Dorothy Fields

Dorothy Fields (July 15, 1904[1] – March 28, 1974) was an American librettist and lyricist. She wrote over 400 songs for Broadway musicals and films. Her best-known pieces include "The Way You Look Tonight" (1936), "A Fine Romance" (1936), "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (1930), "Don't Blame Me" (1948), "Pick Yourself Up" (1936), "I'm in the Mood for Love" (1935), "You Couldn't Be Cuter" (1938) and "Big Spender" (1966). Throughout her career, she collaborated with various influential figures in the American musical theater, including Jerome Kern, Cy Coleman, Irving Berlin, and Jimmy McHugh. Along with Ann Ronell, Dana Suesse, Bernice Petkere, and Kay Swift, she was one of the first successful Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood female songwriters.

Dorothy Fields
Dorothy Fields and Arthur Schwartz NYWTS
Dorothy Fields working with Arthur Schwartz on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951)
Background information
BornJuly 15, 1904
Allenhurst, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedMarch 28, 1974 (aged 69)
New York City, U.S.
Associated acts

Early life

Fields was born in Allenhurst, New Jersey, and grew up in New York City.[2] In 1923, Fields graduated from the Benjamin School for Girls in New York City. At school, she was outstanding in the subjects of English, drama, and basketball. Her poems were even published in the school's literary magazine.

Her family was deeply involved in show business. Her father, Lew Fields, was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who partnered with Joe Weber to become one of the most popular comedy duos near the end of the nineteenth century. They were known as the Weber and Fields vaudeville act. When the duo separated in 1904, Lew Fields went on to further his career in another direction, by becoming one of the most influential theater producers of his time. From 1904 until 1916, he produced about 40 Broadway shows, and was even nicknamed “The King of Musical Comedy” because of his achievements. Her mother was Rose Harris. She had two older brothers, Joseph and Herbert, who also became successful on Broadway: Joseph as a writer and producer, and Herbert as a writer who later became Dorothy's collaborator.

Despite her natural familial connections to the theatre via her father, he disapproved of her choice to pursue acting and did everything he could to prevent her from becoming a serious actress. This began when he refused to let her take a job with a stock company in Yonkers. Hence Dorothy began working as a teacher and a laboratory assistant, whilst secretly submitting work to magazines.


Katharine Cornell, Aline MacMahon and Dorothy Fields serve soldiers played by Lon McCallister and Michael Harrison in the film, Stage Door Canteen (1943)

In 1926, Fields met the popular song composer J. Fred Coots, who proposed that the two begin writing songs together. Nothing actually came out of this interaction and introduction; however, Coots introduced Fields to another composer and song-plugger, Jimmy McHugh.[3]

Fields's career as a professional songwriter took off in 1928 when Jimmy McHugh, who had seen some of her early work, invited her to provide some lyrics for him for Blackbirds of 1928. The show, starring Adelaide Hall, became a Broadway hit.[4] Fields and McHugh teamed up until 1935. Songs from this period include "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" (1928), "Exactly Like You" (1930), and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (1930). During the later 1920s, she and McHugh wrote specialty numbers for the various Cotton Club revues, many of which were recorded by Duke Ellington.

In the mid 1930s, Fields started to write lyrics for films and collaborated with other composers, including Jerome Kern. With Kern, she worked on the movie version of Roberta, and also on their greatest success, Swing Time. The song "The Way You Look Tonight" earned the Fields/Kern team an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936.[5]

She wrote the lyrics for the songs in the 1936 movie The King Steps Out, based on the early years of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, directed by Josef von Sternberg.

Fields returned to New York and worked again on Broadway shows, but now as a librettist, first with Arthur Schwartz on Stars In Your Eyes. (They reteamed in 1951 for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.) In the 1940s, she teamed up with her brother Herbert Fields, with whom she wrote the books for three Cole Porter shows, Let's Face It!, Something for the Boys, and Mexican Hayride.

