Tuesday, March 13, 2012

TIN PAN ALLEY CATS: Fred Fischer and Gustav Manz

"Peg O'My Heart"featured in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1913 (Image from NYPL Digital Gallery)

Penciled into Gustav's stockbook is the name of the originator of such toe-tapping tunes as "Chicago, That Toddlin' Town..." (1922), torchy songs like "I'd Rather Be Blue" and "My Man" (1928, with Billy Rose), and ethnic kitsch like "Peg O'My Heart" (1913)—which must have sounded very Lawrence Welk in its symphonic Aeolian player organ song-roll form. 

Fred Fischer, who composed and published these and scores of other American songbook standards, was born to American parents in 1875 in Cologne, Germany. Fred's father, Max Fischer, was a traveling glove salesman; his mother, Theodora von Breitenbach, was a writer and journalist involved with the Baron Von Hirsch Institute. According to web sources, Fischer ran away from home at 13 and joined the Prussian Navy, served in the French Foreign legion, and worked as a traveling salesman in India and the U.S., before emigrating to America in the early 1900s. He started his songwriting career while working for a Chicago music publisher, went on to became a Tin Pan Alley fixture, then—when radio cut into demand for sheet music—got his second wind in Hollywood writing for silent films and Ziegfeld-esque musical reviews (one of them, "A Tableau of Jewels," featured an exotic dancer in pasties emerging from her art-deco shell...) before moving back to New York. 

Fred Fischer aspired to write serious music but found greater renown composing music for Vaudeville review stars like Blossom Seeley—a Burlesque performer known as the "Queen of Syncopation" 

In late December 1915, Fischer was on the cusp of 40 and a new father to his first child, Doris. War had broken out, but professionally he'd had a strong year, with a new hit ("Siam"). Prone to bouts of melancholy, Fischer (who would eventually drop the "c" in his name, to make it less Germanic) needed additional cheering up before New Year's Eve revels, and called on Gustav Manz's workshop (then located a few blocks east of Tin Pan Alley, at 37 E 28th Street) to purchase one of Manz's signature rings—a gold panther crouched over a cabochon topaz embedded in a leafy setting. 

Gustav Manz Panther and Topaz ring 
Purchased by Fred Fischer in December 1915
Image property of Gustav Manz LLC

Panther and Snake ring, circa 1910-20, Gustav Manz
Copyright (c) Gustav Manz LLC

Following her dad's path, Doris Fischer grew up to be a popular radio singer and  songwriter (her first hit was "Tutti Frutti"; "You Always Hurt the One You Love" was a million-seller for the crooning Mills brothers), though after marrying she retired early from showbiz and started a second career as an interior designer,  helping Jack and Jackie Kennedy locate period pieces for their White House makeover. Her brothers, Dan and Marvin, who inherited their father's music publishing business, also wrote some great tunes (Dan: "Good Morning Heartache"; Marvin: "When Sunny Gets Blue").

According to the New York Times, Fred Fischer wrote or published a thousand songs. Paramount produced a musical "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" based on his life story (though the title song was written by Irving Berlin)

As for Fred, Billboard's March 1949 Honor Roll of Popular Songwriters noted that he never lost his thick German accent, was a rabid baseball fan and rooter of the Yankees, and had a standing offer of $50 for anyone who could make him laugh. Incredibly prolific, he even wrote his own swan song (plagued by ill health, he committed suicide in January 1942). The chorus ran: "In my ranch 'way up in heaven, with the old gang around/Just the promised land for an old cowhand in my happy huntin' ground..." More details on this lyrical American family here and here.

Doris Fisher (photo: San Francisco Jazz Organization)

If we find a downloadable performance of "Siam" we'll post. For now, here are the lyrics by Howard Johnson (who also wrote the words for "Ice Cream" though no relation of the hotelier)

Music By Fred Fischer
Words by Howard Johnson
Published 1915 by Leo. Feist Inc.

[Verse 1]
'Cross the de-sert night winds are blow-ing,
to my lone-ly tent I creep,
All the stars for you are 'a-glow-ing,
do you won-der, why I weep? Ah!
Si-am I'm so lone-some where I am
If you love your O-mar Khay-am,
You'll un-der-stand, and,
Come to my Per-sian gar-den,
I'll ask the Gods for par-don,
as be-fore the Tem-ple door we stand,While hand in hand,
There's lots of room here on this rug of mine for two,
I on-ly want my lit-tle jug of wine and you.
Si-am I'm so lone-some where I am
You know who's wait-ing for you,
when you come from Si-am,
Your O-mar Khay-am.
[Verse 2]
I'll be pray-ing, dear, for your car-a-van,
to bring you straight to me,
When I greet you, I'll be a hap-py man,
to love you con-stant-ly. Ah!
[Repeat Chorus]
(transcription courtesy of Parlor Songs) 

recorded by Billy Murray in Camden, NJ on September 5, 1916


Copyright © Laura Mathews, 2014 

All Rights Reserved 


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