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Kyle Geraghty
Nathan Hurwitz
Musical Theatre Repertoire I
16 September 2014
Ira Gershwin
Ira Gershwin was lyricist known for writing popular musicals such as Porgy and
Bess. Along with his brother, George Gershwin, the duo created many loved songs, and
made a lasting impact on the world of music.
On December 6th, 1896 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan Israel Gershowitz
(later, Ira Gershwin) was born to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents,
Rose Brushkin and Morris Gershovitz, had four children ( Ira was the
oldest of the four siblings. His brother, George, was two years younger than Ira. After
George was Arthur. After Arthur, a sister, Frances, who happened to be born on the same
day of Ira ( Later in his life Ira thought back to the day
that his sister was born. He remembers going to the barbershop and looking at the pulp
novels they kept for customers to read. He also said that at this time (1906) the
Gershwins lived in a building with an elevator. This impressed him because he didnt
know too many people with elevators in their buildings (Feinstein).
As a child Ira went by the nickname of Izzy. Not until applying for a passport in
1928 did Ira know his true given name. He had believed it to be Isidore.
( It was noted by a question directed to Ira Gershwin that
he changed his name because there were too many Isidores in his class (Feinstein).

Being that his father, Morris, held many different jobs the family had to move
around New York City many times. The family moved a total of 30 times before Ira
turned 18 ( Morris Gershwin liked to live within walking distance to
his place of business, as recorded by George Gershwins first biographer, Isaac Goldberg.
Ira also said that landlords knew that my mother could be encouraged to move by the
offer of a free months rent. He also commented that George was much better at
adapting to the change than Ira was (Kimball). At one of their childhood homes, the
birthplace of George, the Gershwins rented the 2nd floor of an apartment on Snediker
Avenue. The lady of the house was Iras wet nurse, feeding him because his mother,
Rose, wouldnt or couldnt. This might help explain Iras distant relationship with his
mother (Feinstein).
Ira and his siblings occupied their time playing together, roller-skating and
playing games in the street. When they had gotten older the boys often went to the
billiard halls ( Mainly his brother, George, used the
family piano that was purchased for Ira. Where George had a fascination with music, Ira
had a fascination with literature (
Ira, shy in his youth, spent a lot of time reading due to his fascination with
literature ( His introduction to literature, as explained by Ira, came from
Paul Potter, a playwright, who used to go to the Lafayette Baths, where Ira worked as a
cashier. He, Paul Potter, would give Ira magazines to read and encouraged him to send in
a short story that Ira had written. The Shrine was sent to the Smart Set in 1917
(Kimball). He read poetry, and saved his favorite poems in a scrapbook. As a teenager,
Ira collected over 200 poetry anthologies. His favorite works were those by Ibsen and the

songs of Gilbert and Sullivan. Robert Kimball, a musical theatre historian commented on
Iras love for literature. He said, Ira was enormously well read and drew upon a range
of knowledge. He had a great library of several thousand books in his house and he
consulted it frequently. He knew a lot about language, literature and history,
( In 1909, Ira began compiling a list of all the books hed read and
by 1912 he was reading more than a book a week. In 1916, Ira began to keep a record of
his visits to the theatre (Kimball).

In High School, Ira developed a talent for writing and

drawing. He also wrote a column in the school newspaper ( He and his
friend Isadore Hochberg began writing their Much Ado column in the school literary
magazine in 1913 (Kimball). Ira went on to become an English major at New Yorks City
College at the age of 16 ( Ira Gershwin made his first addition to The
Campus, a weekly journal of the City College of New York. (Kimball). Before leaving
after two years without a degree, he began contributing to the Conning Tower and Don
Marquis column in the Evening Sun ( One of his poems, Aunt Prudella, is
featured in this column. Another one of Iras poems, I Remember! is published in the
City College monthly newsletter, College Mercury (Kimball).
After dropping out from New Yorks City College after two years Gershwin spent
a lot of time moving from job to job. He worked as a steam room attendant, a
photographers assistant, and also joined the circus (as a business manager)
( The only job that Ira had used his education, as an English major was
when he was writing theatre reviews (
While Ira was off at school and working several jobs his brother, George, was
making a name for himself. Prompted by his brother Ira began to write lyrics to their first

