Jay Gorney was a composer, writing for the stage, screen, and television from the mid-1920s through the late 1960s, and a teacher and lecturer in musical comedy and theater. This collection consists of published scores from his earliest student works (University of Michigan), original and published scores of his theatrical, motion picture and television works, and scores and score fragments from student workshop productions from both Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals and the American Theatre Wing training program.
Biographical/historical: Jay Gorney (née A.J. Gornetsky, and later Daniel Jason Gorney) was born on December 12,1896 in Bialystok, Russia, eventually emigrating to Detroit with his family at age 6, after escaping a Russian pogrom. His musical abilities emerged at an early age during piano lessons. Eventually, he led his high school orchestra, and earned extra money on weekends by playing the piano for the local silent movie theaters.
He attended University of Michigan, working his way through by writing school songs and leading school bands. He also studied basic music theory, counterpoint and orchestration in the school's music department. Despite his musical talent, his father strongly urged him to study medicine or law. Gorney pursued and completed his law degree, but after one year of practice, he gave it up to pursue songwriting in the mid 1920s.
He enjoyed a long flourishing career, that started by writing songs for Broadway shows and revues including Earl Carroll's Sketch Book(1929), the Ziegfeld Follies(1931), Touch and Go (1949), Merry-Go-Round (1927), Meet the People (1941), and Sweetheart Time (1925). In 1932 Gorney, working with lyricist E.Y. (Yip) Harburg, penned the music to the tune that became a Depression-era anthem, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?as part of the revue, Americana.
During 1929-30 Gorney was hired by Paramount Pictures' New York office. In 1933, he went to Hollywood, where he worked for the Fox and Columbia studios, adding Hollywood screenplays to his working repertoire. Gorney's motion picture credits include, Jimmy and Sally (1933), Moonlight and Pretzels (1933), Wild Gold(1934), Lottery Lover (1934), Redheads on Parade (1935), The Heat's On (1943) and Hey Rookie! (1943).
Gorney is also responsible for introducing an American legend to the silver screen. In 1934 while walking through the lobby of the Fox-Ritz Theatre he noticed a little girl, "doing some jiggling dance steps" while waiting for her mother. The girl was Shirley Temple, who was offered a part in Stand Up and Cheer, singing one of Gorney's tunes, Baby, Take a Bow, (lyrics by Lew Brown) with James Dunn. The film was a hit and Temple was rewarded with a seven-year film contract. In addition to Harburg and Brown, Gorney collaborated with Henry Myers, Edward Eliscu, Sidney Clare, Howard Dietz and Jean and Walter Kerr in film and stage productions.
As a Jew who experienced and escaped anit-Semitisim as a child, Gorney was very aware and supportive of human rights and social justice issues and joined in with the artistic and intellectual community's group efforts to improve conditions in these areas. He was very active in several unions, including the Songwriter's Guild, Actor's Guild, and ASCAP. It was this aspect of his life that produced songs like, The Bill of Rights, and These Are the Times, setting to music words from our founding fathers, and Are You Backing up Your Commander-in-Chief? (undated), and General MacArthur's Message to the Russian Army (1942) which put MacArthur's tribute to the Russian Army's successful defeat of the Nazis during World War II to music. It also led to his being called in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955, and being blacklisted along with many other talented performers in that era and effectively ending his motion picture career.
The Gorneys had returned to New York in 1947 to work on a theater production, and New York became their permanent home again. Gorney began to teach, offering classes in musical theater and songwriting. He became the chairman of the Department of Musical Playwriting at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School (1948-51). He ran his own Jay Gorney School of Musical Comedy, and later taught for the American Theatre Wing's Professional Training Program, teaching sketch writing and leading a student production company that developed and performed student work. His wife, Sondra Gorney, a talented musician in her own right, taught with him in these classes. He also worked with Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals in 1966.
In the early 1960s Gorney tried his hand at television, first writing, then directing and producing several episodes of religious programming for CBS-TV (Look up and Live) and NBC-TV (Frontiers of Faith). But by this time, the Parkinson's Disease which would claim his life had become apparent and began to limit his working abilities. Friends remember Gorney as a gentle man who was kind and respectful to everyone, but especially to children. He had a quickness of invention in song writing and was always willing to sit down at a keyboard to entertain others. Among his awards are a Tony award for teaching (1962), a Yale Drama School Citation (1965), a Songwriters Hall of Fame Outstanding Song Award (1976) and the ASCAP/Richard Rodgers Award (1986).
Gorney died on June 14, 1990 in New York City, of Parkinson's Disease. He was survived by his wife Sondra (to whom he was married for 48 years), and three children, (actress) Karen Lynn Gorney, Dr. Rod Gorney and Daniel Gorney.
Bald, Wambly. Family Therapists. New York Post, July 9, 1950; p.18M.
Holden, Stephen. Obituary. New York Times, June 15, 1990.
Obituary. Variety, June 20, 1990.
Advertisements, New York Times, November 15, 1953; September 8, 1954.
Big Bands Database Plus, biographical information on Jay Gorney. Accessed 11/15/04 at: http://nfo.net/cal/tg4.html#Gorney
Content: The Jay Gorney scores includes original holograph manuscripts of musical works by him, published sheet music by him or other composers, arrangements of published works for student workshop productions, and photocopies of either. The collection is divided into music for the stage (including revues), motion pictures, and television, miscellaneous works and student workshop material from both the American Theatre Wing Professional Training School and Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals . Occassionally written notes, typed song lyrics or song lists will be included among the scores; these are noted where applicable.
Noteable items in the collection include several of the numbers written for the Revues of the early 1920s, including songs from Hassard Short's Ritz Revue (box 1, folder 15); five pieces written for Earl Carroll's Sketch Book, and Earl Carroll's Vanities (b.1, fs.7-11); the Greenwich Village Follies (b.1, fs.13-14); and the Ziegfeld Follies (b.26, f.1). Many of these pieces are original published sheet music with wonderful cover art, evocative of the period. Similarly colorful cover art can be found on some of the published songs Gorney wrote when he was a student at the University of Michigan between 1916 and 1921 (b.30, fs.19-25). Scores from successful stage productions such as Meet the People(1939-1941 and 1955 versions, b.10, f.12 through b.16, f.10 and the 1943 version in b.16, fs.21-32), Merry-Go-Round (b.16, fs.11-15) and Tony Award winning (for choreography) Touch and Go(b.22, f.1 through b.24, f.11) are included in this collection. Touch and Go scores include 11 songs that were dropped from the production. The score for the song that introduced Shirley Temple to the world, Baby, Take a Bow, is included, though only as published sheet music, with others from the 1934 motion picture, Stand Up and Cheer (b.26, f.45-50).
Scores found in the Historic and Progressive Songs subseries may be of interest to researchers studying American culture and social comment. This series (b.30, fs.1-18) includes songs that comment on American life and politics from Mister Roosevelt, Won't You Please Run Again?(1939), through Trust Captain L.B.J. (1975). Unfortunately, a copy of Gorney's best known work, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? from the revue, Americana, is not in this collection.