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`Hooray for Hollywood' Johnny Mercer & Richard A. Whiting / 1937

October 22, 2006|Geoff Boucher

AFTER a certain age, anthems reveal more about their audiences than their creators. Take "Hooray for Hollywood," a jaunty and apparently indestructible tune that orchestras everywhere (especially those employed by awards show producers) use to instantly conjure up the glamour and glory of Tinseltown. On closer inspection, though, it's not exactly the pretty postcard most people think.


Hooray for Hollywood!

Where you're terrific

if you're even good!

Where anyone at all from Shirley Temple

to Aimee Semple is equally understood

Come on and try your luck

You could be Donald Duck


The allusion to child-star icon Temple and the comely evangelist Semple were just a few of the fun name-drops by Mercer that showed that he was thinking more about an of-the-moment and cynical ditty, not some civic soundtrack for the ages. The tune also gave a nod to scandalous dancer Sally Rand (And any barmaid / Can be a star maid / If she dances with or without a fan) and cosmetics king Max Factor (You may be homely in your neighborhood / Still, if you think that you can be an actor / See Mr. Factor) but somehow daydreamers everywhere only heard a come-hither marching tune that filled westbound trains for years.

The song first appeared in one of Busby Berkeley's less-remembered films, "Hollywood Hotel," but it was via awards shows and news reels that it became an anthem. "That song, it became the sound of Hollywood, or what people thought was Hollywood," says Mitzi Gaynor of the ditty by her good friend Mercer. Gaynor, known to film fans for "South Pacific" and "There's No Business Like Show Business," calls the song a "time capsule with a catchy tune," and with a sad voice she pines for the era it celebrated -- even if "it made fun of it too."

Gaynor herself performed "Hooray for Hollywood" only once and, fittingly, it was when she was part of the anthem's target audience, not a star. She was 7 or 8 and singing in a show at an Elks Lodge in Detroit. She was so nervous she wet her pants before racing off the stage in a panic. But after a costume change she dashed back out, interrupted a confused fellow performer and finished her solo in the spotlight. "I got a standing ovation," she said proudly. "Now, isn't that just like the real Hollywood?"

-- Geoff Boucher

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