Obituary: Walter Kent

Dick Vosburgh
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:01

Walter Kent, composer, songwriter: born New York City 29 November 1911; died Los Angeles 1 March 1994.

'THERE'LL BE bluebirds over / The white cliffs of Dover / Tomorrow, just you wait and see. / There'll be love and laughter and peace ever after / Tomorrow, when the world is free . . .' Walter Kent, who wrote the music to those words, never again had a comparable success, but enjoyed a long career, during which he was twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.

Kent was an architect who wrote music on the side until 1932, when he had his first hit with the novelty number 'Pu-leeze, Mr Hemingway]'. In 1941 the lyricist Nat Burton, unaware that the bluebird is not indigenous to Britain, wrote his lyric and asked Kent to set it to music. Their song appeared on radio's Your Hit Parade for 17 weeks, and was in the No 1 spot for six of those weeks. It was recorded by Kate Smith, Vera Lynn and the bands of Kay Kyser (vocal by Harry Babbitt), Sammy Kaye (vocal by Arthur Wright), Glenn Miller (vocal by Ray Eberle) and Jimmy Dorsey (vocal by Bob Eberly). In 1942 Dorsey and Eberly recorded another Burton/Kent morale-raiser, 'When the Roses Bloom Again'. In 1943, Kent (with Kim Gannon and Buck Ram) wrote his third piece of wartime optimism, 'I'll Be Home for Christmas'. Bing Crosby's recording sold over a million copies in its first year and became a Yuletide perennial. Rather less inspiring was 'Gertie from Bizerte' (1943), which Kent and three collaborators bowdlerised from 'Dirty Gertie from Bizerte', a bawdy song sung by Allied soldiers in North Africa during the Second World War.

In 1943 Paramount Pictures commissioned Kent and the lyricist Milton Drake to write a song to exploit their version of For Whom the Bell Tolls. The lyric is a classic of unintentional hilarity: 'We'll zoom, zoom, zoom with all our bombers] / Boom, boom, boom with ev'ry gun] / It's doom, doom, doom for whom the bell tolls / When the world is one]'

Kent had begun writing for movies in 1937, and worked on more than a dozen in the next 30 years. He received his Oscar nominations for 'Too Much in Love' from Song of the Open Road (1944) and for 'Endlessly' from Earl Carroll's Vanities (1945). He and Kim Gannon wrote three songs for the 'Johnny Appleseed' sequence in Walt Disney's episodic Melody Time (1948). His other films include Manhattan Merry-Go-Round (1937), Casanova in Burlesque (1944), Meet Miss Bobby Socks (1944), Bowery to Broadway (1944), Hitchhike to Happiness (1945), Senorita from the West (1943), April Showers (1948), On the Sunny Side of the Street (1951) and Swingin' Along (1962).

In 1950 Kent had a hit with the simplistically titled 'I'm Gonna Live Till I Die'. The following year he and Gannon wrote the score for a Broadway musical based on Booth Tarkington's 1916 novel Seventeen. It received indifferent notices and lasted only six months.

(Photograph omitted)

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