May 2013

Scene4 - International Magazine | The Anatomy of Collaboration- The Creators of West Side Story | May 2013 !

The Musical Play as a Social Context of Songwriting[1]

Ernie Harburg and Bernard Rosenberg

Broadway musical provides a miniature version of the Hobbesian question: how do we maintain any order at all? Writ large among superpowers or other nation-states, it is writ small but just as significantly on that fraction of a community we call musicals or "show biz." Every human group, including the group of two songwriters, lives precariously. But the Hobbesian answer to conflicts, that we must maintain order "by Draconian means, with an iron fist," has proved to be as impractical as it is offensive to the moral sense."[2]

Sarah Schlesinger tells us:

    The challenge of becoming a lyricist involves not only perfecting individual writing skills but also learning to be an effective collaborator, one of the most demanding of human relationships. Not only must lyricists find a way to transfer their intent into the minds of their listeners, they must make their message heard and understood in tandem with their musical collaborators. The theater lyricist must also be collaborating with the book writer of a musical, as well as directors, actors, designers, and producers who impact the lyric-writing process.[3]

The hierarchy of a play (or even a film), when all goes well, personal rights and duties having been allotted, there must arise a larger unity experienced as teamwork. Within each set of teams, individual artists submit to a painful or joyful submergence of self but also feel a margin of freedom to create, to be heard, respected, considered–—to offer suggestions that may even be accepted by their group leaders. In turn, they accept the reality that their performances are subject to relentless daily scrutiny and evaluation around which they adjust or negotiate and without which there can be no new consensus. It is within this arena of give and take that collective art generates a product, the musical with its songs, that no artist could create alone.

Authority and Consensus

Arthur Laurents "always found a threesome more complicated than a twosome";[4] he also knows that in musical theater, creation of a show cannot be limited in numbers. In contrast to any other art form, "the whole thing winds up being a collaboration—whether you like it or not." On balance, he likes it. But he also knows it is based on authority, "give and take," critique, conflict, and inspired discussion leading to artistic consensus—or not.

How do authority and conflict and consensus work? A "captain" has at least two roles: the "order giver" and the "consensus maker." One tough-minded director, Hal Prince, responded with an illustration:

    I felt the work [a song] was not good enough—was not achieving what it set out to do. The composer, lyricist, and librettist felt it did and I said, "Well, in that case, I'm wrong. For you. If you believe in this, then get someone else." I don't think it's a director's function to insist on his ideas. You insist up to a point and then you say, "Well, if you don't see it that way, okay. I'm the wrong director," because in the theatre, when you get right down to it, somebody has to be captain of the ship....There is no way when the collaborative team is at odds for the thing to work. Somebody has to give and somebody has to take responsibility. And I think the other way to do it is, I said to the author, "Well, convince me that it's right."[5]

Sometimes the songwriter refuses authority, such as when director Jerome Robbins threw out a song scene from Gypsy in its out-of-town rehearsal and Jule Styne, dressed impeccably but with his coat over his arm and a nearby suitcase appeared on the stage before a startled small audience of primary creators including Robbins, and in slow precise words said if song "x" and the scene were not put back in the show, he was leaving for New York City that night and his lawyers would contact Robbins. This time the "authority" yielded to the songwriter's dissent.[6]

A more famous conflict and resolution occurred during the making of the film musical The Wizard of Oz. The song "Over the Rainbow" was thrown out of the film three times, first by different directors and last by a producer. The raging conflict with the songwriters, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, was finally resolved when Arthur Freed, the uncredited associate producer, threatened to resign if the song were "cut" from the film.[7] Louis B. Mayer, the executive head of the MGM studio, then announced to all in the room, "Let the boys have their damn song."[8]
The song stayed in the film.

Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Harry Link (MGM executive), Jack Haley,
Yip Harburg, Judy Garland, Harold Arlen

By critique and new solutions, jointly inspired, new ideas flow daily to the top executives, the primary team (director, bookwriter, lyricist, composer) including, at crisis times, the producer(s), and especially the director. They seize and weave and then "order" cuts or new actions—all intuitively calculated to "integrate" the show, inform its emotional arc, transforming the basic "script-score" into a live, complete musical theatre work. Interpersonal collaboration, played out in a myriad of small groups, is transformed into the larger structure of collaboration across these groups. Finally an artistically whole show emerges at the dress rehearsal. Sometimes. And sometimes not. Problems arise when coworkers get too defensive. Harold Prince, the director, welcomes anyone who "criticizes a scene or a song and is articulate about it" as a real collaborator who, however, had better have an alternative in mind: "I suspect the defensive person who resists going back and doing it again." That person is a spurious collaborator.[9]

