Berigan on Film (1936) “Take My Heart” with Jerry Colonna

“Take My Heart”

Composed by Joe Young and Fred Ahlert.

Recorded by Freddie Rich and His Orchestra at the Paramount-Astoria Studio, Queens, New York on August 14, 1936.

Freddie Rich, piano, directing:  trumpets, left to right: Lloyd Williams, Nat Natoli, Bunny Berigan; trombones, left to right:  Jerry Colonna, Larry Altpeter, Jack Lacey;  reeds, left-to-right: Adrian Rollini, bass sax; Arnold Brilhart, Reggie Merrill, alto saxes;  Irving “Babe” Russin, Hank Ross, tenor saxes;  violins, left-to-right:  Harry Edelman, Sam Freed, Lou Raderman, three unknowns, possibly including Johnny Augustine and Harry Horlick, but not Vladamir Selinsky;(*)  probably Walter Gross, piano;  Benny Martell, guitar;  possibly Joe Tarto, string  and brass bass;  Sammy Weiss, drums; Veryle Mills, harp. (**)

(*) I think I see violinist Joe Venuti at the far right of the violins. However he was not identified as noted below, so I reserve judgment.

(**) This personnel listing was created by Mark Cantor, and verified with the assistance of trumpeter Mannie Klein, who worked with all of these musicians in New York radio and recording studios in the early and mid-1930s; and saxophonist Arnold Brilhart, who actually appears in the film and plays on the soundtrack. (***)

NOTE: This post would not have been possible without the assistance of my friend and colleague Mark Cantor. Mark is the preeminent expert on vintage musical films from the early years of sound cinema. In addition to having a vast library of films, Mark knows almost everything about each of those films. He operates the Celluloid Improvisations Music Film Archive, and jazz-on-film.com  My heartfelt thanks to Mark for all the work he did to make this post a reality.

The short sequence you can see toward the end of the video posted above contains images and sounds of Bunny Berigan playing a tin whistle that have remained almost completely unseen since 1937. Those “new” images of Berigan are the reason I asked Mark Cantor to allow publication of this film sequence. People in 2018 may wonder about the broad burlesque comedy of Jerry Colonna in this video. But it must be remembered that vaudeville, where this kind of comedy was effective with audiences, was still going strong in 1936, when this film was made.

The Story:

Berigan at Burbank, California Airport – October 1, 1935.

Once Bunny Berigan returned to Manhattan in the fall of 1935 after his summer sojourn  across the U.S. with Benny Goodman’s band, he immediately resumed his duties at CBS Radio, including his broadcasts with Bunny’s Blue Boys and as a member of “the Instrumentalists” with Raymond Scott. “Bunny’s Blue Boys on Tuesdays, 12:15 a.m. over Columbia, put on a few of the old jam numbers with the genuine swing. This outfit is led by Bunny Berigan, lately of Benny Goodman’s orchestra, and play right up to time.” (1)

The beginning of 1936 saw Berigan return to his work pattern of previous years (he was a workaholic), with a vengeance: mornings and into the afternoons at CBS; then commercial recording sessions outside of CBS as his schedule would permit; then appearances at the Famous Door, a Manhattan jazz club. (See below.) A review of the Berigan discography for 1936 indicates that he probably made more free-lance recording sessions in that year than in any other year of his career. In January alone he participated in nine or ten separate recording sessions. In the first half of 1936, Bunny Berigan was playing his trumpet on jobs for between 80 and 100 hours a week.

At the Famous Door on 52nd Street – early 1936. L-R:Forrest Crawford, tenor saxophone; Morty Stulmaker, bass; Red McKenzie, Eddie Condon, Joe Bushkin, Berigan.

Of far greater significance jazzwise was Bunny’s opening, on approximately February 10, with a small band led by singer Red McKenzie (2) with considerable help from guitarist Eddie Condon,(3) at the Famous Door, then located at 35 West Fifty-second Street, just a few doors west of Fifth Avenue. The Famous Door was one of many clubs on Fifty-second Street then featuring live music. The “concept” that led to the creation of the Famous Door was to have a small club where musicians could come and jam, in the mode of Plunkett’s, which had been a Prohibition era bar that was something of a clubhouse for New York’s radio and recording musicians. The originators of the “famous door” concept were musicians who worked in the nearby radio and recording studios, mainly under pianist/arranger Lennie Hayton who was then the conductor on the Ipana Troubadors and Fred Allen radio shows. The original investors in the project were: violinist Harry Bluestone; trombonist Jack Jenney; trumpeter Mannie Klein; bassist Artie Bernstein; trombonist Jerry Colonna; arranger Gordon Jenkins; Jimmy Dorsey; and Glenn Miller. They each put up $100. The major investors however, were Hayton and Jack Colt, who was not a musician, but who had experience in the club business. They each put up $1,000.(4)

Berigan listens while his personal manager Arthur Michaud talks – 1937.

