Johnny Green (10 October 1908 – 15 May 1989) was an American songwriter, composer, musical arranger, and conductor. He was given the nickname "Beulah" by colleague Conrad Salinger. His most famous song was one of his earliest, "Body and Soul". Green was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.
John Waldo Green was born in New York City, the son of musical parents. He attended Horace Mann School and the New York Military Academy, and was accepted by Harvard at the age of 15, entering the University in 1924. His musical tutors were Herman Wasserman, Ignace Hilsberg and Walter Spalding. Between semesters, Bandleader Guy Lombardoheard his Harvard Gold Coast Orchestra and hired him to create dance arrangements for his nationally famous orchestra. His first song hit, Coquette (1928), was written for Lombardo (with Carmen Lombardo, Guy's brother, and lyricist Gus Kahn). Green was educated in music, history, economics, and government. His instruments were the piano and the trombone, although he abandoned the latter after college.
His father compelled him to take a job as a stockbroker. Disliking the job, and encouraged by his wife, the former Carol Faulk (to whom he dedicated "I'm Yours"), he left Wall Street to pursue a musical career.
Green wrote a number of songs which have become jazz standards, including "Out of Nowhere" and "Body and Soul". He wrote the scores for various films and TV programs.
His earliest songs appeared with the billing "John W. Green," a styling he reverted to in the 1960s. After that anyone addressing "Johnny" was put right with the statement, "You can call me John - or you can call me Maestro!"
At the beginning of his musical career he arranged for dance orchestras, most notably Jean Goldkette on NBC. He was accompanist/arranger to musicians such as James Melton,Libby Holman and Ethel Merman. It was while writing material for Gertrude Lawrence that he composed "Body and Soul", the first recording of which was made by Jack Hylton & His Orchestra eleven days before the song was copyrighted.
Between 1930 and 1933 he was the arranger and conductor for Paramount Pictures and worked with singers Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence and James Melton.
Green composed many of his hit standards during the 1930s, including "Out of Nowhere", co-authored with Edward Heyman (1931), "Rain Rain Go Away" (1932), "I Cover the Waterfront", "You're Mine You", and "I Wanna Be Loved" (all 1933), and "Easy Come Easy Go" and the wonderful, but obscure "Repeal The Blues" (both 1934). He also composed the theme for Max Fleischer's Betty Boop cartoons in 1932, with Edward Heyman as lyricist.
After 1933 he had his own orchestra which he used to play around the country. He also, until 1940, conducted orchestras for the Jack Benny and Philip Morris records and radio shows.
Carnegie Hall and Astoria Studios
Nathaniel Shilkret and Paul Whiteman commissioned Green to write larger works for orchestra, such as Nightclub, premiered by Whiteman at Carnegie Hall in 1933 with Green on solo piano. During the early '30s he also wrote music for numerous films at Paramount's Astoria Studios; conducted in East Coast theatres; and toured vaudeville as musical director for Buddy Rogers. During his two and a half years at Paramount Astoria, he was able to learn more about film scoring from veterans Adolph Deutsch and Frank Tours.
London, radio, and recordings
Green spent much of 1933 in London, where he contributed songs to both Mr. Whittington, a musical comedy for Jack Buchanan at the London Hippodrome, and to Big Business, the first musical comedy ever written especially for BBC Radio.
On Green's return to the U.S.A. early in 1934, William Paley, president of the Columbia Broadcasting System and an investor in New York's St. Regis Hotel, encouraged him to form what became known as Johnny Green, His Piano and Orchestra. (Green added, "My arm didn't need much twisting.") The orchestra, based for a time at the St. Regis, featured Green's piano and arrangements, whose harmony and mood were among the most sophisticated of the day. It made dance records for the Columbia and Brunswickcompanies, although in the Depression even the most popular records sold only in small numbers.
In 1935 Green starred on CBS' Socony Sketchbook, sponsored by Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. He lured the young California singer Virginia Verrill to headline with him on the Friday evening broadcasts. His regular cast included his band singers Marjory Logan and Jimmy Farrell, essayist Christopher Morley, and stage-screen favorites the Four Eton Boys. A bigger venture yet in commercial radio was The Fred Astaire Hour (aka The Packard Hour), sponsored by Packard Motors over NBC in 1936 and co-featuring tenor Allan Jones and the comedy of Charles Butterworth. Green's band also backed Astaire on a series of classic recording dates, in both New York and Hollywood, in 1935-'37. He also served as musical director for The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny during its 1935-36 season on NBC.
Piano, film, and MGM
He continued conducting on radio and in theatres into the 1940s, also leading a dance band for the short-lived Royale Records label in 1939-40, until he decided to move permanently to Hollywood and work in the film business. Green particularly made an impression at MGM, where in the 1940s, along with orchestrator Conrad Salinger, he was one of the musicians most responsible for changing the overall sound of the MGM Symphony Orchestra, partially through the re-seating of some of the players. This is why the overall orchestral sound of MGM's musicals from the mid-1940s onward is different from the orchestral sound of those made from 1929 until about 1944.
Green was the Music Director at MGM from 1949 to 1959. He produced numerous film scores, such as the one for Raintree County. On loan out to Universal, he composed the songs for the Deanna Durbin musical, "Something in the Wind", one of her last films before retiring.
Nominated for an Oscar thirteen times, he won the award for Easter Parade, An American in Paris, West Side Story, and Oliver!, as well as a producer for the short "The Merry Wives of Windsor Overture", which won in the Short Subjects (One-Reel) category in 1954. The short subject featured Green conducting the MGM Orchestra on screen in the music from the opera of the same name by Otto Nicolai.
After leaving MGM, he guest conducted with various orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Denver Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra.
He was also hired to create the televised Guinness advertisement known as the "World" ad campaign. He recruited a team which included set designer Grant Major and Oscar nominated director of photography Wally Pfisher to complete the job.
Johnny Green's credits as musical executive, arranger, conductor and composer are considerable but include such films as Raintree County, Bathing Beauty, Easy to Wed,Something in the Wind, Easter Parade (for which he won his first Academy Award), Summer Stock, An American in Paris (which won him his second Academy Award), Royal Wedding, High Society and West Side Story (another Academy Award winner for him). Although Green was musical director on these films, however, the orchestrations were usually done by someone else - in the case of the MGM musicals, it was usually Conrad Salinger, and in the case of West Side Story, it was Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal.
As mentioned earlier, Green conducted the orchestra for such famous MGM musicals as An American in Paris, as well as for United Artists' 1961 film version of West Side Story.
In 1965, Green conducted the music for that year's new adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's only musical for television, Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren, Walter Pidgeon, Ginger Rogers, and Stuart Damon.
Johnny Green also adapted, orchestrated and conducted the music for the film Oliver! (1968), based on the hit musical play, and won an Academy Award for his efforts. He also wrote much of the incidental music heard in the film, basing it on Lionel Bart's songs for the original show. His daughter, Kathe, dubbed Mark Lester's singing voice in the film.
Green was a respected board member of ASCAP, and guest conductor with symphonies around the world, including the Hollywood Bowl, Denver Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and more. He was a chairman of the music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, leading the orchestra through 17 of the Academy Award telecasts, and a producer of television specials.
He married three times, had a daughter with actress Betty Furness and two daughters with MGM "Glamazon" Bunny Waters, including actress and singer Kathe Green.
It was during his first marriage to Carol Faulk that most of his hit standards were composed. Before the marriage ended in the mid '30s, Carol remarked, "We didn't have children, we had songs."