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James Van Heusen

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James Van Heusen

Jimmy Van Heusen
File:Jimmy Van Heusen.jpg
Background information
Birth name Edward Chester Babcock
Born (1913-01-26)January 26, 1913
Syracuse, New York, United States
Died February 6, 1990(1990-02-06) (aged 77)
Genres Popular music
Occupations Songwriter, Pianist

James "Jimmy" Van Heusen (January 26, 1913 – February 6, 1990),[1] was an American composer. He wrote songs for films, television and theater, and won an Emmy and four Academy Awards for Best Original Song.

Life and career

Born Edward Chester Babcock in Syracuse, New York, he began writing music while at high school. He renamed himself at age 16, after the famous shirt makers, Phillips-Van Heusen, to use as his off-air name during local shows. His close friends called him "Chet."

Studying at Cazenovia Seminary and Syracuse University, he became friends with Jerry Arlen, the younger brother of Harold Arlen. With the elder Arlen's help, Van Heusen wrote songs for the Cotton Club revue, including "Harlem Hospitality."

He then became a staff pianist for some of the Tin Pan Alley publishers, and wrote "It's the Dreamer in Me" (1938) with lyrics by Jimmy Dorsey.

Collaborating with lyricist Eddie DeLange, on songs such as "Heaven Can Wait", "So Help Me", and "Darn That Dream", his work became more prolific, writing over 60 songs in 1940 alone. It was in 1940 that he teamed up with the lyricist Johnny Burke.

Burke and Van Heusen moved to Hollywood writing for stage musicals and films throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Swinging on a Star" (1944). Their songs were also featured in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949).

He was also a pilot of some accomplishment; he worked, using his birth name, as a part-time test pilot for Lockheed Corporation in World War II.

Van Heusen then teamed up with lyricist Sammy Cahn. Their three Academy Awards for Best Song were won for "All the Way" (1957) from The Joker Is Wild, "High Hopes" (1959) from A Hole in the Head, and "Call Me Irresponsible" (1963) from Papa's Delicate Condition. Their songs were also featured in Ocean's Eleven (1960) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), which featured the Oscar-nominated "My Kind of Town."

Cahn and Van Heusen also wrote "Love and Marriage" (1955), "To Love and Be Loved", "Come Fly with Me", "Only the Lonely", and "Come Dance with Me" with many of their compositions being the title songs for Frank Sinatra's albums of the late 1950s.

Van Heusen wrote the music for five Broadway musicals: Swingin' the Dream (1939); Nellie Bly (1946),Carnival in Flanders (1953), Skyscraper (1965), and Walking Happy (1966). While Van Heusen did not achieve nearly the success on Broadway that he did in Hollywood, at least three songs from Van Heusen musicals can legitimately be considered standards - "Darn That Dream" from Swingin' the Dream; "Here's that Rainy Day" from Carnival in Flanders and "I Only Miss Her When I Think of Her" from "Skyscraper".

He became an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971.

Van Heusen composed over 800 plus songs of which 50 songs became standards. Van Heusen songs are featured in over one hundred eighty films.

Life and Times

Although not considered handsome by conventional standards, Van Heusen was known to be quite a ladies man. James Kaplan from his book: Frank The Voice wrote, "He played piano beautifully, wrote gorgeously poignant songs about romance...he had a fat wallet, he flew his own plane; he never went home alone." Van Heusen was once described by Angie Dickinson, "You would not pick him over Clark Gable any day, but his magnetism was irresistible." In his 20's he began to shave his head when he started losing his hair, a practice ahead of its time. He once said "I would rather write songs than do anything else -- even fly." Kaplan also reported that he was a "hypochondriac of the first order" who kept a Merck manual at his bedside, injected himself with vitamins and painkillers, and had surgical procedures for ailments real and imagined."

It was Van Heusen who rushed Sinatra to the hospital after Sinatra, in despair over the breakup of his marriage to Ava Gardner, slashed one of his wrists in a failed suicide attempt in November 1953. However, this event was never mentioned by Van Heusen in any radio or print interviews given by him.

Van Heusen married for the first time in 1969, at age 56, and retired in the late 1970s. He died in Rancho Mirage, California in 1990 from complications following a stroke, at the age of 77.[2] His wife, Bobbe, survived him. Van Heusen is buried in the Sinatra family burial plot in Desert Memorial Park,[1] in Cathedral City, California. His grave marker reads Swinging On A Star.

Academy Awards

Van Heusen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song 14 times in 12 different years (in both 1945 and 1964 he was nominated for two songs), and won 4 times: in 1944, 1957, 1959, and 1963.[3]

Academy Award Wins
Academy Award nominations

Emmy Award

He won one Emmy Award for Best Musical Contribution, for the song "Love and Marriage"(1955) (lyrics by Sammy Cahn), written for the 1955 Producers' Showcase production of Our Town. [4]

Other awards

He was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965 for Best Musical Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV show "Robin and the Seven Hoods"

He was also nominated for 3 Tony awards:

He was nominated three times for a Golden Globe Award.

He won one Christoper Award in 1955 for the song "Love and Marriage".


The bridge section of Paul Desmond's iconic jazz anthem, "Take Five" is a direct homage to Van Heusen's "Sunday, Monday or Always".


With lyricist Sammy Cahn

With lyricist Johnny Burke

With lyricist Eddie DeLange

  • "All This and Heaven Too"
  • "Darn That Dream"
  • "Deep in a Dream"
  • "Heaven Can Wait"
  • "Shake Down The Stars"
  • "So Help Me"

With others


  • It's 1200 miles from Palm Springs to Texas[5]


  • James Kaplan (2010). Frank: The Voice, Pages 49,666-669.
  • Wilfred Sheed (2007). The House That George Built, "Jimmy Van Heusen: On The Radio With Bing and Frank" Pages 225-251.
  • Berry, David Carson (2000). “The Popular Songwriter as Composer: Mannerisms and Design in the Music of Jimmy Van Heusen,” Indiana Theory Review 21, 1-51.
  • Alec Wilder (1990). American Popular Song, "The Great Craftsmen: Jimmy Van Heusen" Pages 442-451.
  • William Ruhlmann (2001). HighBeam Research

External links

  • Jimmy Van Heusen Website
  • Songwriters Hall Of Fame Website
  • Internet Movie Database listing
  • Internet Broadway Database listing
  • Obituary, February 8, 1990
  • Jimmy Van Heusen Gravesite Information
  • Sinatra family plot

Template:AcademyAwardBestOriginalSong 1941–1950 Template:AcademyAwardBestOriginalSong 1951–1960 Template:AcademyAwardBestOriginalSong 1961–1970

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