collaboration, The Real American Folk Song which appeared in Ladies First
( This is the first George and Ira Gershwin song to be
performed in a Broadway show (Kimball). Using the names of his other brother and his
sister, Ira used the pseudonym Arthur Francis to avoid charges of nepotism
( Ira had once said, I always felt that if George hadnt been
my brother and pushed me, Id have been contented to be a bookkeeper.
Still using the pseudonym, Ira wrote his first published song, You May Throw All the
Rice You Desire but Please Friends, Throw No Shoes, (Gale Encyclopedia). The song
was published in Don Marquiss column in the New York Evening Sun. Waiting for the
Sun to Come Out is the first George and Ira Gershwin song to be published. It is
introduced to the public on Broadway in The Sweetheart Shop (Kimball).
Ira had his first Broadway hit in 1921. Vincent Youmans and Ira created Two
Little Girls in Blue ( In 1921, as Arthur Francis, Ira wrote The
Piccadilly Walk from Pins and Needles. He worked with Arthur Riscoe and Edward A.
Horan on this project.
In 1922, Ira wrote a new song for Molly Darling called When All Your Castles
Come Tumbling Down with Milton E. Schwarzwald. Ira Gershwin also added to the
score of Fascination, a film with the same name. The score of the film Fascination
was also written by Schuyley Greene and Louis Silvers. (Gale Encyclopedia)
Though working with others, Ira once again worked with his brother, George.
Together they had the first major hit of their career, Ill Build a Stairway to Paradise
from George Whites Scandals (1922)( The show opened on August 28,
1922 and had 88 performances (Kimball). Years earlier, in 1919, Ira had written a lyric

called A New Step Every Day. Three years after, Buddy DeSylva approached them on
if they would like to rewrite it into what would become Stairway to Paradise. They
turned it into a jazzy number that was destined to become a hit. (Furia 249). George
Gershwin and Arthur Francis (Ira Gershwin) wrote the theme song to the film The
Sunshine Trail (Kimball).
In May of 1923, Arthur Francis (Ira Gershwin) wrote lyrics to Little Rhythm Go
Way. This lyric has many phrases that Ira will use in his piece Fascination Rhythm.
Ira has his first published piece in 1924. Imagine Me Without You was the song that
was first credited to Ira B. Gershwin (Kimball). It was then that the brothers began
making their mark in American musical theatre history.
From 1924 until Georges death in 1937, the brothers composed over two-dozen
scores for both Broadway and Hollywood ( In 1924, the brothers began
their work on their first operetta, Primrose, with Desmond Carter. On September 11,
1924 with 255 performances. The show opened with favorable reviews.
The score that really helped form their reputation in the musical world was an
Alex Arrons/Vinton Freedley production called Lady, Be Good. This was the Gershwin
brothers first complete and independent collaboration. The movie starred the Adaires,
Adele and Fred. It opened on Broadway on December 1st, 1924 and ran for 330
performances. It then moved onto a run in England (Gale Encyclopedia).
At the Gaity Theatre on April 12, 1925 another Gershwin musical opened. Tell
Me More was a musical score from the joint minds of not just the Gershwin brothers, but
also Buddy DeSylva. It was by now that Ira Gershwin had finally dropped his
pseudonym and came out as an accomplished lyricist.

In 1926 the brothers were contacted by Gertrude Lawrence to write a score for a
new musical. The show, Oh, Kay! received raving reviews when it opened at Broadways
Imperial Theatre on November 8. Ok, Kay! ran for 256 performances (Gale
Ira Gershwin married Leonore Strunsky on September 14, 1926. They met in
1919 when George introduced them. Around this time was when the brothers decided
that it was best to move in together. Both brothers brought their families into a five-story
house in Manhattan ( Ira lived with his wife, Leonore, on the fourth
floor. The house was always alive with a great number of visitors. The brothers had
artistic colleagues, neighbors, and friends at the house frequently (Gale Encyclopedia).
The house served as a creative center for the brothers and their friends. (
Ira longed for a quieter lifestyle and preferred spending time at a farm north of
New York City. The farm that Ira spent time at was Chumleigh Farm in Ossining.
George would come up from New York City in the spring and summer months as a time
away from the hectic pace of vaudeville. It was here where the brothers wrote a musical
called Strike Up the Band, which opened the summer of 1927.
Strike Up the Band failed to attract pre-Broadway audiences in New Jersey and
Philadelphia. The brothers decided it was time to rewrite the score. After a reworking
the show ran a successful run on Broadway in 1930.
Another reworking of the Gershwins was for a production originally called
Smarty. The producer Aarons and Freedley called the Gershwins in to help. The
reworked version was titled Funny Face, and stared both Adele and Fred Astaire.

