Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Darwin Was Right -- Everything Evolves, Even The Ritz!

I'm not puttin' you on ... (sorry, I couldn't stop myself) ... Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On The Ritz" made a startling evolution in lyrics and meaning from the time it was first written until Fred Astaire's famous film version.  I think most people would be very surprised (I was) to find that the original lyrics and dance milieu in the 1930 film below portrayed the top-hat-and-tails crowd going to Harlem to watch black people dress and dance in the stereotypically offensive way of days gone by. Even the set is racist.  As always with classic films, we have to remember the era in which movies and songs were created and see them as such.  Actually, I think it is not a bad idea to be reminded not only of history, which cannot be changed, but of the enormous evolution of thinking in our culture, by all except the most dim-bulbed Americans.  Even by the time Astaire's number came along in 1946, the lyrics had been changed, all of the black American reference removed, and the song had become much more sophisticated as well.

I've found four completely different, completely original versions of "Puttin' On The Ritz" that range from 1930 to 2012.  I had never seen No.1 before, and I doubt if many have. It incorporates the original lyrics, and I have printed those below it.  No.2, the Astaire film version, is spotlighted in a video created by someone who is not only very clever, but also who, I would bet good money, is a classic movie fanatic! This one, as we know, uses the changed lyrics that we all know today, which are also printed below it.  No 3 is a version that Irving Berlin would never have dreamed of!  No.4 is one that takes the song and puts it to use celebrating youth and happiness, and I just love it.

No. 1:  Harry Richman in Puttin' On The Ritz, 1930, original lyrics printed below.


Have you seen the well-to-do; Upon Lennox Avenue; 
On that famous thoroughfare; With their noses in the air.
High hats and narrow collars; White spats and fifteen dollars; 
Spending every dime; For a wonderful time.

If you're blue; And you don't know where to go to; Why don't you go where Harlem flits; Puttin' on the Ritz
Spangled gowns upon the bevy; Of high browns from down the levy; All misfits; Puttin' on the Ritz.
That's where each and every lulu-belle goes; Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus; Rubbin' elbows.

Come with me, we'll attend their jubilee; And seen them spend their last two bits; Puttin' on the Ritz.
(Instrumental break -- (Boys, look at dat man puttin' on dat Ritz; You look at him; I can't.)
If you're blue; And you don't know where to go to; Why don't you go where Harlem flits; Puttin' on the Ritz.


No. 2:  Fred Astaire in Blue Skies, 1946, (with a difference), and lyrics we all know today.


Have you seen the well-to-do, up and down Park Avenue,
On that famous thoroughfare, with their noses in the air;
High hats and Arrowed collars, white spats and lots of dollars,
Spending every dime, for a wonderful time

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to,

Why don't you go where fashion sits, 
Puttin' on the Ritz.
Different types who wear a daycoat, pants with stripes
And cut away coat, perfect fits, 
Puttin' on the Ritz.

Dressed up like a million dollar trouper,

Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper (super duper.)
Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks
Or umbrellas in their mitts,
Puttin' on the Ritz.


No. 3:  Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein, 1974.


Lyrics don't even matter with Wilder and Boyle!


No. 4:  The Moscow Flash Mob, 2012, one of my favorite favorites!


That is some wedding gift!

As a special bonus, click here to see a really funny version where the only things that dance are the upper keys on a musical instrument of complete gorgeosity (my Dad made up that word)!


Boy, after all this, If I had some Ritz to put on right now, I would go out on the town!

This all started because I had a yen to watch Astaire/ Rogers numbers on Youtube.  I'm just in a musical mood, I guess, something that my friend and fellow CMBA member Page  experiences all the time with her great love of musicals.

32 comments:

  1. What a fun post, Becky! I love it when a classic endures (in some shape or form) over the decades. I'll be Irving would be shocked (especially by #3), but pleased.

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    1. Thanks Chick! It's fun to see what happens to the great stuff that lasts. I've wondered if I'm in the minority as far as not realizing how this song started. That 1930 number was the first time I knew of an original version.

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  2. The YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN version is hysterical! What I just realized watching it now is how similar it is to KING KONG in the scene where KONG in on stage in chains and the audience turns against him laughing and throwingsthings. The same thing happens to Boyle's monster. In both cases they got really pissed!

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    1. John, sometimes I amaze myself -- do you know, after all the times I've watched YF (LOVE that movie), I never put that together, Kong and the dance scene. You are absolutely right! That number was inspired!

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  3. Well Becks, you left off the Techo/ Disco version from the late 70's early 80's by Taco. I have the 12 inch single around here somewhere. It was a hit in So Cal . BTW I was at a club at the piano gut was playing Ritz and of course when the time came I had to do my Peter Boyle Riff. He cracked up but Joann wanted to kill me. I thought she liked Mel Brooks

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    1. I saw it, Paul, but didn't want piece to be too much, and picked my faves. Poor Joann! Even if you like Mel Brooks, having your husband shout out Boyles' unique take in public? Well, you just have to wonder what people who never saw Young Frankenstein thought of you! I can just hear the whispers: "Poor man -- he must be mentally disturbed." "I bet he has Tourette's syndrome." "Man, that guy is snockered!" LOL!

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  4. Well It was at a "Irish Pub" but some of the "patrons " had major So Cal attitude (some times I really think people from the Palos Verdes area are far worst than the Beverly Hills Belair, Brentwood crowd) so like Alfred E. Newman, "What Me Worry'? If they did not get it than their not as Cool, and Hip as they think they are.

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    1. Too true! As Bette Midler always says: "F**k 'em if they can't take a joke!"

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  5. I would love/love to see a Flash Mob perform... "Puttin' On The Ritz". Now, I'm gonna have "Puttin' On The Ritz", buzzing around in my head all day. :)

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  6. Becks, they are the joke, but don't know it.

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  7. I always got a kick out of Clark Gable hoofing his way through the song in "Idiot's Delight" (1939). Loved the Russian flash mob scene.

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    1. Kevin, I LOVE that number in Idiot's Delight. He is so clumsy and funny, but you love it! I too think the Russian flash mob is just adorable. I particularly like the darling girl who sings "Super Booper!"

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  8. I had never seen no. 1, too. Fred's number was one of the best parts of "Blue Skies", alongside the funny "Song and Dance Men". With Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle, it is a showstop never imagined, and I'm glad Irving Berlin lived to see it. I also loved the flash mob. You could do this with other songs, I did something alike with Singin' in the Rain in 2011.
    Kisses!

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    1. Le, I just loved "Dancing Man" too! Astaire can do anything! I didn't know Irving Berlin had seen the Young Frankenstein number -- how wonderful! Thanks for coming over. I just had to leave a comment on your Facebook page for your new post about Crosby and Sinatra. I wasn't able to do it on your blog comments. And, I'm definitely going to look for your Singin' in the Rain article!

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  10. Becky, I was reading your swell post and hoping the YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN version would appear, and sure enough, you made it happen! Thanks for putting a big smile on my face, my friend! :-D

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    1. Hi Dorian! I just adore Young Frankenstein in toto, and this number still kills me! Glad you liked it too (I knew you would)!

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  11. That was fun! As always you have an eye for the unexpected post. Always enjoy your musics and this collection put a smile on my face.

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    1. Glad to see you, CFB! I'm so happy you liked it my idea. I know some people don't really care for posts with videos, but I love them when they are fun. The Moscow flash mob is just adorable -- the older I get, the more I love seeing young people and what they can do, although I admit it makes me feel about 92 years old! LOL!

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  12. I didn't realize this song had evolved, and I LOVE the Moscow flash mob! Thanks for posting.

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  13. Becky, How interesting and fun! I wasn't aware of the background on the song or that its lyrics had changed. Thank you for some musical history and a very good time.

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  14. Eve, I didn't know either! Just ran across it and did some research after just fiddling around with Facebook watching Astaire numbers. Fascinating! It was fun to find the different versions -- of course I knew about all of them except the 1930 original version -- that was a lucky find.

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  15. Great theme and thank you for highlighting the Harry Richman version which was new to me. I love the Russian flash mob too just because it is so unexpected hearing these Russian accents do Irving Berlin!

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    1. Hi Vienna -- welcome to my blog! I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Harry Richman was completely new to me, too, and I thought I'd at least heard about most of the old boys of that era! I agree about the flash mob -- those kids were so cute with those accents -- I mentioned to another reader that I just loved the young girl who sang "Super Booper!" Hope you come visit again!

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  16. Dear Ms. Becky, I'm positively green with envy, and whatever the color of admiration, over your excellent post. I was familiar with Harry Richman and his role in the film "Puttin' on the Ritz"; however, his image captured on celluloid was neither an indication of popularity nor talent. Wilder and Boyle never cease to have me weeping tears of joy, and the Russian flash mob conjures images of Lenin and Stalin restless in their graves. May I add regarding Fred Astaire, he popularized a version of the song in the early 1930s in which he did not sing the line, "Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper, super duper!". You can hear his version on soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/nonworkingmonkey/02-puttin-on-the-ritz Thanks again for your look at the evolution of a popular song; Irving Berlin would approve (and that's no put on, either).

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    1. Gypsy! Glad to see you ... what nice things to say about my article! Thank you so much, and I do think that green is a lovely color for you -- LOL! That is very interesting about the Astaire version you linked to -- I did not know about that, and appreciate the link! If you approve my article, I bet Irving does too!

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