Visions of Harmonious and Conflictful Collaboration

Working with Joe Stein (bookwriter), Jerry Bock (composer), and Jerome Robbins (director) was extremely gratifying to Sheldon Harnick (lyricist): For, as he sees it, this quartet (and Hal Prince, the director, playing harmoniously, brought Fiddler on the Roof into being. "It was a collaboration in the real sense. We all had our own roles to play, and they dovetailed at every production meeting." Of course, the collaboration could not have been a completely frictionless relationship. In any case, we can only report the recalled subjective responses to an interaction that either satisfies or disappoints those for whom it counts most heavily. With Fiddler, in the beginning and "for a change," no producer or director or agent was involved. The initial configuration was triangular. It consisted of Stein, Harnick and Bock plus a star: "His name was Sholem Aleichem."[10] The compatibility of these men, all possessed by an idea, boded well for their future agreement to select a producer and a director after they had created the script who would help them "blend and balance" their way to success. Hence it comes as no surprise that a lyricist like Harnick should exalt "real team feeling," which signifies that "all of us contribute, including me."[11]


Yet such harmonious collaboration with a hit show is rare. Stephen Schwartz (composer and lyricist) asserts that

    no one expects it all to be joy....Personally, I had to overcome the Godspell syndrome. It took me about ten years to get over expecting that every experience could be like doing Godspell, with the kids saying, "Oh, let's get together in the barn and do the show." Since that was my first experience, I kept looking for it again. Finally, I have learned that I'm not going to find it. That's okay. There are other experiences of dealing with good, solid, successful, creative people that can be inspiring.[12]

Other recollections conjure up tension, conflict, and doubts. However, whether the collaboration is "harmonious" or "antagonistic," the pertinent action is that which results in generating new creative solutions to technical artistic problems. Then the collaboration is working (the quality of a given solution is a subject for another treatise). Finally, there may be no relationship between a "cooperative" or "antagonistic" collaboration and the "success" of the musical ("hit" or "flop" in Variety's terms).

The Small Group with No One in Authority: Conflict and Consensus in the Songwriting Collaboration

Nowhere is the collaborative process seen more clearly than in writing songs for the theater, with the theme and the story as a starting point. Like the show, the song is a product larger than the collaborators or the lyrics or the music; it comes about through incremental construction, the result of a multitude of agreements and disagreements, the product of a small, two-person group. But the songwriting group, the composer and lyricist, unlike a "company," usually has no hierarchy: one person is not given formal power vis-ŗ-vis the other. (And we are of course talking about the cases where composer and lyricist are not the same person, nor the exceptional three-person group, e.g., Comden and Green, co-lyricists.) Here is a small group in which only a consensus will do, even when there may be an "informal" leader, for example, as with Yip Harburg and his 60 composers over his writing career.[13]

Maybe the awesome task of creating a family of songs (a score) explains why the goal of "perfect collaboration" is so often compared to another conventional fairy-tale fiction, that of the "perfect marriage." More accurately, the songwriting partnership is most like a good business partnership. After all, one does not have to "like" a collaborator to produce great songs in great shows (W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan did not get along for years), though good feeling provides a more congenial working environment.

Richard Rodgers, who had two long-term collaborators, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein, felt that

    in many ways a songwriting partnership is like a marriage. Apart from just liking each other, a lyricist and a composer should be able to spend long periods of time together—around the clock if need be—without getting on each other's nerves. Their goals, outlooks, and basic philosophies should be similar. They should have strong convictions, but no man should ever insist that his way alone is the right way. A member of a team should even be so in tune with his partner's work habits that he must be almost able to anticipate the other's next move. In short, the men [sic] should work together in such close harmony that the song they create is accepted as a spontaneous emotional expression emanating from a single source, with both words and music mutually dependent in achieving the desired effect.[14]

"Liking each other," "not getting on each other's nerves," "sharing outlooks and basic philosophies," and "being in tune with his partner's work habits," sound like guidelines for the ideal collaboration, but in fact, Rodgers' long-time "marriage" to Lorenz Hart, which yielded a cornucopia of wonderful theater songs, was described by Rodgers himself as follows:

