Blue Moon:

In Search Of
The Song My Father Wrote

By

Liz Roman Gallese

(Updated August 2021)

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Song With a Secret


It wouldn't be a stretch to conclude that the 1934 American standard, “Blue Moon,” has had one of popular music’s most convoluted and remarkable histories. It's said to have been penned by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (melody and lyrics, respectively). But unlike each and every one of the prolific duo's many other songs, it wasn’t written for a play or a movie. Instead, it was a stand-alone—their only stand-alone.

The pair was under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. during what one writer calls their “disastrous Hollywood period in the early 1930s.” As successful young Broadway producers in the 1920s and native New Yorkers—at home on the subway and the short walk from apartment to theatre—they found their follow-up gig in Tinseltown to be, as the writer puts it, “an endless series of compromises and frustrations; most of what they wrote was never used. . . prompting perhaps that famous line from ‘The Lady Is A Tramp,’ ‘Hates California, it’s cold and it's damp.’” Heck, Hart didn’t even drive.

The story goes that MGM asked them for a song for actress Jean Harlow in 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 As MGM’s Song #225, dated June 14, 1933, “Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star)” was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.

Hart, the story continues, wrote a new set of lyrics, reviving the song for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama. Entitled “It’s Just That Kind of A Play,” it was cut from the film and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934.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 in the film and released as sheet music. It wasn’t a hit.

In stepped MGM’s music publisher, Jack Robbins, who, according to the writer, “saw its commercial potential and pleaded” with Hart to write a “less depressing lyric.” This fourth rendition became “Blue Moon” as we know it today. It’s a song whose lyrics, of all of those in the exemplary Rodgers and Hart repertoire, are considered, as the writer puts it, “either Larry Hart’s simplest or most banal.” Nary a hint of the clever rhymes, wit, or sophistication that are the lyricist’s hallmarks appears in this song.

Hart himself had scoffed at Robbins's request. “Something like June/moon/spoon,” he reportedly replied, sarcasm that Robbins ignored. He agreed, it’s said, despite his misgivings and even though he and Rodgers had already decamped to rival Paramount Pictures, because they owned Robbins a favor for a generous payment the prior year.

And this is where my father and I come in. That is because the history of “Blue Moon,” for all of its known convolutedness and remarkableness, actually begins earlier. It unknown origins are even more remarkable and convoluted, and its agency lies at that very intersection of those final Hart lyrics being either his “simplest or most banal.”

Which, in fact, they were, because the lyrics—at least in the version we know today as “Blue Moon”—weren’t written by Hart, nor the melody by Rodgers. Rather, the song was composed in 1931 by a 17-year-old, the son of Polish immigrants, in Troy, on the East bank of the Hudson River in upstate New York. His name was Edward W. Roman.

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Photo of the Roman Family, 1920s, Troy, NY.

Roman Family, 1920s
(1st row: Niel, Ed,
2nd row: Fanny, Walter)

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Family Lore


I know because I am his daughter, and because I have always known this story. It was part of the family lore for all of my growing-up years, the source of whispers about “that ‘Blue Moon’ thing” among the adults—clearly, it was a sore spot—permeating our family gatherings, a matter of curiosity among the more curious of the youngsters, of which I was perhaps the most curious. I was typically the first to be angling up to the perimeters of such conversations, that Ed sold the song for $900 to buy a car. Or was it that he “settled for” the $900 to buy the car?

I remember walking to school and toying with the $900 figure in my mind, thinking that cars in the ‘30s cost $600, and wondering what had become of the remaining $300. From somewhere there would occasionally emerge the fantastical thought that there might have even been—could there have been? —a lawsuit.

I’d always been proud of it. I remember blurting it out, “My father wrote ‘Blue Moon’!” during a soul-searching late one night in my freshman dormitory at the women’s college I attended in the 1960s. My housemates, a gaggle of 18-year-olds expecting a romantic confession, didn’t know quite what to make of it.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted others to know, for the information to be "out there." I'm more convinced now that it should be because I can no longer be assured that without my intervening it will be—one of these days. Time is growing short. Unless I reveal what I know, it will be lost, and it shouldn’t be.

I’d been privy, because of the whispers of my childhood, to the grittier details. When my father was done with the song in 1937, my Uncle Chris, the most aggressive of my mother’s brothers and sisters, stormed up the back stairs of the brownstone on Fourth Street in downtown Troy, where she lived on the second floor with her parents and younger siblings. Chris broke down the door, leaving a crack that never got fixed. It was still there when I’d climb those steps after school in the 1950s. Chris had been looking for my father, my mother’s beau at the time, threatening to kill him when he found him.

“Go up to the attic,” my Uncle Chris said to me at the family gathering following my father’s funeral in 1992. He hadn’t ever approached me like that because, after all, for the longest time I’d been a kid. He’d pinch my cheek.

But now I was 44, packaged in a slim dark suit and serviceable pumps, my hair tied at the nape of my neck. My husband was working the room, a backhanded way of assuaging his own deep grief. Our 11-year-old was frolicking in a flowing dress—maybe some relative was pinching her cheek now.

