Burton Lane

Photo with permission by Lynn lane Photo with permission by Lynn lane

On this date in 1912, composer Burton Lane was born in New York City. “How Are Things in Gloccamorra?”, “Old Devil Moon,” “On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever,” “How About You?” (one of two songs nominated for an Oscar) — these are a few of the beloved standards written by composer Burton Lane that have made it into the Great American Songbook. His most popular work was the score for the hit Broadway musical "Finian’s Rainbow," on which he collaborated with the witty and irreverent lyricist Yip Harburg. Lane was one of the rare composers who was able to work successfully in Broadway as well as Hollywood, writing musicals and composing music for more than 30 movies (including “Dancing Lady” with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, “Singin’ in the Rain” with Gene Kelly, and “Babes on Broadway” with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland). He had studied classical piano as a child, and had his first published song when he was 15. When he was 17, he met the Gershwins and was introduced into the society of first-rank songwriters. (Ira Gershwin introduced him to Yip Harburg.) Lane is also known for having discovered Frances Gumm (who changed her name to Judy Garland) in 1934. He had heard the 11-year-old girl singing in a theater, and was so impressed with her talent that he immediately set up an audition with MGM executives where he played the piano as she charmed Hollywood, and eventually the world.

There is no proper biography of Burton Lane, but FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker interviewed his widow Lynn Lane on Freethought Radio during the revival of "Finian’s Rainbow" on Broadway in 2009–2010. Barker asked Ms. Lane how her nonbelieving husband got along with Yip Harburg, who was known for his agnostic and progressive views. “They were exactly on the same wavelength,” she told us. “Yip was writing the words, so more of what he felt was evident in his work. When you’re writing the music, there are no lyrics, so what you get, you get from the melody, and that does not show your political opinions. I don’t think there was anything, of any real consequence, that Burton and Yip disagreed about” (Freethought Radio, 2009). Burton Lane was president of the American Guild of Authors and Composers and served on the board of directors of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. He also collaborated with Alan Jay Lerner (“On A Clear Day”). Other well-known songs he wrote include “Look to the Rainbow,” “If This Isn’t Love,” and “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” (Songwriters Hall of Fame). Said Barker: "Burton Lane, who didn’t mind mocking religion, came up with a creative melody that matches the genius of Yip’s whimsical, freethought lyrics." D. 1997.

"The Lord made Adam. The Lord made Eve.
He made them both a little bit naive.
They lived as free as the summer breeze,
Without pajamas and without chemise,
Until they stumbled on the apple tree.

Then she looked at him, and he looked at her,
And they knew immediately what the world was fer.
He said “Give me my cane.” He said “Give me my hat.
The time has come to begin the begat.”

So they begat Cain, and they begat Abel,
Who begat the rabble at the Tower of Babel.
They begat the Cohens, and they begat O’Rourkes.
And they begat the people who believe in storks . . ."

—Lyrics from "Finian's Rainbow" song, "The Begats," by Burton Lane

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch, with help from Dan Barker

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