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TCM Spotlight: The Great American Songbook
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The Great American Songbook - Thursdays in December


The knowledgeable and irresistibly charming Michael Feinstein is our host for this TCM Spotlight, which considers the Great American Songbook as reflected in classic film. The Songbook, which encompasses the most important and influential popular song and jazz standards of the first half of the 20th century, is continually celebrated by Feinstein in his roles as singer, pianist, educator and archivist.

An assistant to Ira Gershwin until the great lyricist's death in 1983, Feinstein has carved out a dazzling career through his Grammy®-nominated recordings, Emmy®-nominated TV specials, an NPR series, and concerts that span the globe. The PBS series Michael Feinstein's American Songbook, the recipient of the ASCAP Deems/Taylor Television Broadcast Award, was broadcast for three seasons and is available on DVD. Feinstein currently serves as Artistic Director for the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, IN.

Michael's selection of movies featuring great musical standards ranges from 1933's 42nd Street, with songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin; to 1956's High Society, which features an original film score by Cole Porter as performed by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and others. Crosby's love duet with Grace Kelly, "True Love," was Oscar®-nominated as Best Song.

The Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical Swing Time (1936) is built around such classics by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields as "The Way You Look Tonight" and "A Fine Romance." Hollywood Hotel (1937) features songs by Johnny Mercer and Richard A. Whiting, including the enduring "Hooray for Hollywood." Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938) has songs by the incomparable Irving Berlin that include "Blue Skies," "Easter Parade" and, of course, the title tune.

Moving into the '40s, we have the James Cagney vehicle Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) with its roundup of George M. Cohan numbers including "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Over There," and "You're a Grand Old Flag." In Girl Crazy (1943), Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland are treated to a score featuring such George and Ira Gershwin gems as "Embraceable You," "I've Got Rhythm," and "But Not For Me."

Rooney plays lyricist Lorenz Hart to Tom Drake's composer Richard Rodgers in Words and Music (1948), a fictional biography of the pair, with highlights that include Garland belting out "Johnny One Note" and Lena Horne performing "The Lady Is a Tramp." On the Town (1949), based on the Broadway hit with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, highlights such favorites as "New York, New York" and "Come Up to My Place."

Betty Hutton and Howard Keel take the leads in the film version of the Irving Berlin smash Annie Get Your Gun (1950), reveling in such choice tunes as "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," "The Girl That I Marry," and that great show-biz anthem, "There's No Business Like Show Business."

Songwriter bios were big in the 1950s, with Fred Astaire playing lyricist Bert Kalmar and Red Skelton appearing as composer Harry Ruby in Three Little Words (1950), in which their famous songs include "Nevertheless," "I Wanna Be Loved By You," and "Who's Sorry Now?" Danny Thomas plays lyricist Gus Kahn in I'll See You in My Dreams (1951), with Doris Day appearing as Mrs. Kahn and lending her special touch to such standards as "The One I Love (Belongs to Somebody Else)," "My Buddy," and "Toot, Toot, Tootsie." Deep in My Heart (1954) has Jose Ferrer as composer Sigmund Romberg and features, among other songs, "One Alone," "When I Grow Too Old to Dream" and "Stout-Hearted Men."

One of the greatest of all film musicals, The Band Wagon (1953) has a parade of classics by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz that include "By Myself," "Dancing in the Dark," "You and the Night and the Music" and the song that became the unofficial theme of MGM musicals, "That's Entertainment!"

by Roger Fristoe

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