Burton Lane

On this date in 1912, composer Burton Lane (né Levy) was born in New York City. “How Are Things in Gloccamorra?” “Old Devil Moon,” “On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever” and “How About You?” (one of two songs nominated for an Oscar) are a few of the beloved standards written by Lane that have made it into the Great American Songbook. His most popular work was the score for the hit 1947 Broadway musical “Finian’s Rainbow,” on which he collaborated with the 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 studied classical piano as a child and had his first published song when he was 15. When he was 17, he met George Gershwin and was introduced into the society of first-rank songwriters.

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.

There is no proper biography of Lane but FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker interviewed his widow Lynn Lane in 2009 on Freethought Radio during the revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” on Broadway. Barker asked her how Burton got along with 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.”

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.” (D. 1997)

Freedom From Religion Foundation