Composer Nacio Herb Brown and The Broadway Melody
Nacio Herb Brown’s connection to New Mexico is so obscure that his 1964 obituary in The New York Times identifies him as a native of Deming, North Dakota. Deming is absolutely correct, but whoever penned the obituary obviously mistook N.M. for N.D. One thing you can say about the typo: The journalist just might have been channeling one of Brown’s most famous songs — “Make ’Em Laugh.”
Brown, the first composer hired by MGM in the sound era of movies, wrote scores of hits including “Singin’ in the Rain,” “You Were Meant for Me,” “Wedding of the Painted Doll,” and “All I Do Is Dream of You.” Most often, he collaborated with lyricist Arthur Freed, who went on to head his own unit at MGM, serving as producer of Oscar-winners An American in Paris and Gigi, not to mention The Harvey Girls and Show Boat.
Brown nearly bypassed the opportunity to work in Hollywood. Irving Thalberg, head of production at MGM, came courting the songwriter once it became clear that a new era in movies was just around the corner. Brown had already enjoyed some success as a songwriter, having written his first hits — “Coral Sea” and “When Buddha Smiles” — in the early 1920s. Even so, Brown rejected Thalberg, not wanting to abandon his highly successful real-estate business. It’s was a good thing Brown eventually relented. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 pretty much wiped out the real-estate business. And as the Depression took hold, Americans turned to the “all talking, all singing, all dancing” movies to lift their troubles and their burdens.
“All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing” was, in fact, the slogan coined for the 1929 MGM musical The
Broadway Melody, produced by Thalberg and the first feature incorporating songs by the new crack team of Brown and Freed. Here, they not only introduced “Wedding of the Painted Doll” and “You Were Meant for Me,” but also “The Broadway Melody,” “Love Boat,” and “Harmony Babies.” Presumably, they penned these songs the way they did most of their works — starting with a catchy title, and then fitting the lyrics and music together around that theme.
Brown makes an uncredited appearance as a pianist in the movie. The prime focus, though, is on Bessie Love and Anita Page as two sisters on the vaudeville circuit, competing for the affections of a singer played by Charles King. He chases after the younger sister played by Page, who takes up with a scummy playboy to avoid hurting her sibling. Viewers today might find the plot creaky but may be surprised by the open treatment of homosexuality — the movie came
Above left, music and words: Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; below, Brown with actress Anita Page