My uncle, guardedly perhaps, and for the first time ever, was letting me in on the facts behind the lore. “You’ll see,” he said. “They changed the quarter notes to eighth notes. That’s all.”

Image of the proposed contract agreement with the agent Mahoney and Associates for the song Blue Moon

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1932 Unsigned Contract Agreement

Image of January 1932 proposed contract letter between New York City agent Jack Mahoney and Associates and Edward Roman for the song "Blue Moon"

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1932 Contract Letter


Cars


I come back to something I had heard as a child about my father's involvement with "Blue Moon," that it had to do with a car. This made sense to me in the 1950s, because he'd frequently trade in our family car, at first the Chryslers, each new model longer and sleeker and with sharper-looking fins than the one before, and later in the decade, the more prosaic Ramblers.

Cars mattered to Americans in those days, no more so than to immigrants and to their sons and daughters. The car was the ultimate symbol—of success, of prosperity, of having "made it," of freedom. Nor was a car a certainty, but rather something that had to be worked for and attained.

My maternal grandfather, an Italian immigrant—the family name was Brignola—and one of Troy's most prominent tailors, never owned a car. His method of transportation was a bicycle, which he'd peddle to his shop several blocks north of the brownstone on Fourth Street.

My Polish grandfather, on the other hand, owned cars as far back as the 1920s and may have traded them regularly. He was frugal—to a fault, my mother would say. He had a good job in one of Troy's many bustling factories, and the good sense to limit his family to two children: my father and his sister Niel, younger by less than a year, as my father was born January 1, 1914, and Niel in December of that same year.

In the album, a clear sense of my father's captivation with the cars of his childhood—the Flint and the Whippet and the Overland, and what appears to be Ford—emerges from the pictures he took such care to arrange.

In one, he is seated cheekily in the driver's seat, while Niel stands on the running board against the back door. She is holding a bouquet of flowers. In another, they are both standing in the foreground, he cradling a humungous ball and she a doll that's just as big. The car, fittingly, lies in the background on the horizon, like a promise—or a distant dream.

The first car my father bought for himself, in 1937 after he had put "Blue Moon" behind him, is pictured as well. It is "the DeSoto," and he's elongated agaainst it, a young man in a white T-shirt, lean and happy, and squinting into the sun. 

Edward W. Roman. Composer of the classic American song "Blue Moon" stands beside Desoto automobile. 1937.

Ed with the DeSoto, 1937


"You Wrote 'Blue Moon,' Didn't You?"


Once I asked my father directly about "Blue Moon." I'm thinking now that it must have been when I was nine or 10 or 11 and had heard one too many whisper.

I remember believing this would be a serious conversation and asking that we speak in the easy chairs in the living room. I sat up straight and folded my hands in my lap.

I knew that he liked things done properly, and that in executing anything, he'd be precise. I knew this from the care he took with each of his cameras, prized possessions all, the Rolleiflex and the Leica and the Canon, and from the exquisite sepia-toned enlargements he'd turn out, many of them portraits of us, from his darkroom in the pantry adjacent to our kitchen.

In the lower right corner of the mirror over his dresser, I remember being impressed by a picture he had drawn of a car with a running board. He had colored it so carefully that I could do nothing but marvel at his skill at keeping the pale blues and greens and pinks within the lines.

"You wrote that song, didn't you?" I said, solemnly.

The surprise was that he didn't dismiss my question out of hand, nor deny writing the song. "Who told you that?" he said.

I mumbled something about hearing the whispers. Then he told me that when he was young, he'd race at night on Burden Pond in South Troy, where he had lived as a boy. He still had those skates, with their long racing blades and black boots, because he'd take us skating now on Sunday afternoon on a different pond. They were hanging by their laces right there in front of me.

And he had noticed, he said, drawing a big circle in the air with his arm, that the moon reflected blue on the ice.


Ella to Elvis


The song that resulted from my father's moonlit ice-racing has come a long way, from Ella to Elvis and beyond.

Even as I was regaling my freshman dormmates with the story about my father's writing it, it was capturing the hearts of a new generation: my own, the Baby Boomers. In 1961, a polished and energetic quintet, the Marcels, had already driven their do-wop version to the top of the Rock 'n Roll chart. "Dang-a-dang-dang-ding-a-dong-ding/Blue moon, moon, moon, moon. . ."

I read somewhere that Richard Rodgers hated it, and although I loved dancing to it, I had my doubts as well.

In my mind, "Blue Moon" was Mel Torme's velvety cover from the 1940s, in which it would chart for the first time. Or the sultry and seductive renditions in the 1950s by Sinatra and Billie Holliday, Jo Stafford and Nat King Cole. Rosie Clooney. Tony Bennett. . .

The list goes on, the voices of my parents's generation spilling into my own: Elvis's darkly evocative take, produced by the legendary Sam Phillips, that didn't include the bridge, the part that begins: "And then there suddenly appeared before me. . ."

In Elvis's, the moon does not turn to gold. In the versions that I consider among the best, it never does.

Various Blue Moon Album cover images.

Artistry


It has taken me a long time to put together the pieces, but I now see clearly that my father had come from a family of artists.

