Blue Moon:

In Search Of
The Song My Father Wrote

By

Liz Roman Gallese

(Updated October 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—indeed, their only stand-alone.

They were under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. during what one writer calls their "disastrous Hollywood period in the early 1930s." As successful young Broadway songwriters in the 1920s and native New Yorkers—at home on the subway and the short walk from apartment to theater—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.'"

The story goes that the studio asked them for a song for actress Jean Harlow for the movie Hollywood Party. The song they delivered, "Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star)," 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 As MGM's Song #225, dated June 14, 1933, it was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.

Hart, the story continues, wrote a new set of lyrics for the melody, now slated as the title song for another 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama. Also entitled “It’s Just That Kind of a Play” (from a line of the lyrics), it was cut from the film and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934.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 melody, so Hart wrote a third set of lyrics. The song, now entitled "The Bad in Every Man," was sung by Shirley Ross in the movie 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 is what we know today as "Blue Moon." 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 when Robbins made the request. "Something like June/moon/spoon," he replied, sarcasm that Robbins ignored. Hart agreed, it's said, despite misgivings and even though he and Rodgers had already decamped to rival Paramount Pictures, because a favor was owned Robbins for a generous bonus the year before.

And this is where my father and I come in, because the history of "Blue Moon," for all of its known convolutedness and remarkableness, actually begins earlier. Its 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 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 our 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 toying with that figure as I walked to school, thinking that cars cost $600 in the 1930s and wondering what had become of the remaining $300. From somewhere in my consciousness, on that slippery slope between what is reality and what may be a figment of the imagination, there would occasionally emerge a fantastical thought: that there might even have been a lawsuit.

It kept me mulling, and it made me proud. During a soul-searching late one night in my freshman residence at the women’s college I attended in the 1960s, I remember blurting out, “My father wrote ‘Blue Moon’!” My housemates, a gaggle of 18-year-olds expecting a romantic confession, didn't know 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. If I don’t reveal what I know, it will be lost. And with it, information that may have ramifications for an understanding of the culture, history, personalities, and economics of the 1930s.

I’ve been privy, because of the whispers of my childhood, to the grittier details. When my father’s business with the song was over 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 to the second floor, where she lived 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 same steps after school in the ‘50s to our flat on the third floor. He’d 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 at the family gathering after my father's funeral in 1992. Chris had never approached me like that before, 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, was letting me in on the facts. "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 wouldn’t have thought to ask why a car had somehow factored into my father’s involvement with “Blue Moon,” because for as long as I’d known him, the automobile—the idea of it and the reality of it—had been entwined with his sense of self and embedded in our family life. He’d trade our Chrysler every few years in the 1950s, each new model longer and sleeker and with sharper-looking fins than the one before, each eliciting a burst of pride and pleasure that wouldn’t be equaled until the cycle began all over again.

All of this isn’t surprising given what cars meant to Americans in the early and middle decades of the 20th century, and especially to immigrant families and their upwardly mobile sons and daughters. The car was a luxury, and the ultimate symbol—of prosperity, of success, of having “made it,” of freedom.

My grandfather on my mother’s side, an Italian immigrant—the family name was Brignola—was one of Troy’s most prominent tailors. He’d done well enough by the 1920s to be able to buy a home, the three-family brownstone on Fourth Street in downtown Troy, a few blocks from his tailoring shop in the city’s commercial district. But he never in his entire life owned a car. It remained out of reach, psychologically perhaps, but for sure realistically. His mode of transportation would continue to be his bicycle.

My Roman grandfather, by contrast, didn’t buy a house until the 1940s (actually a cottage on a hill in the Polish enclave of South Troy). But he had owned cars as far back as the ‘20s, and may have traded them frequently. He was frugal—to a fault my mother would say—had a good job in one of Troy’s many bustling factories and the good sense to limit his family to two: my father, born January 1, 1914, and a daughter, Niel, in December of that same year.

My father’s own infatuation with the automobile went back to his youth, as it appears from the pictures in the family album. In one, he is seated cheekily in the driver’s seat of what was, as he’d noted on the back of the photo, an Overland. Niel stands on the running board against the rear door. She’s holding a bouquet of flowers. In another, they’re both standing in the foreground, he holding a humungous ball and she a doll that’s just as big. The car itself (which he identified as a Ford, albeit with a question mark) lies in the background on the horizon, like a promise—or a distant dream.