One of Iras more famous lyrics was from this show. S Wonderful is a wonderful lyric
where the guy drops out mid line and the female sings back to him. The back and forth
play between the male and female helped lead this song to become an enormous success.
It grossed over $44,000 within a few weeks and had a total run of 244 performances on
Broadway (Gale Encyclopedia).
Music historians note that the fact of the Gershwins large success was due to
their new style and combinations. They say that Ira Gershwin was skilled at using new
lyrical styles. He used unusual word combinations and timing. Charles Schwartz once
said, according to, that the brothers had the uncanny knack for coming
up with the fresh songs and the novel ballads appropriate for their time and genre with
wonderfully creative lyrics, songs of chivalric love and gallantry(
George and Ira Gershwin moved back into adjoining penthouses in 1928. Ira
spent time updating the lyrics to some discarded compositions of Georges. Ira added
some Sigmund Romberg tunes, and the result was a Flo Ziegfeld production, Rosalie.
Rosalie opened in January 10, 1928 and ran for 335 performances on Broadway. There
was another Ziegfeld review that was supposed to open that same year, but was canceled.
Some pieces from that score survived and made their way into other popular Gershwin
productions (Gale Enclyopedia).
Ira Gershwin, along with his wife, Leonora Gershwin, accompanied George
Gershwin and the brothers sister Frances Gershwin on a European holiday in 1928. This
trip was the inspiration for the orchestral, An American in Paris( The
group of travelers left on March 11 and went through London, Paris, and Vienna.

When they had returned from Europe the Gershwin brothers started a new
Broadway musical, Treasure Girl. This show had a very popular song for singers of the
time called Ive Got a Crush on You. The show opened on Broadway at Times Square
Theatre on January 14, 1930. The show ran for 68 performances. (Gale Encyclopedia)
Ive Got Rhythm was actually written as a slow song for Treasure Girl, but ended up
being better fit for a later musical Crazy Girl.
At this time songs from the failed Ziegfeld review that the Gershwins had in
1928 made their way into mainstream culture. Embraceable You, was a very popular
song that found its way into Girl Crazy (1930). It was this show that Ive Got Rhythm
found its home. When Ira first heard George play the melody, Ira wrote down a dummy
lyric lyrics that would be used for the final version of the song, but would give the
lyricist a feel of how the tune will go with words. Feinstein says George felt that the use
of rhymes with that tune sounded too cloying, so then he started experimenting with
words that did not rhyme, which was absolutely taboo. And he finally decided to create a
lyric that had no rhymes except for the bridge, which is how it stood, (Feinstein).
On November 5, 1930, George, Ira and Lee Gershwin leave New York City and
travel to California by train. This is where George and Ira began to work on the film
score for Delicious. A famous song, Blah, Blah, Blah, is heard in the 1931 movie,
Delicious (Kimball). By 1929, though, the long-lasting collaboration between the
Gershwins and Ziegfeld ended after an overdone production called Show Girl. The show
opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City and ran for a total of 111 performances

The pair worked together very well. George was a perfectionist, but melodies
came easy to him. Ira was a proud procrastinator, as mentioned in Michael Feinsteins
book The Gershwins and Me. Ira often felt the pressure to hand in lyrics to George.
Michael Feinstein commented, In his later years he (Ira) seemed to cultivate a sedentary
nature as part of his persona. He expected his cat, Tinkerbelle, to come and fawn over
him, not wanting to exert the energy to pick her up. Ira really should have had a dog, but
his wife was a cat fancier, (Feinstein). Part of Iras great success was the fact that he
knew that his audience wanted. Ira Gershwin once wrote, Lyrics are written up to public
taste. The words musnt be precious or condescending. A good lyric should be rhymed
conversation. Gershwin treated his work as a labor of love. Lawrence D. Stewart said
in a recent interview Ira was never in competition with anyone other than himself. He
didnt worry about moneyHe never thought of his lyrics as turning them into dollars
and cents. Referring to his brother, Ira once said, My job was to sit and listen to music
that George created and then set words to it. Composer Burton Lane remembers Ira
normally had backup ideas and didnt think his job was finished until the composer was
completely satisfied. He often had three or four different sets of lyrics, and if he didnt
get the reaction he wanted he would try something else. He often revises lyrics years
after the song had been written. He found the title of the song to be very important and
would always try to work on it first. Ira had once said that what he wanted to was write
standards. He wanted to write songs that would always be there. Songs that would
always have an appeal and an audience, (
It was in 1932 that Ira Gershwin was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Along with Ira,
George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind were given the prize for the satirical score of the

musical comedy Of Thee I Sing (Gale Encyclopedia). It was the first American musical
with a consistently satiric tone. Everyone who had worked on the show wondered how
the public would react to this new kind of show. The winning of the Pulitzer brought new
respect to musical comedies.
George and Ira Gershwin rented a residence on Fire Island in 1935. The brothers
rented with Vernon Duke, Joseph Schillinger, and Moss Hart. This Fire Island home is
where they wrote much of Porgy and Bess. Porgy and Bess is based off the DuBose
Heyward novel set in Charlestons Catfish Row. The opera opened at the Alvin Theatre
on October 10, 1935. The run on Broadway lasted 124 performances (Gale
Encyclopedia). The musical exclusively had classically trained African American
singers. The Gershwins insisted on hiring only black singers to play the parts. At this
time blackface entertainment was still common, and the decision to hire only play singers
was a very progressive move at the time. The production remains popular today because
it was the brothers most ambitious and successful musical composition (
After Porgy and Bess, Ira Gershwin began working only on motion pictures. The
Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were under contract to complete another musical, the
Goldwyn Follies, as George became ill (Gale Encyclopedia). George died of a brain
tumor in 1937, and Ira devoted himself to organizing his brothers legacy. Ira hoped to
preserve it for future generations. Ira had always been his brothers business manager
and always looked after his money ( Ira became the holder of the
lucrative royalties from his brothers musical scores and a priceless collection of
artworks. It is valued at untold millions of dollars (Gale Encyclopedia). Michael
Feinstein, in an interview, recalled on what Ira had told him on the loss of his brother:


