“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Words and music by Milton Drake, Walter Kent, and Abner Silver (1932). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with Elsie Carlisle as vocalist on December 1, 1932. Regal Zonophone MR-769.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-Joe Jeannette-Billy Amstell-reeds / Harry Hines-as / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d / Freddie Bretherton-a
Transfer by Clive Hooley (YouTube)
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” is a composition by notable songwriters Milton Drake (also known for “Java Jive” and “Mairzy Doats”), Walter Kent (most famous for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “The White Cliffs of Dover”), and Abner Silver (who would co-write “No! No! A Thousand Times, No!” — another Elsie Carlisle hit). Elsie recorded “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” five times in November and December of 1932, more times than any other song in her career: first “solo,” then with Ambrose and His Orchestra (by far her best-known version), then in two takes with Rudy Starita and His Band (one on Sterno, the other on Four-in-One), and finally with Harry Hudson and His Melody Men.
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” remains one of Elsie’s most popular songs, most likely on account of her impeccable comic delivery of its risqué lyrics — indeed, it is outdone in sexual suggestiveness only by her two recordings of “My Man O’ War” (perhaps “My Handy Man” would also qualify in this regard). It is the complaint of an attractive woman who admits to liking a bit of flirtation but who has apparently met someone who takes it too far: a certain “Mr. Hemingway.” As the song progress, her description of his impertinent advances escalates, with Mr. Hemingway’s behavior sounding increasingly physically rough. The culmination is justly famous:
And I don’t mind your osculations,But my dear, my operation!Oh, pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!
Two days before she recorded the version with Ambrose and His Orchestra, Elsie had committed to shellac a “solo” recording:
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Recorded by Elsie Carlisle on November 28, 1932. Decca F. 3312.
Personnel: probably Max Goldberg-t / t / tb / 2cl / as / 2 or 3 vn / Claude Ivy-p / g / sb / d
Transfer by Erik Høst
This version is at a slightly slower tempo, and Elsie’s delivery is more conversational. The arrangement is surprisingly similar to the one that Freddie Bretherton produced for Ambrose.
The last version of “Pul-eeze! Mister Hemingway” that Elsie would record was with Harry Hudson and His Melody Men:
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Recorded by Harry Hudson and His Melody Men (as Rolando and His Blue Salon Orchestra) with Elsie Carlisle as vocalist on December 20, 1932. Edison Bell Winner 5536.
Video by Tim Gracyk (YouTube)
Here the arrangement is a little different, and the orchestra is given a little more time to itself at the end. Elsie’s delivery is chatty, but perhaps not as much as in her solo recording.
There were a number of other artists recording “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” in late 1932. One problem they ran into was how to have a male singer deliver the song, which was risqué but not entirely unconventional in its sexuality. In America, George Olsen and His Music had male singer Fran Frey recount hearing a woman speak the lyrics, while Gene Kardos and His Orchestra (as Bob Causer and His Cornellians) had Dick Robertson rebuff a certain Mrs. Hemingway! In Britain there were versions by Billy Cotton and His Band, Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (with vocals by the Caryle Cousins, using the original lyrics), Ann Suter, Jay Wilbur and His Band (as Phil Allen’s Merrymakers, with vocalist Les Allen), and Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (in a Billy Ternent arrangement, with singer Pat O’Malley). Interestingly, the last two bandleaders mentioned did not seem to be bothered by having their male singers complain about being pestered by Mr. Hemingway! Gracie Fields recorded a version of the song that was only released in Australia, and Albert Whelan made one for Panachord accompanied by Harry Hudson’s Melody Men, but I have not been able to discover much about it.
Two final points need to be addressed. People often ask me if it is Ernest Hemingway that Elsie is singing about. I see no particular reason to identify the fictional masher with the American novelist. An open letter addressed to Ernest Hemingway entitled “Please, Mr. Ernest Hemingway” appeared in the American Criterion in 1935, but the addition of Hemingway’s first name would suggest that the letter’s author did not consider the song title that he was citing in jest to be originally about Ernest Hemingway.
And yes, there is a Steampunk Jazz version of “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” that samples the Ambrose recording. Pu-leeze!