sort of a tune does a test pilot write? Well, there was the Sinatra staple “Come
Fly with Me.” Sinatra fans might already know the vocalist recorded more tunes
by Jimmy Van Heusen than anyone else, but the extent to which the composer
served as Old Blue Eye’s Obi-wan could still come as a surprise. Van Heusen’s
life and body of work are surveyed in Jim Burn’s Jimmy Van Heusen: Swingin’ with Frank & Bing (promo here), which airs on
participating PBS stations at various times throughout the month of August.
a sense, Van Heusen is an apostolic link from Tin Pan Alley and the original
Great American Songwriters, like Irving Berlin, to the Swinging Madmen 1960s. As a man who felt instinctively
at home in a nightclub or tavern, Van Heusen was ideally suited to be a
song-plugger. Tunes like “Darn that Dream” quickly caught on, but it was his
association with Bing Crosby that took Van Heusen’s career to a higher level.
Following the crooner to Hollywood, Van Heusen wrote scores of hits with lyricist
Johnny Burke, including the Oscar winning “Swinging on a Star,” for Going My Way. Shrewdly, the accomplished
aviator volunteered as a test pilot for Lockheed during World War II, as a way
to maintain his high-flying Hollywood lifestyle while serving the war effort.
Crosby cooled off, Van Heusen found himself at loose ends, along with his old
pal from New York, Frank Sinatra. Rumor has it, Van Heusen interceded during
the baritone’s darkest hours and he would pen tunes with his new regularly
lyricist partner Sammy Cahn that defined the Sinatra comeback. Swingin’s best segments trace the
surprising origins of some of their most popular songs, such as “Love &
Marriage” written for a television musical production of Our Town, featuring Sinatra as the Stage Manager and Paul Newman
and Eva Marie Saint as the teenaged lovers, which frustratingly is not likely
to be released on home video anytime soon.
also talks to all the right people, including Frank Sinatra, Jr., Woody Allen,
jazz musicians Dr. Billy Taylor and John Pizzarelli, jazz-cabaret crossover
performers Jane Monheit and Eric Comstock, and Angie Dickinson and Shirley
MacLaine to vouch for Van Heusen’s charm. There are also generous helpings of performance
clips, largely focusing on Sinatra and Crosby, for obvious reasons.
Swingin’ will make
viewers nostalgic for the glory days of the hard partying yet patriotic Rat
Pack. In fact, writer-director Burns makes a persuasive case for Van Heusen as
Rat Packer Zero, the one who started it all. Clocking in around the hour mark,
the special could have run fifty percent longer without overstaying its
welcome. The entertaining and informative Jimmy
Van Heusen: Swingin’ with Frank & Bing airs on various PBS outlets
throughout the month of August, so check local listings.
Labels: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Van Heusen, PBS