My Roman grandfather was always whittling pieces of wood into artistic treasures: a walnut whose shell he had crafted into a  basket with a handle, the nut as its contents, that we'd hang as an ornament on our Christmas tree; the child's toy chest with a separate segmented compartment that could be lifted out by its metal handles and put back in again.

My grandmother would thrill at finding an exquisite teacup or trinket at a flea market. During our visits, she would turn the object over lovingly in her hands and say that my mother could have it if she like it, too. (But only if my mother would reimburse her for the five-cent cost. Never a meal, not even a cup of coffee, was ever offered in that little house on the top of the hill, my mother would seethe.)

My father's sister, Niel, dressed like a model, and enjoyed posing for Ed's cameras as much as he liked taking the many pictures of her that appear in the album. She'd take the simplest pieces, a white sleeveless blouse, a slim skirt, and a belt, put them together with spectator pumps and a leather shoulder bag, and the outfit would come together as more than the sum of its parts.

When Niel married and left Troy, she'd send us paintings she had done it oil. She admired Jackie Kennedy, we discovered when cleaning out her apartment after she died in 20009. She had clipped many articles about how that former First Lady, the epitome of style and elegance and comportment, had dressed and entertained in the White House.

A testament to the Roman family's artistry stands to this day in Romanation Jewelers, Troy's finest jewelry store. It was founded by a relative from the Ukraine, an expert watchmaker and gem-cutter who also experimented with creating delicate filigree Easter eggs. He had anglicized the family name, which was originally Romaniszyn (our branch trimmed it further to Roman), when he started the business in 1952.

Ed & Niel
Ed and Niel
in front of the Roman Family’s Ford, 1920s
Ed & Niel By Car
Ed and Niel
in the Roman Family’s Overland, 1920


Poems


My father's artistic inclinations would present themselves anew upon his death in 1992, when beautiful leather-and-cloth portfolio, albeit tattered from decades in storage, emerged from the attic.

Contained within were my father's poems, which took me completely by surprise. Although I had known him for more than four decades, and had experienced his photographic talents first-hand, I had never known him to be interested in, let alone a writer of, poetry.

From their placement in the portfolio, artfully and even lovingly arranged as they were, it was clear how important they had been to him.

The earliest date back to high schoool, and some of these were funny. At once I figured out why his classmates, in the 1934 yearbook, had written that he was known for "Roman's Rhymes."

There were about a dozen in all, mostly from 1935 and 1936, and largely concerning a young man's yearning for, as his famous song goes, "a love of my own." Significantly, about a fourth contain references to the moon or draw upon the moon as a central thematic image.

Those that he considered his "best" he had typed and arranged in a ringed binder that he entitled "Thoughts." It was dated March 17, 1936, a year after he met my mother, and perhaps coincidentally, the date of her 28th birthday.

He had kept even the fragments, some merely a line or two, and handwritten on scraps of paper. Many read as if they could be set to music.

Ed writing in his poetry book (1934)
Ed’s poem to Care in her autograph book

Entanglements


And what of any artistry in the Brignola family? If it were there, and I believe that it was, it lay in music.

My grandfather was a tuba player, and it's said he was recruited to play that instrument by the famous bandleader John Philip Sousa. He'd march with his tuba in the Italian community band, and at home, he'd play the mandolin.

My Uncle Chris played the banjo.

And Briggy, the guitar, even though he was involved with college and medical-school studies. On the saddest of occasions, he'd play. I remember wishing that Briggy, who died in 1990, had been there at the gathering after my father's funeral in 1992. At my mother's, in 1984, he had strapped his guitar across his compact frame and slowly strummed the song that was his go-to for looking on the bright side. "If you are among the very. . .Young. At. Heart."

Until even he lost heart. We'd barely been able to sing along. The song hadn't quite come to an end when he quietly put down the instrument.

Briggy was the oldest of the nine; my mother, Mary, the second oldest (and eldest daughter). They'd been integral to each other's lives since they were children, the only ones to have known a household in which only Italian was spoken. They alone would suffer the consequences (and appreciate the rewards) of my grandfather's overarching ambition: that his eldest son become a medical doctor. If Briggy "made good," he thought, they all would.

That meant that Mary would need to leave school after 8th grade to work as a collar stitcher in the Cluett shirt factory. Her financial contribution would be necessary if the goal were to be achieved; the two mortgages on the house wouldn't be enough. It meant that, aside from her paid work, Mary would live at home with her parents and help with the housework and the care of the younger children. She had wanted to become a nurse, but that was denied.

In a Memoir written in January 1931, during his third year of medical school, Briggy speaks with appreciation and a measure of guilt about Mary's "sacrifice for the family and me" and vows to make it up to her. "Maybe I can earn enough so that the family can get along without her," he wrote, or ". . .introduce her to someone she might take a liking to."

That turned out to be my father, whom she had met instead after a dance, he told me on the night she died. She was seated in the front seat of a car that was about to pull away, and he had run up to the window. "It wasn't love at first sight," he said.

But by the spring of 1935 pictures of her began appearing in the album. He gave her a radio, because he knew she liked listening to the radio, and he had kept it because, he'd say, it was "worth something."

He also began becoming part of Mary's family, a given for anyone who came courting. By the 1920s, Briggy's high school sweetheart, Margaret Rubino, had already wedged her way into the tight tie between Briggy and Mary. They were married in the summer of 1935, just as Ed was making it a foursome.

In a photo that surfaced from the attic, Briggy and Margaret, and Mary and Ed, are out on the town at a local nightclub: Briggy, with his trim mustache and taut frame, looking a bit like Cesar Romero; Margaret aglow in a silk jacket; Mary and Ed seated contentedly between them.

By the 1940s, Briggy was becoming overwhelmed by a burgeoning medical practice that included many of Troy's Italians. He and Margaret and their young son, Nicky, began taking extended winter vacations in Florida, and Mary and Ed would join them for part of the time. As the years went on, they worried that Nicky would miss too much school, and started leaving him in Troy to live with Mary and Ed for the winter.

My father bought Nicky a BB gun and taught him how to shoot. Nicky chose his Uncle Ed as his sponsor in Confirmation. By the time I was born, there was no question but that Briggy and Margaret would be my godparents.

Throughout the years, Briggy and Mary, as the oldest, functioned as a second set of parents to the younger brothers and sisters, not so much to Chris and Jim, who were born in 1910 and 1914, respectively, but to those born in the late teens and 1920s: Care, Jo, John, Rose, and Dom.

A brief nine years after her birth in '24, Rose died from a brain tumor. The others aligned and entangled with each other as they came of age during the years of World War II.

John and Dom enlisted; John served as an Army medic and Dom in the Navy. They'd get college degrees on the G.I. Bill. As veterans, if not as college graduates, they were aligned with Jim, who had worked as a cutter in the same factory as Mary before joining the Air Force.

As teachers (of social studies and physical education, respectively), John and Dom were aligned with Jo, who, with Mary's advocating for her, had gotten a degree at a local college and taught math at Troy High School.

That left Chris, who was the odd one out. As was Care, albeit yin to Chris's yang. On the night of Care's graduation from high school—as Valedictorian—my father wrote a poem for her that he entitled "Hope."

"You ride upon the clouds of destiny. . ." it began, and she had at least set off on such a ride: Cornell, and with Briggy's financial assitance, medical school, and then on to the prestigious fellowships at the great pediatric teaching hospitals in Philadelphia and Boston. She'd touch a world that even Briggy wouldn't know.

Chris, on the other hand, as Briggy's inverse, had never been groomed for an education. He likely left school after 8th grade, maybe even before, as many young people did in those days. There's no record of his entering high school. Unlike his younger brothers, he was too old to enlist when the War broke out.

"Making trouble," his brothers and sisters would say about him, demanding as he did the downpayment for his home from Briggy. In a fight with Chris, Jim lost the hearing in one ear. Seeking refuge from Chris's blows, his young son would rush down the street to his grandparents's house until, finally, Briggy intervened.

But Chris was intelligent, and as restless as he was reckless. He learned the trades: plumbing, how to wire a house. He agitated until he was named union boss at a plant for which he later worked. Later still, he bought and rented out flats in slum properties throughout downtown Troy. 

Edward Roman Family At Dinty’s Terrace Garden

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At Dinty’s Terrace Garden
lf to rt.: Briggy, Mary, Ed, Margaret, late 1930s or 1940s)

The Brignola Family, about 1927

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Brignola Family, about 1927

(1st row: Elizabeth, John, Jo, Mary, Dom, Care, Rose, Frank; 2nd row: Jim, Chris, Briggy)

Lyrics to "All Because of You", 1936.

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Lyrics to "All Because of You," 1936

Chris Brignola

A younger brother of Ed's beau. Upon hearing "Blue Moon" played on the radio and learning that sheet music sales had topped $75,000, Chris insisted that Ed sue for his rights to the song.


Trumpeter


I've tried to imagine my father's entry into this family in which aspirations were worn on one's sleeve, and entanglements amongst factions were equally involved and intense.

He'd been instead a lone interpreter, of the moon's blue reflection on ice, that produced a work of consummate artistry. He was a poet whose rhymes floated like gossamer wings on scraps of paper.

He was. . .

"Your father played the trumpet," my Uncle Chris said at the gathering after the funeral, taking me aback once again and leaving me breathless.

This was the first I'd heard that my father played a musical instrument, let alone the trumpet.

"Your father," Chris continued, would play on the balcony of the second floor of the tenement where he and my mother lived when they first married. And on Havermans Avenue, which at least made a little sense to me. I could see him playing on that narrow street abutting the hill that led up to Troy's elegant East Side, a street with little traffic. A trumpeter could play there without interruption.

Chris chuckled slightly and shook his head, a gesture of admiration. "Eddie," he said, as much to himself as to me. "He could really blow that horn."


Conversations


In the decades after my father's death, I've sought more information about his involvement with "Blue Moon." I turned first to my Uncle Dom, the youngest of the nine. He had been a kid in the 1930s, nine or 10 or 11, when my father was courting my mother. They'd take him for rides in the summer or to go swimming. He'd sit the the rickety rumble seat in the back.

In 2006, I took Dom to lunch. By then my father had been gone for nearly a decade and a half, and I had come out from under difficulties such as the illness and death, in 2004, of my husband. I had learned to function as a single parent to my then 14-year-old son. (My daughter was a year out of college.)