In 1946, Fields approached Oscar Hammerstein II with her idea for a new musical based on the life of famous female sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Hammerstein liked the idea and agreed to produce the show. Kern and Fields were signed on to write the songs in the show. Kern died before the two were able to begin working on the project, and Irving Berlin was hired to replace him.[3]

Together, she and her brother Herbert wrote the book for Annie Get Your Gun, while Berlin provided all the music. The show, starring Ethel Merman, was a huge success, running for 1,147 performances.[3]

In the 1950s, her biggest success was the show Redhead (1959), which won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. When she started collaborating with Cy Coleman in the 1960s, her career took a new turn. Their first work together was Sweet Charity. Her last hit was from their second collaboration in 1973, Seesaw. The show began on Broadway on March 18, 1973, and ended its run on December 8, 1973. Its signature song was "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish."

Throughout her 48-year career, Fields cowrote more than 400 songs and worked on 15 stage musicals and 26 movies. Her lyrics were known for their strong characterization, clarity in language, and humor. She was an amateur pianist and a lifelong lover of classical music; the awareness of melodic lines that this fostered in her was of value in the task of fitting lyrics to melodies.[3]

Fields' professional longevity was rare at the time for a songwriter; it was underpinned by her imagination and her willingness to adapt to changing trends in American musical theater.[3]

Fields is a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame, inducted posthumously in 1988.[6]

Personal life

Fields had highly disciplined work habits. She was known to spend about eight weeks researching, discussing, and making notes on a project, before finally returning to her regular 8:30 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. daily work routine.[3]

Fields died of a heart attack on March 28, 1974, at the age of 69. The New York Times reported "Dorothy Fields, the versatile songwriter whose career spanned nearly 50 years, died of a heart attack last night at her home here."[7] She was the sister of writers Herbert and Joseph Fields. She was introduced to Eli Lahm by his close friend Herbert Sondheim, the father of Stephen Sondheim, who affectionately referred to her as Aunt Dorothy growing up.[8] Fields married Lahm in 1939, and they had two children, David and Eliza. Lahm died in 1958.[3]

Cultural references

Thirty-five years after her death, President Barack Obama, in his inauguration speech as 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009, echoed lyrics by Fields when he said, "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America".[9] This alludes to the song "Pick Yourself Up" from the 1936 film Swing Time, for which Jerome Kern had written the music, in which Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire sang Fields's words, "Pick yourself up; dust yourself off; start all over again".[10]


  1. ^ The Dorothy Fields Website
  2. ^ Klein, Alvin; Emblen, Mary L. (October 4, 1992). "New Jersey Guide". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Dorothy Fields | The Stars | Broadway: The American Musical | PBS". Broadway: The American Musical. Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  4. ^ Williams, Iain Cameron. Underneath a Harlem Moon: The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall. Bloomsbury Publishers, ISBN 0-8264-5893-9.
  5. ^ "Women Songwriters"
  6. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame Adds Nine New Names". New York Times. November 22, 1988. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  7. ^ "Dorothy Fields, Lyricist, Dies". The New York Times. March 29, 1974. p. 38.
  8. ^ Stephen Sondheim, "Saturday Night" Finishing the Hat (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), p. 9.
  9. ^ Obama calls for American renewal, January 20, 2009, Boston Globe
  10. ^ "Pick Yourself Up" Lyrics, Web site Reel Classics

External links

A Fine Romance (song)

"A Fine Romance" is a popular song composed by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, published in 1936.

The song was written for the musical film, Swing Time, where it was co-introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Astaire recorded a solo version of the song on July 28, 1936 for Brunswick records (catalog 7716) and it topped the charts of the day for five weeks. Billie Holiday recorded the song for Vocalion Records on September 29, 1936 and this too reached the charts of the day as did versions by Henry King and Guy Lombardo.In Hollywood, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald recorded their version of the song in the summer of 1957. In 1963, Fitzgerald included a solo rendition on her Verve Records album, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook, produced by Norman Granz.

In a version sung by Judi Dench it also became the theme song of A Fine Romance, a British television series starring Dench and her husband Michael Williams.

In the film Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), the song is performed by Virginia O'Brien.

A recording by Lena Horne features in the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1993). The song also features in the stage musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert – the Musical.

Arthur Schwartz

Arthur Schwartz (November 25, 1900 – September 3, 1984) was an American composer and film producer.