    He [Hart] hated doing it [writing lyrics] and loved it when it was done. There was the never-ceasing routine of trying to find him, locking him up in a room, and hoping to fire his imagination so that actual words would get down on paper. It wasn't wise to leave him alone for a moment because he would simply disappear and have to be found all over again. His pencil would fly over the paper and soon the most difficult part of all would begin: the material had to be edited and he loathed changing any word once it was written down. When the immovable object of his unwillingness to change came up against the irresistible force of my own drive for perfection, the noise could be heard all over the city. Our fights over words were furious, blasphemous, and frequent, but even in their hottest moments we both knew that we were arguing academically and not personally. I think I am quite safe in saying that Larry and I never had a single personal argument with each other.[15]

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

Yes, a good business partnership. No paradoxical intimacies every day like those in a real marriage over many years in the same house. Maybe the ideal of a "life-long collaborator" is only an absurd myth. Maybe "serial teams" lasting only for several shows are more productive in creating new visions for the Broadway musical. Maybe, as in Sondheim's song, the dream of collaborators should be, "Marry me a little"[16] or "Let's be business partners for one new adventure."

Arguments in a good collaboration are about technical matters, and as Rodgers says, they are not "personal," not ad hominem. Thus, this from Ira Gershwin, as told to Isaac Goldberg in his book George Gershwin, about the writing of "Fascinating Rhythm":

    [George's tune had] a tricky rhythm...and it took me several days to decide on the rhyme scheme. . . . The rhyme scheme is a, b, a, c,—a, b, a, c. When I got to the eighth line I showed the lyric to George. His comment was that the fourth and eighth lines should have a double (or two-syllable) rhyme where I had rhymed them with single syllables. I protested and, by singing, showed him that the last note in both lines had the same strength as the note preceding....But this George couldn't see, and so, on and off, we argued for days. Finally I had to capitulate and write the lines as they are today:

    4th line: I'm all a-quiver
    8th line:—Just like flivver

    After George proved to me that I had better use the double rhyme; because, whereas in singing, the notes might be considered even, in conducting the music, the downbeat came on the penultimate note.[17]

George & Ira Gershwin at work in Beverly Hills in 1937

Ira's "capitulation" was the last idea in a consensus of one of many such conflicts that go into the construction of a "song," by two artists.

Johnny Green recalled working with Yip Harburg:

    And of course one of the great things and one of the things that Yip was a martinet about, was fluidity and the propriety of syllabic emphasis. You don't put the word "w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l" where the music causes you to call it won-der-FUL or won-DER-ful. You put it where the music dictates that it's WON-der-ful—right?[18]

Finally, a highly skilled collaboration to create a song by two crafted, experienced songwriters is a dyadic exchange. Unlike poetry, lyrics can only be sung; lyrics and music are symbiotic. The lyricist must reflectively mirror the ideas of the lyric with the feeling of the music. In the process the lyric then reshapes the music if the collaboration is sensitive. An observer over several weeks of the creation of a song between a great composer (Harold Arlen) and a great lyricist (Ira Gershwin) reported:

    Since they wrote the song together, sometimes a lyric line would be suggested and then music would be adjusted to it; sometimes the musical theme appeared, and then words had to be cut to fit it....[T]he collaboration between Arlen and Gershwin was so close that each made suggestions on the music and words: one ceased being merely a lyricist and the other a composer. Their separate functions blended together, so that the final song was a product of reciprocal and mutual influences and responses.[19] [emphasis added]

Secrets of Song Collaboration: Informed Critique and Consensus

We should remember that constant critique is at the cutting edge of every artistic encounter. When the "leader"—superior or boss or a co-artist—is too harsh, too swift to reject, too scornful or sarcastic, conflict ensues over and above the merits of an idea. Most supervisors and artists (and critics), however, are untrained in the art of informed critique.