After an incredibly busy spring and early summer, which included performing at the famous Imperial Theater Swing Concert on May 23, and being featured weekly on the new CBS network radio show Saturday Night Swing Club, which was initially built around Berigan, Bunny was having his career moves guided by personal manager Arthur Michaud. He was building his public name recognition primarily through his weekly performances on the Saturday Night Swing Club. He was also doing as much other work as possible to earn as much money as he could so he could assist with financing a new big band he was planning to start. (Such a venture was incredibly expensive. Usually, a new bandleader had to have financial assistance [loans] from a number of backers over a substantial period of time to successfully launch a big band. Berigan started his new band in early 1937. He had cleared his debt from launching that band by the end of 1937.)

On Friday, August 14, 1936, Bunny Berigan was a part of the Freddie Rich (5) band that went to the Paramount Film studios located in Astoria, Queens, New York City (6) to record the sound track for a “short” or “short subject.” These short films were used in movie theaters as filler between presentations of feature films. The band returned the following Monday August 17 to do the filming. (Note: The personnel specified above is the personnel that recorded the music. There may have been musicians on the recording date who were replaced for the on-screen filming/sidelining.)  It is my informed speculation that most if not all of the musicians who recorded the sound track appeared in the film.

The band shown on film consisted of musicians who mostly were on staff at CBS Radio in New York. (The personnel listing above identifies most of the musicians who appear in the film.) The film, which was entitled Song Hits on Parade, runs ten to twelve minutes. Berigan is plainly shown in the band, and plays a trumpet solo and sings a tune entitled “Until Today,” which is introduced by a display with his name on it misspelled, as so often it was, as Berrigan. (Berigan being featured as he was in this film did not happen by accident. His personal manager, Arthur Michaud, was working behind the scenes to do whatever he could to get Berigan into work situations where his name and talent would be presented to the widest public possible.) Among the other tunes presented in the film are “You Can’t Pull the Wool Over My Eyes,” as an “instrumental novelty,” “These Foolish Things,” then a new pop tune, and “Tiger Rag.” There appears to have been a couple of other tunes  presented, including “Cross Patch,” using a female vocal group. (Among the singers featured in that three-girl group called the Blue Flames, was Beverly Freeland, later to become Mrs. Gordon Jenkins. This group also appeared on the CBS Saturday Night Swing Club radio show.) (7)(8)

Berigan playing his tin whistle as Jerry Colonna clowns in a segment of the Paramount film short Star Reporter No. 3.

Recorded and filmed at the same time was “Take My Heart,” with Fred Rich playing the piano, Jerry Colonna the trombone (briefly), and then doing his burlesque singing shtick (which he had perfected over the previous couple of years warming up audiences for various CBS radio shows), and finally, Bunny tooting the tin whistle he had played as a gag since the late 1920s. (9)

When Paramount produced a feature film or short subject, they often recorded and filmed more material than was ultimately used in the released film.  The “Take My Heart” sequence presented here was recorded/filmed at the August 1936 recording/filming sessions, but not included in the released film short which was entitled Song Hits on Parade.  (“Until Today,” mentioned above, will be presented later here at bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com, was a part of Song Hits on Parade.)  For reasons unknown to us, the producer decided that he did not want to include “Take My Heart” in Song Hits on Parade, which was released on approximately January 15, 1937.  It was placed on the shelf.

A bit later, during the production of one of the 1937 releases in a Paramount series entitled The Star Reporter also The Star Reporter of Hollywood ( this was a series of one reel shorts in which various musical acts were often shared playing a number or two), a musical number was needed, and “Take My Heart” was pulled off the shelf and used.  The name of the film in which “Take My Heart” finally appeared was Star Reporter No. 3, released on March 11, 1937.

(***) Relative to identification of the musicians in the film and on the soundtrack, the information that appears in the Bozy White Berigan bio-discography Bunny Berigan…The Miracle Man of Swing (vol. 2, pages 748-751), does not differ greatly from Mark Cantor’s personnel identification, presented above. In fact, the information in the White book regarding this personnel identification came directly from Mark Cantor, who reviewed his personnel identifications with Mannie Klein and Arnold Brilhart. Mr. White then apparently cross-checked Mark’s information with trombonist Larry Altpeter, who was on the soundtrack and in the film.

(1) Variety, November 20, 1935.

