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Fields, Dorothy


(b Allenhurst, NJ, 15 July 1905; d New York, 28 March 1974). American lyricist and librettist. She was the youngest member of a celebrated show business family: her father Lew Fields was a popular dialect comedian who later became a successful Broadway producer and her brothers Joseph and Herbert Fields were recognized librettists and playwrights. Discouraged by the family from going on the stage, she wrote light verse as a schoolgirl and after graduation teamed up with composer Jimmy McHugh; they contributed songs to various Broadway revues, most memorably Blackbirds of 1928. She went out to Hollywood in 1929 and, working with McHugh, Kern and others, wrote the scores for several films, including the popular Swing Time (1936) with the song ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ that won an Academy Award. Returning to New York in 1939 she joined her brother Herbert and wrote the librettos for several Cole Porter musicals and for Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1946). In the 1950s Fields teamed up with composer Arthur Schwartz to work on a handful of respected musicals, such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951), and later enjoyed a resurgence of popularity with Sweet Charity (1966) and Seesaw (1973) with Cy Coleman. Dorothy Fields had one of the longest writing careers in the American theatre, nearly 50 years, and her flexibility in writing all kinds of songs for both kinds of media was impressive. Her lyrics are distinguished by their vitality and seamless connection to the music as if her words explode or bounce off the melodies of her various composers.

WORKS


(selective list)

names of composers given in parentheses


stage


dates are those of the first New York performance

Blackbirds of 1928 (J. McHugh), 9 May 1928 [incl. I can't give you anything but love, Diga Diga Doo, Doin' the New Low Down]

The International Revue (McHugh), 25 Feb 1930 [incl. Exactly Like You, On the Sunny Side of the Street]

Stars in Your Eyes (A. Schwartz), 9 Feb 1939 [incl. It's all yours]

Let's Face It (C. Porter), 29 Oct 1941 [libretto only]; film 1943

Mexican Hayride (Porter), 28 Jan 1944 [libretto only]; film 1948

Up in Central Park (S. Romberg), 27 Jan 1945 [incl. Close as Pages in a Book, April Snow); film 1948

Annie Get Your Gun (I. Berlin), 16 May 1946 [libretto only]; film 1950

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Schwartz), 19 April 1951 [incl. Look who's dancing, Love is the reason, Make the man love me]

By the Beautiful Sea (Schwartz), 8 April 1954 [incl. Alone too Long]

Sweet Charity (C. Coleman), 29 Jan 1966 [incl. Big Spender, Baby, dream your dream, If my friends could see me now]; film 1969

Seesaw (Coleman), 18 March 1973 [incl. It's not where you start, Nobody does it like me]

film


The Time and the Place and the Girl (McHugh), 1929; Dancing Lady (McHugh), 1933; Roberta (McHugh and J. Kern), 1935 [incl. Lovely to Look At, I won't dance]; Every Night at Eight (McHugh), 1935 [incl. I feel a song coming on, I'm in the mood for love]; Swing Time (Kern), 1936 [incl. The Way you Look Tonight, A Fine Romance, Bojangles of Harlem, Never Gonna Dance]; Joy of Living (Kern), 1938 [incl. You couldn't be cuter]; Lovely to Look At (Kern), 1952 [incl. I'll be hard to handle]

BIBLIOGRAPHY


L. Engel: Their Words are Music: the Great Theatre Lyricists and their Lyrics (New York, 1975)

P. Furia: The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: a History of America's Greatest Lyricists (New York, 1990)

T.S. Hischak: Word Crazy: Broadway Lyricists from Cohan to Sondheim (Westport, CT, 1991)

A. Fields and L.M. Fields: From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theater (New York, 1993)

D.G. Winer: On the Sunny Side of the Street: the Life and Lyrics of Dorothy Fields (New York, 1997)

THOMAS S. HISCHAK


Fields, Dame Gracie [Stansfield, Grace]


(b Rochdale, 9 June 1898; d Capri, 27 Sept 1979). English singer. As a child she appeared in music hall and then toured with revue before appearing in London at the Middlesex Music Hall (1915). She had her first major success in the long-running Mr. Tower of London (1918–25) alongside the comedian Archie Pitt, who also became her first husband in 1923. After a single straight acting role as Lady Weir in SOS (1928) she returned to revue, made the first of many appearances at Royal Variety performances, and in 1930 successfully launched her career in America. During the 1930s she consolidated her position as one of the highest earning performers in the world with stage appearances, tours and recordings. Through her 16 films (1931–46), particularly those of the 1930s, her public persona was set as a working class ‘Lancashire lass’, optimistic and generous of heart. The song ‘Sally’ (Sally in our Alley, 1931) became closely identified with her for the rest of her life, while the title song of Sing as we Go (1934) and ‘Wish me luck (as you wave me goodbye)’ (Shipyard Sally, 1939), along with many other successful numbers, were written by her regular accompanist Harry Parr Davies, also a successful West End composer. Having left Pitt, by 1938 Fields was living with the film director Monty Banks; at the outbreak of war they left for Canada and the USA, marrying in Santa Monica in 1940. The idea that Fields had deserted Britain in order to avoid Banks’s internment as an Italian national rather than as a result of Churchill’s request for her to go to the USA for fund-raising and propaganda caused much public hostility that was only gradually eroded as she performed for the Allied troops on extensive and arduous tours during the war. From the early 1950s and for the rest of her life she alternated periods of concentrated performance, including tours of Britain, Canada and Australia (1964), and the USA (1965), with long stays at her home on Capri. Her public appearances in older age were enthusiastically received, and she continued to record and perform occasionally on stage and television until a few months before her death at the age of 81.

Her voice, although untrained, was strong and vibrant with a phenomenal range and ease of its use; her recording of Why can’t you? (1929) demonstrates an extraordinary natural coloratura, and her role in the circus scene of The Show’s the Thing, also in 1929, was appropriately ‘The Lady with the Elastic Voice’. With a performing style rooted in music hall, she used an exaggerated sentimentality that was nonetheless genuine; she was also a natural comedian, and songs such as The Biggest Aspidistra in the World and In my Little Bottom Drawer were strangely paired to great effect with overtly emotional renditions of numbers that included Ave Maria, The Lord’s Prayer and Danny Boy. She was made a CBE in 1938, the first variety performer to receive such an honour, and a DBE in 1978.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


G. Fields: Sing As We Go (London, 1960) [autobiography]

J. Moule: Our Gracie (London, 1983)

D. Bret: Gracie Fields (London, 1995) [incl. complete discography]

JOHN SNELSON




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