I do remember my father speaking about one of the cars of his youth as “the DeSoto.” In the album, there’s a picture dated 1937—the year he put “Blue Moon” behind him—of a car that appears to be a DeSoto. He’s elongated against 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,” probably when I was nine or 10 or 11 and had heard one too many of the whispers.

I remember thinking this would be a serious conversation and suggesting that we talk in the easy chairs in the parlor. I sat up straight and folded my hands in my lap.

I did this because I knew he liked things done properly, and that he’d always execute precisely. I sensed this from the care he took with his cameras, beloved possessions all, the Rolleiflex and the Leica and the Canon. I could see it in the exquisite sepia-toned enlargements, many of them portraits of us, that he’d turn out in the darkroom that he set up in the pantry off our kitchen.

I remember regarding with awe a picture he had sketched and colored of a car with a running board. He had placed it in the lower right-hand corner of the mirror over his dresser, and whenever I passed by, I’d marvel at how he’d colored so lightly and completely, the pale pinks and blues and greens filling their allotted spaces, and how he’d kept the colors within the lines.

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

The surprise was that he didn’t dismiss my question, nor deny writing the song. “Why 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. He still had those skates, with their long racing blades and black leather boots, because he’d take us skating now on a different pond. They were hanging over the archway that separated our parlor from the adjacent room, dangling by their laces right there in front of me.

And he’d noticed when skating, 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 born of 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 about my father's authorship, it was capturing the hearts of a new generation, my own, the Baby Boomers. In 1961, the Marcels, a polished and energetic quintet, drove 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. Even though 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. Rosemary Clooney. Tony Bennett. . .

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

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

Various Blue Moon Album cover images.

Artistry


I’ve learned, as I’ve thought about all of this, that my father had come from a family of artists.

It’s taken a while to connect the dots but consider my grandfather. He had whittled from a tiny walnut a basket with a handle, the nut at its contents. For years, it had been a beloved ornament on our Christmas tree. From his woodworking came a child’s chest, with a segmented compartment that could be taken out and put back in. It had given me joy as a kid, and I’ve kept it to this day.

I remember how my grandmother treasured an exquisite teacup or trinket she’d find at a flea market. She’d turn it over and over in her hands when we visited, and sometimes offer it to my mother—but only if she were reimbursed for the five-cent cost. (Never a meal, not even a cup of coffee, in that little house on the top of the hill, my mother would seethe.)

My Aunt Niel dressed like a model and delighted in the outfits she’d put together from the simplest of pieces: a white sleeveless blouse, a slim skirt, a belt. With spectator pumps and a leather shoulder bag, a look would emerge that was more than the sum of its parts. Niel loved posing for my father’s camera, as much as he enjoyed taking the many pictures of her that appear in the album.

When Niel married and left Troy, she’d send via parcel post paintings she’d done in oil. After she died in 2009 and we set about cleaning out her apartment, we learned from the many clips we found that she had admired Jackie Kennedy, the epitome of style and elegance. Niel had taken to the way the First Lady had dressed and decorated and entertained in White House.

A relative from the Ukraine, a skilled watchmaker and gem-cutter, founded a jewelry business in ’52, Troy’s finest. Its name, Romanation, is anglicized from our family’s original Romaniszyn (our branch cut it to Roman). In retirement, this talented craftsman turned to creating delicate filigree Easter eggs.

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 artistry wasn’t limited to the visual talent so obviously on display in his drawings and photography, as I was to discover shortly after his death in 1992.

From his attic there emerged a handsome but tattered (after decades in storage) leather-and-cloth portfolio whose contents took me completely by surprise.

These were his poems. For as long as I’d know him, I hadn’t known him to be an enthusiast, or a writer, of poetry, save, of course, for the poetry in the lyrics of a song that has become an American standard. I hadn’t known him to put pen to paper, but he had in these.

Where it might have all started. There were about three dozen poems in total, mostly from 1935 and 1936, but some from as far back as high school.

Many of the latter were playful, and I could see now why his classmates had written, in the ’34 yearbook, that he was known for “Roman’s Rhymes.”

The bulk of the poems concern a young man’s yearning for, as his famous song goes, “a love of my own.” About a fourth contain references to the moon, or draw upon the moon as a central thematic image.

He’d taken care to type those he considered his “best” and to arrange them in formal ringed binder that he entitled “Thoughts.” It was dated March 17, 1936.

He’d kept even the fragments, which were handwritten, some on mere scraps of paper, and these were among the most telling. 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


The artistry in the Roman family was multi-faceted, visual as well as literary, to say nothing of musical, but in the end rather simple, coming down as it did to a single person, my father.

In the Brignola family, the reverse was true, a lot of players if you will, but a single outlet. This was the playing of musical instruments, mostly for the family and community, but ultimately, as it would turn out, the world at large.

It began with my grandfather, who played the mandolin at home and the tuba in the Italian community band. He’d march proudly with his tuba, and was even said to have been recruited by the famous bandleader John Philip Sousa. That could have been a foreshadowing of what would transpire on the professional level two generations later.

But in those days my grandfather’s penchant for at-home musical entertainment spilled over into members of his family: Chris played the banjo; little Dom, the youngest of the nine, the clarinet, although never quite mastering the instrument.

Even Briggy, the oldest, played, which was remarkable because he’d been the first to go to college, followed that with medical school, and later, was immersed in a thriving general practice in downtown Troy. His instrument was the guitar. He’d play on the saddest occasions. I remember wishing he’d been there at the gathering after my father’s funeral in ’92 (he had died two years earlier), which was held at the home of his widow, my Aunt Margaret. At my mother’s, in 1984, Briggy had strapped his guitar across his compact frame and slowly strummed a song that was his favorite for looking on the bright side. “If you are among the very. . .” and then, definitively, “Young. At. Heart.”

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

Briggy and my mother were the oldest of the nine, and as such functioned as a second set of parents to the younger ones, not so much Chris and Jim, who were born next, in 1910 and 1914, but to those born in the late teens and ‘20s: Care, Jo, John, Rose, and Dom.

As the oldest, Briggy and Mary had been each other’s confidant and source of support from the earliest days. They’d been born, in the first decade of the 20th century, into a household in which only Italian was spoken, which wasn’t the case when the younger ones came along. They alone bore the full brunt of my grandfather’s overarching ambition: that his oldest son would become a medical doctor. If Briggy “made good,” my grandfather reasoned, they all would.

But this meant that my mother, Mary, would need to leave school after 8th grade and work at the Cluett Peabody factory, where she rose to the ellite rank of collar stitcher. It meant her dream of becoming a nurse would never be realized. Even the two mortgages my grandfather took on the house wouldn’t be enough to put Briggy through school. It meant as well that Mary would live at home in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and besides her paid work, she would help with the housework and the care of the younger ones.

In an insightful memoir written 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.” He 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."

Turns out it was my father to whom she took a liking, and whom she’d met on her own. It happened after a dance, my father told me on the day she died. She’d been seated in the front seat of a car, it was pulling away from the curb, and he’d run up to the window. “It wasn’t love at first sight,” he said.

But it was love eventually. Pictures of her began appearing in the album by the spring of ’35 (they’d marry in ’38). His gift of a radio to her is an old family story, because he’d never let go of it. It was “worth something,” he’d often say.

His arrival, as well as that of Briggy’s high-school sweetheart and then wife, Margaret, (they’d marry in ’35) would bring to the tight bond of brother and sister two more people who would offer lifelong support and care for each other. Their tie became a threesome with Margaret’s arrival in the ‘20s, and a foursome with my father’s a decade later.

In the album there’s a picture of the foursome from the late ‘30s or ‘40s. They’re out on the town, at a popular nightclub, seated at a table, and obviously enjoying each other’s company: Briggy with his trim mustache and taut frame looking a bit like Cesar Romero, Margaret aglow in a silk jacket, Mary and Ed nestled contentedly between them.

By the ‘40s, when Briggy’s practice became overwhelming, and he and Margaret and their young son, Nicky, born in ’36, began taking extended winter vacations in Florida, Mary and Ed would join them for as much vacation time as Ed could get. By later in the decade, they worried that Nicky was missing too much school and would leave him to stay with Mary and Ed in Troy for the winter.

