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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect