Sunday, July 4, 2021

Sunday with Sammy - Part 1

The biggest song hit in The Wizard of Oz was not about getting back home, traveling down the yellow brick road, or obtaining brains, heart, or courage. Rather, the hit of the show was "Sammy," a plaintive paean sung by Mabel Barrison, who played the role of former waitress Tryxie Tryfle, to a "fine and dandy" boy that her heart still ached for.

"Sammy" featured music by Edward Hutchison and lyrics by James O'Dea. The sheet music is far and away the most common title from The Wizard of Oz, and the song was also the most recorded number from the show, with over fifteen recordings on cylinder and 78rpm record, as well as music box discs in various sizes and formats.

Advertisement from Chicago Tribune,  July 13, 1902

Click here to listen to "Sammy" as performed in the 1982 concert version

Over the next several installments of this "Sammy" series of posts, I'll be sharing various stories on the creation of the song, its performance history, and some unusual variations of its published form. 

Below is one of the most interesting of the "creation" stories. It comes from L. Frank Baum himself. Unfortunately, little of Baum's tale is true—entertaining though it may be. As Paul Tietjens's first wife, Eunice Tietjens, said in her autobiography, "Everything that [Frank Baum] said had to be taken with at least a half-pound of salt."

The following article appeared June 11, 1903, in the Birmingham, Alabama, Age-Herald.

"Sammy" Song Written in a Hurry.

"The 'Sammy' song, which is one of the hits of The Wizard of Oz, was composed by Mabel Barrison like a flash of lightning—or, to be more exact, she wrote the words and set them to music in forty-three minutes," said a well-known musician yesterday. Mr. L. Frank Baum, author of the book of The Wizard of Oz, tells the matter thus—whether he is writing seriously or is having fun must be left to the discretion of the reader:

"She completed the work at 5 o'clock on the afternoon of the initial production of The Wizard of Oz. But at that time Mr. Moulton, the musical director, had gone home to put on his dress suit and he did not reach the theatre until late, so that the orchestra was just being rung in when a rough copy of Miss Barrison's forty-three minute song was handed him, with the request that he orchestrate it.

"Realizing that his time was short, Mr. Moulton began orchestrating 'Sammy' between the musical numbers of the Wizard, but only four bars were completed for each of the twenty-four musicians when the time came for Miss Barrison to sing her song. Nothing daunted, however, the intrepid leader signaled to the orchestra to begin, and then, leaving it to conduct itself, he made his pen fairly fly over the paper, with the result that he kept ahead of the orchestra during the entire song, and the musicians were obliged to pause only at the last note—which delay was not noticed by the audience.

"While the house echoed with applause Mr. Moulton turned to me and, shaking the perspiration from the end of his nose, remarked: 'That, I believe, is the quickest orchestration on record.' Yet so excellently was the work done that Messrs. O'Dea and Hutchison (under which nom d'Apollo Miss Barrison composed the song of 'Sammy') did not care afterward to alter the score save in a single instance—Mr. Moulton, in his haste having inadvertently sharped a note for the bass drum instead of flatting it."

Baum's tongue is lodged firmly in his cheek for much of his story. He even ends the tale with a musical joke. A bass drum is not a pitched instrument. You either beat the drum or you don't. The idea of sharping or flatting the drum, much less upon a specified note, is nonsensical. As is the idea that the conductor of the show could orchestrate a number during a performance.

Neil McNeil as Pastoria and Mabel Barrison as Tryxie Tryfle (1902).
But Mabel Barrison had wanted to make the most of landing the role of Tryxie Tryfle, her first featured part in a show. Prior to The Wizard of Oz, her stage roles had been limited to being a member of the chorus. Wizard was her chance to shine and she wanted a standout number in the show. She probably pushed hard for a show-stopping number, which she found in "Sammy," and she may well have told Baum (and others) that she had been instrumental in writing it, though I doubt she wrote any actual lyric, and certainly didn't write a note of the tune.

Next time on "Sunday with Sammy," I'll tell you a different story about the creation of this "fine and dandy" hit from The Wizard of Oz.


Copyright © 2021 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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