Critique is informed when it is constructive, easily given, and readily accepted. Burton Lane refers to his work with Yip Harburg:

    When I'd say to Yip, "That line's not clear," or "It doesn't seem right," he never argued: he would change the line. He respected my judgment and he would change it and there was no problem. I never worked with a more flexible lyricist. I think one reason Yip liked working with me is that I never objected if by accident he added notes that shouldn't have been there. But to me the lyric was more important than the tune because you had to say it right. The music was subjective. [The audience] would get that later.[20]

    I think when two people feel the same vibrations they work well together and musically, I suppose, I'm able to anticipate what he would like to say and write something which makes it possible for him to say just the way he wants to do it. Because we never had any problems about that.[21]

Listen to Burt Lane again in an interview with Deena Rosenberg:

    Working with Yip was a joy. He was a very joyous person to work with, very enthusiastic and he would bounce around the room like a leprechaun and dance and sing and get inspired. He would inspire me and I would inspire him. Alan [Lerner] works differently. He agonizes over his writing. In fact, sometimes he would leave pieces of paper on the piano that he'd written lyrics on and if you were to look at it the writing was so small that it almost looked like a straight line. He would clench the pen in his hand. . . . Nothing was free and easy with Alan. . . . [He] would appreciate music and respond to it, but I don't think he ever wrote a lyric in front of me, which is very unusual for any collaboration.

DR: Really? What came first in that collaboration?

BL: Sometimes lyrics did. Most of the time, I think, music did. [22]

    Yip would get very excited when he heard a tune. He'd bounce all over the room, and he'd write. He was already clicking with lyrics. He'd go home and brush it up a little bit but he would write while he was there, while he was all excited. Lerner is an agonizer. He agonized over every lyric. When he would leave paper that he had written on, you couldn't read it. It would be so tight. I'm looking at it with glasses and magnifying glasses and I couldn't tell whether it was just a straight line or whether he had actually written something. It was all tight and that's the way he writes, and there's no joy in his work, that is, in the way he arrives at his work. Yip was all joy. He bounced. He was enthusiastic.

    As a matter of fact, one of the things that always worried me working with Yip when I was improvising was that he'd write something too fast and a lot of times I was right, and it wasn't good enough. He would get carried away with enthusiasm. We all do. I'll put things on tape and I'll look at it three days later and think it's awful, or many times find something that I paid no attention to and it turns out to be a lot better than I thought. That happens as much as the other way. But the point is, with Yip, he was always enthusiastic—except if something was terrible, but he was really a very enthusiastic writer.

    I'll tell you one other thing, swinging back to Yip. I don't think it was on purpose, but Yip would suddenly add notes. He'd come in with a lyric and there were always ifs and ands and extra syllables that weren't there originally. But I would try to accommodate him because I always figured that if a writer had a wonderful line, don't spoil it. I can always get a tune to do something—I was very flexible. But when he was doing a picture with Jerry Kern, Yip used to come over to my house with Kern's piano part and say, "Would you play this for me?" I said, "Sure." He'd throw a line at me. I said, "It doesn't fit. You've added a syllable." He said, "Well, he'll like that." I said, "You'd better not fool around with Kern. You stick right to it. Don't change a thing." And he had to work very strictly to exactly what Kern put down.[23]

Frequently, mutual respect and creative consensus that allow good songs to emerge are only a one-time event or a growing, learning "how-to-give-and-take-critique," an intense encounter with your partner. Yip told author Max Wilk:

    Burton Lane and I worked on that score [Finian's Rainbow] in howarethings-crHollywood. Burt had a gaiety and a bounce, and he bubbled. He was really very much akin to George Gershwin in his lighter vein. He struck a very responsive chord in me because his music gave me the chance to do the kind of light, airy, humorous-satiric things that I've always loved to do. He has zest, life—he has verve. He has upbeat in all of his music. Another thing about Burt is that he's very, very critical of himself. Burt will never fight you for a tune. He's always changing, and he's always saying, "Is this right, or isn't it?" He always wants to try and get something better. But that's true of any good writer, isn't it?[24]

As Yip further explained to Max Wilk:

Writing with different composers is always a different psychological experience. Each one has his own approach to creation. To know their idiosyncrasies and to be able to get the best out of each one is fascinating. Each composer brings out a different aspect in your work. [Vernon] Duke, with his very sophisticated music for that time, the late '30s and '40s, demanded a certain kind of lyric. Vernon's particular personality also required that you talk to him in a certain way, that your criticism and objections be registered in a diplomatic way that would neither reject nor demolish him.

