Johnny Green - Writer

Composer and Arranger. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 10 October 1908; billed as John W. Green in early films. Education: Studied economics at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1928. Family: Married 1) Betty Furness (divorced); 2) Bunny Waters, 1943; three daughters; 3) Bonnie (Green). Career: Bandleader and song writer; accompanist for Ethel Merman and Gertrude Lawrence; 1929—rehearsal pianist for Paramount; 1930—arranger and musical director; also composer for films; 1942—joined MGM as arranger/musical director; 1950–58—general music director, MGM; composer for TV, and concert hall conductor. Awards: Academy Award for Easter Parade , 1948; An American in Paris ,

Johnny Green
Johnny Green
1951; The Merry Wives of Windsor Overture , 1953; West Side Story , 1961; Oliver! , 1968. Died: In Beverly Hills, California, 15 May 1989.

Films as Arranger:


Leave It to Lester (Cambria and Cozine) (+ song); The Big Pond (Henley); Follow the Leader (Taurog) (co); Animal Crackers (Heerman); Heads Up (Schertzinger); Queen High (Newmeyer); The Sap from Syracuse (Sutherland) (songs)


Secrets of a Secretary (Abbott); My Sin (Abbott); The Smiling Lieutenant (Lubitsch)


Wayward (Sloman); The Wiser Sex (Viertel)


Start Cheering (Rogell)


Stage Door Canteen (Borzage)

Films as Composer or Arranger/Director:


Broadway Rhythm (Del Ruth); Bathing Beauty (Sidney)


Week-End at the Waldorf (Leonard); The Sailor Takes a Wife (Whorf)


Easy to Wed (Buzzell)


It Happened in Brooklyn (Whorf); Fiesta (Thorpe); Something in the Wind (Pichel)


Easter Parade (Walters); Up in Central Park (Walters)


The Inspector General (Koster)


Toast of New Orleans (Taurog); Summer Stock (Walters)


Royal Wedding (Donen); The Great Caruso (Thorpe); An American in Paris (Minnelli); Too Young to Kiss (Leonard)


Because You're Mine (Hall)


Brigadoon (Minnelli); Rhapsody (C. Vidor)


High Society (Walters)


Raintree Country (Dmytryk)


Pepe (Sidney)


West Side Story (Wise)


Twilight of Honor (Sagal); Bye Bye Birdie (Sidney)


Alvarez Kelly (Dmytryk); Johnny Tiger (Wendkos)


The Busy Body (Castle) (song)


Oliver! (Reed)


They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Pollack) (+ assoc pr)


By GREEN: articles—

Down Beat , 22 August 1956.

" Raintree County ," in Film and TV Music (New York), Fall-Winter 1957–58.

In Hollywood Speaks! An Oral History , by Mike Steen, New York, 1974.

Interview with Elmer Bernstein, in Film Music Notebook (Calabasas, California), vol. 2, no. 4, and vol. 3, no. 1, 1976–77.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), vol. 9, no. 33, March 1990.

On GREEN: articles—

Thomas, Tony, in Music for the Movies , South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.

New Zealand Film Music Bulletin (Invercargill), November 1980.

Lacombe, Alain, in Hollywood , Paris, 1983.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 24 May 1989.

Obituary in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 6, no. 7, July 1989.

* * *

A man who always conducted with a carnation in his buttonhole, the stylish Johnny Green enjoyed success as a song writer, a dance band leader, a symphonic conductor, a film composer, and the head of a major studio's music department. He won five Oscars as a music director and conductor, for Easter Parade , An American in Paris , West Side Story , Oliver! , and his MGM Concert Hall short-subject series.

Green graduated from Harvard University at the age of 19 with a degree in economics. At Harvard he was an arranger and conductor of the college band and dance orchestra, and it was at this time he wrote his first published song, "Coquette." After graduation he dabbled with a career on Wall Street but gave it up when he was offered the job of Gertrude Lawrence's piano accompanist in late 1929. Soon after he wrote the song "Body and Soul" for her, an immediate hit which was incorporated in the Broadway revue Three's a Crowd , and his most famous composition. In 1930 Green started working as an arranger and conductor for Paramount at their Astoria, Long Island, studios, beginning with The Big Pond . He worked on a dozen films over the next two years, while at the same time taking jobs as an accompanist and song writer in the New York theater, including a stint as the conductor at Paramount's Brooklyn Theatre. This led to his being offered a job as orchestrator by Victor Young, then music director for the Atwater-Kent radio series, which in turn led to other radio assignments. Green enjoyed success with other songs, notably "Out of Nowhere," "I Cover the Waterfront," and "You're Mine, You," and formed his own dance band. Some of his recordings, particularly those with Fred Astaire, would become collectors' items.

In 1942, while conducting the Rodgers and Hart musical By Jupiter , he was offered a position as a staff composer-arranger-conductor by MGM and assumed his duties in November of that year. The heyday of the great musicals was underway, and Green became a part of it, with time out to direct the music for two Deanna Durbin musicals at Universal ( Something in the Wind and Up in Central Park ) and write the score for Danny Kaye's The Inspector General at Warners. In 1950 he was signed by MGM as their general music director, which post he held for eight years, and during which time he wrote what he considered his magnum opus , the score for the epic Raintree County . During his lifetime he appeared with most of the major orchestras in the United States and Canada, and with conspicuous success at the Hollywood Bowl. Of all his musical activities, Green had a particular fondness for film scoring and conducting. On the value of film music, "I think if you were to see a major film whose score you liked, and then saw the film without the score, you would find one of the major elements—and by major I mean almost as important as the photography—missing."

—Tony Thomas

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