When Harold Arlen returned to California in the winter of 1944 , it was to take up again a collaboration with Johnny Mercer , begun some years before .
The film they did after his return was an inconsequential bit of nothing titled Out Of This World , a satire on the Sinatra bobby-soxer craze .
The twist lay in using Bing Crosby's voice on the sound track while leading man Eddie Bracken mouthed the words .
If nothing else , at least two good songs came out of the project , `` Out Of This World '' and `` June Comes Around Every Year '' .
Though they would produce some very memorable and lasting songs , Arlen and Mercer were not given strong material to work on .
Their first collaboration came close .
Early in 1941 they were assigned to a script titled Hot Nocturne .
It purported to be a reasonably serious attempt at a treatment of jazz musicians , their aims , their problems -- the tug-of-war between the `` pure '' and the `` commercial '' -- and seemed a promising vehicle , for the two men shared a common interest in jazz .
Johnny Mercer practically grew up with the sound of jazz and the blues in his ears .
He was born in Savannah , Georgia , in 1909 .
His father , George A. Mercer , was descended from an honored Southern family that could trace its ancestry back to one Hugh Mercer , who had emigrated from Scotland in 1747 .
The lyricist's father was a lawyer who had branched out into real estate .
His second wife , Lillian , was the mother of John H. Mercer .
By the age of six young Johnny indicated that he had the call .
One day he followed the Irish Jasper Greens , the town band , to a picnic and spent the entire day listening , while his family spent the day looking .
The disappearance caused his family to assign a full-time maid to keeping an eye on the boy .
But one afternoon Mrs. Mercer met her ; ;
both were obviously on the way to the Mercer home .
The mother inquired , `` Where's Johnny , and why did you leave him '' ? ?
`` There was nothing else I could do '' , the maid answered , satisfied with a rather vague explanation .
But Mrs. Mercer demanded more .
The maid then told her , `` Because he fired me '' .
With her son evidencing so strong a musical bent his mother could do little else but get him started on the study of music -- though she waited until he was ten -- beginning with the piano and following that with the trumpet .
Young Mercer showed a remarkable lack of aptitude for both instruments .
Still , he did like music making and even sang in the chapel choir of the Woodberry Forest School , near Orange , Virginia , where he sounded fine but did not matriculate too well .
When he was fifteen John H. Mercer turned out his first song , a jazzy little thing he called `` Sister Susie , Strut Your Stuff '' .
If his scholarship and formal musicianship were not all they might have been , Mercer demonstrated at an early age that he was gifted with a remarkable ear for rhythm and dialect .
From his playmates in Savannah , Mercer had picked up , along with a soft Southern dialect , traces also of the Gullah dialects of Africa .
Such speech differences made him acutely aware of the richness and expressivness of language .
During the summers , while he was still in school , Mercer worked for his father's firm as a messenger boy .
It generally took well into the autumn for the firm to recover from the summer's help .
`` We'd give him things to deliver , letters , checks , deeds and things like that '' , remembers his half-brother Walter , still in the real estate business in Savannah , `` and learn days later that he'd absent-mindedly stuffed them into his pocket .
There they stayed '' .
This rather detached attitude toward life's encumbrances has seemed to be the dominant trait in Mercer's personality ever since .
It is , however , a disarming disguise , or perhaps a shield , for not only has Mercer proved himself to be one of the few great lyricists over the years , but also one who can function remarkably under pressure .
He has also enjoyed a successful career as an entertainer ( his records have sold in the millions ) and is a sharp businessman .
He has also an extraordinary conscience .
In 1927 his father's business collapsed , and , rather than go bankrupt , Mercer senior turned his firm over to a bank for liquidation .
He died before he could completely pay off his debts .
Some years later the bank handling the Mercer liquidation received a check for $300,000 , enough to clear up the debt .
The check had been mailed from Chicago , the envelope bore no return address , and the check was not signed .
`` That's Johnny '' , sighed the bank president , `` the best-hearted boy in the world , but absent-minded '' .
But Mercer's explanation was simple : `` I made out the check and carried it around a few days unsigned -- in case I lost it '' .
When he remembered that he might have not signed the check , Mercer made out another for the same amount , instructing the bank to destroy the other -- especially if he had happened to have absent-mindedly signed both of them .
When the family business failed , Mercer left school and on his mother's urging -- for she hoped that he would become an actor -- he joined a local little theater group .
When the troupe traveled to New York to participate in a one-act-play competition -- and won -- Mercer , instead of returning with the rest of the company in triumph , remained in New York .
He had talked one other member of the group to stay with him , but that friend had tired of not eating regularly and returned to Savannah .
But Mercer hung on , living , after a fashion , in a Greenwich Village fourth-flight walk-up .
`` The place had no sink or washbasin , only a bathtub '' , his mother discovered when she visited him .
`` Johnny insisted on cooking a chicken dinner in my honor -- he's always been a good cook -- and I'll never forget him cleaning the chicken in the tub '' .
A story , no doubt apocryphal , for Mercer himself denies it , has him sporting a monacle in those Village days .
Though merely clear glass , it was a distinctive trade mark for an aspiring actor who hoped to imprint himself upon the memories of producers .
One day in a bar , so the legend goes , someone put a beer stein with too much force on the monacle and broke it .
The innocent malfeasant , filled with that supreme sense of honor found in bars , insisted upon replacing the destroyed monacle -- and did , over the protests of the former owner -- with a square monacle .
