Friday, November 25, 2011

A Love Story

         Everyone in my generation knows who Irving Berlin is, or was, and all of us have heard and know many of the hundreds of songs he wrote. What is not so well known or remembered is the story of his love affair with his wife and the songs he wrote to note its ups and downs. He had been married briefly, in February 1912, but his wife contracted typhoid fever on their honeymoon in Cuba and died in July at the age of 20. For the next dozen years he worked full-time at his craft and became one of America's most successful songwriters.

       In 1925 he met a young socialite, Ellin Mackay, 16 years younger than himself. It was love at first sight for both of them. She was the daughter of a millionaire, Clarence Mackay, the head of AT&T, and he strongly opposed the affair. Both were public figures and the affair was prominently played up in the tabloids----the immigrant Jewish songwriter and the debutante Catholic heiress. Mackay did everything he could to hinder the love affair, even sending his daughter off to Europe hoping she would forget him while they were apart. When they married in 1926, Mackay disowned his daughter and disinherited her from a substantial fortune. (They were reconciled after a few years as grandchildren came along and the marriage appeared to be permanent.) The marriage actually lasted 62 years, until Ellin died in 1988. Berlin died just nine months later, in 1989, at the age of 101.
       During their turbulent courtship, Berlin wrote some of his most endearing torch songs, especially at the times when they were apart. A few examples: All By Myself; What'll I Do (When You Are Far Away); All Alone; and Remember. When they were together and happy, he wrote one of the great upbeat songs of our times--Blue Skies, which was recorded by all the recording artists of the era. Then, when they were married, he wrote one of the great love songs of our times--Always-- and gave it to his wife as a wedding present. The royalties from that song alone made Ellin Mackay Berlin an independently wealthy woman. Here are the lyrics for these two ever-popular songs:

I'll be loving you, Always, With a love that's true, Always, When the things you've planned, Need a helping hand, I will understand, Always, Always. Days may not be fair, Always, That's when I'll be there, Always, Not for just an hour, Not for just a day, Not for just a year, but Always.

Blue Skies, smiling at me, Nothing but blue skies, do I see. Bluebirds, Singing a song, Nothing but bluebirds, all day long. Never saw the sun, Shining so bright, Never saw things, Going so right. Noticing the days, Hurrying by, When you're in love, my How they fly. Blue days, All of them gone, Nothing but blue skies, From now on.


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