August is commonly a time for vacations and I am tempted to take one this week. That doesn’t mean skipping a column; simply dropping out of headline material for a topic appropriate for dozing in a hammock.
It is permissible to skip writing for a Sunday or two and let some Illinois Policy Institute propaganda fill the void, but taking a real vacation is something I find hard to do. It goes back to my early days in television, when you could work your two weeks off and get an extra paycheck. With five kids and a meager income, I opted to stay on the job.
It’s not that there isn’t meaningful and controversial material to dig into; but rather that probing into politics, the Epstein scandal, the Donald Trump and Boris Johnson road shows, and the steady dissolution of our world and the people in it isn’t very relaxing.
Instead, permit me to indulge myself and celebrate a birthday today that resonates nowhere but in my memory.
On Aug. 18, 1873, a boy was born in Salt Lake City who would achieve celebrity status in the first half of the last century. His name was Otto Abeis Hauerbach, the son of immigrant parents Adolph Christiansen and Sena Olsen. His parents adopted a new surname, taking the name of the Hauerbach farm they had worked on in Utah.
Like many young men boarding trains eastward from Salt Lake and Denver, Otto stopped in Galesburg to attend Knox College. And following the eastward path of many other ambitious Knox graduates, he later headed for New York.
His ambition was to become a professor of English, but he ran out of money while attending Columbia University and tried a series of jobs involving writing, principally in journalism and advertising.
In 1902, he attended a Weber and Fields musical and became interested in the theater. At the same time, he met composer Karl Hoschna and the two of them decided to write their own musical. No one was interested, so they started writing songs instead.
Eventually, they would collaborate in six Broadway shows, including the popular “Madame Sherry.” After Hoschna died in 1911, Otto went on to write lyrics for a number of composers: from Victor Herbert and Sigmund Romberg to George Gershwin and Jerome Kern.
Some of his best work was done in partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II, and a number of his songs are still heard today. “Smoke Gets In our Eyes” is probably the most familiar. His major works include operettas (“The Desert Song” and “Rose-Marie”) and musicals (No, No, Nanette” and “Roberta”).
What brought him to my attention was a collection of classic Broadway songs by the Robert Shaw Chorale, issued over 57 years ago. He contributed lyrics to several of them. What interested me was that his words were musical in themselves; graceful little poems which elicited equally graceful music from a variety of composers.
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Here’s a sample from 1910, an early work with Hoschna:
"Ev’ry little movement has a meaning all its own,
"Ev’ry thought and feeling by some posture can be shown,
"And ev’ry love thought
"That comes a-stealing
"O’er your being must be revealing,
"All its sweetness in some appealing
"Little gesture all all its own."
That practically sings itself. It’s definitely out of date, but so am I. It was still sufficiently well-known for Doris Day to sing it in a 1951 movie, “On Moonlight Bay.” In 1962, it was featured in "Yours Is My Heart Alone,” a double-LP release by the Robert Shaw Chorale. It’s a record I still play.
As his fame and fortune grew, Otto simplified the spelling of his last name. If it has any currency today, it’s because Knox College’s splendid 699-seat theater is named for him. I attended the opening of the Otto Harbach Theater years ago and every time I encounter mention of it, I remember the delightfully old-fashioned songs by the poetic lyricist who was born 146 years ago today.
Great hammock music.