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Burton Lane and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”

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Burton Lane (February 2, 1912 – January 5, 1997) was an American composer and lyricist whose most popular and successful works include Finian’s Rainbow and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.  Lane was born Morris Hyman Kushner on February 2, 1912, in New York City, NY, the younger of two sons of Lazarus Levy, a successful New York real estate man, and his wife, Frances Fink Levy, an amateur pianist, and raised on Manhattan’s West Side.  Encouraged by his mother, he studied classical piano when a child and was educated at the High School of Commerce, where he played viola and cello in the school orchestra and where his first musical compositions were marches, and Dwight Academy.

At age fourteen the theatrical producers the Shuberts commissioned Lane to write songs for a revue, Greenwich Village Follies. At fifteen, he decided to quit high school after he got a job as a staff writer for the Remick Music Company.  After meeting George Gershwin, who was then an established composer although not yet thirty, he was a private music student of Simon Bucharoff.  Some later time he became known as Burton Levy, and still later as Burton Lane. He wrote the Broadway stage scores for “Earl Carroll Vanities of 1931.”  Also he wrote the music for the less remembered Broadway shows, Hold On to Your Hats (1940) and Laffing Room Only (1944).

In 1935, the year he married Marian Seaman, Lane is credited with discovering the 13-year-old Frances Gumm (Judy Garland). He caught her sisters’ act at the Paramount theater in Hollywood which featured a movie and a live stage show. The sisters, Virginia and Mary Jane, brought on their younger sister, Frances, who sang “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.” Lane immediately called Jack Robbins, head of the music department at MGM, and told him he’d just heard a great new talent.  Lane played the audition piano for her.  Robbins got Louis B. Mayer down to listen to her belt out some songs. Frances (Judy) was signed, and that was the start of her career. Because of circumstance, and contractual arrangements, Burton Lane didn’t work with her again for seven years (Babes on Broadway), but it was definitely he who discovered her.

Lane’s first big hit was the Broadway musical Finian’s Rainbow (1947), which ran for 725 performances at the 46th Street Theater. It received wide praise for its clarion score and a book that was socially advanced for its time, constructed around a leprechaun and his pot of gold and a bigoted Senator from the South.  However, Lane mainly wrote music for films, such as Dancing Lady and Babes on Broadway, writing for more than 30 movies, including the film Royal Wedding (1951). Many of his films attracted little attention.  Among them were the movies ”Give a Girl a Break” (1953), starring Marge and Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds and Bob Fosse, and ”Jupiter’s Darling” (1955).  He was president of the American Guild of Authors and Composers from 1957 and for the next 10 terms, during which period he campaigned against music piracy. He also served three terms on the board of directors of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Lane’s next big hit was On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965).  He shared a Grammy Award in 1965 for Best Broadway Cast Album of the year (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever).  Finian’s Rainbow was also made into a film starring Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, in 1968, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever became a feature film in 1970..  Lane was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.  His Carmelina (1979) had lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, who had also written lyrics to Lane’s music for On a Clear Day.  Lane’s best-known songs include “Old Devil Moon,” “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?”, “Too Late Now,” “How About You?”, and the title song from “On a Clear Day.”   Though he rarely composed during his last two decades, he worked tirelessly as the president of the American Guild of Composers and Authors.  He died on January 5, 1997, at the age of 84, in New York City, NY.

The following work by Burton Lane is contained in my collection:

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965): Come Back to Me.

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