The majestic Paulette Attie...What she said
and what she wrote...in her own words...
was the mid 1960's and I was a new kid on the block. In this case, the block
was the sidewalks of New York, and I had my own radio show, Paulette
Attiie's Musical Playbill on WNYC AM and FM. I was thrilled, because the
show was on my two favorite subjects: music and the theatre. I knew from the
start that I wanted to interview Johnny Mercer, but he was then living in Los
Angeles. My parents conveniently lived in L.A., so I packed up my reel to reel
tape recorder and got myself to L.A. I taped some other musical legends while
in L.A. - Gene Kelly, Jimmy Mc. Hugh, John Green , but Johnny was the only one
I invited to my parents home for our taping. I thought my parents would enjoy
meeting him as well, and sure enough, my mother, father and Johnny got along
like they were old friends. You couldn't ask for a more congenial and engaging
person to interview. He shared many stories about his early days, his work
habits and his thoughts about songwriting. These insights should be in a
textbook for aspiring songwriters.
Johnny told the story about
going to a Theatre Guild audition for a review being put together called
The Garrick Gaieties. He found out that they were looking for songs, so he
wrote "Out of Breath and Scared to Death" the night after his audition,
presented it the next day, and as he put it, "they put the song, in the show
instead of me." When I asked him how he was able to come up with a song that
quickly, he said, "When you're young and when you're hungry, you can
accomplish an awful lot." We later spoke about the wide breadth and range of
his songs, from "Dearly Beloved" to "Accentuate the Positive." He believed a
well rounded songwriter has to be able to write every kind of song. When I
asked him about "That Old Black Magic," he generously credited Cole Porter,
saying the Porter lyric, "Do do that voo doo that you do so well," always
appealed to him and was a source of inspiration for "That Old Black Magic."
Great source and great results, I'd say. On each of my radio shows, I sang a
song by the guest being interviewed. "I Wanna Be Around" was my choice for our
first interview, and "I Wonder What Became of Me" was my choice for the
second show. Johnny graciously complimented my renditions of his songs. But I
considered his subsequent visits to me in New York an even greater compliment.
We spoke about, you guessed it, lyrics and music.
One time, he talked about
writing down song ideas right away when they come to you. To paraphrase his
reason, he said, if you think of it, the vibrations are already in the air,
and if you let time pass, someone else might pick up the idea and write it
down before you do. Johnny was any easy going, "Any Place I Hang My Hat is
Home" kind of guy, yet he was diligent and meticulous about his work. And
then, as Julius La Rosa mentions in his article about Johnny, -there were
those wonderful annual Christmas cards, which included uplifting poems and
pictures of him with Ginger. I had many outstanding guests on, Paulette
Attie's Musical Playbill: Johnny, Harold Arlen, Burton Lane, Cy Coleman,
Dorothy Fields, Mary Rodgers, "Yip" Harburg, to name a few, but Johnny was the
most fun of them all.