Life and career
Gorney was born Abraham Jacob Gornetzsky on December 12, 1896, in Białystok, Russia (now part of Poland), the son of Frieda (Perlstein) and Jacob Gornetzsky. His family was Jewish. In 1906, he witnessed the Bialystock pogrom, which forced his family into hiding for nearly two weeks, after which they fled to the United States arriving on 14 September 1906. His family settled in Detroit, Michigan where his father became an engineer at the newly formed Ford Motor Company. His mother bought a piano for her children. After two years of lessons, at age 14, Gorney was offered a job as a pianist at a local Nickelodeon.
He worked his way through the University of Michigan (Class of 1917), and the University of Michigan Law School (Class of 1919), as a pianist. His studies were interrupted by World War I, during which he enlisted in the Navy. After graduating, he practiced law only briefly, then turned instead to his love of music, relocating with his wife to New York City, where he began his song writing career on Tin Pan Alley. He contributed numerous songs to musicals by the Shubert brothers. Later, Ira Gershwin introduced him to lyricist Yip Harburg, who became a frequent collaborator. The pair's most famous song was "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," based on a lullaby that Gorney learned as a child in Russia. It first appeared in the 1932 Shubert production of New Americana and became the anthem of the Great Depression. The Gorney-Harburg partnership ended when Harburg took up with Gorney's wife, whom he subsequently married.
Gorney is credited with bringing Shirley Temple to 20th Century-Fox (then known as Fox Films). It was while walking out the viewing of her last Frolics of Youth picture that Gorney saw her dancing in the movie theater lobby. Recognizing her from the screen, he arranged for her to have a tryout for the movie Stand Up and Cheer!, which he was working on as a songwriter. The role, which featured Temple singing Baby Take a Bow (which was co-written by Gorney) with James Dunn, turned out to be a breakthrough role for Temple. The song would become the title for Baby Take a Bow, the first film by Fox to feature Temple in a starring role.
Gorney's second marriage was to public relations consultant Sondra Karyl (Kattlove). Their daughter, Karen Lynn Gorney, is an actress and dancer who was in the original cast of All My Children, and starred opposite John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Gorney has two sons, Dr. Rodney Gorney (with first wife Edelaine Roden) and Dan Gorney (with Sondra Karyl).
Gorney's 2005 biography, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? The Life of Composer Jay Gorney, was written by his widow Sondra.
- Jay Gorney on IMDb
- SondraGorney.com - Website of Jay Gorney's widow, Sondra, featuring information on her late husband
- GorneyMusicPublishing.com - Jay Gorney's website created by Sondra Gorney, Daniel Gorney, and Karen Lynn Gorney
- Jay Gorney's scores are housed in the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Jay Gorney papers, 1896-1993, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- A collection of material relating to Jay Gorney is housed in the Great American Songbook Foundation archives