Harry Smith narrates this heart-warming two-hour double-episode account of the life and career of Israel Baline, in a presentation debuting on Christmas evening, December 25, 2001.
By way of a pleasant variation from the usual, this begins in 1925, several years after a now-37-year-old Israel Baline becomes songwriter Irving Berlin, with newspaper headlines reporting his "scandalous" relationship with New York City Catholic socialite Ellin Mackay, with dozens of newspapers of the day investigating his impoverished past as one of six children born to an impoverished Russian Jewish immigrant family in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Withdrawing from school with a third-grade education, Israel works odd jobs, as newspaper carrier, helping the family to make ends meet. At the tender age of 13, Israel loses his father and must now roam the streets, upon which he takes a position as a singing waiter at the Relham Café, where he is appreciated for striking a vulgar twist to popular lyrics.
But when a musician from a rival nightclub publishes a song which generates a musical craze, Israel's employer expects the same from his waiters, and so Israel, by necessity, must pen his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy" (1907).
In 1911, Ragtime music sweeps the nation, to the disdain of adults who object to the disgrace of a younger generation who rebel along with the movement. Israel bridges the generations by creating a sensitive number to quell the craze, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911), which becomes the first major hit for the songwriter who now goes by the name of Irving Berlin.
Soon, Irving marries the sister, Dorothy, of his songwriting partner, Ray Goetz, and they sail to Cuba for their 1912 honeymoon, where Dorothy contracts Typhoid Fever and passes a few months later. Ray convinces Irving to turn his grieve into a song, which becomes another hit, "When I Lost You" (1912).
After becoming a successful songwriter, Irving is drafted into the Army for service during World War I, in 1918. Because he has worked nights for many years by this time, he cannot adjust to early morning Revile, and pens the song "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" (1918), which leads to the Army's granting Irving the honor of assembling, and performing a musical review, instead of having to rise early.
Returning to Broadway after his discharge, Irving meets Ellin Mackay, whose stern wealthy father, Clarence, strongly objects to her association with him, leading to a heavily-published scandal, which rocks their world from the States to Europe.
Over the years, Irving is affected by the Stock Market crash of 1929, as he also faces challenges on Broadway and in Hollywood during the advent of Talkies, which leads the way to his return to Tinseltown on his own terms, before his compelling service of music and patriotism during the WWII years.
He will go on to break many popular records with his more than 1,000 songs, at least 550 of which are published, 282 reaching "Your Hit Parade's" Top-10, and 35 reaching Number-1, with four songs from "Top Hat" in the Top-5 for a period in 1935.
This follows Irving's life through his marriages with Dorothy Goetz (Feb-July, 1912) and with Ellin Mackay (1926-88), with whom he welcomes three daughters and a son, whom they lose in infancy at three-weeks of age, one Christmas morning.
This episode includes discussions of many stories behind some of Irving's many popular hit songs, which include "Marie from Sunny Italy" (1907), "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911), "When I Lost You" (1912), "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" (1915), "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" (1918), "All by Myself" (1921), "All Alone" (1924), "What'll I Do?" (1924), "Always" (1925), "Blue Skies" (1926), "Puttin' on the Ritz" (1930), "Heat Wave" (1933), "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" (1935), "Cheek to Cheek" (1935), "No Strings" (1935), "Easter Parade" (revised, 1938), "God Bless America" (revised, 1942), "White Christmas" (1942), "There's No Business Like Show Business" (1946) and "Say It With Music" (revised, 1950).
Broadway cast photographs enhance song performance clips from "Watch Your Step" (1914), "Yip! Yip! Yaphank" (1918), "Ziegfeld Follies" (1919), "Music Box Revue" (1921), "As Thousands Cheer" (1933), "This Is the Army" (1942), "Annie Get Your Gun" (1946) and "Call Me Madam" (1950).
Interview Guests for this episode consist of daughters, Mary Ellin Barrett, Linda Louise Emmett and Elizabeth Irving Peters, friends Anna Crouse, Robert Kimball and David and Helen Brown, Actress Bernadette Peters, Actors Ross Elliott and Mandy Patinkin, Performers Susannah McCorkle and Bobby Short, Stage Manager Alan Anderson, Musical Historian Miles Kreuger, and Biographer Philip Furia.
Archive footage includes Irving Berlin with stars Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Bebe Daniels, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, Ethel Merman, George Murphy and others in speaking/singing parts, and Vernon and Irene Castle, Edward VIII the Prince of Wales, Ginger Rogers, Marjorie Reynolds, Ronald Reagan and others in non-speaking parts.
Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Irving's compositions through the years, with scenes from "The Jazz Singer (1927), "Puttin' on the Ritz" (1930), "Reaching for the Moon" (1930), "Top Hat" (1935), "Holiday Inn" (1942), "This Is the Army" (1943), "Blue Skies" (1946) and "Call Me Madam" (1953).
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