Otto Harbach

Otto Abels Hauerbach, Lyricist.

Born: Salt Lake City, Utah 18th August 1873.

Died: New York 24th January 1963 at the age of 90.

Wrote “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and many musicals including Rosemary, No, No Nanette, Sunny, Desert Song and many, many a distinguished standard. 
 This American librettist and lyricist started out as an English teacher before joining the New York News as a reporter. He worked with composer Karl Hoschna on three musicals before teaming up with Rudolp Friml on Firefly (1912) and Rose Marie (1924). He also collaborated with Louis Hirsch and then most successfully with Vincent Youmans on Wildflower (1923) and No No Nanette (1925). He wrote with George Gershwin on Song Of The Flame (1925) and with Jerome Kern on Sunny (1925) The Cat And The Fiddle (1931) and Roberta (1933). Oscar Hammerstein the theater owner asked Harbach to take his young nephew Oscar Hammerstein 2nd under his wing as a collaborative lyricist for the Sigmund Romberg musical Desert Song (1926) in which year Harbach had five Broadway musicals running at the same time. Harbach was the President of ASCAP in 1950 and 1953.

 In the section on Jerome Kern, I wrote “If Kern (and Harbach) were said to have created one perfect song, it must surely have been “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” with Otto Harbach for Roberta in 1933. It was to become Kern’s favourite song from the show. The show itself struggled to survive but finally broke through into profit helped “immeasurably by a sudden outburst of the public’s whistling, humming, and crooning, it’s score.” The Herald Tribune went on to say ““Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” has swept the dance floors, radio studios and glee clubs of the country.”

After sixty some years of being around songs and songwriters, I’ve come to the conclusion that a ‘ standard ‘is like some natural challenge, like an Everest which has unlimited attraction, but no matter who climbs it the mountain still stands. Singers come to these songs over and over again, but in the end the song remains unassailable and waiting for the next worshiper to try the slopes. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is one of these natural wonders. I have heard the song sung and played by the best and the rest, but if I had to recommend a single version of it to one of today’s youngsters to hear for the first time, I would mention track 3 of Patti Austin’s Qwest CD 925 696 2 via Warner Brothers which moves the original Platters version to another level of vocal inspiration.

 The song is firmly fixed in the past. Songs involving smoking of any sort would nowadays attract the Fresh Air Police and have you jailed. I can only say, that if smoking was the cause of songs like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” there is a case for reinstating smoking, on creative and artistic grounds!

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