Harold Arlen

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Harold Arlen
Arlen in 1960
Hyman Arluck

(1905-02-15)February 15, 1905
DiedApril 23, 1986(1986-04-23) (aged 81)
Resting placeFerncliff Cemetery
(m. 1937; died 1970)
ChildrenAdopted his brother's son in 1985[1]

Harold Arlen (born Hyman Arluck; February 15, 1905 – April 23, 1986) was an American composer of popular music,[2] who composed over 500 songs, a number of which have become known worldwide. In addition to composing the songs for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz (lyrics by Yip Harburg), including "Over the Rainbow", which won him the Oscar for Best Original Song, he was nominated as composer for 8 other Oscar awards. Arlen is a highly regarded contributor to the Great American Songbook. "Over the Rainbow" was voted the 20th century's No. 1 song by the RIAA and the NEA.[3][4]

Life and career[edit]

Arlen was born in Buffalo, New York, the child of a Jewish cantor.[2] His twin brother died the next day. He learned to play the piano as a youth, and formed a band as a young man. He achieved some local success as a pianist and singer before moving to New York City in his early twenties, where he worked as an accompanist in vaudeville[5] and changed his name to Harold Arlen. Between 1926 and about 1934, Arlen appeared occasionally as a band vocalist on records by The Buffalodians, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Leo Reisman, and Eddie Duchin, usually singing his own compositions.

In 1929, Arlen composed his first well-known song: "Get Happy" (with lyrics by Ted Koehler).[2] Throughout the early and mid-1930s, Arlen and Koehler wrote shows for the Cotton Club, a popular Harlem night club, as well as for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films.[2] Arlen and Koehler's partnership resulted in a number of hit songs, including the familiar standards "Let's Fall in Love" and "Stormy Weather".[2] Arlen continued to perform as a pianist and vocalist with some success, most notably on records with Leo Reisman's society dance orchestra.

In the mid-1930s, Arlen married, and spent increasing time in California, writing for movie musicals. It was at this time that he began working with lyricist E. Y. "Yip" Harburg.[2] In 1938, the team was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz,[2] the most famous of which is "Over the Rainbow", for which they won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. They also wrote "Down with Love" (featured in the 1937 Broadway show Hooray for What!), "Lydia the Tattooed Lady", for Groucho Marx in At the Circus in 1939, and "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe", for Ethel Waters in the 1943 movie Cabin in the Sky.[2]

Arlen was a longtime friend and onetime roommate of actor Ray Bolger, who starred in The Wizard of Oz.

In the 1940s, he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Mercer, and continued to write hit songs like "Blues in the Night", "Out of this World", "That Old Black Magic", "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive", "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home", "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)".[2]

Arlen composed two of the defining songs of Judy Garland's career: "Over the Rainbow" and "The Man That Got Away", the last written for the 1954 version of the film A Star Is Born.[2] At her famous 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, after finishing a set of his songs, Garland acknowledged Arlen in the audience and invited him to receive an ovation.

Arlen recorded his debut album as a vocalist, Harold Sings Arlen (With Friend), in 1966. Barbra Streisand accompanied him on two songs.[6]

Marriage and death[edit]

Arlen and Anya Taranda married on January 6, 1937, over the objection of their parents, because she was Gentile and he was Jewish. In 1951, Anya was institutionalized for seven years. Coming home the same year that Celia Arnuk (Harold's mother) had died,[7] she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1969, which became fatal by 1970.[8] Arlen never remarried. He died of cancer on April 23, 1986, at his Manhattan apartment at the age of eighty-one.[8][9] Arlen is buried next to his wife at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. After Arlen's death, Irving Berlin summed up his life at a tribute, saying: "He wasn't as well known as some of us, but he was a better songwriter than most of us and he will be missed by all of us."[10]

Shortly before his death, Arlen adopted his own nephew, Samuel, the 22 year old adult son of his brother Julius "Jerry" Arluck; his estate would have an heir in order to extend his copyright.[11] Known as Samuel Arlen, he is a musician in his own right, as both a saxophonist as well as a music publisher;[12] his control extends to the company that owns the rights to the Arlen catalog.


