Otto Abels Harbach
Writer, Lyricist, Librettist, Professor, Newspaper Man, Advertising Executive, ASCAP Founder and Director
Otto Harbach gave up careers as professor of English, New York newspaperman, and advertising executive for the musical stage. He had minor successes with his early collaborator, Karl Hoschna, but later turned out hit after hit.
Rose Marie, Harbach’s play with Lucien Hubbard, was a silent film with Joan Crawford before becoming a successful operetta in 1924 with music by Rudolph Friml. The 1936 film Rose Marie starred Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in memorable performances of its title cut and “Indian Love Call.” Another partnership with Friml produced The Firefly, which was adapted for film in 1937 by Ogden Nash and included the additional song “Donkey Serenade”.
Sunny (1924), a play written with Oscar Hammerstein II, became a musical starring Marilyn Miller. In addition to the title cut, Jerome Kern’s score also produced “Who.” In 1930 another Harbach play became the musical No, No Nanette with music by Vincent Youmans. Two of the hit songs were “I Want to Be Happy” and “Tea for Two,” the latter, the title of a 1950 Hollywood musical starring Doris Day.
Harbach adapted the Alice Duer Miller novel, Gowns By Roberta, for the operetta, Roberta in 1935. With Kern’s music and Harbach’s lyrics it produced “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “The Touch of Your Hand,” and “Yesterdays.” Taking an additional song, “Lovely to Love At,” as its title, Roberta became a film in 1952.
The Desert Song, the 1926 operetta with book by Harbach, music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, starred the duo of MacDonald and Eddy in the 1940 film where they again thrilled audiences with the hit title song and “One Alone”.
In 1914 Harbach founded the American Society for Authors, Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), serving as a director (1920-1963), vice president (1936-1940) and president (1950-1953).
-- Sandra Burlingame
Courtesy of JazzStandards.com