My father bought his young nephew a BB gun and taught him how to shoot. When Nicky was confirmed, he chose his Uncle Ed to be his sponsor. When I came along and was to be baptized, there was no question but that Briggy and Margaret would be my godparents.

Among the younger Brignola siblings, similar ties formed. In ’33, Rose died tragically from a brain tumor. But the others aligned and entangled with each as they came of age during the War years of the ‘40s.

Both John and Dom enlisted, John as an Army medic, Dom as a naval recruit. They’d get college degrees on the G.I. bill, and go into, respectively, junior-high and high-school teaching. As Veterans, if not as college grads, they’d align with Jim, who’d been a cutter in the Cluett factory before joining the Air Force and flying planes over England.

As teachers (social studies and physical education, respectively), John and Dom would align with Jo, who with Mary’s encouragement, got her degree in math at a local college, and taught until her retirement at Troy High.

That left Chris and Care as the odd ones out, Care the yang to her older brother’s yin. On the occasion of her graduation in ’36 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 least set off on such a ride: Cornell, and with Briggy’s financial assistance, medical school, and then on to the prestigious pediatric fellowships at the great teaching hospitals in Philadelphia and Boston. She’d touch a world that even Briggy wouldn’t know.

Chris, by contrast, dropped out of school after—or possibly even before—8th grade, as many young people did in those days. There’s no record of his entering high school. Certainly no one was advocating for him to become a doctor, or providing the resources for that to happen. Unlike his younger brothers, he was too old to enlist when the World War II broke out.

It was as if he were Briggy’s inverse: “Making trouble,” his brothers and sister would say. He’d agitate relentlessly for what he wanted, such as cash from Briggy to buy a house. And fight when necessary, or even when it wasn’t. In a brawl with Chris, Jim lost his hearing in one ear. Chris’s young son would flee to his grandparents’ brownstone down the street to avoid his father’s blows, until, finally, Briggy intervened.

But Chris was intelligent. And restless. He learned the trades from his uncles, gravitated for a while to plumbing, knew how to wire a house. He then went to work at plant, and rose to become boss of the union local. Later, he rented out flats in 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 envisioning my father's entry into this family, where entanglements and fierce loyalties were the norm and aspirations worn on one’s sleeve.

He'd been a lone interpreter, most importantly of the moon's blue reflection on the ice, which produced a work of consummate artistry.

He'd been a poet, whose rhymes floated like gossamer wings on scraps of paper. A photographer whose sepia-toned enlargements cut to his subjects' essence.

He'd been a . . .

"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 had played a musical instrument, let alone the trumpet.

"Your father. . ." Chris continued, would play the trumpet on the balcony of the second-floor tenement where he and my mother lived when they married. And he'd play on Havermans Avenue, which made sense to me because it is quiet on Havermans Avenue, abutting as it does the hill leading up to Troy's elegant East Side. One could play there without interruptions.

Chris chuckled softly 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


After my father’s death in ’92, I knew I wanted to learn more about his involvement with “Blue Moon.” This didn’t happen immediately. Throughout the ‘90s, I was engaged in my own work and family, the latter reaching a turning point in 2004 with the death of my husband after a long illness. My daughter (the 11-year-old at her grandfather’s funeral in ’92) was a year out of college, but my son’s situation—he was 14—brought the new and immediate challenge of functioning as a single parent.

It wasn’t until 2006, therefore, that I began my search in earnest. I turned first to my Uncle Dom, the youngest of the nine. He'd been a kid in the mid-1930s, nine or 10 or 11, when my father was courting my mother. They'd take him for rides in the summer and to go swimming. He'd have to sit in the rickety rumble seat in the back.

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

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

So that lawsuit I had wondered about as a child had been a reality after all, I thought to myself as Dom spoke.

Dom said Richard Rodgers called my father with an offer to settle for $1,200. I countered that I thought the figure had been $900. But Dom said no, it was $1,200, two or three times what most people earned in a year in those days.