    It's diplomacy, it's psychology, it's a lot of psychiatry—it's knowing the person you're dealing with, and the sensitivities of the two of you. Some writers can't collaborate—they are at each other's throats all the time, hostile to one another because of that constant rejection that has to go on in your day-to-day work. Writing and creating is nothing more than a series of those rejections, or, rather, criticisms. And the man who knows that, the good writer, always feels that criticism is valid. [emphasis added]

    As far as lyric-writing is concerned, I've always found that my fellow workers agree it's terribly hard. Nerve-wracking, brain-wracking. Oh, it's easy if you want to rush out crummy verse, such as the stuff they're writing today. I could do ten of those a day—one an hour. But I couldn't do something for a show or a film in less than two weeks. When you're rhyming, and looking for imagery, those lines don't come easy. They take a lot of digging. Harold will write a tune, and it may go all over the place musically, and then you've got to fit that tune. Very touchy work.

    Lots of times the composer will give you a whole tune, and if he's sensitive to your lyrical quality—for example, Harold Arlen is very sensitive to what will fit his melody—and you give him a title or a first line, and if he doesn't agree, he'll tell you. But it's the way he tells you, and how you respond…and what your coefficient of responsibility is toward criticism. That is what your relationships with all these men [sic] depends on.[25] [emphasis added]

An early female composer (a rarity), Dana Suesse, tells us about Yip and also another lyricist who was more difficult:

    Your dad was a such a sweet guy. He was a real pussycat, you know, so different than other people. For example, I worked with [another lyricist] he was difficult because he couldn't stand any criticism, and he was very facile; he was too facile. He was so brilliant he could write a lyric in minutes. But he wouldn't work on it. If he could have made it better by working on it maybe another several hours, he wouldn't do that. Whereas your dad was a much better lyric writer in lots of ways. I think he was more conscientious. There was nothing arrogant about your dad. He was such a sweet guy. [The other lyricist] was, well, he was temperamental and difficult. As I say, you could very seldom tell him you didn't like something or something should be changed. He was touchy. But your dad wasn't like that.[26]

Full collaboration in two- or three-person groups must be learned, not from handbooks, but by practice. Harnick, however, reveals some difficulties:

    At first, even though we [Jerry Bock and I] did hit it off and became good friends as well as collaborators, it was always very hard to take criticism professionally and not personally. Both of us were thin-skinned. I've watched Jerry invite his wife down to hear something we've just done. We would ask her, "Give us your honest opinion," and she would say, "Gee, you've done better." And he would say, "What do you know?" So it's very, very difficult to accept criticism on an "objective" level.[27]

Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock
(lyricist and composer of Fiddler on the Roof)

The Breakup

It is called breaking up. And it happens with some frequency among these writers of song (and writers of musicals). Even with a fairly extended relationship there comes "the end of a beautiful friendship," as the Arlen/Harburg song goes (unpublished, 1976, marcato and not too fast):

    Here's to the end of a beautiful friendship
    Here's to the stardust we promised to share,
    Here's to our beautiful illusions,
    May . . . they . . . still . . . be . . . there
    For my . . .
    Next affair.[28]

Sheldon Harnick ruefully recalls:

    I made a dreadful mistake. Jerry was very angry about something, very upset, and tended to be rigid on the subject, and instead of confronting him as I should have done and saying, "Look, we have a problem and we'd better work it out . . ." I knew I should do that. (I'm not even sure of the reasons now.) I told myself, if I bring this up there will be such a fight that the whole project may go down the drain. That turned out to be a terrible mistake, because by holding my peace the problem only got greater. Eventually, although the show was done, it contributed to splitting us up. I don't know if Jerry has ever quite gotten over it. I think I did, but I was never able to get him to commit to another collaboration.[29]

As one of our interviewees recalled, Hart's behavior became too much even for Richard Rodgers:

    It got to the point with his drinking and general neurotic problems that they couldn't even collaborate unless Hart was in the same room with him. He had to be at the piano while Hart was there, and then Hart would write very quickly, but otherwise he was just irresponsible.[30]

Even Rodgers and Hammerstein had a small split-up that lasted about a year; Lerner and Loewe had a major split after their first hit. Both teams, however, did get back together. Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg broke up because of the "politics" of what was to become Finian's Rainbow. Harold did not like what he called "propaganda" and Yip called "education." Yip and Harold also again wrote together later--briefly.

But for too many talented artists, the single life is not happy for this anonymous composer:

    I don't have a lyric writer I'm teamed with; I don't have a bookwriter. I'm anxious. Anxious is a weak word. I am desperate to be involved in the theater and I have to try to get something rolling.[31]

Not unusually, therefore, the disintegration of the partnership occurs visibly or sotto voce during the creation and production of the show—whether it succeeds or not.

