This is the twenty-third in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
This week is a theme week! For the second time (here is the first time we did this one), let’s take a look at legends involving film soundtracks!
MOVIE LEGEND: Dimitri Tiomkin asked for and received the publication rights for “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’” for free!
It’s hard to imagine nowadays, when the film soundtrack business is practically its own separate entity, but there was a time when songs from movies would only become popular songs if the movie was popular (or, of course, if the song was released later on as if it were a new song entirely).
For instance, when 1944′s Going My Way was a hit…
THEN Bing Crosby was able to have a hit with “Swinging on a Star” from the film.
Contrast that, for instance, with 1984′s “Footloose,” which was already a hit song by Kenny Loggins…
BEFORE the film of the same name came out and was a big hit.
So when in the 40 years between did Hollywood change their approach?
It very well might have been with Dimitri Tiomkin and “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’”
Tiomkin was already a well-respected film scorer by the 1950s.
He had been nominated for five Academy Awards for Best Score from 1940-1950, including a nomination for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (and this is not even counting the notable films he scored which did NOT get nominated for awards, like “It’s a Wonderful Life”).
So when he was hired to do the score for the 1952 film, High Noon, he was clearly a big name.
High Noon was a troubled production, especially as Carl Foreman (producer and writer of the screenplay for the film) was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951 while the film was in production (and while the loan for the making of the film was still being finalized). Foreman, a former member of the Communist Party who had quit years earlier, refused to name the names of other members, and as a result was labeled an “uncooperative witness” and would eventually be blacklisted.
So while Foreman was dealing with his issues, his producer partner, Stanley Kramer, began to take a greater hand in the shaping of the film.
One of the things that Kramer did was to tell Tiomkin to give him a folk ballad for the movie. Tiomkin, along with lyricist Ned Washington, gave Kramer “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’.”
In the film, the song is sung by Tex Ritter.
Well, Kramer absolutely LOVED the song, and he had the song be used constantly throughout the film. He used it so much that when the film was initially screened for test audiences, the audiences reportedly laughed at the use of the song. While refusing to bow to pressure to cut the song entirely, Kramer did agree to drastically reduce the usage of the song in the film.
While all this was going on, Tiomkin was getting a bit nervous. He, too, liked the song, but the film did not seem to be going too well, and like I said before, for a song to be a hit from a movie, the movie itself really had to be a hit first. However, if the song was good enough, it could survive a flop if it was eventually released independent from the film.
Well, Tiomkin felt the song had legs, so he went to Kramer and asked for the publication rights to the song. Kramer agreed to give them to him.
Tiomkin next went to Tex Ritter and Ritter’s record company to do a version of the song.
So Tiomkin got Frankie Laine (who had had a hit a couple of years earlier with “Mule Train”) to do the song (now titled “High Noon”)…
It was released four months before the film came out, and it was a big hit!
It was such a big hit that Ritter changed his mind and ended up putting out a version of the song, as well…
Also, presumably enough, the publicity from having a hit song in it helped High Noon, which surpassed expectations commercially and also did well critically (with a number of Academy Award nominations – Tiomkin got two nominations, Best Score and Best Song…he won them both!).
And soon enough, film companies were lining up to get artists to do new songs that they could have in films AND also release as (hopefully) hit singles.
And all due to a song (and a movie) that wasn’t supposed to be a hit.
MOVIE LEGEND: The song “Laura” is from the soundtrack of the film “Laura.”
STATUS: False Enough for a False
Like I mentioned before, when a film from a movie would become popular during the 1940s, it would be because the film itself was a hit.
So it seemed natural enough when the popular 1944 noir film Laura was released…
and it was soon followed in 1945 by the popular song “Laura,” that “Laura” came from the movie.
And in a way, it did, just not in the way you traditionally think of a song coming from a film’s soundtrack.
David Raksin did the score for Laura, but the score was a traditional score – just music, no lyrics.
The title melody of Laura is a haunting one, and upon the film’s release, hundreds of letter came in to the studio behind the film (20th Century Fox). As it turned out, people clamored to learn the name of the song and, well, could they buy it?
The problem was, there WAS no song!
You see, Raskin (and Fox, of course) did not think the score for the film was anything but, well, a score for a film.
The public demand showed otherwise, so Raskin recommended to Fox that they hire Johnny Mercer (the legendary lyricist, who had, at the time, had just become a star lyricist in Hollywood) to do the lyrics. They agreed, and in early Spring 1945, the song was finished and opened up to whoever wanted to record it.
In April of 1945, FIVE different artists had versions of “Laura” in the top ten!
Dick Haymes’ version is the most famous of those released at the time…
but the song was popular for many different artists, including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
By the time of Raskin’s death in the mid-80s, it was one of the most performed songs EVER.
And yes, it used Raskin’s melody from the film, Laura, but I think it’s fair enough to say that the popular song, “Laura,” is not from the soundtrack to the film Laura.
MOVIE LEGEND: Bob Dylan co-wrote “The Ballad of Easy Rider.”
Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s 1969 film, Easy Rider, was not just a notable film for its aid in ushering in the age of “New Hollywood,” but also for its impressive soundtrack.
Fonda and Hopper had an interesting approach to requesting licenses from various artists to use their songs in the film. They were using popular contemporary artists of the day (mostly bands that Hopper, the director of the film, enjoyed) and they would actually screen the film for the artists in question and tell them where they planned to use their songs (as Hopper, naturally, had specific songs in his mind when filming different scenes).
Well, for the closing credits, they wanted to use Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (which, if you recall the ending of Easy Rider, would fit really well for the film).
Dylan said no (I don’t believe Fonda has ever publicly said why and good luck getting an answer from Dylan, but people, including Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, say that it was because Dylan disliked the ending of the film, feeling it was too dark), so instead, Fonda had McGuinn do a cover of the song.
So instead of using THAT song for the shot, Fonda asked if Dylan would write a NEW song for the closing (the only new song they planned on having in the film), with “It’s Alright” being moved slightly before the ending then.
Dylan politely denied, but knowing that McGuinn was doing the cover of “It’s Alright,” Dylan wrote the following lyrics on a napkin and told Fonda “Give this to McGuinn.”
The river flows, it flows to the sea/Wherever that river goes, that’s where I want to be/Flow, river, flow
McGuinn then used those lyrics to form the basis of “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” which closed the film.
When Dylan was showed the film before it’s release, though, he was upset. He was listed as the co-writer of the song, credit he did not want. He called up McGuinn to say “Take that off, I told you not to give me any credit. I do things like that for people every day. I just gave you a line that’s all.”
It could possibly be as simple as Dylan not wanting credit he felt he did not deserve, but he also could have had a problem with his name being used to sell the film – “With a new song by Bob Dylan” would be quite a selling point for such a small film as Easy Rider (as they did not know at the time that the film would be such a smash success), or heck, he might very well just not liked the film. I don’t know, and with it being Dylan and all, I don’t know if we’ll EVER know.
McGuinn’s band, The Byrds, would end up doing an album CALLED The Ballad of the Easy Rider, including a version of the song.
Thanks to Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Johnny Rogan’s book, The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited: The Sequel, for the information about Dylan and McGuinn’s involvement with the song.
Also, a general thanks to Jon Burlingame’s great book, Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks, which is a great general resource for movie soundtrack history! Thanks, Jon!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org