I took note of the $300 difference between Dom's figure and my recollection; and between my $900 and what I had thought was the price of a car in the '30s. Subsequently, a magazine article emerged from my father's papers that put the settlement figure at $1,500. Again, a $300 difference, this time between the magazine’s number and Dom's $1,200.

The $300 has surfaced to the extent that I now believe it must have been the cut taken by my father's attorney, who, as it turns out, was among Troy's most prominent.

Dom said my father accepted the offer but didn't tell Chris. That led to Chris storming up the back stairs to the flat on the second floor where my mother lived, and to his busting down the door and leaving the crack I so vividly remember. It led as well to his assault on my mother which I was now hearing about for first time.

I talked next to Yvonne, my cousin Nicky's widow. (Sadly, Nicky had died in 2002.) Yvonne had been very much the outsider when she joined the family in 1959, a Protestant from West Virginia. My father even saw it as his duty as Nicky’s Confirmation sponsor to bring up the matter of marrying outside the faith with Briggy, to which Briggy replied: “Religion is in the heart, Ed.”

Yet no one could have cared more than Yvonne for her in-laws or for us as a family, to the extent that it’s like she’d always been one of us.

Yvonne said Nicky had often told her that my father had written "Blue Moon." For him, it was something he’d always known and accepted as fact, because, after all, he'd been a kid in the 1940s, nine or 10 or 11, when the whispers would have been as raw and unvarnished as they'd ever be.

At the wedding of one of their daughters, in 1991, she said, a guest had asked and Nicky had pointed to his Uncle Ed as the composer of "Blue Moon."

Nicky thought my father may not have written the bridge, Yvonne continued, the part that begins: "And then there suddenly appeared before me. . ." with the moon turning to gold by the song's end.

Which struck me as making sense. It was 1931 when he wrote it. He was 17. The song is about a young man's yearnings, not about the actualization of those desires. Indeed, it would be three years before he'd even meet Mary.

Yvonne said Nicky 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 of his authorship.


Papers in the Attic


At the core of my search was an examination of my father’s papers, which had languished for seven decades in the attic, as well as a review of the lawsuit, which had been there all along in the bowels of the Rensselaer County Supreme Court in downtown Troy.

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

In the portfolio that contained my father's poems, I found a fistful of press clips, many missing dates and the names of the news outlets in which they'd had appeared. From the text, though, it was clear they'd been published at the time of the filing of the lawsuit in October 1936.

The most comprehensive was, in fact, intact. It had run in The Knickerbocker Press, then the major afternoon daily in Albany, the state capital. It was bylined, unusual in those days, and featured a professional photograph of my father and his influential Troy attorney, E. Stewart Jones.

The article describes my father as a 24-year-old poet and local musician—he was actually 22 in 1936—and says that he'd written "Blue Moon" after an evening of moonlit ice-skating on a local pond.

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

In the photograph, my father, young and slim and serious and handsome, and wearing his signature wireless 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 was the scion of a Troy family that had founded the law firm at the close of the 19th century. He had graduated from a private high school for boys and the prestigious Williams College.

That he had taken a case brought by an immigrant's son says to me that the allegations must have been solid. It also says that attorney and client may have had more in common than class differences would suggest.

In my father's 1934 high-school yearbook, not a single school activity appears under his name and picture, nor is his address listed, which was the case for only a handful of the classmates. Ed's ". . .diffidence and reserve have kept many of us from becoming acquainted with him," his classmates wrote.

The newspaper account provides a different explanation. It says my father had been playing the trumpet for five years "in local orchestras." Which means since he was 17 and a high-school freshman (because he had started school when he was eight rather than five or six).

And which means that, unlike Briggy on the guitar or my grandfather on the mandolin, he hadn’t been looking at his trumpet-playing as something to be executed at home. Tantalizingly, he may even have been pushing beyond my grandfather’s thinking about his aspirations for the tuba, when he turned down Sousa and settled (however willingly) for amateur status on that instrument as well.

Not my father, though. He’d been “out there,” in the church basements and fraternal lodges, the dance halls and roadhouses and nightclubs, maybe even the swank city hotels that proliferated throughout the countryside and in the small towns and cities of the musically vibrant Hudson River Valley of the 1930s. No high school classroom would commandeer his talents and energies, not his own public high as a member of the '34 class, not even—were it possible (which it wasn’t)—Jones’s private one. He'd somehow intuited that it was only in this alternate learning environment, every bit as demanding and preparatory as Jones’s college or law school, that he would have a chance as a musician.

