OBITUARIES : Harry Tobias

Dick Vosburgh
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:41

In the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, the songs of Harry, Henry and Charles, the prolific Tobias brothers, were inescapable. Harry, the oldest of the three, wrote his first lyric at the age of 16. While working in a department store in Worcester , Massachusetts, he was excited by a newspaper advertisement that screamed "Write a Song and Make a Fortune!" His maiden effort was received enthusiastically by the con men who had placed the ad, their letter ringingly informing him that his lyric "Natio nal Sports" was even now being set by one of their finest composers, and that, in exchange for a mere $25, they would send him 500 copies.

Three years later, Tobias decided to brave New York and write songs for which publishers would pay him. Eventually, a collaboration with the composer Will Dillon produced "That Girl of Mine"and "Take Me To My Alabam" (both 1916), which sold moderately well. The US Army beckoned at this point, and Tobias spent the First World War as a forces entertainer. After his release, he tried various jobs before collaborating with Cliff Friend and Sidney Clare on "Oo-oo, Ernest (Are You Earnest With Me?)", one of the novelty hits of 1922.

With his brother Charles he wrote Broadway songs for Earl Carroll's Sketch Book (1929), a show which also contained material by Eddie Cantor, whose wife Ida was the Tobiases' cousin. That same year all three brothers combined to write "Miss You", which was introduced and recorded by Rudy Vallee.

1931 was a vintage year for Harry Tobias - with Bing Crosby and Harry Barris he wrote "At Your Command" (one of Crosby's early hit recordings) and, with Jules Lemare and the bandleader Gus Arnheim, he wrote "Sweet and Lovely", the success of which established Russ Columbo, who recorded it.

After being featured in MGM's Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), "Sweet and Lovely" found new popularity. "Miss You", an ideal wartime song, was also revived, remaining on the radio "Hit Parade" for 11 weeks. Harry Tobias's similarly themed "Wait For Me, Mary" was sung by Dick Haymes on a 78 that sold a million copies in 1943, largely because it was on the B-side of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon's "You'll Never Know".

Harry's many co-writers included Gene Autry, Oscar Levant, Judy Canova, Franz Waxman and Harry's son Elliott, with whom he and Henry Tobias collaborated on the ballad "A Thousand Times a Day" (1945). Elliott died shortly after it was published.

With Pinky Tomlin, Harry wrote the popular "Love is All" for Deanna Durbin - to sing in It's a Date (1940), and co-wrote the title songs for One Rainy- Afternoon (1936), The Young in Heart (1938) and Made for Each Other (1939). His other films included Little Miss Nobody (1936), The Barrier (1937), Shooting High (1940), Stormy Weather (1943), Night Club Girl (1944), Sensations of 1945 and Moonrise (1948).

In 1948, with Henry and Charles, Harry Tobias wrote a religious song which was adopted by the Conference of Christians and Jews. Appropriately, it was called "Brother".

Dick Vosburgh Harry Tobias, lyricist, music publisher: born New York City 23 April 1895; married (one daughter, and one son deceased); died St Louis, Missouri 15 December 1994.

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