Iowa Man Wrote a Famous Christmas Song We All Love
There are so many wonderful Christmas songs we all enjoy every year. I'm a fan of the classics like "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", "The Christmas Song", "Holly Jolly Christmas", and so on. However, there's one song that it just wouldn't be Christmas without... and it was written by a famous native Iowan.
The photo at the top of this story is from June 29, 1939. It's from the "Maxwell House Good News" radio show. On that date, the show was a special preview of 'The Wizard of Oz', which wouldn't be released to theaters until August 25 of that year. I'm sure you recognize some of the faces in that picture, including Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the 'Wizard of Oz'. On that radio show on June 29, 1939, Garland did her first public performance of "Over the Rainbow."
Standing left to right in the photo are Bert Lahr (the cowardly lion), Ray Bolger (the scarecrow), L.K. Sidney (an MGM executive), EY Harburg (who helped write every song in the movie), Meredith Willson (the music director of the radio show), Harry Link (publisher), and Harold Arlen (another of the songwriters for the movie, sitting next to Judy; Arlen wrote "Over the Rainbow").
*I wanted to explain that photo before we went any further.
Meredith Willson is a native of Mason City, Iowa, and a very accomplished playwright, composer, and bandleader. He's the man who wrote the 1957 Broadway hit "The Music Man" and six years earlier he wrote a famous Christmas song.
*Willson is on the right below with English actor and singer Dennis Waterman in a rehearsal for 'The Music Man' in London, England on March 16, 1961.
In 1951, Willson wrote "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas", a song that would become a Christmas standard. The song has been recorded more than 200 times over the years, but two of the most famous versions were done the very year it was written.
On September 18, 1951, Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters and Mitchell Ayres and His Orchestra recorded the song.
Two weeks later, on October 1, 1951, Bing Crosby recorded it.
The most popular version of the song very well may be the one by Michael Buble'.
We'll never know for sure what city Willson was referencing with these lyrics in the song: "there's a tree in the grand hotel, one in the park as well..." Was it the Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, which overlooks a park, or the Grand Hotel in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia? Frost Park sits across from that hotel in Yarmouth, a city Willson allegedly visited in the late 1940s. As you can imagine, locals in both cities were convinced their city was the inspiration for that part of the song.
Other songs written/composed by Meredith Willson include 76 Trombones, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You, For I, For S (for Iowa State in 1953),
*"For I, For S" begins 1:42 into the video below.
and the Iowa Fight Song (1950). Willson would guest-conduct the University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band at the Rose Bowl in 1957, 1959, and 1982).