A Song Is Born
|A Song Is Born|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Howard Hawks|
|Produced by||Samuel Goldwyn|
|Written by||Billy Wilder (story)
Thomas Monroe (story)
Harry Tugend (uncredited)
|Music by||Hugo Friedhofer
|Edited by||Daniel Mandell|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Box office||$2.4 million (US rentals)|
A Song Is Born (also known as That's Life) is a 1948 Technicolor musical film remake of the 1941 movie Ball of Fire with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. It was directed by Howard Hawks from an original story by Billy Wilder, produced by Samuel Goldwyn and released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Filmed in Technicolor, it featured a stellar supporting cast of musical legends, including Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Benny Carter. Other notable musicians playing themselves in the cast include Charlie Barnet, Mel Powell, Harry Babasin, Louis Bellson, Al Hendrickson, The Golden Gate Quartet, Russo and the Samba Kings, The Page Cavanaugh Trio, and Buck and Bubbles. Other actors include Steve Cochran and Hugh Herbert.
Mild-mannered Professor Hobart Frisbee (Danny Kaye) and his fellow academics, among them Professor Magenbruch (Benny Goodman), are writing a musical encyclopedia. In the process, they discover that there is some new popular music that is called jazz, swing, boogie woogie or rebop, introduced to them by two window washers Buck and Bubbles. The professors become entangled in the problems of nightclub singer Honey Swanson (Virginia Mayo). She needs a place to hide out from the police, who want to question her about her gangster boyfriend Tony Crow (Steve Cochran). She invites herself into their sheltered household, over Frisbee's objections. While there, she introduces them to the latest in jazz, with which they are unfamiliar, giving the film an excuse to feature many of the best musicians of the era. The songs they play include "A Song Is Born", "Daddy-O", "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", "Flying Home", and "Redskin Rumba".
- Danny Kaye as Professor Hobart Frisbee
- Virginia Mayo as Honey Swanson
- Benny Goodman as Professor Magenbruch
- Tommy Dorsey as Himself
- Louis Armstrong as Himself
- Lionel Hampton as Himself
- Charlie Barnet as Himself
- Mel Powell as Himself
- Harry Babasin as Himself
- Ford Washington Lee as Buck (as Buck and Bubbles)
- John William Sublett as Bubbles (as Buck and Bubbles)
- Page Cavanaugh Trio as Themselves
- The Golden Gate Quartet as Themselves
- Samba Kings as Themselves (as Russo and the Samba Kings)
- Hugh Herbert as Professor Twingle
- Steve Cochran as Tony Crow
- Felix Bressart as Professor Gerkikoff
Kaye's personal writer/composer, Sylvia Fine, who also happened to be Kaye's wife, refused to take part in any more of his projects because Kaye had recently left her for actress Eve Arden. Kaye didn't want anyone else writing songs for him, so he simply did not perform any songs in the film.
Hawks had almost no interest in the film, and only came to work on it because of the $250,000 paycheck. When speaking of the film, he said "Danny Kaye had separated from his wife, and he was a basket case, stopping work to see a psychiatrist [every] day. He was about as funny as a crutch. I never thought anything in that picture was funny. It was an altogether horrible experience." 
A Song Is Born was the number one film in the country from the time of its release until November 1948, while Hawks's other film (and in his opinion, best) Red River, was second. However, A Song Is Born never broke even, only earning about $2.2 million, while Red River went on to gross $4.1 million. It was shown on American Movie Classics, hosted by Nick Clooney, and has been released on home video in both VHS and DVD formats.
- "A Song is Born: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
- [https://archive.org/stream/variety169-1948-02#page/n133/mode/1up Variety 18 February 1948 p 14
- "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
- A Song Is Born at the TCM Movie Database
- "A Song Is Born". Tcm.com. 1948-09-29. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
- Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye. Martin Gottfried. Simon and Schuster, 1994, ISBN 0-7432-4476-1
- "A Song is Born: Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Louis Bellson, Benny Goodman, Sidney Blackmer, Felix Bressart, J. Edward Bromberg, Buck and Bubbles, Howland Chamberlain, Lane Chandler, Ben Chasen, Steve Cochran, Joseph Crehan, Esther Dale, Joe Devlin, Tommy Dorsey, Robert Dudley, Jack Gargan, Karen X. Gaylord, The Golden Gate Quartet: Movies & TV". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-09-08.