Irving Berlin (1888-1989)

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01Alexander's Ragtime Band20120528

Irving Berlin's 1911 hit Alexander's Ragtime Band made him the King of Ragtime, but Berlin would take on other crowns during the course of his life of 101 years - with triumphs on Broadway and in Hollywood. Music was very much a means of survival for Berlin from an early age. He had arrived aged 5 in the new immigrant-processing facility on Ellis Island in 1893, fleeing with his family from the pogroms of Tsarist Russia. They lived in a crowded tenement on disreputable Cherry Street in the Lower East Side of New York, an area which was one of the most crowded in the city and in effect a Jewish ghetto. Having to leave home at 14, Berlin, whose father had been a cantor in the synagogue, found work singing, in his raspy tenor voice, entertaining the customers in seamy bars and saloons. In these tough surroundings he quickly learned that simple, well-known tunes were the most reliable. He had no formal musical training of any kind, so had great appeal as a musical "man of the people", playing up to this image, and parading his musical ignorance. He would often say that the only reason he was in the music business was to make money. Donald Macleod explores the early life and work of a composer whose career spanned Dvorak to the Beatles.

Donald Macleod focuses on Berlin's first successes as a composer of hit songs.

02Always20120529

During the First World War Berlin was drafted into the army and stationed at Camp Upton in Long Island, where he raised $80,000 dollars for the war effort by writing a vaudeville-style show, Yip, Yip, Yaphank. Cannily making the maximum profit possible from his hit songs by being composer, lyricist and publisher in-one, by the early 1920s he was already very wealthy and took possibly the biggest risk of his career, building his own theatre on Broadway, The Music Box. He began to socialise with the likes of Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx and HG Wells by joining the Round Table Society, and in 1924 met a young woman who was to become his wife, the rebellious heiress Ellin Mackay. From one of the wealthiest families in America, Berlin dedicated his song 'Always' to her. Although her family disapproved of their union and was seen as a traitor to her class, Berlin became embroiled in the Mackay family's misfortune when his father-in-law incurred the biggest losses of any individual during the Wall Street Crash of 1929. After a period of silence after his marriage, he responded to the changed social realities of the times with two satirical musicals in the early 1930s, Face the Music and As Thousands Cheer. Donald Macleod explores this tumultuous time for America and for Irving Berlin.

Donald Macleod focuses on Irving Berlin's experience of the First World War.

03Nothing But Blue Skies From Now On2012053020120530 (R3)

Donald Macleod explores Irving Berlin's contribution to Hollywood musicals in the 1930s.

Donald Macleod explores Berlin's experiences in Hollywood in the mid 1930s, where he worked with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on films that were seen as finally mastering the art of musical comedy. While Top Hat and Follow the Fleet found a formula that was hugely successful with audiences, he would also provide the music for some ambitious misfires, and ultimately found the process of working in the movies frustrating.

03Nothing But Blue Skies From Now On20120530

Donald Macleod explores Irving Berlin's contribution to Hollywood musicals in the 1930s.

Donald Macleod explores Irving Berlin's contribution to Hollywood musicals in the 1930s.

Donald Macleod explores Berlin's experiences in Hollywood in the mid 1930s, where he worked with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on films that were seen as finally mastering the art of musical comedy. While Top Hat and Follow the Fleet found a formula that was hugely successful with audiences, he would also provide the music for some ambitious misfires, and ultimately found the process of working in the movies frustrating.

04God Bless America2012053120120531 (R3)

Donald Macleod explores Irving Berlin's songs from the 1940s, including White Christmas.

In the run up to the Second World War Berlin once again judged the mood of the American people perfectly by writing the patriotic song God Bless America, and similarly, once the war had begun, the songs he wrote for the film Holiday Inn affirmed the values of hearth, home and country. These included White Christmas, which Berlin considered the best song he ever wrote, and it was particularly popular with soldiers posted overseas. During the war Berlin led his own military troupe around the world with a revue, This is the Army, which 2.5 million soldiers saw between its Broadway debut in 1942 and the Hawaiian finale in 1945. Donald Macleod looks at Berlin's role as national minstrel during the 1940s.

04God Bless America20120531

In the run up to the Second World War Berlin once again judged the mood of the American people perfectly by writing the patriotic song God Bless America, and similarly, once the war had begun, the songs he wrote for the film Holiday Inn affirmed the values of hearth, home and country. These included White Christmas, which Berlin considered the best song he ever wrote, and it was particularly popular with soldiers posted overseas. During the war Berlin led his own military troupe around the world with a revue, This is the Army, which 2.5 million soldiers saw between its Broadway debut in 1942 and the Hawaiian finale in 1945. Donald Macleod looks at Berlin's role as national minstrel during the 1940s.

Donald Macleod explores Irving Berlin's songs from the 1940s, including White Christmas.

05 LASTThe Song Is Ended20120601

Donald Macleod explores Irving Berlin's final years.

Donald Macleod looks at Berlin's final years and projects, including his last Broadway musical Mr President, and an intended swansong to the cinema, Say it with Music. After several attempts at one last big hit show, he became a recluse as he entered the final phase of his life, fighting off any attempt to document his life or examine his music, and becoming a prisoner of himself.

05 LASTThe Song Is Ended20120601

Donald Macleod looks at Berlin's final years and projects, including his last Broadway musical Mr President, and an intended swansong to the cinema, Say it with Music. After several attempts at one last big hit show, he became a recluse as he entered the final phase of his life, fighting off any attempt to document his life or examine his music, and becoming a prisoner of himself.

Donald Macleod explores Irving Berlin's final years.