The lawsuit named as defendants, not only Rodgers and Hart, but also MGM, MGM's music publisher Jack Robbins, and Jack Mahoney, the New York broker to whom my father had sent the song.

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

He made the decision to sue, it says, after learning that a creator of an artistic work has "a property right and legal redress" against anyone seeking, without the creator's permission, to profit from the work.

Conspicuously missing from the papers in the attic is my father's manuscript for "Blue Moon" that Chris had inferred would be there. The newspaper accounts say it had been turned over to his attorney. But the Jones firm said, when I called, that the office had moved in the '50s and files from that far back hadn't made the transition. The New York Bar Association, which oversees the profession, confirmed that law 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, offering to broker the "number" entitled "Blue Moon." In the letter, Mahoney gushes about the song's potential and specifies that 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 says my father wrote the song when he was 17, which would have been in 1931. It aligns with the complaint that says he "entered into negotiations" with Mahoney in December 1931.

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

Cover of Ed Roman's Poetry Portfolio

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Cover of Ed’s Poetry Portfolio

A typewritten poem with a reference to the moon

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
A typewritten poem with a reference to the moon


Songs


I've been asked a question that might be considered obvious by some to whom I’ve told this story: had the author of a song as iconic as "Blue Moon" written other songs?

Until I went through my father's papers, I wouldn't have been able to answer. I hadn’t ever thought to ask.

But he had. A young club manager and aspiring songwriter, Henry R. Dutton—whose name I’d never heard until slipping his letter to my father out of its envelope—suggested shortly after the article had appeared in The Knickerbocker Press that they collaborate.

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

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

On another, "I Gambled and Lost," handwritten lyrics by my father emerge, with Dutton noted as the composer of the music. But there is no music.

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

Two fairly developed songs appear to have originated with Dutton, as he had already had copyrighted the music and lyrics of one, "Are You Really in Love?," and the music of the other, "All Because of You."

My father's contribution to the first is a second set of lyrics, with the song now entitled "I Am Really in Love." I wonder if a duet is intended, alternating between a question asked and an answer given.

For "All Because of You," my father wrote the lyrics; this is acknowledged in a receipt from Dutton.

The songwriting collaboration, along with other materials that emerge, speak to a broader point: that from his penning of "Blue Moon" in 1931 to the settlement of the lawsuit six years later, my father was fully and energetically engaged in his artistic pursuits.

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

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


Perspectives


With the statement of the court's dismissal of the lawsuit in 1937, the trail runs dry, as do the songs and poems and any further mention of Dutton or "Blue Moon." Other folders emerge that I go through, mostly filled with my father’s queries to employers. In one from the 1950s, he writes of his personal qualifications: "sober, church member, reliable, no outstanding debt."

And I want to scream. Instead, I affix a note to the folder: "Mind numbing—such a contrast to the poems and music so full of life and exuberance."

I wonder to this day why no one other than Chris had come forward for my father, why it had been Chris alone, in his anguished restlessness, driving any effort to assure that Ed would be rightfully recognized—and rewarded—for having written “Blue Moon.”

It was Chris alone who understood—and how was it that he understood? In what “classroom” had he attained such acumen? Perhaps in an arena of learning as far afield from the conventional as my father’s “local orchestras”? Chris understood, with razor-sharp perspicuity, what it meant for the song to be played publicly without my father's permission, and what a resolution would mean, not only for his sister’s beau, but also the entire family.

In all of the documents, nary of hint of any involvement on the part of Briggy emerges, and I wonder most of all about this. He had to have known, he and Margaret, and Mary and Ed, aligned as they were in a powerful bond that was expected to, as it would, last a lifetime.

What’s more, he and Jones had been only a few years apart at the Albany graduate schools, Briggy in medicine, Jones in law. They were both upcoming young professionals in Troy, their offices separated geographically by less than a handful of blocks. Once Jones got involved, he had to have known.

I’ve thought about this within the context of Briggy’s son, Nicky, my first cousin and my favorite. Nicky knew me as a baby, he’d climb those back stairs to the third floor to play with me as I sat in my high chair.