Big Spender

"Big Spender" is a song written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields for the musical Sweet Charity, first performed in 1966. It is sung, in the musical, by the dance hostess girls; it was choreographed by Bob Fosse for the Broadway musical and the 1969 film. It is set to the beat of a striptease as the girls taunt the customers.

By the Beautiful Sea (musical)

By the Beautiful Sea is a musical with a book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and music by Arthur Schwartz. Like Schwartz’s previous musical, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, also starring Shirley Booth, the musical is set in Brooklyn just after the start of the 20th century (1907). By the Beautiful Sea played on Broadway in 1954.

Don't Blame Me (song)

"Don't Blame Me" is a popular song with music by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The song was part of the 1932 show Clowns in Clover and was published in 1933. Popular versions that year were recorded by Ethel Waters, Guy Lombardo, and Charles Agnew.It was a No. 21 hit for Nat King Cole in 1948. The song received two significant "rock era" remakes: a ballad version by the Everly Brothers in 1961 which reached No. 20 on Billboard and an up-tempo version by Frank Ifield which reached No. 8 of the UK charts on 15 February 1964.

Exactly Like You (song)

"Exactly Like You" is a popular song with music written by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Dorothy Fields and published in 1930. The song was introduced by Harry Richman and Gertrude Lawrence in the 1930 Broadway show Lew Leslie's International Revue which also featured McHugh and Fields's "On the Sunny Side of the Street".

I'm in the Mood for Love

"I'm in the Mood for Love" is a popular song published in 1935. The music was written by Jimmy McHugh, with the lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The song was introduced by Frances Langford in the movie Every Night at Eight released that year.It became Langford's signature song. Bob Hope, who frequently worked with Langford entertaining troops in World War II, later wrote that her performance of the song was often a show-stopper.

I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby

"I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby" is an American popular song and jazz standard by Jimmy McHugh (music) and Dorothy Fields (lyrics). The song was introduced by Adelaide Hall at Les Ambassadeurs Club in New York in January 1928 in Lew Leslie's Blackbird Revue, which opened on Broadway later that year as the highly successful Blackbirds of 1928 (518 performances), wherein it was performed by Adelaide Hall, Aida Ward, and Willard McLean.

In the 100-most recorded songs from 1890 to 1954, "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby" (1928) is No. 24.

If My Friends Could See Me Now

"If My Friends Could See Me Now", with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, is a song from the 1966 Broadway musical Sweet Charity. In the musical the character of Charity, played in the original New York cast by Gwen Verdon, reflects on her marvellous luck as she spends time with Vittorio. In the 1969 film adaptation of Sweet Charity, "If My Friends Could See Me Now" is performed by Shirley MacLaine.

Mexican Hayride (musical)

Mexican Hayride is a musical with a book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields and music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The show opened on Broadway in 1944.

Never Gonna Dance (song)

"Never Gonna Dance" is a song performed by Fred Astaire and danced with Ginger Rogers in their movie Swing Time. The words were by Dorothy Fields and the music was by Jerome Kern.

This dramatic dance was performed at the end of the movie after John 'Lucky' Garnett finds out Penelope 'Penny' Carroll is engaged to Ricardo 'Ricky' Romero, Georges Metaxa. This is a dance of desperation, despair and love. It starts slowly, Lucky not wanting Penny to leave. As she is walking up the stairs, he begins his serenade to her in hopes that she will understand how heartbroken he is over losing her. After he is done singing, he tries to win her back one more time dancing. So, elegantly and desperately, he pulls out all the stops, hoping to change her mind. At first, the dance is slow and somber, but eventually the pace and tempo pick up, and Lucky and Penny seem to be together again. However, in the final movement, Penny twirls out of the room and doesn't come back, leaving Lucky standing there forlorn.

On the Sunny Side of the Street

For the Pogues song, see Sunny Side of the Street (song)"On the Sunny Side of the Street" is a 1930 song composed by Jimmy McHugh with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Some authors say that Fats Waller was the composer, but he sold the rights to the song. It was introduced in the Broadway musical Lew Leslie's International Revue starring Harry Richman and Gertrude Lawrence.