Arlen (left) performs with Peggy Lee and Vic Damone in 1961
  • 1905 Arlen born in Buffalo, New York
  • 1920 (age 15) He formed his first professional band, Hyman Arluck's Snappy Trio.
  • 1921 (16) Against his parents' wishes he left home.
  • 1923 (18) With his new band – The Southbound Shufflers, performed on the Crystal Beach lake boat "Canadiana" during the summer of 1923.
  • 1924 (19) Performed at Lake Shore Manor during the summer of 1924.
  • 1924 (19) Wrote his first song, collaborating with friend Hyman Cheiffetz to write "My Gal, My Pal". Copyrighting the song as "My Gal, Won't You Please Come Back to Me?" and listed lyrics by Cheiffetz and music by Harold Arluck.
  • 1925 (20) Makes his way to New York City with the group, The Buffalodians, with Arlen playing piano.
  • 1926 (21) Had first published song, collaborating with Dick George to compose "Minor Gaff (Blues Fantasy)" under the name Harold Arluck.
  • 1928 (23) Hyman (or Chaim (Hebrew name meaning life)) Arluck renames himself Harold Arlen.
  • 1929 (24) Landed a singing and acting role as Cokey Joe in the musical The Great Day.
  • 1929 (24) Composed his first well known song – "Get Happy" – under the name Harold Arlen.
  • 1929 (24) Signed a yearlong song writing contract with the George and Arthur Piantadosi firm.
  • 1930–1934 (25–29) Wrote music for the Cotton Club.
  • 1933 (28) At a party, along with partner Ted Koehler, wrote the major hit song "Stormy Weather"
  • 1934 (29) Wrote "Ill Wind (You're Blowin' Me No Good)" with lyrics by Ted Koehler for their last show at the Cotton Club Parade, in 1934, which was sung by Adelaide Hall[13]
  • 1935 (30) Went back to California after being signed by Samuel Goldwyn to write songs for the film Strike Me Pink.
  • 1937 (32) Composed the score for the Broadway musical Hooray for What!. Married 22-year-old Anya Taranda, a celebrated Powers Agency model and former Earl Carroll and Busby Berkeley showgirl, actress, and one of the Original "Breck Girls".
  • 1938 (33) Hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to compose songs for The Wizard of Oz.
  • 1938 (33) While driving along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and stopping in front of Schwab's Drug Store, he came up with the song "Over the Rainbow".
  • 1939 (34) Wrote music for the Marx Brothers' film At the Circus.
  • 1941 (36) Wrote "Blues in the Night"
  • 1942 (37) Along with Johnny Mercer, he wrote one of his most famous songs, "That Old Black Magic".
  • 1943 (38) Wrote "My Shining Hour"
  • 1944 (39) While driving with songwriter partner Johnny Mercer came up with the song "Accentuate the Positive".
  • 1945 (40) In a single evening's work in October with Johnny Mercer, came up with the song "Come Rain or Come Shine".
  • 1949 (44) Collaborated with Ralph Blane to write the score for My Blue Heaven.
  • 1950 (45) Worked with old pal Johnny Mercer on the film The Petty Girl, out of which came the song "Fancy Free".
  • 1951 (46) His wife Anya was institutionalized in a sanitarium for 7 years.
  • 1952 (47) Teamed up with Dorothy Fields on the film The Farmer Takes a Wife.
  • 1953 (48) Harold's father, Cantor Samuel Arluck, died.
  • 1954 (49) The musical A Star is Born starring Judy Garland singing the now classic, Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin collaboration, "The Man That Got Away".
  • 1954 (49) Becomes dangerously ill with a bleeding ulcer and is hospitalized but recovers to work with Truman Capote on the musical House of Flowers.
  • 1958 (53) His mother Celia Arluck dies and Harold does not touch music for over a year, mourning her loss.
  • 1962 (56) Wrote the score for the animated musical Gay Purr-ee, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg.
  • 1970 (65) Arlen's wife Anya Taranda dies from a brain tumor. Arlen begins to lose interest in life, withdrawing from friends and family and becoming more reclusive.
  • 1974 (69) The theme song for the ABC sitcom Paper Moon is based on the song of that title, written by Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg in 1932. The series was based on a 1973 Peter Bogdanovich film of the same name, which used the same song.
  • 1979 (74) Is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[14]
  • 1985 (80) Adopts Samuel ("Sammy"), son of his younger brother Jerry and Rita Arluck as his son and primary heir.[1]
  • 1986 (81) Harold Arlen dies in New York City and is interred next to his wife at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Works for Broadway[edit]

Major songs[edit]



  • Jablonski, Edward (1961). Harold Arlen: Happy With the Blues. Doubleday. ASIN B0007DP988.
  • Jablonski, Edward (1996). Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues. University Press of New England. ISBN 978-1555532635.
  • Rimler, Walter (2015). The Man That Got Away: The Life and Songs of Harold Arlen. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252039461.


  1. ^ a b Jablonski, Edward (1996). Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues. University Press of New England. p. 360. ISBN 978-1555532635.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 50. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ "Honors & Awards". Haroldarlen.com. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  4. ^ "New song list puts 'Rainbow' way up high – CNN". Archives.cnn.com. March 7, 2001. Archived from the original on July 7, 2009. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  5. ^ Laurie, Joe Jr. (1953). Vaudeville: From the Honky Tonks to the Palace. New York: Henry Holt. p. 328. ASIN B000NRYS3A.
  6. ^ Harold Sings Arlen (With Friend) at AllMusic
  7. ^ Singer, Barry (December 6, 2017). "Harold Arlen at 110: Before It's Too Late". huffpost.com. Huffpost. Retrieved October 27, 2023. ... In November 1958, Arlen's mother, Celia Arluck, died. Shortly thereafter, perhaps not coincidentally, Anya Arlen came home ...
  8. ^ a b "Come Rain or Come Shine". The New Yorker. September 12, 2005. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  9. ^ Pace, Eric (April 24, 1986). "Harold Arlen, Composer of Song Standards". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Jablonski, Edward (1998). Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues. UPNE. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-1-55553-366-3.
  11. ^ Singer, Barry (December 6, 2017). "Harold Arlen at 110: Before It's Too Late". huffpost.com. Huffpost. Retrieved October 27, 2023. ... Harold Arlen adopted Samuel as his own son, though Jerry Arlen was still alive ...
  12. ^ Arlen, Samuel. "The Music of Sam Arlen - Biography". The Music of Sam Arlen. samarlen.com. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  13. ^ Williams, Iain Cameron (2002). Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall. Continuum Publishing. ISBN 0826458939.
  14. ^ Johnston, Laurie (November 19, 1979). "Theater Hall of Fame Enshrines 51 Artists" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2014.

External links[edit]