Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bartender, I'll Have Another Sherman Parody of an Irish Tune

Okay, but after this I think you've had enough.

Lost Sherman Lyrics for St. Paddy's Day

Do you know the Irish drinking song called "The Night That Paddy Murphy Died?"

Sherman did. Sometimes while writing his bio it seemed to me he knew every song in the world.

Well, he turned it into an absolutely insane parody called, "The Night That Leon Trotsky Died."

Yeah, that's right.

It was college, U. of Illinois, the 1944-45 academic year when Sherman was not exactly welcome on campus. The administration had just about enough of his boundless irreverence.

I was lucky enough to find the actor Arte Johnson, who kindly sang me Sherman's song. Johnson was part of a troupe of students that sang it at a student stunt show.

"We all dressed up as Russians and came up through the audience," Johnson said. "People screamed because we were so wacky."

Here it is, for the first time anywhere (unless you were with Johnson and Sherman in '44).

On the night that Leon Trotsky died
I never shall forget
The Russians got so stinking drunk
That some aren't sober yet
There are some things they did that night
That gave me quite a jar
They took buckshot from the corpse
And called it caviar.
That's how they showed their respect for Leon Trotsky
That's how they showed their honor and their pride
That's how they showed their respect for Leon Trotsky
On the night that Leon Trotsky died.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Allan Sherman's "Hymie's On The Moon"

Sherman continually toyed with certain songs to create a parody. One song he played around with was "Fly Me To The Moon," recorded by Frank Sinatra and many others.

In the late 1950s, when Sherman was between television producing jobs, he borrowed the tune for two lines that incorporate the name of his talent agency,

Goldstone and Tobias
Said that I'd be working soon

When fame hit he took another crack at it on a Steve Allen Show appearance taped 50 years ago on March 8, 1963. The great song's melody kicks in with the parody's title.

The little State of Israel
Is quite a happy place
For the little State of Israel
Has conquered outer space
And that's why,
Hymie's on the moon,
And little Seymour's in the stars
Julius is on Jupiter
And Marvin is on Mars. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's Going On With Allan Sherman's Jewish Parodies of the African American Song Tradition?

I've never seen anyone talk about this: many of the Jewish parodies on Allan Sherman's first album, the 1962 My Son, The Folk Singer, are parodies of African-American songs.

There's the "Jump Down, Spin Around (Pick a Dress O' Cotton)" parody of "Jump Down, Spin Around (Pick a Bale o' Cotton)," "Seltzer Boy" ("Water Boy"), and in Sherman's "Shticks and Stones" medley there are many more (see list below).

Allan Sherman's "Seltzer Boy"

And on My Son, The Celebrity Sherman performed his terrific parody of the "Down By The Riverside" spiritual with "Don't Buy the Liverwurst."

All these parodies poke fun at the originals and also the absurdity of the Jewish versions, implicitly making the point that no matter how much the African-Americans were oppressed, their story was far more integrated into the nation's culture than that of the Jews (and, in fact, the African-American story was more integrated into American culture than African-Americans themselves).

That irony, too, was part of the comedy of Sherman's Jewish parodies. The Jewish situation was the reverse of the African American. The Jews were more integrated into American life than were their stories.

Look forward to discussing this with you.


"Mt. Sinai Hospital" ("St. James Infirmary"), "Mammy's Little Baby Loves Matza" ("Mammy's Little Baby Likes Shortnin' Bread"), "Little David Susskind" ("Little David, Play On Your Harp") and "When the Paintners Go Marching In" ("When the Saints Go Marching In"), "Yasha Got a Bottle of Geritol" ("Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho") not to mention Sherman's "Levittown" parody of Harry Belafonte's Caribbean "Jamaica Farewell," better known as "Kingston Town."

Monday, March 4, 2013

That Famous Allan Sherman--JFK Story, And The Ones Nobody Knows About

Almost every article about Sherman mentions the same President Kennedy story.

The other ones rarely get a mention.

The famous one is about JFK singing Sherman's My Son, The Folk Singer hit single, "Sarah Jackman." (See it here, and here, and here.) And sometimes the story is embellished to attribute the song's and even Sherman's success to Kennedy's endorsement (such as here and here).

One you never hear about is when Sherman and JFK actually, briefly, met, 50 years ago today on March 4, 1963. (Sherman entertained and the President spoke at the same D.C. event.)

Sherman meets JFK in D.C. at the 50th anniversary bash for the U.S. Dept. of Labor

Another unknown story is the letter Sherman got from the Kennedy White House in November 1962.

So let's sort this out.

The origin of the story about Kennedy singing "Sarah Jackman" in the lobby of New York's Carlyle Hotel is Sherman's 1965 autobiography, A Gift of Laughter. Sherman is very specific about this bit of news and it's clear he believes it, though it involves a game of telephone that leaves lots of room for error.

Sherman heard the story second-hand from his famously roguish manager/agent Bullets Durgom, who told Sherman he heard it from New York Mirror columnist John David Griffin, who called Durgom with the news of Kennedy singing the song.

So did it happen?

Hey, I tried to nail this down. As Sherman's biographer I felt a responsibility to get to the bottom of this. So I found all the mentions of Kennedy staying at the Carlyle -- where his family had an apartment -- after the October 1962 appearance of My Son, The Folk Singer. Then I requested microfilm of the long-defunct New York Mirror to match those dates and looked through Griffin's columns on radio and television for a mention.


Could I have missed it? Sure. But maybe it never made it into Griffin's column. And the only way an item like that could stay out of a columnist's column is if it never happened.

And there was nobody to check with. Griffin died in 1966, not long after Gift was published in October 1965. Durgom died in 1992.

My hunch is that the most famous story about Sherman and JFK is the one that never happened.