Richman and Ted Lewis enjoyed hit records with the song in 1930.

Pick Yourself Up

"Pick Yourself Up" is a popular song composed in 1936 by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It has a verse and chorus, as well as a third section, though the third section is often omitted in recordings. Like most popular songs of the era it features a 32 bar chorus though with an extended coda and its rhyming scheme is AABA style, with some variations among the A sections.

The song was written for the film Swing Time (1936), where it was introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Rogers plays a dance instructor whom Astaire follows into her studio; he pretends to have "two left feet" in order to get her to dance with him. Astaire sings the verse to her and she responds with the chorus. After an interlude, they dance to the tune. (Author John Mueller has written their dance "is one of the very greatest of Astaire's playful duets: boundlessly joyous, endlessly re-seeable.")Astaire would also record the song on his own that year for the Brunswick label.

The tune served as the theme song for the short-lived 1955–56 prime time television variety series The Johnny Carson Show. It was also the theme song for the 1989–1991 British TV comedy "French Fields" starring Julia McKenzie.

Nancy Walker performed the song on an episode of "The Muppet Show" with Fozzie Bear.

On 20 January 2009, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, in his inauguration speech, quoted the lyrics in the song, saying "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."Frank Rich linked the lyric to Fields and the movie in The New York Times, writing that it was "one subtle whiff of the Great Depression" in the address.Nat King Cole's version of the song was also featured in an episode of Breaking Bad, titled "Gliding Over All."

Redhead (musical)

Redhead is a musical with music composed by Albert Hague and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, who with her brother, Herbert, along with Sidney Sheldon and David Shaw wrote the book/libretto. Set in London in the 1880s, around the time of Jack the Ripper, the musical is a murder mystery in the setting of a wax museum.

Remind Me (Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern song)

"Remind Me" is a 1940 song composed by Jerome Kern, with lyrics written by Dorothy Fields.

It was written for the movie musical One Night in the Tropics (1940), where it was introduced by Peggy Moran.

The Way You Look Tonight

"The Way You Look Tonight" is a song from the film Swing Time that was performed by Fred Astaire and written by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936. Fields remarked, "The first time Jerry played that melody for me I went out and started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn't stop, it was so beautiful."In the movie, Astaire sang "The Way You Look Tonight" to Ginger Rogers while she was washing her hair in an adjacent room. His recording reached the top of the charts in 1936. Other versions that year were by Guy Lombardo and by Teddy Wilson with Billie Holiday.

Up in Central Park

Up in Central Park is a Broadway musical with a book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and music by Sigmund Romberg. The musical was Romberg's last stage work produced during his lifetime.

Produced by Michael Todd, the Broadway production, staged by John Kennedy, and choreographed by Helen Tamiris, opened on January 27, 1945 at the Century Theatre, where it ran for 504 performances. Cast included Wilbur Evans and Betty Bruce.

The musical is set in the Boss Tweed era of New York City in the 1870s. Wilbur Evans plays John Matthews, a New York Times reporter investigating the Tweed’s crooked political machine, especially the fraud connected with constructing Central Park.

He falls in love with the daughter of one of the Boss’ ward heelers, who marries a politician, who is killed. She later rekindles her love for Matthews. The settings, costumes and dances evoked the lithographs of Currier and Ives.

Women in jazz

Women in jazz have contributed throughout the many eras of jazz history, both as performers and as composers, songwriters and bandleaders. While women such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald were famous for their jazz singing, women have achieved much less recognition for their contributions as composers, bandleaders and instrumental performers. Other notable jazz women include piano player Lil Hardin Armstrong and jazz songwriters Irene Higginbotham and Dorothy Fields.

You Couldn't Be Cuter

"You Couldn't Be Cuter" is a 1938 song composed by Jerome Kern, with lyrics written by Dorothy Fields.

It was written for the film Joy of Living (1938) where it was introduced by Irene Dunne. That same year the Tommy Dorsey version went to #3 on the music charts. The song is featured in the 1978 Dennis Potter BBC drama series Pennies From Heaven.

Dorothy Fields
Song lyrics
Works by Joseph Fields

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