Mort Dixon Articles

“He’s Not Worth Your Tears” (1931)

“He’s Not Worth Your Tears.” Words by Mort Dixon and Billy Rose, music by Harry Warren; composed for the musical Sweet and Low (1930). Recorded in London on February 25, 1931 by Elsie Carlisle (as Gracie Collins) under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur. Eclipse 50 mx. JW-173-3.

Personnel: Jay Wilbur dir. Max Goldberg-Bill Shakespeare-t / Ted Heath or Tony Thorpe-tb / Laurie Payne-Jimmy Gordon-cl-as-bar / Norman Cole-?another-vn / Billy Thorburn or Pat Dodd-p / Bert Thomas-g / Harry Evans-sb / Jack Kosky-d

He’s Not Worth Your Tears – Gracie Collins (Elsie Carlisle) – Eclipse 50

Transfer by Jonathan David Holmes

Sheet music and record labels assert that “He’s Not Worth Your Tears” originated in the 1930 Broadway revue Sweet and Low, and yet sources for original casts and the like omit the song.1 Perhaps it was cut from the show but continued to be marketed as having been in it? At any rate, it was recorded by quite a few artists, Elsie Carlisle among them. This is her only record side with the budget Eclipse label (sold in Woolworth’s), and one of only four small, eight-inch records that she ever made.

This song showcases Elsie as a torch singer capable of appealing to our deepest sympathies for whatever lost or unrequited love she claims to have experienced. And yet this torch song has a bit of a twist: Elsie is not complaining so much about the lover who left her as the people who are trying to comfort her. “He’s not worth your tears,” they tell her to her annoyance. I find the lyrics of the B part particularly memorable:

They never bother an old weeping willow —
They leave it drooping there.
So if I want to confide in my pillow,
Why should strangers care?

Elsie is at her most mournful in this song. There is something deeply attractive about the way that her voice sounds as if it is about to break, but never does. I have listed the personnel that Richard J. Johnson identifies as having made up Jay Wilbur’s studio band at the time,2 but I only hear a pianist and a trumpet player; the latter has a short but memorable solo.

Eclipse 50 was the second Elsie Carlisle record that I ever bought. I put off sharing a transfer of it because my copy is rather worn and I was hoping to find a better one, but it would appear that this is a comparatively rare record. I was very pleased when Jonathan Holmes found a good copy and shared it on YouTube; his transfer is the one used at the beginning of the article. Readers might like to compare my copy, though, as it is take 2, not take 3, and there are interesting little differences in the pacing:

“He’s Not Worth Your Tears.” Recorded in London on February 25, 1931 by Elsie Carlisle (as Gracie Collins) under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur. Eclipse 50 mx. JW-173-2.

Elsie Carlisle – “He’s Not Worth Your Tears” (1931)

Elsie used the pseudonym Gracie Collins on Eclipse 50; the reverse side, “Homesick Blues,” is also supposed to be by Gracie Collins, but it clearly has Betty Bolton’s voice. If that is not confusing enough — having two very different singers pretending to have sung both sides of one record — there also exists a take 1 of “He’s Not Worth Your Tears” that was recorded by a singer named Elaine Rosslyn. I have not heard it myself.3

In America in 1930-1931 there were versions of “He’s Not Worth Your Tears” recorded by Doris Robbins, Marion Harris, Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (v. Helen Rowland), Aileen Stanley (two takes rejected by Victor), Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (v. Mildred Bailey), and Ben Selvin and His Orchestra (v. Helen Rowland).

There were British dance band versions in 1931 by Jack Harris and His Orchestra (“She’s Not Worth Your Tears” — apparently mislabeled as “It’s Not Worth Your Tears”; v. Cavan O’Connor) and by the Debroy Somers Band (also “She’s Not Worth Your Tears”; v. Dan Donovan).

Notes:

  1. E.g., The Guide to Musical Theatre.
  2. Richard J.  Johnson, Elsie Carlisle: A Discography, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire: Richard J. Johnson, 1994, 12.
  3. For more about Eclipse’s “Gracie Collins” pseudonym, see Arthur Badrock’s comments in Talking Machine Review 88 (Autumn/Winter 1994): 2559-2560.

“Sweet Flossie Farmer” (1935)

“Sweet Flossie Farmer (The Lovely Snake Charmer).” Words by Mort Dixon, music by Allie Wrubel (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on April 18, 1935. Decca F. 5524 mx. GB 7098-2.

Elsie Carlisle – “Sweet Flossie Farmer” (1935)”

“Sweet Flossie Farmer” is a comical song with a circus setting (like Elsie Carlisle’s duet with Sam Browne from the previous year, “Mr. Magician”). The scenario is simple: the title character, “Flossie Farmer,” is a professional snake charmer who is paradoxically attracted to a man repeatedly described as a “snake in the grass.”1 He is an animal trainer, but Flossie cares only for him, not for his animals, whose difficult polysyllabic names Elsie relishes rattling off while dismissing them: “rhinoceroses,” “hippopotamuses,” “sea lionesses” — she appears to give up after the gaffe “kangaroos-a-mooses!” — and the orchestra provides her with a satisfying antiphonal chorus of nonsense sounds. This animal trainer is a very bad man, we are to understand, who is only interested in sex, and he appears to succeed in his lechery, only to be bitten by Flossie’s snakes, who appear to be motivated by both jealousy and loyalty.

