Back in 1961, Lucille Ball was going to be making her Broadway debut in the musical, Wildcat (about oil wildcatters in Oklahoma), written by Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman.
(Carolyn Leigh deserves her own tale, one of the best, little-known lyricists in Broadway history, but unfortunately she died quite young. Among her shows were the hit, Little Me, that starred Sid Caesar and was recently revived with Martin Short, and How Now , Dow Jones, a fluffy musical that has a wonderful score. But by far her best-known show was Peter Pan. Though that score was split between two teams, the other being Jule Styne and Comden & Green, the work that Carolyn Leigh did with Moose Charlap was among its most memorable, including "I've Gotta Crow" and "I'm Flying.")
Anyway, back to Wildcat.
The big problem that Leigh and Coleman had was that, knowing it was Lucille Ball's Broadway debut, they felt they needed a song that was really special for her entrance. But they were stumped. Everything they tried was just wrong. (I came upon the story years ago in Stanley Green's book, The World of Musical Comedy.)
After a couple of weeks, she asked Coleman, "Cy, if you didn't care at all, if it wasn't the opening number and it wasn't for Lucille Ball making her stage debut, and it was just a simple number for the scene and the character, what would you write?"
Coleman thought a bit and eventually answered, "If this number weren't so important, I'd just write something as corny and as simple as this..." And then he played the light-hearted opening bars of a song. Both of them laughed and then ignored it as wrong, and went back to work.
But the subconscious works in funny ways, and Carolyn Leigh apparently kept thinking about that music. A couple days later, she was at home and called up Coleman. "Remember that tune you played for Lucy's opening number? As long as we're making jokes, how's this for a lyrics?" And she read him the opening couple of lines for a song that would become a standard. And then added, "Isn't that funny, Cy?"
Here's that song, performed on The Ed Sullivan Show by Lucille Ball and Paula Stewart.
I've seen a slightly longer version of this video, that includes their entrance and some more dialogue, but it's disappeared from that site, and I can't find it elsewhere. Not only will this have to do -- it does just fine.
Wonderfully, in fact.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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