I knew Nicky from my mother's stories as that little kid who would eat nothing but the rolls at restaurants on their way back from Florida, whereas the world would eventually know him as Nick Brignola, among the most accomplished of his generation on the baritone saxophone and in the avant-garde-genre of modern jazz.

I remember but only vaguely Nicky's leave-taking from Troy in the middle years of the 1950s,  first to Ithaca College, and then to the Berklee in Boston where he had won a scholarship. 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, Thelonious Monk, Miles. . .

Yvonne, in a remarkably astute comment, once said to me that Briggy, by contrast, was a “bird-in-the-hand type of guy.”

That resonated. It meant that Briggy, had he known—and clearly, he had to have known—might even have encouraged Ed to accept that offer from Richard Rodgers, no matter what the sum. It would have sat well with Briggy for his sister and future brother-in-law to be settled on that third floor of the brownstone on Fourth Street, her parents on the floor below, and he and Margaret around the block on Third Street, where they’d buy their home.

The case for it happening this way can only be intimated. It hangs by a thread to a single document, a letter Briggy wrote one year (it isn’t dated) in the late ‘50s to his sister, Care, who had taken over his medical practice for the winter when he and Margaret were in Florida.

He writes to tell Care—though surely she must already know, he says—that Nicky had dropped out of college. A quintet Nicky had formed at Ithaca had played at the Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village. Its legendary owner, Jimmy—"Vince," Briggy writes, using the Italian—Garafolo thought the world of Nicky, wanted him back, and would give him top billing.

He and Margaret had been encouraging Nicky to finish the school year or take "special courses," he writes. But Briggy’s heart doesn't appear to be in the advice he'd 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.

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Margaret, Mary, Nicky, Briggy, Ed, 1947


Legacy


I wish I were witness to what happened next, in that year and a half between January 12, 1932 and July 10, 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 expensive "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. . ."

I'm grateful to Hart for having taken up Robbins on his request for that fourth set of lyrics, even though, having already decamped to Paramount, he'd hardly have been eager to revisit a song whose lyrics had failed on three previous attempts. Nor could he be blamed if—and a plausible case can be made for it happening this way—he had merely retrieved the lyrics that had been originally submitted by Mahoney.

Which had been written by a 17-year-old in upstate New York, if the contemporaneous news stories are to be believed; and the complaint, filed in a court of law; and the account by a family member who had been a witness. To say nothing of the lore that defined my childhood and resonates to this day.

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

Jack Mahoney remains a shadowy figure, one whose very name is said to be (without a shred of evidence that I, as well as anyone floating this theory, have been able to find) a pseudonym.

Mahoney, a native of Buffalo, grew up in the impoverished First Ward by the shore of Lake Erie, the son of a sea captain, and, intriguingly, a first cousin of CIA founder William J. ("Wild Bill") Donovan. He left for New York early in the first decade of the 20th century, where he wrote lyrics for the best of the era’s music publishers, now immortalized collectively as Tin Pan Alley.

I'm glad to have discovered Jack Mahoney, proud that I've been able to rescue him from oblivion. He’d rescued "Blue Moon" from the fate of never having gotten out into the world.

As did Jack Robbins, the quintessential salesman. Interestingly, Robbins and Mahoney worked in the same building, 1658 Broadway, in the early 1920s when Mahoney began transitioning into song brokering.

A decade later, Robbins, albeit now a continent away, assuredly would have been open to the song Mahoney was likely sending his way.

On a copy of what appears to be the "deposit"—the material that is actually filed for copyright—for that first iteration, entitled "Prayer," a date is handwritten on the upper left: 1-12-32. That is the date of Mahoney's 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. After my query to him as a child, he and I never again spoke about "Blue Moon."

I do know this, though. In the fall of 1961, when I was 13 and primping one Friday night for a high-school dance, I recall seeing my father’s reflection in the mirror over my dresser. The Marcels’s do-wop rendition of Blue Moon, already #1 on the Rock ‘n Roll chart, was blaring from my turquoise transistor radio (that, yes, he had given me.)

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

His nephew, and spiritual and artistic heir, was making it on the saxophone in Greenwich Village. And 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