Obituary: Gerald Marks

In 1994, the night before his 94th birthday, Gerald Marks sang a selection of his songs in the Lincoln Center, New York, ending with his biggest hit, "All of Me". He told his audience that, in 1931, he had left his native Michigan with enough money to stay in New York for one week while he tried to sell the song. He played "All of Me" for the vaudeville star Belle Baker. When he sang "Your goodbye / Left me with eyes that cry. / How can I / Go on, dear, without you?", she began to sob uncontrollably; it happened to be the anniversary of her husband's death. "From then on," said Marks, "she plugged my song and made it a hit all by herself."

Before turning composer, he had worked as a pianist in local dance bands, eventually forming his own orchestra in the late 1920s. "All of Me", which he wrote with the lyricist Seymour Simons, was his first song, and he never topped it; the year of its publication it was heard in Careless Lady (1932), a film starring Joan Bennett and John Boles. Frank Sinatra sang it in Meet Danny Wilson (1952), and recorded it. The following year Gloria DeHaven sang it in Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953), as did Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues (1972), the film biography of Billie Holiday. It was recorded by Holiday, as well as by Louis Armstrong, Kate Smith, Russ Columbo, Johnnie Ray, Willie Nelson, and the bands of Benny Carter, Louis Jordan, Illinois Jacquet, Count Basie, Jimmy Dorsey (vocal by Helen O'Connell), and Paul Whiteman (vocal by Mildred Bailey). "All of Me" was also heard in the 1984 Steve Martin / Lily Tomlin film of the same name.

Turning to Broadway, Marks composed songs for George White's Music Hall Varieties (1932), Earl Carroll's Sketch Book (1935) and White Horse Inn (1936). With Irving Caesar, he wrote "That's What I Want for Christmas" for Shirley Temple in her film Stowaway (1936). Also in 1936, he joined Sammy Lerner and Caesar to write a ballad that they took to Al Jolson, hoping he'd sing it on his new radio series, The Lifebuoy Show. Jolson, however, wanted a song in the tradition of "Swanee", which Caesar had written 18 years earlier with George Gershwin. The three promised to write such a number if Jolson would sing their ballad. The night he did so (to no appreciable effect), they wrote "Is It True What They Say About Dixie?". After they sang it to him over the telephone, Jolson featured the song on radio, and it became one of the hits of 1936.

Perhaps to atone for the politically naive picture painted by their "Dixie" song, Caesar, Lerner and Marks wrote "There Ain't No Colour Line Around the Rainbow" seven years later. "Dig down deep / To buy the bonds that buy the tanks / The bombers for our fighting Yanks, / Dig down deep!", sang Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers on a 1942 recording by Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra. Marks wrote "Dig Down Deep" (with Walter Hirsch and Sano Marco) shortly before forming his own armed forces dance band.

After writing two unsuccessful musicals, My Dear Public (1943) and Hold It! (1948), Marks turned his back on Broadway. With Irving Caesar he wrote the instructional collection Sing a Song of Safety, widely used by American schools. Marks spent his last years lecturing at universities and working on a book about his colourful days in Tin Pan Alley.

Gerald Marks, composer, pianist, bandleader: born Saginaw, Michigan 13 October 1900; died New York 27 January 1997.

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