Patty Smith Hill’s Birthday, 1868
You may have never heard of Patty Smith Hill, but I can guarantee that you’ve sung her song. Patty and her sister Mildred wrote the lyrics and music to the most frequently sung song in the English language. Mildred wrote the music — a simple 6 note melody — and Patty wrote the lyrics, which were originally “Good morning to you, Good morning to you, Good morning, dear children, Good morning to you.” A bit later the lyrics got adapted to the more familiar “Happy birthday to you.”
Patty and Mildred Hill were kindergarten teachers who published a book called Song Stories for the Kindergarten in 1893. The first song in the book was “Good Morning to You.”
The song is copyrighted, and will remain so until 2030. You can still sing the song at private occasions without getting into trouble, but every time it’s used in a movie or public performance, royalties must be paid. The copyright is currently owned by Summy-Birchard Music, part of the AOL Time Warner conglomerate, and brings in about $2 million annually.
Thorne Smith’s Birthday, 1892
One of the first television programs I can remember watching was a situation comedy called Topper. The show ran from 1953 to 1955, so I must have seen it in reruns, because I recall vaguely being able to understand it. The show concerned a crotchety old banker named Cosmo Topper who was haunted by the ghosts of a young couple (and their St. Bernard) who had previously owned the house Topper lived in. Of course, no one except Topper could see the ghosts, which got Topper into all kinds of predicaments.
The series (and its movie predecessor, starring Cary Grant) was based on a novel by Thorne Smith, an author who was successful in his time, but now is practically unknown. I know I had never heard of him until I ran across his name in Chase’s Calendar of Events, along with the comment that Smith was “the master of the pointless conversation.”
Well, that was enough for me! I immediately started trying to track down a copy of something he’d written at my local library. They had to borrow it from another library, and that library had to take it out of storage — so you see how popular Thorne Smith is today. I was a little disappointed by the “pointless conversation,” but all-in-all, Smith is an amusing writer, and I’ll have to see what else I can find by him.
In addition to Topper, Smith is also the author of The Passionate Witch, which was made into the movie I Married a Witch, which in turn was one of the inspirations for the TV series Bewitched.
Singin’ in the Rain Premieres, 1952
It’s one of the most beloved musicals of all time, but it would have been quite a different movie if it had been filmed as originally planned. Can you image Singin’ in the Rain with cowboys?
The songs for this film were written first, and the plot was just invented to hold them together. (In fact, most of the songs had been used in earlier movies: the title song in five of them.) One of the earlier incarnations of the plot was for a lead character with a cowboy background, and Howard Keel was considered for the role. When they changed the cowboy to a song-and-dance vaudeville performer, they decided to go with Gene Kelly.
Early choices for the Kathy Selden role (played by Debbie Reynolds) were Judy Garland, June Allyson, and Ann Miller. The original choice for the role of Cosmo Brown was Oscar Levant, before it finally went to Donald O’Connor. The role of Lina Lemont (the silent actress with the screechy voice) was written with Judy Holliday in mind, but when Holliday didn’t take the role it went to Jean Hagen, Holliday’s understudy in Born Yesterday. Hagen was nominated for an Oscar for the supporting role.
You may remember the scene in the movie where Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) was dubbing the on-screen voice of actress Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). In reality, Jean Hagen dubbed for Debbie Reynolds in this scene, a nice bit of symmetry. Debbie was only 19 when this movie was made, and was not really a dancer. In fact, Gene Kelly’s criticism of her dancing had her in tears at one point. Fred Astaire discovered her crying and gave her a little help. Gene Kelly still had to dub Debbie’s tap sounds, however, in the “Good Morning” number. On the other hand, Carol Haney and Gwen Verdon dubbed Kelly’s taps for “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_27; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patty_Smith_Hill; http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/birthday.asp; http://www.littleloomhouse.org/happy-birthday-song; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorne_Smith; http://jchoma.tripod.com/bio.htm; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034881/trivia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singin_in_the_rain; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045152/trivia.