April 5, 2017
In my last post, I mentioned Jack Lawrence, who wrote the song “If I Didn’t Care,” which became the signature of The Ink Spots. Their recording of that song in 1939 sold 19 million copies and still ranks as the tenth best-selling single of all time.
Still, that barely scratched the surface where Lawrence was concerned—either professionally or personally. In terms of his profession, consider this:
- “Play, Fiddle, Play,” 1932, which Lawrence wrote when he was 20 years old, became an international hit, a favorite of singers, violinists, and orchestras. It earned Lawrence membership in ASCAP at that young age.
- “All Or Nothing At All,” 1939, with music by Arthur Altman, was Frank Sinatra’s first solo hit.
- “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” 1939, with music by Frank Churchill, became a children’s classic.
- “Yes, My Darling Daughter,” 1940, which Lawrence wrote using music from a Ukrainian folk song, was introduced by Dinah Shore on Eddie Cantor’s radio show, and it was Dinah Shore’s first recording—and a hit.
- “By the Sleepy Lagoon,” 1940, with music written by Eric Coates in 1930, provided hit records for the Harry James Orchestra, Dina Shore, Glenn Miller, Fred Waring and others, including—in 1960—The Platters.
- “Linda,” 1942, which Lawrence wrote during his tour of duty with the Maritime Service during World War II, was published in 1946. The recording in which Buddy Clark sang this song with the Ray Noble Orchestra, was on the Billboard charts for 17 weeks, peaking at No. 1. The title referred to the five-year-old daughter of Lawrence’s attorney, Lee Eastman. Linda Eastman would be known to later generations as Linda McCartney.
- “Heave Ho, My Lads! Heave Ho!” 1943, which Lawrence wrote while he was a bandleader at the Maritime Service Sheepshead Bay Training Center, became the official anthem of the Service and the Merchant Marine.
- “Tenderly,” 1946, with music by Walter Gross, was a hit for Sarah Vaughan in 1947, but went on to become the theme song for Rosemary Clooney.
- “Beyond the Sea,” 1946, with music from Charles Trenet’s “La Mer,” became indelibly associated with Bobby Darin.
- “Hold My Hand,” 1950, which Lawrence wrote with Richard Myers, was used in the 1954 film Susan Slept Here and nominated for an Academy Award as best song.
In later life, Lawrence owned two New York theaters, and his credits as a producer included “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music” and “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.”
Lawrence was born in Brooklyn and, although he was already writing songs when he was still a child, he acceded to his parents’ wishes and, after completing high school, received a doctorate in podiatry—a specialty that was not destined to be his career.
Lawrence was gay, and he was the longtime partner of Dr. Walter David Myden, a psychologist and a social worker in Los Angeles. The men met while serving in the Maritime Service. By the 1960s, their relationship was well known in their circles.
Lawrence and Myden were major art collectors and, in 1968, they donated about 100 20th century works to the American Pavilion of Art and Design at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. An interview concerning that donation, published in The New York Times, made no attempt to disguise their relationship—an unusual circumstance at the time but one that Lawrence and Myden could carry off with confidence and dignity. They were major supporters of the Israel Museum, which had just been established. Their donations in 1968 included works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Ben Shahn, John Marin, and Morris Graves.
Myden died suddenly of a heart attack in 1975, but Lawrence lived to the age of 96, dying in 2009 after a fall at his Connecticut home.