"Your father," my Uncle Dom said, unequivocally, "definitely wrote the music and maybe the lyrics."

He explained that my father had gotten "chummy" with Chris after meeting my mother. Chris heard "Blue Moon" on the radio, learned that it had already made $75,000 in sheet music alone, and insisted that they sue.

In other words, the lawsuit whose existence I had wondered about as a child had, in fact, been a reality.

Dom said Richard Rodgers called my father with an offer to settle for $1,200, not the $900 I had thought as a child. I countered with the $900, and Dom said, no, the figure had been $1,200, two or three times what most people earned in a year in those days.

The $300 difference stuck with me, because there'd been the same difference between my childhood recollection of $900 and the $600 I had assumed was the price of a car in the 1930s. A press account that subsequently surfaced put the settlement figure at $1,500, again a $300 difference, in this case, from Dom's $1,200.

The $300, I've deduced, had to have been the fee to the attorney, who, it turns out, was one of Troy's most prominent.

My father accepted the offer but didn't tell Chris, Dom said. That led to Chris's storming up the back stairs to the second-floor flat where my mother lived, and to his busting down the door and leaving the crack I so vividly remember.

It led as well to Chris's assault on my mother that I was now hearing about for the first time.

I spoke next with Yvonne, Nicky's widow (sadly, he had died in 2002), albeit not until 2016. Upon marrying into the family in 1959, Yvonne, a Protestant from West Virginia, was considered an outsider. (As Nicky's Confirmation sponsor, my father had brought up the matter of his marrying outside of the faith with Briggy, who replied, "Religion is in the heart, Ed.")

Yet no one could have cared for, and about, her in-laws and our entire family as much as Yvonne. It's like she's always been one of us.

Yvonne said Nicky had always known my father wrote "Blue Moon." He'd been a kid, nine or 10 or 11, in the 1940s, after all, when the whispers would have been as raw and unvarnished as they'd ever be.

As recently as 1990 or '91, at the wedding of one of their daughters, she said, Nicky had pointed out his Uncle Ed to a guest and told him that Ed had written the song.

Yvonne said that Nicky had told her that my father may not have written the bridge, the part that begins: "And then there suddenly appeared before me. . ." with the moon turning gold by the end.

Which would make sense. It was 1931. He was 17. The song is about young man's yearnings, and not about the realization of those desires. Indeed, it would be four years before he'd meet Mary.

She said that Nicky had told her that my father sent the song to a New York broker. He mailed a copy to himself so that the postmark would serve as proof that he wrote it.


Papers in the Attic


I turned next to my father's papers, which for seven decades had languished in the attic. And I tracked down the lawsuit he had filed, which had been there all along, at the Rensselaer County Supreme Court in downtown Troy.

These materials, taken together, provide the physical evidence for this story.

In the same portfolio that contained my father's poetry, I found a fistful of press clips, most of them missing dates and the names of the publications in which they had appeared, although from the text, it was clear they had been published at the time of the filing in October 1936.

The most comprehensive, which was intact, was a feature that ran in The Knickerbocker Press, then the major afternoon daily in the state capital at Albany. It was bylined, unusual in those days, and included a professionally commmissioned photograph of my father and his attorney, E. Stewart Jones.

It described my father as a 24-year-old poet and local musician—he was actually 22 in 1936—and related the story of his writing "Blue Moon" after an evening of moonlit ice-skating.

"You wrote that song, didn't you?" I had asked when I was a kid in the 1950s. A reporter asked in 1936 and had gotten an answer.

In the photo, my father, young and slim and serious and handsome, and wearing his signature wireframe glasses, is seated with Jones. They're dressed in suits and ties (my father looking as he did for church or work when I was growing up), and fingering a document.

Jones, I'd long known, was the scion of a prominent Troy family that had founded the law firm prior to the turn of the previous century. He had gone to a private high school for boys and prestigious Williams College.

That he'd come forward for an immigrant's son makes me think the case had to have been solid, the attorney and client more in sync than class differences would suggest.

In the 1934 yearbook, not a single school activity appears below my father's name and picture, nor is his address listed. His classmates write that Ed's ". . .diffidence and reserve have kept many of us from becoming acquainted with him."

The newspaper account offers a different explanation: he'd been playing the trumpet for five years "in local orchestras." Which meant since he was 17 and a freshman (because his immigrant parents didn't send him to school until he was eight.)

Which, in turn, meant he'd been engaged in a "classroom" that differed from Jones' private school or even his own public high but hardly in its intensity. He'd been "out there," in the only venue that counted when trying to make it in music. He'd been playing the church basements and fraternal lodges, the dance halls and roadhouses, the nightclubs and maybe even the swank hotels, that dotted the countryside and proliferated in the cities and small towns throughout the Hudson River Valley of the 1930s.

It's a thought that I find thrilling, and that leads to further questions and introspection.

The lawsuit names, not only Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but also Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., MGM's music publisher Jack Robbins, and Jack Mahoney, the broker to whom my father sent the song.

In the article, my father is quoted about his interactions with Mahoney: how he heard back "within days" with an offer but didn't sign; how he learned from a "friend" that the song had been played on the radio.

