Old Hollywood Songs: Get Happy

Today's song is Get Happy performed by Judy Garland in Summer Stock (1950).

Judy Garland's last musical number for MGM was a sizzling recreation of an old vaudeville standard that became one of the most iconic moments in old Hollywood history.

Get Happy was written in 1929 by the songwriting team of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Arlen was working as a singer, songwriter, and pianist in New York when he came up with a bouncy tune that was based on the musical routines Arlen played while working as an accompanist for dance rehearsals, according to www.haroldarlen.com. Arlen's friend, composer Will Marion Cook, liked the tune and suggested that Arlen work with a lyricist to create a song. Arlen met Koehler through mutual friends, and the pair signed a contract with the music publishing company of George and Arthur Piantadosi. The pair quickly got to work on their first song. Arlen turned his tune into Get Happy, with Koehler writing lyrics that were a takeoff on the tent revival meetings that were popular during the 1920's.

Torch singer Ruth Etting introduced Get Happy on Broadway in The Nine-Fifteen Revue, and, although the show was not a success, the song became a popular hit. In fact, Warner Bros. used a jazz version by Abe Lyman's Brunswick Recording Orchestra as the theme song for its Merrie Melodies cartoons (clip below; this video contains several vintage cartoons, but you'll hear Get Happy right away).

In 1950, MGM producer Joe Pasternak was making a backstage musical Summer Stock, starring Judy Garland as a New England farmer whose barn is taken over by a theatrical troupe led by Gene Kelly. The principal shooting had been over for three months when Pasternak decided that the movie lacked a show-stopping finale, so he called director Charles Walters and Garland back to the set. 

Garland and Walters decided to revisit an idea from their 1948 collaboration, Easter Parade. Garland had performed a song called Mr. Monotony in a fedora, tuxedo jacket, and black hose that was later cut from the movie because it was considered too risque (you can read all about it here). Judy decided to show off her newly svelte figure (she had recently lost 20 pounds) by wearing the same costume for Get Happy, and the combination of Garland's diva looks and the stylish choreography created one of the most iconic numbers in old Hollywood history.

Get Happy was always a highlight of Garland's concerts, and she even performed a special version with Barbra Streisand on her variety show.

Get Happy continues to be a popular standard, and, in recent years, it has been performed on the TV shows Glee and House.

TCM will air Summer Stock at 2 a.m. April 22 (Friday night/Saturday morning) and at 8 a.m. July 3.  It is also available on DVD and video on demand.

Go here, for more Judy Garland songs.