Collaboration and Inspired Work

Yet one more concept must be called "inspired collaboration." Quite apart from critical reaction and box office receipts, the synergy of ordinary collaborative work is always mysterious. The mystery of "inspired collaboration" is even more awesome, and is usually a one-time affair in the history of Broadway musicals (as it is in team sports). The exceptions are not the point here. Yes, there were relatively long-term teams: the Gershwin brothers, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, even Prince and Sondheim. But let us recall that the five brilliant primary executives and their designers who were collaborators on West Side Story never worked together again. Lerner and Loewe, as successful as their collaboration was in My Fair Lady (which was optioned as Pygmalion by dozens of aspiring producers and writers who could not make it a musical), stopped writing together after their next show, another commercial (but artistically mediocre) hit, Camelot. Even the Gershwins also had their hits followed by flops, from Of Thee I Sing (1931) to Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933), as did Rodgers and Hammerstein, from The King and I (1951) to Pipe Dream (1955), and so did all the rest of the few teams that lasted for more than one show.

The elusive process of collaboration is at times an "inspired" synergy. When this occurs, the power of collective energy and shared artistry becomes a potent factor that provides more than individual efforts. When this magic occurs, it is not accurate to say that any one person in the primary or creative team worked only as an individual. For instance, a composer may not have written what ultimately became a brilliant score without the stimulus of the story, the characters, and the collaborators. Thus, Bernstein is not solely "causal" for the music in West Side Story, even if he is given public and program credit (and a certain percent of the royalties) for composing the music. Rodgers wrote beautiful melodies, first in one style with Hart, and then in another style with Hammerstein. But he was unable to find another long-term collaborator after Hammerstein's death, could not himself write lyrics well enough, and never again created lasting, inspired songs. Ira and George Gershwin wrote dozens of songs each with other collaborators—without the strong success of songs that they wrote together.[32] For better and worse, whom one collaborates with appears to affect the quality of the "song"—an entity greater than the sum of its parts. There are no words in the English language (or in scientific discourse) except, perhaps "gestalt" for this phenomenon.

Theater or film song is the result of individuals creating together in a group that—sometimes—has acted to produce an extraordinary success collaboratively and simultaneously woven by each contributor into an "inspired work." The factor of "collectivity," a sociopsychological net, is only intuitively credited or even noticed. Conventional language in the street and on the media rarely credit a whole team in group sports for winning separate games because American, or more accurately, Euro-American, culture dictates searches for the "hero," the individual, numero uno, the premier creator—when in fact the major force may be located between and among members of the group or the team.

The most creative or productive groups know how to blend individual talent and behavior with a shared group consciousness of a common vision. These collective forces then may reciprocally act with the "leaders" (the quarterback, the bookwriter, lyricist, and the composer, the director, choreographer and the designer) to generate an inspired work. Such a work is often more enduring and exerts a greater influence on the community or the nation than "individual" effort. A creative group at the time and place of maximum collaboration is itself, like the work, a unique artistic achievement, e.g., the film The Wizard of Oz emerged from L. Frank Baum's unique story-of-characters merged with several producers, eleven writers serially, four directors, an arranger with many staff-arrangers, a splendid cast and with Yip and Arlen's unique score of songs, who was "the author?" The next effort will be de novo: no person or group steps into the same river or creates the same theater song twice—or "revises" a unified classic masterwork of art.

In a career spanning over fifty years, E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (1896-1981), lyricist and poet, a self-styled "fellow who followed a dream," wrote the 1x5x1-yipH-crwords to over 600 songs, including all of the lyrics in the 1939 motion picture classic The Wizard of Oz, which featured the Oscar-winning "Over the Rainbow," which was voted Number One Song of the 20th Century in a 2001 poll conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America and Best Film Song of All Time by the American Film Institute in 2004. Yip also wrote lyrics for the immortal standards "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" "April in Paris" and "It's Only a Paper Moon." All of these classic songs are still sung worldwide. Known as "Broadway's social conscience," Yip's greatest stage musicals were Bloomer Girl (1944, pro-women's rights and civil-rights themes that were way ahead of their time) and Finian's Rainbow (1947, anti-racist and critical of capitalism). During his prolific career as a lyricist, Yip worked with over sixty composers. His lyrics have been sung by a galaxy of artists from Judy Garland to Pete Seeger to Lena Horne to Eva Cassidy. Yip fought for social and economic justice for all people his whole life. The Yip Harburg Foundation was created to promote educational opportunity, social and economic justice, world peace and Yip's artistic legacy.