He decided to sue, the newsaper report said, when he learned that a creator of an artistic work has "a property right and legal redress" against anyone seeking, without the author's permission, to profit from it.

Conspicuously missing from the papers in the attic was my father's manuscript for "Blue Moon," which Chris had said would be there. The newspaper stories said it was with my father's attorney. The Jones firm explained that its offices moved in the 1950s and that records didn't make the transition. A call to the New York Bar Association, which oversees the profession, said that firms may, at their discretion, "dispose of materials" when cases conclude.

A document does emerge, however, that supports the many whispers, stories, and snippets of information that had come my way over the years. This was Jack Mahoney's letter to my father, along with a contract, in which he offers to broker the "number" entitled "Blue Moon." In the letter, Mahoney gushes about the song's possibilites and says the copyright will be in my father's name.

Of utmost importance is the date: January 12, 1932. This is in keeping with family lore that my father wrote the song when he was 17, which would have been in 1931. It aligns with the complaint, which says he "entered into negotiations" with Mahoney in December of that year.

Significantly, it precedes by a year and a half the date of that first MGM copyright, July 10, 1933, on an unpublished work whose melody is that of "Blue Moon."

Cover of Ed Roman's Poetry Portfolio

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Cover of Ed’s Poetry Portfolio

A typewritten poem with a reference to the moon

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A typewritten poem with a reference to the moon


Songs


I've been asked by some to whom I've told this story if the composer of a song as iconic as "Blue Moon" had written other songs. I hadn't been able to answer before going through the papers in the attic.

But he had. A young club manager and aspiring songwriter, Henry R. Dutton—whose name I hadn't ever heard until slipping his letter to my father out of its envelope—proposed shortly after the article in The Knickerbocker Press appeared that they collaborate.

In the letter, Dutton wrote that he empathized with my father's "difficulties" and bemoaned "this vicious ciricle that steals artistic effort so brazenly."

An agreement was reached, in which Dutton was to write the music, my father the lyrics, although on two of the six songs I find, "Stains of Love" and "Broken Hearts That Weep at Evening," my father's name appears without Dutton's on the music as well as on the lyrics.

On another, "I Gambled and Lost," my father's handwritten lyrics emerge with a notation that the music is by Dutton. But no music is found.

For "A New Star is Born," Dutton's music appears, but only a few typewritten lines of my father's lyrics: "A new star is born/it came with the dawn. . ."

Two developed songs appear to have originated with Dutton, who had already copyrighted the music and lyrics for one entitled "Am I Really in Love?" My father's contribution was a second set of lyrics for the same song but with a slightly different title: "I Am Really in Love."

I wonder if a duet is intended, the question asked by one singer, and the answer provided by another.

For "All Because of You," whose music Dutton had copyrighted, my father's lyrics are found.

His songwriting collaboration, along with other materials that emerge, speak to the broader point: that since writing "Blue Moon" in 1931 through the settlement of the lawsuit in 1937, my father had been fully engaged in his artistic pursuits.

In a 1933 letter, he queries The H.N. White Co. about a trumpet he admires, as he needs to replace his King model.

Two years later, a response arrives from Ted Malone, an executive at KMBC (Midland Broadcasting Co.), to whom my father had sent his poems. "I liked them," Malone writes, and after "I wondered what the story was behind each one—well—I liked them more than ever!" 


Perspectives


I wonder to this day why no one came forward for my father other than Chris, his anguished restlessless alone the driving force in a effort to assure that Ed would be recognized—and rewarded—for having written "Blue Moon."

I see in Chris someone who understood instinctively what it meant for the song to be played on the radio without its author's permission, and what a resolution would mean, not only for Ed, but for the entire family.

More than all of the years of a college and medical-school training, perhaps? Or at least as much, in the sense that roadhouses and dances halls are the way forward for aspiring artists.

I wonder, in particular, about Briggy, and why in all of the documents I've reviewed no mention of his involvement, or lack thereof, ever appears.

But he had to have known, he and Mary joined at the hip as they were since childhood, their spouses making it a foursome just as Ed was about to file a lawsuit against some of the biggest names in the music business.

The bond was expected to be lifelong, and, indeed, decades later, it would be Margaret, my aunt and godmother, who would host the family gatherings after the funerals of the other three, including my father's.

When Stewart Jones got involved, Briggy had to have known. He and Jones were only a few years apart at the Albany graduate schools, Briggy in medicine, Jones in law. They were both rising young professionals in Troy, their offices blocks apart.

I've thought about all of this in the context of my cousin, Nicky, Briggy and Margaret's son, who had known me as far back as when I was a baby and he would climb up the back stairs after school to our flat on the third floor to play with me. And who I would know from my mother's stories as that little kid who would eat nothing but the rolls at restaurants on the way back from Florida.

And who the world would eventually know as Nick Brignola, one of the finest of his generation on the baritone saxophone and in the subgenre of modern jazz.

I remember, but only vaguely, Nicky's leave-taking from Troy in the middle years of 1950s, first to Ithaca College and then to Berklee in Boston, but mostly to be "out there," in the cafés of the Village and later San Francisco where he'd play with the best of them: Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Miles. . .