Mercer is supposed to have refused it with , `` Anyone who wears a square monacle must be affected '' ! !
Everett Miller , then assistant director for the Garrick Gaieties , a Theatre Guild production , needed a lyricist for a song he had written ; ;
he just happened not to need any actor at the moment , however .
For him Mercer produced the lyric to `` Out Of Breath Scared To Death Of You '' , introduced in that most successful of all the Gaieties , by Sterling Holloway .
This 1930 edition also had songs in it by Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin , by E. Y. Harburg and Duke , and by Harry Myers .
Entrance into such stellar song writing company encouraged the burgeoning song writer to take a wife , Elizabeth Meehan , a dancer in the Gaieties .
The Mercers took up residence in Brooklyn , and Mercer found a regular job in Wall Street `` misplacing stocks and bonds '' .
When he heard that Paul Whiteman was looking for singers to replace the Rhythm Boys , Mercer applied and got the job , `` not for my voice , I'm sure , but because I could write songs and material generally '' .
While with the Whiteman band Mercer met Jerry Arlen .
He had yet to meet Harold Arlen , for although they had `` collaborated '' on `` Satan's Li'l Lamb '' , Mercer and Harburg had worked from a lead sheet the composer had furnished them .
The lyric , Mercer remembers , was tailored to fit the unusual melody .
Mercer's Whiteman association brought him into contact with Hoagy Carmichael , whose `` Snowball '' Mercer relyriced as `` Lazybones '' , in which form it became a hit and marked the real beginning of Mercer's song-writing career .
After leaving Whiteman , Mercer joined the Benny Goodman band as a vocalist .
With the help of Ziggy Elman , also in the band , he transformed a traditional Jewish melody into a popular song , `` And The Angels Sing '' .
The countrywide success of `` Lazybones '' and `` And The Angels Sing '' could only lead to Hollywood , where , besides Harold Arlen , Mercer collaborated with Harry Warren , Jimmy Van Heusen , Richard Whiting , Walter Donaldson , Jerome Kern , and Arthur Schwartz .
Mercer has also written both music and lyrics for several songs .
He may be the only song writer ever to have collaborated with a secretary of the U. S. Treasury ; ;
he collaborated on a song with William Hartman Woodin , who was Secretary of the Treasury , 1932-33 .
When Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen began their collaboration in 1940 , Mercer , like Arlen , had several substantial film songs to his credit , among them `` Hooray For Hollywood '' , `` Ride , Tenderfoot , Ride '' , `` Have You Got Any Castles , Baby ? ?
'' , and `` Too Marvelous For Words '' ( all with Richard Whiting ) ; ;
with Harry Warren he did `` The Girl Friend Of The Whirling Dervish '' , `` Jeepers Creepers '' , and `` You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby '' .
Mercer's lyrics are characterized by an unerring ear for rhythmic nuances , a puckish sense of humor expressed in language with a colloquial flair .
Though versatile and capable of turning out a ballad lyric with the best of them , Mercer's forte is a highly polished quasi-folk wit .
His casual , dreamlike working methods , often as not in absentia , were an abrupt change from Harburg's , so that Arlen had to adjust again to another approach to collaboration .
There were times that he worked with both lyricists simultaneously .
Speaking of his work with Johnny Mercer , Arlen says , `` Our working habits were strange .
After we got a script and the spots for the songs were blocked out , we'd get together for an hour or so every day .
While Johnny made himself comfortable on the couch , I'd play the tunes for him .
He has a wonderfully retentive memory .
After I would finish playing the songs , he'd just go away without a comment .
I wouldn't hear from him for a couple of weeks , then he'd come around with the completed lyric '' .
Arlen is one of the few ( possibly the only ) composer Mercer has been able to work with so closely , for they held their meetings in Arlen's study .
`` Some guys bothered me '' , Mercer has said .
`` I couldn't write with them in the same room with me , but I could with Harold .
He is probably our most original composer ; ;
he often uses very odd rhythms , which makes it difficult , and challenging , for the lyric writer '' .
While Arlen and Mercer collaborated on Hot Nocturne , Mercer worked also with Arthur Schwartz on another film , Navy Blues .
Arlen , too , worked on other projects at the same time with old friend Ted Koehler .
Besides doing a single song , `` When The Sun Comes Out '' , they worked on the ambitious American-Negro Suite , for voices and piano , as well as songs for films .
The American-Negro Suite is in a sense an extension of the Cotton Club songs in that it is a collection of Negro songs , not for a night club , but for the concert stage .
The work had its beginning in 1938 with an eight-bar musical strain to which Koehler set the words `` There'll be no more work ; ;
there'll be no more worry '' , matching the spiritual feeling of the jot .
This grew into the song `` Big Time Comin' '' .
By September 1940 the Suite had developed into a collection of six songs , `` four spirituals , a dream , and a lullaby '' .
The Negro composer Hall Johnson studied the American-Negro Suite and said of it , `` Of all the many songs written by white composers and employing what claims to be a Negroid idiom in both words and music , these six songs by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler easily stand far out above the rest .
Thoroughly modern in treatment , they are at the same time , full of simple sincerity which invariably characterizes genuine Negro folk-music and are by no means to be confused with the average ' Broadway Spirituals ' which depend for their racial flavor upon sundry allusions to the ' Amen Corner ' , ' judgement Day , ' Gabriel's Horn , and a frustrated devil -- with a few random hallelujahs thrown in for good measure .