Harry Richman

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Harry Richman (born Henry Reichman Jr.,[1] August 10, 1895 – November 3, 1972) was an American entertainer. He was a singer, actor, dancer, comedian, pianist, songwriter, bandleader, and night club performer, at his most popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Personal Details[edit]

Lobby card for Puttin' On the Ritz (1930)

Richman was born in Cincinnati, Ohio to Russian Jewish parents Henry and Katie (née' Golder) Reichman. Harry's father died when he was 14 years old.[2]

He married three times. Yvonne Epstein, in 1918. He married Hazel Forbes, show girl and Ziegfeld Girl, in March 1938, in Palm Springs, California. He and Forbes shared a sumptuous home in Beechhurst, Long Island. By 1942 Forbes was divorced from Richman. He then married Yvonne Day in 1943. All three marriages ended in divorce.

He was reportedly a close and personal friend of Bob Hope, letting Bob out of the musical when Say When was set to close; something Bob Hope never forgot.[3]

Richman largely retired in the 1940s, although he made irregular appearances, including on television, into the 1950s.

Having spent most of his fortune lavishly, his final years were mostly impoverished. He suffered from a long string of illness over several years before his death. Harry Richman died in Hollywood, California.[4]

Professional career[edit]

He started playing piano in a Cincinnati saloon at age 10. At 18, he changed his name to "Harry Richman", by which time he was already a professional entertainer in vaudeville. In his peak years, Harry Richman had been one of the highest‐paid performers in show business. [5] He claimed to be making $25,000 a week in 1931 ($415,000 in 2018 dollars) [6] He also owned a popular night club - a Speakeasy, "Club Richman", which was located next to Carnegie Hall. The room was large, seating 240 people. It was designed to look like a patio with fake windows that opened out to scenes painted in the windows. The roof was painted with stars to reflect the spotlight on the performers.[7] It was a popular location till it burned down in 1929.

Eventually known for his nasal baritone, he started out and worked as a piano accompanist to such stars as Mae West and Nora Bayes. With Bayes' act he made his Broadway debut in 1922. He appeared in several editions of the George White's Scandals in the 1920s to acclaim. Becoming a name, he appeared in "Scandals" as Master of Ceremonies in 1926; where on opening night the first seven rows of the orchestra commanded $50 a seat ($700 in 2018 dollars).[8] He appeared in the 1931 Ziegfeld Follies.[9]

He made his feature movie debut in Hollywood in 1930 with the film Puttin' on the Ritz, featuring the Irving Berlin song of the same title, which gave Richman a phonograph record hit that year. His film career was short lived due to his somewhat overpowering personality, and his limited acting skills. This made little difference to his career as he remained a popular nightclub host and stage performer.

Leonard Maltin is widely quoted as having written of Puttin' on the Ritz: "A songwriter drinks and goes blind – after seeing this you'll want to do the same". In fact the actual quote is "Famed nightclub entertainer Richman made his film debut in this primitive early talkie about vaudevillian who can't handle success and turns to drink. You may do the same after watching Richman's performance – though he does introduce the title song by Irving Berlin."

In 1940, he sang "God Bless American" for the National Democratic Convention - Chicago Illinois.[10]

He also made regular radio broadcasts in the 1930s.

Hobbies and Adventures[edit]

He enjoyed sailing however, his yacht Chevalier II exploded in July 1931.[11]

Richman was also an amateur aviator of some accomplishment, being the co-pilot in 1936, with famed flyer Henry Tindall "Dick" Merrill, of the first round-trip transatlantic flight in his own single-engine Vultee transport. Richman had filled much of the empty space of the aircraft with ping pong balls as a flotation aid in case they were forced down in the Atlantic. They were forced to land in Wales in 18 hours and 38 minutes. After returning from the flight he sold autographed ones until his death. They continue to turn up on eBay to this day.

Autobiography[edit]

His autobiography A Hell of a Life was published in 1966.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0725030/
  2. ^ Cullen, Frank & Florence Hackman, "Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America", page 929
  3. ^ Strait, Raymond, 1999, "Bob Hope: A Tribute"
  4. ^ New York Times, "Harry Richman is Dead at 77: Broadway Singer of the 1930's", November 4, 1972, Page 35
  5. ^ New York Times, "Harry Richman is Dead at 77: Broadway Singer of the 1930's", November 4, 1972, Page 36
  6. ^ Slide, Anthony, 2012, "The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville", Page 418
  7. ^ Wilson, Victoria, 2007, "A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940"
  8. ^ Smith, Cecil & Glenn Litton, 1950, "Musical Comedy in America: From The Black Crook to South Pacific", Page 144
  9. ^ Bergreen, Laurence, 1961, "As Thousands Cheer: The Life Of Irving Berlin", Page 288
  10. ^ National Document Publishers, 1940, "Official Report of the Proceedings of the Democratic National Convention and Committee", Page 29
  11. ^ Maeder, Jay (September 22, 1999). "Called by Angels Helen Walsh". New York Daily News. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Oderman, Stuart, Talking to the Piano Player 2. BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN 1-59393-320-7.
  • Richman, Harry, A Hell of a Life, New York, 1966

External links[edit]