Briggy, on the other hand, Yvonne once said of her father-in-law, was "a bird-in-the-hand type of guy."

Which leads to another explanation for why Briggy had to have known and may have even encouraged Ed to accept that offer from Richard Rodgers, no matter the sum. It would have sat well with Briggy to see to it that Ed and Mary would be settled on the third floor of the brownstone on Fourth Street, their in-laws/parents (respectively) on the floor below, he and Margaret around the corner on Third, where they'd make their home.

Whatever case I can make for it happening this way can only be intimated. It hangs by a thread to a single letter that Briggy wrote from Florida to his sister, Care, in the late 1950s. She had taken over his medical practice for the winter, and he writes to tell her—although he suspects she already knows—that Nicky had dropped out of college.

A quintet that he had formed at Ithaca had played at the Café Bohemia in New York's Greenwich Village. Its legendary owner, Jimmy—"Vince," Briggy writes, using the Italian—Garafolo thought the world of him, wanted him back, and would give him top billing.

He and Margaret had been encouraging Nicky to finish out the school year or take "special courses," he says. But his heart doesn't appear to be into the advice he's been dishing out to his son.

"Well, a man must do what he must do. . ." Briggy concludes. "I'm glad he has grabbed the bull by the horns and decided for himself."

Family photo. Margaret, Mary, Nicky, Briggy, Ed, 1947.

CLICK IMAGE
Margaret, Mary, Nicky, Briggy, Ed, 1947


Legacy


I wish I were witness to what had happened in that year and half between January 1932 and July 1933 when—and I'm presuming now—the song made its way across a vast continent, by rail, not air, and facilitated only in part by unwieldy telegrams and infrequent and costly "long distance."

From Jack Mahoney in New York to MGM in Los Angeles, where the studio likely foisted it on their increasingly dispirited hired hands, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

"Hates California, it's cold and it's damp. . ."

Or perhaps to the songwriters directly. They'd been back and forth between the coasts, never fully embracing Hollywood, determined to get back to Broadway.

I'm grateful to Hart for taking up Robbins on his request, even though, having already decamped to Paramount, he'd hardly have been eager to revisit an MGM song whose lyrics had failed on three previous attempts.

I'd hardly have blamed him either if—and a plausible case can be made for it happening this way—he had merely retrieved the lyrics that were originally submitted by Mahoney.

Which had been written by a 17-year-old in upstate New York, if the contemporaneous news accounts are to be believed. And the complaint, filed in a court of law and handled by one of the region's most prominent attorneys. And the account by a member of the family, Dom, who had been a witness.

To say nothing of the lore that had defined the years of my childhood and continues to resonate to this day.

Hart, it's said, intensely disliked "Blue Moon," and small wonder why.

Jacl Mahoney remains a shadowy figure, one whose very name is said to be (without any evidence that I or others could find) a pen name.

He had grown up in Buffalo, in the impoverished First Ward by the shore of Lake Erie, the son of a sea captain, and a first cousin of CIA founder William ("Wild Bill") Donovan. In the early years of the 20th century, he left for New York, where he wrote lyrics for the best of the music publishers that, collectively, would be immortalized as Tin Pan Alley.

I'm glad to have discovered Jack Mahoney, proud to be rescuing him from what otherwise might be oblivion. He had rescued "Blue Moon" from the fate of never having gotten out into the world.

As did Jack Robbins, the quintessential salesman, who had toiled with Mahoney in the same building, 1658 Broadway, in the early 1920s when the latter was getting into song brokering.

A decade later, Robbins's door, albeit now a continent away, had to have been opened to the song Mahoney was likely sending his way.

A document from the New York Public Library, what appears to be a copy of the "deposit" (the material actually filed for copyright) for that first copyright on the song displays a handwritten date on the upper left: 1/12/32.

That, of course, is the date of Mahoney's offer letter to the Troy, New York, teenager.

Mostly, I wish I knew how my father felt, wish I had probed in the years before he died. But I didn't. My query as a child was the only time we ever spoke about "Blue Moon."

I do know this, though. When I was 13 and the Marcels were riding their do-wop version to the top of the Rock 'n Roll chart in 1961, I have an image of my father reflected in the mirror of my dresser, as I primped for my first high-school dance one Friday night that fall.

The song was playing on the tourquoise transistor radio (that, yes, he had given me, as he had a car (a Honda Civic) when I married, and several years after that, a camera that he especially admired.)

"Dang-a-dang-dang-ding-a-dong-ding/Blue moon, moon, moon, moon. . ."

His artistic and spiritual heir, Nicky, was making it on the saxophone in the Greenwich Village of the early 1960s. His daughter was the teenager now, and on her way.

He had a lot to be proud of.


Sources



Unpublished


  • Brignola, Carolyn Veronica, M.D., M.P.H., Autographs, 1936.
  • Brignola, Nicholas Frank, M.D., Paper, January 12, 1931; Letters, 1940-1990.
  • Dutton, Henry R., “All Because of You,” melody in Dutton’s hand, personal communications, 1936.
  • Dutton, Henry R., “A New Star Was Born,” melody in Dutton’s hand, personal communications, n.d. 
  • Dutton, Henry R., “Are You Really in Love?,” melody and lyrics in Dutton’s hand, personal communications, 1936.
  • Dutton, Henry R., Letter, October 22, 1936.
  • Dutton, Henry R., Letter, December 5, 1936.
  • Dutton, Henry R., Receipt, November 29, 1936.
  • Gallese, Liz Roman, Journals, Papers, 1958-2018.
  • Koch, F.L., Letter, October 2, 1933, The H.N. White Co.
  • Mahoney, Jack, Letter, January 12, 1932, Jack Mahoney and Associates: Publication Contracts Negotiated for Authors and Composers.
  • Malone, Ted, Letter, November 19, 1935, KMBC, Midland Broadcasting Company.
  • Roman, Edward W., “All Because of You,” lyrics in Roman’s hand, personal communication, 1936.
  • Roman, Edward W., and Almerinda Brignola, “Broken Hearts That Weep at Evening,” music in Roman’s hand, personal communication, n.d.
  • Roman, Edward W., “Broken Hearts That Weep at Evening,” lyrics in Roman’s hand, personal communication, n.d.
  • Roman, Edward W., “I Am Really in Love,” lyrics in Roman’s hand, personal communication, 1936.
  • Roman, Edward W., “I Gambled and Lost,” lyrics in Roman’s hand, personal communication, 1936.
  • Roman, Edward W., “A New Star Was Born,” lyrics in Roman’s hand, personal communication, n.d.
  • Roman, Edward W., and Almerinda Brignola, “Stains of Love,” music in Roman’s hand, personal communication, n.d.
  • Roman, Edward W., “Stains of Love,” lyrics in Roman’s hand, personal communication, n.d.
  • Roman, Edward W., Thoughts, March 17, 1936.

Published


  • 98 Acres in Albany (. . .thanks to Barry Levine), “On the Street of Regret,” https://98acresinalbany.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/on-the-street-of-regret/, May 8, 2015.
  • 1934 janus, January class of ’34, n.d.
  • Blue Moon (1934 song). (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Moon_(1934_song).
  • “’Blue Moon’ His Brain Child, Claim Of Trojan Seeking Data on Sales: Suit Instituted on Charges Famous Song Was Used Without Permission,” personal communication, n.d.
  • “’Blue Moon’ Made Author Blue, He Tells Court,” The Troy Record, October 21, 1936.
  • "Claims 'Blue Moon' and Asks Accounting," Times-Union, October 20, 1936.
  • The Dardanian, Annual Publication of the Troy High School, The Class of 1936, 1936.
  • Edward Roman v. Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jack Mahoney, doing business under the assumed business name of “Mahoney and Associates,” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., and Robbins Music Corp., Supreme Court County of Rensselaer, 1936.
  • Esposito, Michael A., Troy’s Little Italy (Images of America), Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
  • Freeman, Mary, “Song Writer in Troy Seeking Legal Solace for ‘Blue Moon’: Starts Court Action for Accounting of Royalties on Composition,” The Knickerbocker Press, October 21, 1936.
  • Hart, Dorothy, and Robert Kimball, editors, The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart, Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.
  • Marmorstein, Gary, A Ship Without a Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart, Simon & Schuster, 2013.
  • Minogue, Jane, “Blue Moon by The Marcels,” https://www.dailydoowop.com/blue-moon-by-the-marcels/, April 16, 2018.
  • The Nineteen Hundred and Forty Cornellian, The Cornell Annuals, Inc., 1940.
  • Nolan, Frederick, Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway, Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Purdum, Todd S., Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution, Henry Holt & Company, 2018.
  • Rosenberg, George J., "$ong in Your Heart—and $o Much $uing: The Courts Are Jammed with Musical Litigation," Sunday Mirror Magazine, King Features Syndicate, Inc., March 16, 1952.
  • Schwartz, N.B., BLUE MOON and before (compilation), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X7rhlP99OQ, May 10, 2011.
  • Secrest, Meryle, Somewhere For Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
  • "Trojan Claiming Song Hit Rights," Cohoes American, October 21, 1936.
  • “Trojan Suing for Song Cash,” Times-Union, October 21, 1936.
  • "Troy Man Claims 'Blue Moon Song," Ballston Spa Daily Journal," October 21, 1936.
  • “Young Troy Musician Wins Highly-Coveted Jazz Award,” The Times Record, 1958.
  • Young, William H., Jr., and Nancy K. Young, Music of the Great Depression (American History Through Music), Greenwood Press, 2005.

Other


In addition to unpublished and published written sources, I interviewed and/or conversed with the following: Edward W. Roman, late 1950s, n.d.; Christopher A. Brignola, December 1, 1992; Dominick E. Brignola, June 15, 2006; E. Stewart Jones, Jr., November 5, 2014 and January 23, 2019*; Kathy T. Sheehan, County and City Historian, Rensselaer County Historical Society, November 6, 2014 and January 23, 2019*; Yvonne Brignola, September 18, 2016. I was advised about attorney conduct regarding disposal of materials by Kathleen R. Mulligan Baxter, General Counsel, New York State Bar Association, in an email, November 6, 2014. A framing signal, such as “told me,” announces sources in oral testimony.

Further research was conducted at the following venues:

*With John Cork