Obituary: Saul Chaplin

Saul Kaplan (Saul Chaplin), composer, arranger and producer: born New York 19 February 1912; married Ethel Schwartz (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1949), 1968 Betty Levin; died Los Angeles 15 November 1997.

Though Saul Chaplin was a notable composer and film producer, it was his work as an arranger and music supervisor that made him a key figure of the Hollywood musical. "He's one of those fellows behind the scenes that has made so many fine musicals work," said Gene Kelly. Among the films Chaplin scored were three for which he won the Academy Award: An American in Paris (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and West Side Story (1961). He did the vocal arrangements for Al Jolson in The Jolson Story (1946), Judy Garland in Summer Stock (1950) - including her famous rendition of "Get Happy" - and Crosby and Sinatra in High Society (1956). His own compositions include the standards "Until the Real Thing Comes Along", "Please Be Kind" and the song which first brought fame to the Andrews Sisters, "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon".

Born Saul Kaplan in Brooklyn, New York in 1912, he was educated at the NYU School of Commerce, but after graduation became pianist with a Dixieland dance band, the Pals of Harmony. In the mid-Thirties he co-led a band with Sammy Cahn, and in 1935 the pair collaborated on their first song hit, "Rhythm is Our Business", written as a theme song for the Jimmy Lunceford band. The pair were in demand as special material writers for vaudeville and night-club acts and had further Hit Parade songs with "Shoe Shine Boy" (introduced by Louis Armstrong in the Cotton Club Revue) and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" (both 1936), "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" (1937, its melody based on a Yiddish popular song by Sholom Secunda) and "Please Be Kind" (1938, written for a Vitaphone short and banned by NBC radio because of the line, "This is my first affair. . .").

In 1939, encouraged to move to Hollywood, the team wrote both the script and songs for a Republic "B" movie, Rookies on Parade, then were signed as song-writers by Columbia, contributing to such low-budget fare as Two Latins from Manhattan, Two Blondes and a Redhead and The Redhead from Manhattan. Two years later they split up, Cahn forming a song-writing partnership with Jule Styne and Chaplin becoming a composer-arranger at Columbia Studios, working on several of their perky "B" musicals starring Ann Miller.

Chaplin maintained fond memories of those days. "For heaven's sake, don't leave out Ann Miller," he told the historian Max Wilk, "That's my real distinction - I have done more films with Ann Miller than anyone alive. My life from 1940 to 1959 was Ann Miller, because when she moved to MGM, I did too!" Chaplin's Miller musicals at Columbia included Time Out for Rhythm (1941), What's Buzzin' Cousin (1943), Carolina Blues (1944) and Eadie Was a Lady (1945) and, though minor, they were distinguished by Miller's dazzling tap dancing and the skilful orchestrations, such as the sensually pulsating "Take a Chance" in Hey, Rookie (1944).

Cover Girl (1944), starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly (who was to become a lifelong friend) was Chaplin's first major musical, and his work included the arrangement of the celebrated "Alter Ego" dance. For the enormously successful The Jolson Story, Chaplin not only provided vocal arrangements but had a surprise song hit:

The producer felt that Larry Parks, as Jolie, needed something to sing at his parents' anniversary party. Jolie said he knew a tune that would fit - an old semi-classical Russian waltz written by J. Ivanovici. He hummed it and it sounded great, so I knocked out some lyrics in about 45 minutes. As "The Anniversary Song", it was supposed to be a little throwaway thing, but it sold over a million records and has become a standard!

In 1949, when MGM were in need of a vocal arranger for On The Town, Gene Kelly suggested Chaplin, who was signed to a contract and stayed at the studio for nine years. Most of Leonard Bernstein's music for the stage version of On The Town was jettisoned for the film and Bernstein, worried about how the remaining music would be used, sent a wire to MGM, part of which read, "Only Saul Chaplin is authorised to adapt the music I wrote for the stage version of On The Town".

In October, 1949, Chaplin was divorced from his first wife Ethel Schwartz (their daughter Judy is the wife of Broadway producer Harold Prince), and in 1968 he married Betty Levin.

In 1951 he won his first Oscar for his work with Johnny Green on An American in Paris for which he adapted and arranged the climactic ballet sequence:

There was a discussion about whether to do a 17-minute ballet, and I remember what finally sewed it up. There was a picture called The Red Shoes that had a 17-minute ballet and

that was doing very well. That settled it. As long as they could do it, we certainly could do it, only do it better.

George Gershwin's brother Ira considered Chaplin's adaptation of Gershwin's suite "overblown", but even he admitted the sequence was "beautiful and fascinating".

When a duet was needed for Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter to perform in Two Weeks With Love (1950), Chaplin remembered a vaudeville number from his youth and made an arrangement for them of "Aba Daba Honeymoon" that became the hit of the film. For Summer Stock (1950), he composed the ballad "You Wonderful You", and when a number was needed for six dancers in Kiss Me Kate (1953, with Ann Miller), he suggested a song that had been cut from another Cole Porter musical, "From This Moment On". Seven Brides for Seven Brothers brought Chaplin his second Oscar. For High Society, "I unearthed one of Cole Porter's old songs, `Well, Did You Evah?', and Cole wrote a new set of lyrics for Crosby and Sinatra, though I'm proud to say I had a word or two in there, with his approval".

He was promoted to Associate Producer on Les Girls (1957), on which he helped the ailing Cole Porter put together a coherent score, followed by Merry Andrew (1958) and Can-Can (1960). I first met Chaplin in 1963 when he was in England to work with Judy Garland on I Could Go On Singing, and found a genial and generous gentleman whose personality belied the toughness he must have had to deal with studio temperaments. I mentioned to him how much I admired his arrangements for the 1951 remake of Roberta, titled Lovely To Look At, in particular his ballet arrangement of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays". A few weeks later I received acetate copies of the studio pre-recordings from Chaplin's own collection.

I met him again four years later on the set on his production Star!, where we watched in admiration as Julie Andrews executed in one take a formidably complicated routine to "Burlington Bertie". "Julie Andrews and Judy Garland are the most totally professional stars I have ever worked with," Saul said. "They both pick up a melody or routine immediately with a facility that amazes."

After his departure from MGM, Chaplin had two of his greatest successes with West Side Story (1961), and The Sound of Music (1965). He spent two years on the production of That's Entertainment Part 2 (1976), a sequel to the successful compilation of musical extracts, this one featuring Kelly and Astaire dancing together in new linking sequences. Afterwards Saul Chaplin said the most frequent question asked in letters was, "Why don't they make pictures like that anymore?", to which he would answer, "Cost". He ended his autobiography, The Golden Age of Movie Musicals and Me (1994), on a hopeful note:

I hope that the next phase in the development of movie musicals will combine what was outstanding about the earlier films with the best features of today's, including the startling new audio and visual technologies that are constantly being developed. Musicals will then regain their rightful glory. In the meantime, there is an enormous audience out there waiting.

- Tom Vallance

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions