E.Y. Harburg (Isidore Hochberg)
BiographyNew York City, New York, USA
One of the great lyricists of American song, Edgar Yipsel Harburg (born Isidore Hochberg) grew up in the working-class Jewish ghetto of Manhattan's Lower East Side. In high school, he befriended Ira Gershwin, later his collaborator on student literary ventures at City College of New York; both also contributed to F.P. Adams' column in the daily New York World, the city's leading outlet for light verse. After graduation in 1917, during the wartime manpower shortage, Harburg landed a lucrative job in Uruguay with the Swift & Co. meat-packing firm. Read more... an appliance business that thrived for most of the 1920s but failed around the time of the 1929 stock market crash. Harburg determined to make a living at lyric writing; Gershwin provided a $500 loan and an introduction to the composer Jay Gorney. They collaborated on songs for Broadway revues and a number that Helen Morgan sang in two early film musicals; in 1932, they wrote Harburg's breakthrough, the unemployment anthem "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" In that year, for Broadway shows opening a few days apart, Harburg wrote "April in Paris" (with Vernon Duke) and, with Harold Arlen, "It's Only a Paper Moon." For the next 12 years, for theater and movies, Arlen was Harburg's most important collaborator; the partnership peaked with The Wizard of Oz (1939). Although he contributed to a number of films in the 1940s, Harburg's best work in those years was for Broadway's "Bloomer Girl" (with Arlen) and, with Burton Lane, "Finian's Rainbow." Both shows featured Harburg's lyrical dexterity ("When I'm not facing the face that I fancy, I fancy the face I face") and social commentary (both shows satirized racism and capitalism). His liberalism led to Harburg's blacklisting by Hollywood in the 1950s, helping to ensure that "Finian" would not be filmed for decades. Harburg continued to write, with Jule Styne, Earl Robinson and others, into his eighties.