Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mae West: Brooklyn Ben

MAE WEST sung "Willie of the Valley" in "My Little Chickadee" [1940]. Though the composer was uncredited, this native New Yorker is being unmasked on the anniversary of his death — — August 26th.
• • Born in Brooklyn, New York, Ben Oakland [24 September 1907 — 26 August 1979] was a pianist, composer, and lyricist most active from the 1920s through the 1940s. A child prodigy, Oakland performed at Carnegie Hall in a piano concert at the age of nine. He later accompanied Helen Morgan and George Jessel in variety. Oakland composed mainly for vaudeville shows and Broadway, though he also worked on several Hollywood scores including for the motion picture classic co-starring Mae West and W.C. Fields.
• • Typically, Ben Oakland would focus on writing the music and collaborating with lyricists including Oscar Hammerstein II, Bob Russell, Milton Drake, L. Wolfe Gilbert, and Artie Shaw.
• • In 1940, he wrote "Willie of the Valley" with Milton Drake [1916 — 2006] for the film "My Little Chickadee" and this had a double distinction of being the only number in the movie and it was sung by Mae West herself.
• • The Songwriter's Hall of Fame lists Ben Oakland on their notable (non-inducted) songwriters list for contributions to the American popular song. At age 71, Oakland died in Hollywood.

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