Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
VAN HEUSEN, Jimmy
(b Edward Chester Babcock, 26 January 1913, Syracuse NY; d 6 February 1990, Palm Springs CA) Songwriter, one of the most successful of all, and the only person, someone said, Frank Sinatra actually wanted to be. Son of a building contractor, he played cornet and/or announced on the radio as a student, choosing his stage name from a shirt advert (but Chester Babcock lived on as the Bob Hope character in the Hope/Crosby Road movies, all but one of which had songs written by Van Heusen, and in the sly Sinatra aside, 'This one's for Chester'). He played piano in a brothel, studied at Syracuse U, and his first successful song was 'It's The Dreamer In Me', recorded by both Bing Crosby and Jimmy Dorsey c.1938 (Dorsey wrote the words). With Eddie DeLange he wrote the Broadway show Swingin' The Dream '39 (from Shakespeare); it flopped but included 'Darn That Dream' (they also wrote 'Deep In A Dream', 'All This And Heaven Too', 'Heaven can Wait'). The brilliant 'I Thought About You' had words by Johnny Mercer.
His first full-time collaborator was Johnny Burke (b 3 October 1908, Antioch CA; d 25 February 1964, NYC); among other songs they wrote 'Polka Dots And Moonbeams' and 'Imagination', hits for the Tommy Dorsey band with Sinatra singing, then went to Hollywood, where they wrote for Crosby and became known as the Gold Dust Twins. Van Heusen had always been keen on flying and became a pilot as soon as he could afford the lessons; then during WWII he was a test pilot for Lockheed under his real name, a fact which was kept a secret (Burke said, 'Who wants to hire a guy to write a picture knowing he might get killed in a crash before he's finished it?'). They were once under contract to four studios at once; among their songs were 'Moonlight Becomes You', 'Swinging On A Star' (the first of Van Heusen's four Oscar winners, '44), 'Aren't You Glad You're You?' One of their last and best was 'Here's That Rainy Day', from another flop Broadway show (Carnival In Flanders '53; Van Heusen was more at home in Hollywood).
Burke suffered from ill health, and Van Heusen began working with Sammy Cahn, another of Sinatra's pals. They wrote 'High Hopes', 'All The Way' and 'Call Me Irresponsible' for three more Van Heusen Oscars, as well as 'Love And Marriage', 'The Tender Trap', 'Come Fly With Me', 'I Like To Lead When I Dance', 'Only The Lonely', 'The Last Dance', 'My Kind Of Town', 'Pocketful Of Miracles', 'The Second Time Around' (for the Crosby film High Time '60 and a Sinatra hit record), as well as 'September Of My Years' (title track of the Sinatra album), 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' and 'Star!' (the last two for films with Julie Andrews '67-8). Several of these were nominated for Oscars, including 'Millie', but as Cahn put it, 'The phone stopped ringing.' The music business had changed. Van Heusen said that his interests were 'chicks, booze, music and Sinatra, in that order', but he was completely professional: Cahn said that he sometimes improved on the words, and that if a lyricist or a singer asked for a grace note to insert a syllable, Van Heusen would pause and say, 'I'll write a new tune.' The compilation Sinatra Sings The Songs Of Van Heusen And Cahn on Reprise has 22 tracks (six of them with Burke's lyrics).