Cover Photo - Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents,
Harold Prince, Robert E. Griffith, Leonard Bernstein,
 and Jerome Robbins, (West Side Story - 1957)


[1]. This is a revised essay by Ernest Harburg. Original chapter by Bernard Rosenberg and Ernest Harburg. The Broadway Musical: Collaboration in Commerce and Art (New York University Press, 1993).

[2]. Chris Argyris. Approaches to Effective Leadership: Cognitive Resources and Organizational Performance (New York: Wiley, 1987).

[3]. Sarah Schlesinger. Unpublished article, 1991.

[4]. Arthur Laurents, interview with Ernest Harburg and Bernard Rosenberg, Oct. 12, 1982. E.Y. "Yip" Harburg Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. Item b. 25, f.1

[5]. Harold Prince, interview with Ernest Harburg and Bernard Rosenberg, Nov. 29, 1982. E.Y. "Yip" Harburg Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. Item b. 25, f 7. 

[6]. Jule Styne, private correspondence to Ernie Harburg, 1990.

[7]. Edward Jablonski. Rhythm, Rainbows and the Blues (Northeastern, 1996) 135.

[8]. Yip Harburg, speech at 92nd Street Y, New York, December 13, 1970.

[9] Harold Prince, 1982 interview.

[10]. Sheldon Harnick, interview with Ernest Harburg and Bernard Rosenberg, 1983. E.Y. "Yip" Harburg Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. Item b. 24A, f.1

[11]. Harnick, 1983 interview.

[12]. Stephen Schwartz, interview with Ernest Harburg and Bernard Rosenberg, Feb. 18, 1983. Harburg Collection, NYPL. Item b. 24, f. 2. 

[13]. Harold Meyerson and Ernie Harburg. Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz? Yip Harburg, Lyricist (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 38-9.

[14]. Richard Rodgers. "A Composer Looks at His Lyricists," in Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers, on Theater: The Inside Story of a Decade of Theater in Articles and Comments by Its Authors, Selected from Their Own Publication, The Dramatists Guild Quarterly, ed. Otis Guernsey(New York: Dodd, Mead, 1974), 98

[15]. Richard Rodgers. The Rodgers and Hart Songbook: The Words and Music of Forty-Seven of Their Songs from Twenty-Two Shows and Two Movies (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951), 3.

[16]. "Marry Me a Little" was the title song of a 1980 revue with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman Rene.

[17]. Isaac Goldberg. George Gershwin: A Study in American Music (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1931), 201–2.

[18]. Johnny Green, interview with Ernest Harburg, Arthur Perlman, and Brad Ross, July 17, 1985. E.Y. "Yip" Harburg Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. Item b. 24, f.10.

[19]. Lawrence D. Stewart. "Ira Gershwin and 'The Man That Got Away,'" unpublished paper, University of California, Los Angeles.

[20]. Burton Lane, interview with Bernard Rosenberg and Ernest Harburg, Apr. 11, 1983. E.Y. "Yip" Harburg Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. Item b. 25, f. 6.

[21]. Burton Lane, interview with Deena Rosenberg, April 29, 1985. Yip Harburg Foundation Archive.

[22]. Burton Lane, April 29, 1985.

[23]. Burton Lane, interview with Arthur Perlman, Ernie Harburg, and Brad Ross, July 10, 1984. Harburg Collection. Item b. 25, f. 7.

[24]. Max Wilk, They're Playing Our Song. (NY: Atheneum, 1973), pp. 227-8.

[25]. Wilk, 230.

[26]. Dana Suesse, interview with Arthur Perlman, Brad Ross and Ernest Harburg, May 1 1985. Yip Harburg Foundation Archive.

[27].Harnick, 1983 interview.

[28]. Looks Like the End of a Beautiful Friendship © 1976 by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Glocca Morra Music/Next Decade Entertainment and SA Music.

[29]. Harnick, 1983 interview.

[30] Anonymous interviewee. Rosenberg and Harburg, The Broadway Musical, p. 255.

[31] Anonymous interviewee. Rosenberg and Harburg, The Broadway Musical, p. 255.

[32] See Deena Rosenberg, Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin. (New York: Dutton, 1991). 

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May 2013

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