“Sweet Flossie Farmer,” like “Fare Thee Well, Annabelle” (which Elsie would record two months later), was composed by Hollywood songwriters Mort Dixon and Allie Wrubel. Newspapers of the time suggest that “Sweet Flossie Farmer” was, like “Fare Thee Well, Annabelle,” introduced in the film Sweet Music by Rudy Vallée and Ann Dvorak, but I cannot find the scene in which it occurs; there may very well be different cuts. In the 1935 Warner Bros. cartoon Hollywood Capers a small female animal sings the song. It was also recorded in America by Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra, and in Britain it was included in 1936 in a medley by the Bert Feldman Company.

"Sweet Flossie Farmer." Sheet nusic featuring Elsie Carlisle.

Notes:

  1. As a classicist, I would be remiss if I did not point out that this is one of Elsie’s rare references to the Roman poet Virgil (Eclogues 3.93).

“You’re My Everything” (1932)

“You’re My Everything.” Words by Mort Dixon and Joe Young, music by Harry Warren (1931). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with an instrumental trio in Manchester on September 23, 1932. Decca F-3193 mx. KB-135-2.

Elsie Carlisle – “You’re My Everything” (1932)

An effusive expression of affection, “You’re My Everything” has its origins as the hit song of of a 1931-1932 two-act Broadway revue entitled The Laugh Parade, produced by and starring Ed Wynn, a comedian who twenty years later would provide the voice for the Mad Hatter in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. The music for the play was composed by Harry Warren, with lyrics provided by Mort Dixon and Joe Young. It was French actress Jeanne Aubert and American actor Lawrence Gray who introduced the signature tune.

Elsie Carlisle, in her 1932 recording of the song, brings sincerity to its hyperbolic lyrics. Hers is a surprisingly straightforward and touching interpretation of the composition; we find absent the coyness of her torch songs, the levity of her racier music. The band provides a suitably atmospheric accompaniment to her professions of love and awe for the lucky “you” of the song.

“You’re My Everything” was recorded in September 1931 by the Arden-Ohman Orchestra (with vocals by Frank Luther) and in October by Abe Lyman and His Orchestra (Dick Robertson, vocalist). In 1932 America heard versions by Russ Columbo, Ben Selvin and His Orchestra (Helen Rowland, vocalist), Jack Miller and the New Englanders,

 Britain produced recordings of “You’re My Everything” later in 1932, with versions by Roy Fox and His Band (with Al Bowlly as vocalist), Syd Lipton (as Sidney Raymond and His Commanders), the Blue Mountaineers (with vocals by Sam Browne), Ray Noble and His New Mayfair Orchestra (as part of a “Paul Jones” medley), Bertini and His Band (with vocals by Tom Barratt), and by Anona Winn and Jack Plant (as “Bob Mackworth”).

"You're My Everything" sheet music (from "The Laugh Parade," 1931")
“You’re My Everything” sheet music (from “The Laugh Parade,” 1931″)

“Fare Thee Well, Annabelle” (1935)

“Fare Thee Well, Annabelle.”  Words by Mort Dixon, music by Allie Wrubel (1934).  Recorded on June 20, 1935 by Ambrose and His Orchestra, with vocals by Donald Stewart, Elsie Carlisle, and the Rhythm Brothers.  Decca F. 5590.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen and 1 unknown-t / Ted Heath-Lew Davis-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as-bar / Sid Phillips-cl-as-bar-a / Joe Jeannette-as / Billy Amstell-cl-ts / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-vn / Bert Barnes-p-a /Joe Brannelly-g /Dick Ball-sb /Max Bacon-d

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e13GqmpuS5E

Ambrose and his Orchestra – “Fare Thee Well, Annabelle” (1935)

Transfer by phonomono78s (YouTube)

Mort Dixon and Allie Wrubel wrote “Fare Thee Well, Annabelle” in 1934; it was introduced in 1935 by Rudy Vallée and Ann Dvorak in the film Sweet Music.  The Ambrose Orchestra’s version does justice to this admirable example of the “train song” genre; it lacks the lollapalooza tap dancing sequence of the film, but its simulated train sounds evoke the original context of the song nicely, and Donald Stewart and Elsie Carlisle make suitable stand-ins for the movie actors.

Notable Americans to record “Fare Thee Well, Annabelle” that year were Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra (with Pee Wee Hunt as vocalist), Charlie Barnet (with singer Marion Nichols), Ted Fio Rito and His Orchestra (with vocals by Muzzy Marcellino and The Debutantes), Chick Bullock and His Levee Loungers, Wingy Manone, and the Boswell Sisters (recording in London).

In 1935 Britain would hear other recordings of “Fare Thee Well, Annabelle” by the Debroy Somers Band (with Brian Lawrance as vocalist), Billy Merrin and His Commanders (Ken Crossley, vocalist), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (Bill Currie, vocalist), Sidney Kyte and His Piccadilly Hotel band (with Norman Phillips singing), and Joe Loss and His Radio Band.

"Fare Thee Well, Annabelle" sheet music featuring Rudy Vallée and Ann Dvorak
“Fare Thee Well, Annabelle” sheet music featuring Rudy Vallée and Ann Dvorak

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.