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"Blue Moon" Materials Registered for Copyright

Documenting Edward W. Roman’s authorship of “Blue Moon” necessitated an examination of the song’s complicated and highly unusual copyright history.

“Blue Moon” as we know it today was registered for copyright as a published work by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. on December 5, 1934. Credited were songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (music and lyrics, respectively), who had been under contract to the studio throughout 1933 and into March 1934. However, three previous iterations of the same melody, each with a different title and set of lyrics, had been registered for copyright by MGM as unpublished works in the year and a half prior. 

At the Library of Congress, we asked to review all four “deposits,” the term for the material that is actually registered for copyright. The deposit for the first iteration of the song, registered on July 10, 1933, was missing. What appears to be a copy of this document surfaced at the New York Public Library with a telling date handwritten on the upper left: 1-12-32. This is the date of song broker Jack Mahoney’s offer letter for “Blue Moon” to the Troy, New York, teenager, Edward W. Roman.

A look at each of the deposits follows. What this material reveals about the song’s authorship is discussed in the first and final sections of the Memoir.  

Deposit: July 10, 1933

From The Memoir

“The story goes that MGM had asked them for a song for actress Jean Harlow for the movie Hollywood Party. The song they delivered, ‘Prayer,’ in which a young girl prays for fame to the melody of ‘Blue Moon,’ was neither used nor recorded. As MGM’s Song #225, ‘Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star),’ dated June 14, 1933, it was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.”

Deposit Reference: “Prayer,” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, a piano arrangement with arranger C. Mockridge, July 10, 1933, Eunp #73528

On our visit to the Library of Congress, the deposit for this first copyright was nowhere to be found. Our librarian searched far and wideto no avail. 

The librarian’s explanation is as follows:

“The unpublished copyright deposit for ‘Prayer’ seems like it may be missing from the folder for the production, Hollywood Party, especially because of the additional songs in the folder and the copyright deposit accession number sequences. This particular version of ‘Blue Moon’ does not appear to have been individually cataloged, and we have been unable to find it within broader classification schemes where it would likely have been otherwise placed.” 

Hmmm. . .The mystery continues. . .

Hmmm. . .The mystery deepens. . .

UPDATE: A document that appears to be a copy of this deposit was located at the New York Public Library’s Billy Rose Theatre Division, with 1-12-32, the date of song broker Jack Mahoney’s offer letter for “Blue Moon” to Ed Roman, noted on the upper left. See the following images:

A sample performance of the song. . .not related to the movie.

Deposit: March 30, 1934

From The Memoir

“Hart, the story continues, wrote a new set of lyrics for the same melody as the title song for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama. Also called ‘It’s Just That Kind of A Play,’ the song was cut from the film, and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934. The studio then requested a nightclub number for the film. Rodgers still liked the music, so Hart wrote a third set of lyrics: ‘The Bad in Every Man.’ It was sung by Shirley Ross and released as sheet music. It wasn’t a hit.”

Deposit Reference: “Manhattan Melodrama,” by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, March 30, 1934, Eunp #85144

This second iteration is entitled “Manhattan Melodrama” on the deposit, as it was slated to be the title song for the movie of the same name. Its alternate title, “It’s Just That Kind of A Play,” comes from a line in the lyrics.

We also found the deposit for “The Bad in Every Man,” with Hart’s new lyrics for the nightclub scene. This third version was used in the film, but, interestingly, registered for copyright as an unpublished work on May 9, 1934, five days after the release of the film.

"Manhattan Melodrama" Deposit

"The Bad In Every Man" Deposit

Deposit: December 5, 1934

The final deposit would be that for the published song, “Blue Moon,” which was registered for copyright as a published work on December 5, 1934.

Deposit Reference: “Blue Moon,” words by Lorenz Hart, melody by Richard Rodgers, published December 5, 1934, received and mg. December 7, 1934, Epub #45186

However, that deposit couldn’t be found eitheranywhere. Where could it be? And how could it be that the material registered for copyright on one of the most universally recognized songs of the 20th century is, simply, missing? 

Our librarian said the deposit would be “close to” the published sheet music from the era. Here is an example:

Lyrics to "Blue Moon"

Blue moon, you saw me standing alone,
Without a dream in my heart,
Without a love of my own.

Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for,
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for.

And then there suddenly appeared before me,
The only one my arms will ever hold.
I heard somebody whisper, “Please adore me.”
And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold!

Blue moon,
Now I’m no longer alone,
Without a dream in my heart,
Without a love of my own.