Song-stories, in which lyrics were acted out without any musicians appearing on screen, were a familiar Soundies format, especially during the first two years of weekly releases. Minoco Productions, based in New York City, really had the formula down pat, as one can see from this version of the standard tune I’m Just Wild About Harry.
Song-stories made a great deal of business sense, allowing producers to share some of the most popular of current (or past) hits, but also creating the visual variety that each reel of eight Soundies required. The cost of sets, costumes and, in the case of this short, rear projection and special effects, was balanced by savings achieved by not having to pay for musicians’ sideline appearances.
While song-stories could be slapdash, and even cheap, we have a fine exception here. The production values, strong for a Soundies short, are coupled with a terrific song and a cute idea. The tune, “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” would have been familiar to most viewers, even though it was twenty years old. “I’m Just Wild About Harry” came from the pens of Noble Sissle (lyrics) and Eubie Blake (music) and was written in 1921 for one of the earliest Black Broadway musicals, Shuffle Along. It wasa smash hit that ran for more than 500 performances.
While group members will probably be familiar with the melody, vocalist Eleanor French will be unknown to most … but not to those who visited cabarets and night clubs in the early 1940s. French spent time in both Manhattan and Chicago, and the entertainment trades noted extended engagements at the famed Stork Club in New York City and equally famous Camellia House at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. Peter Garey, who plays the part of Harry in this Soundie, told me, “Eleanor was a sweet, lovely young lady, but get her on stage and she was a bundle of energy. She was a café performer, but she played in the elegant places like the Rainbow Room. She wouldn’t have been booked into joints or dives.” French certainly has a wonderful voice, and she puts across this song with particular panache.
Part of the high regard afforded Ms. French can be seen in the fact that she was paid $275 to appear in four Soundies, a nice amount for two-and-a-half day’s work 1941. In addition, French was given some superior music to perform. At a time when the typical royalty to publishers was $75, versus a five cent per print guarantee, Eleanor was asked to perform “I’m Just Wild About Harry” ($165 publishers fee), “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” ($165), and the Bing Crosby hit, “You’re Dangerous” ($100).
Fine orchestral accompaniment is provided by a band of CBS radio musicians under the baton of staff arranger Claude Garreau. Everything works here, and if you will allow me to be off the cob for just a second, I’m just wild about this Soundie.