George was the person to whom Ira was closer than anybody else
on the planet. They had collaborated together for almost 20 years
Georges music to his older brother Iras lyrics. And Ira could
not conceive living life without George, because George was truly
his world. It was the kind of experience that Ira never got over. In
the years that I knew him 50 years after Georges passing he
still would get very, very depressed if he started to talk about
George, because he felt that nobody ever came close to the kind of
talent that George displayed on this Earth. [He went on to work]
with Aaron Copland and with Kurt Weill and with Burton Lane and
Harold Arlen, and he said that of all of the people he worked with,
only George was one whom he considered to be a true genius.
After George Gershwins death, Ira began working with Jerome Kern and Harry
Warren on Goldwyn Follies of 1938. The production ran for 115 performances, and after
its revision, 112 performances. It was not known until 1968, but at this time Ira and Kern
had worked on more pieces together. Some collaborations are Once There Were Two of
Us, Now That We Are One, and No Question in my Heart. Jerome Kern and Ira
Gershwin also worked together on Where Do We Go from Here? a movie, and an
operetta, The Firebrand of Florence (Gale Encyclopedia).
Ira Gershwin also collaborated with Kurt Weill. Kurt Weill was a German-born
composer who became acquainted in 1935 with Ira Gershwin. They worked together on
Lady in the Dark, which opened on January 23, 1941 at the Alvin Theatre in New York
City. It ran for 467 performances and was later turned into a movie of the same title
starring Ginger Rodgers (Gale Encyclopedia).
Ira Gershwin worked on the score for North Star, a Samuel Goldwyn film. After
North Star, Ira worked on a movie musical, Cover Girl (1944) (Gale Encyclopedia).
Gershwin had his final musical on Broadway in 1946. Park Avenue opened at the
Shubert Theatre on November 4, 1946 ( Park Avenue ran for a total of
72 performances. It is said to be Ira Gershwins last new Broadway score (Kimball).


While living in Hollywood, in the house next door to the one they had lived in
with George during the last months of his life, Ira and Leonore would always have
friends over. Close friends like Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall, and Adolph Green came
over for battles at the pool table, sing-alongs, and regular poker games.
After saying goodbye to Broadway, and many years later, Ira took a young man
under his wing. The young mans name was Michael Feinstein. For six years Michael
worked at Ira Gershwins cataloger and archivist. Through his book, The Gershwins and
Me, we have a look into a life of Ira Gershwin after his long career as a lyricist. Ira had
spent most of his life after Georges death, as we know, preserving his legacy. It was
during this time that many unpublished Gershwin works were unearthed. Ira had a room
full of old manuscripts, a floral binder filled with scraps of paper with a melody line, or a
small peak into an unwritten song, and recordings of unheard songs. Even more music
was found in the warehouse of Warner Bros. Music along with scores and manuscripts
from Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Vincent Youmans, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and
many others. Most of the Gershwin material found here is now at the Gershwin
Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress (Kimball).
Ira Gershwin died August 17, 1983 in Beverly Hills, California. He and his
brother had left the earth leaving a lasting impact on the world of music and art. The
lyrics and melodies of the Gershwin brothers live on.

Works Cited
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. Print.
Furia, Philip. Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print


Gershwin, Ira, and Robert Kimball. The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin. New York: A.
Knopf, 1993. Print
"Gershwinfan.COM." Gershwinfan.COM. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.
"Ira Gershwin." Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 16 Sep. 2014.
"Ira Gershwin | Biography | AllMusic." AllMusic. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.
"Ira Gershwin Facts." Ira Gershwin Facts. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.
"Ira Gershwin." :: Rodgers & Hammerstein. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.
"Ira Gershwin Biography." Ira Gershwin. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.
"Lyricist Ira Gershwin His Attention To Detail Brought Listeners Joy." Investor's
Business Daily. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
"Two Brothers Make History." | Gershwin Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
Staff, NPR. "Michael Feinstein: What I Learned From The Gershwins." NPR. NPR, n.d.
Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Gershwin, Ira, and Robert Kimball. The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin. New York: A.
Knopf, 1993. Print