Words and Music by Jack Lawrence & Ted Shapiro
Some Of The Best Recordings
Nat King Cole
Heard On Screen
For sheet music contact: www.halleonard.com
The Story Behind The Song
At this time in the music business there had been so many complaints from parents about suggestive lyrics that the media began to censor songs. Cole Porter had a current show that had made a brand new star out of a young lady named Mary Martin.
She appeared in one scene wrapped in a mink coat with very little on underneath and sang a double entendre number titled "My Heart Belongs To Daddy". All the critics raved about Mary and that song but the media censored it and no recordings could be made. I was called in by the publisher to clean up the lyric and make it a romantic song. My version was recorded and broadcast and resulted in a big hit. Cole paid me for my job (the munificent sum of $250.00!) but of course, I was given no credit for the rewrite.
As a result of my rewriting "Daddy" for Cole Porter and his subsequent engagement of me to up-date material in "Leave It To Me," I got to know Sophie Tucker and her long time accompanist, Ted Shapiro. Ted had worked and traveled with Sophie all over the world for many years. Aside from appearing nightly in Porter's show, Sophie and Ted were doing late night turns at the Latin Quarter on Broadway and they invited me to catch their act.
Sophie was a big draw and the club was packed. She was a remarkable performer — in a true old time vaudeville tradition. There wasn't much of a voice; she had always been more of a diseuse than a chanteuse — an interpreter of songs. Towards the latter part of her performance, Sophie would go into a spiel about her autobiography and tell audiences that the proceeds went to charity. She actually did a ten-minute pitch and offered to sign purchased copies after the show.
During Sophie's spiel I became conscious of an interesting melody that Ted kept playing as a low background. Ted was an old time songwriter; in 1929 he and Reg Connelly had written a song that became the Prince of Wales' favorite and an international hit: "If I Had You." When he returned to my table, I asked him what that melody was that he kept playing during Sophie's talk? "Oh," he replied, "I just keep noodling!" I suggested that he give me a lead sheet of his "noodling" and that's how "A Handful Of Stars" was born. As you see, songs can happen in the strangest ways.
When "A Handful Of Stars" was riding high on the charts with fabulous recordings by Johnny Mathis, Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey, the censors were still busily at work. I was always amused that they didn't blue pencil my following conclusive lines:
Our hearts were madly beating,
I knew what I was intending to say — but I guess the censors merely assumed that "Venus melting into Mars" was sheer poetry! I love Nat Cole's recording best.
One final note: when a dear friend of mine, Tallulah Bankhead was signed to do her network Sunday broadcasts with famous guest stars each week, she picked as her opening song for the program, "A Handful Of Stars" — a most appropriate title.
Copyright © 2005 Jack Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.