281

Page Count: 332
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Music/Interview