(2) Vocalist William “Red” McKenzie was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 14, 1899. He was raised in Washington, D.C., until the deaths of his parents, after which he returned to St. Louis, working at a variety of jobs including as a professional jockey. McKenzie began singing, as well as playing the kazoo and the comb, with tissue paper placed over the tines, in the early 1920s. With two others, he formed a novelty act called the Mound City Blue Blowers, and began recording in February 1924. The group’s initial release, “Arkansas Traveler,” became a hit, and they toured extensively in the United States then went to London. Upon returning to the United States, McKenzie led the group over the next several years. He spent a year with Paul Whiteman, 1932–1933, then reorganized the Mound City Blue Blowers, and began to appear at clubs on Fifty-second Street as well as on record both with and without the group. He returned to St. Louis in 1937, and was seldom seen in New York thereafter. The years prior to his death were spent in ill health owing to the progression of cirrhosis of the liver. McKenzie died in New York City on February 7, 1948.

(3) Guitarist, bandleader, and impresario Albert Edwin Condon was born in Goodland, Indiana, on November 16, 1905. He moved to Chicago in 1921, and spent most of the next decade there playing with many of the young white musicians who were then embracing jazz. He went to New York in 1928 and began musical associations with an ever-widening group of performers both on and off record, including Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and Red Nichols. He continued an earlier association with Red McKenzie while in New York in the 1930s, and also began long but intermittent associations with Joe Marsala, Bobby Hackett, and Bud Freeman. During World War II, Condon began to lead bands for various concerts in Manhattan, and for residencies at Nick’s in Greenwich Village. At the end of 1945, he opened the first of his own jazz clubs, which would remain on the scene for many years, though most of the time without Condon on their bandstands. Condon was successful on TV in the 1950s, and was a master of the bon mot, often delivered with just the right mixture of sarcasm and irony. He toured widely throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and died in New York City on August 4, 1973.

(4) 52nd Street…The Street of Jazz  by Arnold Shaw (1971), 106. More information about the Famous Door can be found here:    https://bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com/2017/07/18/swing-street/

(5) Freddie Rich (Fredric Efrem Rich), (1898-1956), was an active New York bandleader from the mid-1920s until the early 1940s, when he moved to California. He became associated with CBS radio as a conductor on a number of pop music radio shows through the 1930s. Rich first met Berigan in 1931, when Bunny (at age 22) first went on staff at CBS. Seldom over the next six years did he have any band at CBS that did not include Berigan (when Bunny was on-staff at CBS-he did take a few sabbaticals). Rich also used Berigan on his commercial recordings, and of course on this movie short.

(6) The Paramount Studios at 34-12 Thirty-sixth Street, Astoria, Queens, opened in 1920. For the next twenty years, over 120 silent and sound feature films were produced there. In addition, this studio was the home of the famed Paramount Newsreels (“the eyes and ears of the world”), as well as Paramount’s short-film division. This studio continues operation to this day at the Kaufman Astoria Studios New York Production Center.

(7) Much of the information about the film short Song Hits on Parade was taken from the Bozy White Berigan bio-discography, cited above (***). As noted, much of that information came from Mark Cantor.

(8) Here is a complete rundown of the music in Song Hits on Parade:

(a)  unidentified title (fanfare), segue to “Happy Days Are Here Again”;

(b)  “Cross Patch” (The Blue Flames, vocal);

(c)  “I Can’t Escape From You” (Jerry Cooper, vocal);

(d)  “You Can’t Pull the Wool over My Eyes”;

(e)  “Until Today” (Bunny Berigan, trumpet and vocal);

(f)  “These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You” (Benay Venuta, vocal);

(g)  “Tiger Rag” (soloists:  Jack Lacey, trombone;  Hank Ross, tenor sax).

(9) Although Berigan played his tin whistle at various times on jobs as a gag from very early in his career up to the time this film was made, there is no evidence that he ever played it after he became the leader of his own band.

2 thoughts on “Berigan on Film (1936) “Take My Heart” with Jerry Colonna

Add yours

  1. It’s wonderful both to find this missing clip in spectacular restoration and to see this most thorough discussion of the background of the film in toto. I quite imagine that at the time of its production none of the participants could have dreamed that something intended essentially as pleasant ephemera would acquire the significance it has today.

    I want to thank you for your dogged work in piecing together and bringing stunning clarity to those all-too-brief but highly productive thirty-three years that ended nearly seventy-six years ago. I can tell you that your zeal as historian is matched by mine as one of the beneficiaries. Bunny is my hero.

    … Also, I agree, that it looks like Venuti on the far end.

  2. Thanks Elizabeth! I really appreciate your kind comments, and want to once again thank Mark Cantor for providing that film clip for my use on this blog. History is alive and well here. More interesting posts are on the way.

    P.S. I’m sorry I didn’t approve your comment sooner. I have been traveling for much of the past month and missed it in my in box.

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