Obituary: Fred Spielman

Though his songs were sung by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, the name of Fred Spielman (as Fritz Spielmann called himself in America) is little known today. One of several Viennese composer musicians who fled to the United States in the late Thirties, his work never achieved the sort of sustained popularity that led to public recognition, though his work encompassed Broadway, Hollywood (where he was under contract to MGM) and Tin Pan Alley.

He was born in Vienna in 1906, and displayed an early flair for the piano and for composition, in which he was encouraged by his engineer father. He studied at the Music Academy of Vienna under Joseph Marx, but on leaving abandoned plans to be a concert pianist and instead took work in night- clubs and composed popular songs, one of which, "Warum spielt bei den Schinkenfleckerl alleweil das Fleisch Versteckerl?" became a hit. With the rise of Nazism, he went to Paris and just before the outbreak of war managed to leave on one of the last ships for Cuba. There he married, and with his wife sailed for New York to settle on the Upper West Side.

One of his first compositions, "Shepherd Serenade" (1941, lyrics by Kermit Goell) became a hit with best-selling recordings by both Bing Crosby and the Horace Heidt band. He teamed with George Gershwin's brother Arthur to write the score for a Broadway musical, The Lady Says Yes (1945), starring Carole Landis, but the only song to stop the show was an interpolation by another composer, and the show lasted only 11 weeks. Spielman then decided to move to Hollywood, where he had already provided material for the Andrews Sisters to perform in their roles as munition workers in Swingtime Johnny (1943).

After providing songs for Ann Dvorak in her role as a dance-hall hostess in Abilene Town (1946), he signed a contract with MGM as a house composer. For Luxury Liner (1948), a glamorous piece of escapism in which Jane Powell was a stowaway on the liner captained by her father, Spielman provided a lilting Viennese waltz, "Spring Came Back to Vienna" (with Janice Torre and Fritz Rotter), while for In the Good Old Summertime (1949) he wrote for Judy Garland a vibrant ballad, "Merry Christmas" (lyrics by Janice Torre). Though tender and touching, it lacked the appeal to become a holiday standard.

Spielman never wrote complete scores for MGM musicals, but contributed numbers to Big City (1948), The Duchess of Idaho (1950) and most of the songs for Tom Thumb (1958). In 1950 he had a surprise hit with a melody composed during his childhood days at the Academy. Adapted as "One Finger Melody" by Al Hoffman and Kermit Goell, it was recorded by Frank Sinatra and spent 16 weeks on the Hit Parade. (Its lyrics, "Yum-de-da-de-da, I love to play this melody . . .", precluded its becoming a lasting standard.) "Paper Roses", a country-and-western song written in 1960, became a hit 13 years later when recorded by Marie Osmond, and in 1962 he provided a song for the Elvis Presley musical Girls, Girls, Girls.

In 1969 he and Janice Torre composed the score for a television musical, The Stingiest Man in Town, based on A Christmas Carol. The starry cast included Basil Rathbone (as Scrooge), Vic Damone, Patrice Munsel, Johnny Desmond and Martyn Green, and the Columbia LP of the soundtrack is now a collectors' item.

Spielman's final hit came by chance when in 1990 the jazz singer-pianist Shirley Horn was watching a Joan Crawford film, Torch Song (1953), in the middle of the night and was taken by a ballad sung by the star ("ghosted" by India Adams). Called "You Won't Forget Me", it was written by Spielman and Kermit Goell, and had been totally forgotten. Horn recorded it and it topped the jazz charts.

Tom Vallance

Fritz Spielmann (Fred Spielman), composer: born Vienna 20 November 1906; married; died 21 March 1997.

Suggested Topics
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 People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice