Blue Moon:

In Search Of
The Song My Father Wrote

By

Liz Roman Gallese

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Song With a Secret


It wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that the American standard, “Blue Moon,” has had one of popular music’s most convoluted and remarkable histories. Credited to songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (music and lyrics, respectively), it was unlike any other song composed by the prolific duo, in that 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-Meyer during what one writer calls their “disastrous Hollywood period in the early 1930s.” As successful young Broadway producers during the 1920s and as native New Yorkers—at home on the subway and on 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.’” Heck, Hart didn’t even drive.

The story goes that MGM asked them for a song for actress Jean Harlow for the movie Hollywood Party. The song they wrote, “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 As MGM’s Song #225, dated June 14, 1933, “Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star)” was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.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 Entitled “It’s Just that Kind of Play,” it was cut from the film, and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934.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.” This version was sung by Shirley Ross in the film and released as sheet music. It wasn’t a hit.

In stepped MGM 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 that are the lyricist’s hallmark appears in “Blue Moon.”

And that is where my father and I come in. This is because the song’s history, 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 by a 17-year-old, the son of Polish immigrants, in Troy, on the East bank of the Hudson River in upstate New York. This was in 1931. The songwriter’s 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's been a part of my family 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’d always been proud of it. I remember blurting it out"My father wrote 'Blue Moon'!" I exclaimed—during a soul-searching one night in my freshman dormitory at the women's college I attended in the 1960s. My housemates, a gaggle of 18-year-olds, didn't know what to make of it. This was hardly the confession they were expecting.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted others to know about it, for it 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, the story will be lost. And with it, fresh insight into the culture, history, politics, economics, and personalities of the 1930s.

I’ve been privy because of the whispers of my childhood to the grittier details. When my father had finished his business with the song in the 1930s, my Uncle Chris, the most aggressive and vocal of the nine siblings on my mother's side, had stormed up the back stairs to the second floor of the brownstone in downtown Troy where she lived with her parents. He broke down the door, leaving a crack that never got fixed. It was still there when I'd climb the same steps after school in the 1950s to our flat on the third floor. Chris was 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. This took place at the home of my godmother, Aunt Margaret. I knew the stories but not the facts because, after all, for the longest time, I’d been a kid, rather than my uncle’s equal. He’d tweak my cheek.

Now I was 44, packaged in a slim dark suit and serviceable pumps, my hair pulled back at the nape of my neck. My husband, an attorney, was working the room, a backhanded way of assuaging his own deep grief. Our 11-year-old daughter was frolicking in a flowing dress—maybe some relative was tweaking her cheek. Our two-year-old son was with my in-laws, 40 miles away.

And my Uncle Chris was, guardedly perhaps, and for the first time ever, 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


Until my father’s death in 1992, for all of my angling up to those family conversations, I didn’t know much more than that about my father’s involvement with “Blue Moon.” I knew only that it might have had some connection to a car, which would make sense given the role cars played in my father’s life and in the lives of immigrant and working-class families in the early decades of the 20th century.

The car was the ultimate symbol—of prosperity, of success, of having “made it,” of freedom. Not many of those families owned a car back then, and certainly not my mother’s. They were Italian immigrants—the family name was Brignola. Her father, a prominent tailor in town, owned a bicycle. He'd bike the several blocks to his shop.

My father’s father, on the other hand, did own a car, as far back as the 1920s, and may have traded them in regularly. He had a well-paying job in one of Troy’s many bustling factories. He was frugal—to a fault, my mother would say. And unlike the Brignola family, he’d had the good sense to limit his to two children, my father and his younger sister, Niel.

In the album, a clear indication of my father’s lifelong captivation with the automobile emerges from the photos he'd taken such care to arrange. In one, featuring a car with a running board, he and Niel are young children; he’s seated cheekily in the driver’s seat, while she stands outside against the back door. In another, they’re both positioned in the foreground, standing, my father with a humongous ball tucked under his arm, Niel holding a doll that’s just as big. The car itself lies on the horizon—like a promise, or a distant dream.

By the 1930s, there’s a picture of my father elongated against another car. In a related photo, it’s identified as “The DeSoto.” He’d always talk about “The DeSoto.” Could that have been the car he sold the song for? Or settled whatever it was he had to settle for? He’s wearing a short-sleeved white T-shirt, a young man, lean and happy, squinting into the sun.

In the 1950s, he would trade cars in every two or three years, each new model longer, and sleeker, and with sharper-looking fins than the one before. He was partial to Chryslers until later in the decade when Ramblers caught his fancy. Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether it was his car or his cameras—the Rolleiflex, the Leica, the Canon—that he treasured most. Or the equipment he had purchased for the darkroom he had set up in our pantry off the kitchen.  

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 could restrain myself no longer. This must have been when I was nine or 10 or 11 because the decade, as I can best recall, hadn’t changed. It was still the 1950s.

Childhood memories are indeed elusive, and this one is no exception, other than that I remember several distinct specifics. One was my being captivated by a picture my father had drawn, carefully colored, and arranged in the bottom right corner of the mirror over his dresser. It was of an antique car with a running board. The coloring was exquisitely rendered, the pale pinks and blues carefully allotted to their proper spaces.  As a budding artist, I was impressed because I hadn’t yet mastered coloring within the lines.

I remember sensing that, because of such examples, he liked things done properly. And the song was a serious matter to me. So, I suggested we talk in the easy chairs in the living room. I sat up straight, and folded my hands in my lap.

“You wrote that song, didn’t you?" I said.

The surprise was he didn’t say no. There was a long pause, and then he said, “Who told you that?”

I mumbled something about hearing the whispers. Then he told me a story. When he was young, he said, he’d race at night on Burden Pond in South Troy, the Polish section of the city. He still had those skates, they were hanging by their laces right in front of me, with their black leather boots and long racing blades. He had taught my sister and me, as well as a younger cousin, to skate; had taken us to the pond—not Burden, but a different pond—on Sunday afternoons in the winter.

On Burden Pond, he continued, he noticed that the moon “reflected blue on the ice.” He drew a big circle in the air with his arms, but said no more about how that vision had become, in his execution, a piece of timeless artistry.


Ella to Elvis


Which, of course, it is. Even as I regaled my college classmates in that dormitory during the middle years of the 1960s, the song had captured the hearts of new generation: my own, the Boomers. In 1961, the Marcels, five polished young men with a distinct musical perspective, took “Blue Moon” to the top of the Rock ‘n Roll chart. Their doo-wop take on it began, “Bom-ba-ba-boom. . ./. . .Dang-a-dang-dang-ding-a-dong-ding/Blue moon, moon, moon, moon, moon. . .”

I read somewhere that Richard Rodgers had been furious. I wasn’t entirely enamored myself, though I loved to dance to it.

In my mind, “Blue Moon” was Mel Torme's from the 1940s. His smooth and silky voice—no wonder they called him "The Velvet Fog”—assured that the song would chart for the first time, transcending its relatively modest success on the Big Band circuit in the 1930s. Or the sultry and seductive interpretations in the 1950s by Sinatra and Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Jo Stafford. The list goes on. Rosie Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett.

These were the voices of my parents’ generation spilling into my own. And even Elvis, whose darkly evocative rendition produced by the legendary Sam Phillips didn’t include the bridge. That is the part that begins, “And then suddenly there appeared before me. . .” with the moon turning to gold by the end of the song.

Some of the best covers I’ve heard don’t include the bridge.

Various Blue Moon Album cover images.

Artistry


Of the circumstances surrounding my father's authorship, I've wondered why I didn't know more before he died, didn’t have a clue about the facts or the evidence until my Uncle Chris said, “Go up to the attic.”

I suspect it has a lot to do with family, if only because family had been the most formidable force during my growing-up years; had been, in the years before I was born, the central unifying element of my parents’ lives.

On my father’s side, I can see traces of the artistry that had taken hold and caught fire in my father. A member of the extended family—the original name was Romaniszyn—was a skilled watch-and-clock-maker and gem-cutter. Upon immigrating from the Ukraine in the early 1950s, he founded a local jewelry business under the anglicized Romanation that is still considered one of the area's finest.

I remember my grandfather's finely honed wood carvings: a walnut whose shell he had crafted into the shape of a basket with a handle, the nut as its contents, that we had hung on our Christmas tree; a child's chest with a carefully compartmentalized tray that could be lifted out. The artistry in these creations evokes my father's own, in the beautifully rendered photographic enlargements, in sepia tones of blues and greens, that he'd turn out in that pantry darkroom.

I remember how my grandmother would thrill at finding an exquisite teacup or trinket at a flea market, and how, during our visits, she’d turn it over lovingly in her hands. She’d say that my mother could have it if she liked it, too, but only if she had the five cents. That would enrage my mother. Never a meal, not even a cup of coffee, was offered in that tiny house on the top of a hill where my Roman grandparents lived, my mother would seethe.

My Aunt Niel, too, perfectly—exquisitely, really, for she looked liked a model—put together in the simplest of pieces: a long slim skirt, a sleeveless white blouse, a stylish coat or shoulder bag. She had made of them an outfit, the whole greater than the sum of its parts. When she married and left Troy, she’d send us paintings she had done in oil. One was of my sister, a tiny girl seated, expectantly, it seemed, on a hassock. Others were of fruits and flowers.

I learned later, when we cleaned out her apartment after she died in 2009, that my Aunt Niel had been a devotee of Jackie Kennedy. And I could see why, given that former First Lady’s exceptional taste in fashion and food, design and comportment. My aunt had clipped many articles about the way Jackie dressed, and how she had decorated and entertained in the White House.

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


From this pattern of visual artistry in the Roman family, I could see my way clear to the beautiful leather-and-cloth portfolio that I encountered for the first time only after it had emerged from the attic.

This was my father's portfolio, and equally apparent was how important it had been to him. Though tattered from its decades in storage, its contents were artfully and even lovingly arranged.

These were my father’s poems, which up until that very moment I hadn't had a clue he had even fathomed, let alone put down on paper.

Some dated as far back as his high school years. I could now understand why his classmates at Troy High School, in the 1934 yearbook, had written that he was noted for “Roman’s Rhymes.”

There were about two dozen in total, extending into 1935 and 1936, and mostly depicting the yearnings of a young man 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 image.

Those that he considered his “best” he had carefully typed, and placed in a ringed binder. The document was entitled “Thoughts,” and dated March 17, 1936.

He had kept even the fragments. These were handwritten on scraps of paper, some only a line or two. Many presented 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


Music was a big part of family life on my mother's side. My grandfather played the mandolin at home, and would march proudly with his tuba in the Italian community band. It's said that my grandfather was recruited to play the tuba by the esteemed band leader, John Philip Sousa. But for the Brignola clan, musical achievement at the professional level would need to wait until another generation.

These early 20th century immigrants instead took the tried-and-true path of formal education in their pursuit of upward mobility, specifically my grandfather's intent that his oldest son, my Uncle Briggy, become a medical doctor. If Briggy "made good," so went the thinking, they all would. But even Briggy played an instrument, in his case, the guitar. On the saddest of occasions, he’d play. I remember wishing he were there for my father’s funeral in 1992, but he had been gone two years by then.

At my mother’s funeral, in 1984, Briggy had strapped his guitar across his compact frame and slowly strummed the song that had always been 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 his instrument.

My Uncle Chris played the banjo, albeit rarely. He didn’t play on cue as Briggy did at family gatherings.

Hence the irony, given what would happen with "Blue Moon," in my father's courting the oldest daughter (second oldest of the nine) in this family for whom music was largely an avocation. 

They had met at a dance in the mid-1930s, likely 1935, because it’s shortly thereafter that pictures of Mary begin appearing in the album. She was in the front seat of a car, about to leave, and he had run up to the window, he told me on the day she died. “It wasn’t love at first sight,” he said.

But there were all of those pictures of her in the album, and the radio he bought for her, because he knew she liked listening to the radio. He still had that radio in the 1980s. He kept it tightly wrapped in a box in an attic, and said it was “worth something, $800, $900.”

In courting Mary, my father had no choice but to embrace her family, an entangled web of brothers and sisters with equally daunting entanglements with each other. As the oldest son and daughter, Briggy and Mary, born in the first decade of the century, functioned as a second set of parents, not so much to Chris and Jim who came next, but to the five born in the late ‘teens and ‘20s: Care, Jo, John, Rose, and Dom.

Other than Rose, who died as child from a brain tumor, the younger siblings aligned with each other as they came of age during the World War II years. Dom and John enlisted, Dom in the Navy, and John in the Army, as a medic. They’d get degrees on the G.I. Bill. As veterans, if not as college grads, they’d find commonality with Jim, who had worked as a cutter in Troy’s Cluett Peabody shirt manufacturer before joining the Air Force. It was the high point of Jim's life.

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

But it's the alignment of Briggy and Mary that matters most in this story. My grandfather’s grooming of his oldest son for a profession meant that the others would be denied. Three mortgages on the house weren't enough to put Briggy through college and medical school. It happened only because Mary would be expected to contribute as well, foregoing high school for a job as a collar stitcher in the Cluett factory.

Other than paid work, Mary’s life in the 1920s and 1930s consisted of housework and caring for the younger children in her parent's flat in that brownstone in downtown Troy. Her interest in nursing was nixed, and she wasn’t allowed to socialize. In a perceptive memoir written in January 1931 during his third year of medical school, Briggy acknowledges with a measure of guilt 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 writes. “Maybe I can introduce her to someone she might take a liking to?”

The tie between Briggy and Mary was lifelong, forged as it was in childhood, and from the shared experience of having grown up in a household in which only Italian was spoken, which wasn’t the case when the younger ones came along. It continued when Briggy’s wife, my Aunt Margaret, and my father joined the family.

So that it became Briggy and Margaret, and Mary and Ed. In a photograph from the late 1930s or 1940s, they’re seated at a table in a local nightclub that featured national acts: Briggy with his trim mustache and taut frame looking like Cesar Romero; Margaret aglow in a silk jacket; the foursome enjoying their evening out. When I was baptized, there was no question but that Briggy and Margaret would be my godfather and godmother.

By the mid-1940s, Briggy’s general medical practice, serving a sizable segment of Troy’s Italians, had grown to the extent that he felt overwhelmed. He and Margaret began taking extended winter vacations in Florida with their son, Nicky, who was nine or 10 or 11 at the time. At first, my mother and father would join them. Later, Briggy and Margaret would leave Nicky in Troy, for up to six weeks, with my parents. My father bought him a BB gun and taught him how to shoot. “Uncle Ed” was Nicky’s sponsor in Confirmation.

This explains why I considered Nicky, who was 12 years my senior, my favorite cousin. Nicky knew me as a baby. I knew him, from the stories my mother would tell, as that little kid who would eat nothing but the rolls at restaurants, whereas the world would know him—eventually—as Nick Brignola, a star in the sub-genre of modern jazz and among the finest of his generation on the baritone saxophone.

Aside from the oldest and youngest cohorts of the Brignola siblings, there were Chris and Care. Chris was the odd one out; Care, too, albeit yin to Chris’s yang. On the occasion of Care’s high school graduation—as Valedictorian—my father wrote a poem for her that he entitled “Hope.” “You ride upon the clouds of destiny/. . .” the poem begins, and Care had, at least, set off on such a ride: Cornell, and with Briggy’s financial assistance, medical school; and then on to the great pediatric teaching hospitals in Philadelphia and Boston. She touched a world that even Briggy would never know.

As for Chris, who was Briggy's inverse in temperament as well as opportunity, this second son certainly wasn’t to be groomed for a profession. In his early 30s at the onset of the war, he was too old to enlist. He had left school, as many young people did in those days, but possibly before finishing eighth grade. There’s no record of his entering high school.

He learned the trades from his uncles. He did plumbing jobs, and knew how to wire a house. But he was clever—and intelligent—and, as I recall, worked at a plant where he had become the union boss. Later, he bought property throughout Troy and rented out flats.

“Making trouble,” the adults would say of Chris, because he would push and pull for what he wanted. He demanded from Briggy the down-payment for the house he planned to buy for his family. And also because the physical fights were real. In a brawl with Chris, Jim lost his hearing in one ear. Until Briggy intervened and put an end to it, Chris’s young son would rush to his grandparent’s second-floor flat to avoid his father’s blows.

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


Into these entanglements parachuted my father, the racer whose interpretation of the moon’s blue reflection on ice had produced a work of unparalleled artistry, the poet whose rhymes floated like gossamer wings on scraps of paper, the. . .

“Your father played the trumpet,” my Uncle Chris said at the reception after the funeral, taking me aback once again, leaving me breathless. This was the first time in my life that I had ever heard that my father played a musical instrument, let alone the trumpet.

“Your father,” my Uncle Chris continued, would play on the balcony of the second floor of the tenement, known as the “Boathouse,” where he and my mother lived as newlyweds. And he’d play on Havermans Avenue, which made immediate sense to me, because Havermans straddled the hill leading up to Prospect Park and Troy’s elegant East Side. You'd have the pavement on Havermans mostly to yourself.

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


Conversations


In the decade after after my father's death, I became determined to piece together a coherent whole from these scraps of information. I turned first, in 2006, to my Uncle Dom, the youngest of the nine Brignola brothers and sisters. I invited him to lunch to ask specifically about the family's involvement with "Blue Moon."

“Your father,” he said, “definitely wrote the music and maybe the lyrics.” Dom was only a kid then—nine or 10 or 11—and my mother and father would take him for rides in the summer and to go swimming. He’d have to sit in the rickety rumble seat in the back of Ed's car.

Uncle Dom told me that my father had gotten “chummy” with Chris after meeting my mother. Chris had heard the song on the radio, learned that it had made $75,000 in sheet music alone, and insisted that they sue. Uncle Dom said that Richard Rodgers called my father, with an offer to settle for $1,200. When I countered with the $900 figure I had heard in my childhood, he said, no, the figure had been $1,200, two or three times what most people earned in a year in those days.

Subsequently, I've come across a near-contemporaneous article in a respected national magazine that put the sum at $1,500, and I now believe my Uncle Dom had been right. The $300 difference between my uncle's $1,200 and the magazine's $1,500 (or, for that matter, between his $1,200 and my presumed $900) could have been the attorney’s fee.

Uncle Dom explained that my father accepted the offer, but didn’t tell Chris. When Chris found out, he stormed up the back stairs to the flat on the second floor, busting down the door and leaving the crack I had observed when I was a child. He assaulted my mother, demanding to know Ed’s whereabouts.

A decade later, in 2016, I talked with my cousin Nicky’s widow, Yvonne. She said Nicky had often told her that my father had written “Blue Moon.” By then, all of the brothers and sisters had passed, and Nicky as well, a death that had devasted me. I found myself clinging to happier times, such as encountering Nicky in downtown Troy in the 1980s and swelling with pride when he mentioned that Europeans had taken to modern jazz and he’d be touring the continent.

“Blue Moon” wasn’t so much a secret as a given as far as Nicky was concerned, Yvonne said. He was aware of some of the details. His Uncle Ed might not have written the bridge, the part of the song that begins. . . “and then suddenly there appeared before me. . .” and concludes with the moon turning to gold. This is the section artists such as Elvis chose to omit in their covers.

Which would make sense considering the lyrics are the yearnings of a very young man, which my father had been when he wrote them, “. . . standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own.” Indeed, it would be four years before he’d meet Mary.

Yvonne said Nicky had told her that my father had sent the song to a New York music broker, and had kept a copy for himself so that the postmark would serve as proof of his authorship.


Papers in the Attic


In 2006, after that lunch with my Uncle Dom, I headed up to the attic. In the tattered portfolio that contained my father's poetry, I found, to my astonishment, a fistful of weathered newspaper clips and other documents from the 1930s that, taken together, provide the physical evidence for this story.

One of the clips was feature-length and had been published in The Knickerbocker Press, an erstwhile daily out of nearby Albany, New York. I remember its successor, The Knickerbocker News, which was still publishing when I was growing up, because I liked the sound of its name.

The article left me reeling because it paints an intimate picture of my father as young man, quoting him directly about his interest in music and poetry, and referencing the story about "Blue Moon" that he had told me as a child. The article says he played not only the trumpet, but also the French horn and the violin. It says that he had been playing the trumpet for five years “in local orchestras,” meaning he had played, not only on the balcony of the tenement and on Havermans Avenue, as my Uncle Chris had recounted, but also in public settings, and as far back as 1931, the year that he wrote “Blue Moon.”

Indeed, the 17-year-old whose classmates had flagged as distant— “. . .diffidence and reserve have kept many of us from really becoming acquainted with him,” was how they had put it in the yearbook—yet noted for “Roman’s rhymes” hadn't been so much engaging with high school as with his own talent and interests.

At a time when dances (and therefore bands) proliferated—that’s how people met and mingled in the 1920s and ‘30s, said the Troy historian—I found it vaguely thrilling that he'd been playing the roadhouses and nightclubs, the church halls and fraternal lodges, that peppered the countryside and small towns of the upper Hudson River Valley, maybe even the swank hotels in the capital at Albany.

All four newspaper clips date from late 1936, and confirm another of the whispers I'd been privy to in my childhood: there might have been a lawsuit.

In fact, the newspaper accounts concern the lawsuit my father did file, on October 13, 1936, against Rodgers and Hart; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.; MGM’s publisher, Robbins Music Corp., headed by Jack Robbins; and another “Jack,” the New York song broker, Jack Mahoney, doing business as Mahoney and Associates.

In The Knickerbocker Press article, there is a picture of my father, young and slim and serious and handsome, in his signature wireless glasses, and wearing a jacket and tie. He’s seated and holding a document with his attorney, the locally prominent E. Stewart Jones, which also takes me by surprise because the Jones firm is one of Troy’s most distinguished. Jones at the time was a young man, as was my father. But unlike my father, he had graduated from a private high school for boys and the exclusive Williams College. He was a few years into a practice founded by his grandfather in 1898.

It strikes me that my father's case, brought as it was by an immigrant's kid, must have had considerable merit for Jones to have taken it.

The Knickerbocker Press, describes my father as “a 24-year-old Troy musician”—he was actually 22 in 1936—who had written "Blue Moon" five years earlier after “an evening of skating on a moonlit pond in southern section of the city.” It says he sent the song “at the suggestion of friends” to a broker, heard back within days with an offer and contract, but didn’t sign. It quotes my father saying that the broker “continued to write to me at intervals, sending me contracts to fill out and make them my agents. . .”

Cut to 1934 when, according to the newspaper, a “friend” told my father that the song had been published and played on the radio. With MGM having secured the copyright, my father thought he had “forfeited his rights” until learning, presumably from Jones, that an author has “a property right and legal redress” against those seeking to profit from a work without permission. It was then that he decided to take action.

The lawsuit itself was easy enough to locate. As as a matter of public record, it had been there all along, in the files of the Supreme Court for the County of Rensselaer.

My father’s original manuscript for “Blue Moon” hasn't yet been found. The newspapers said it was "in the hands of" his attorney. In a call to the Jones firm, I was told that when the firm moved in the 1950s, it hadn't made the transition. In a subsequent inquiry, the New York State Bar Association, which oversees attorney conduct, confirmed that firms may at their discretion “dispose of materials” at the conclusion of cases.

Amid the papers in the attic, however, a document does emerge that supports the many stories, whispers, and snippets of information that had come my way over the decades. This was a letter from Jack Mahoney to my father, along with the official contract, proposing that he broker "the number" that my father had submitted and advising that the copyright would be in my father's name. In three single-spaced pages, Mahoney speaks in gushing prose about the song's potential.

The most important detail is its date: January 12, 1932. This aligns with family lore that held that my father wrote the song when he was 17, which would have been at some point in 1931, given his birth date of January 1, 1914. It aligns with the complaint, which says he "entered into negotiations" with Mahoney in December 1931.

Significantly, it precedes by a year and a half the date of the first MGM copyright, July 10, 1933, 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 by some to whom I've told this story: didn't the composer of a song as immortal as "Blue Moon" write other songs? To that question I would have had to answer, until I went through the papers in the attic, that I didn’t know. I hadn’t thought to ask.

But he had. A young club manager and aspiring songwriter, Henry R. Dutton—whose name I had never heard until slipping his letter to my father out of its envelope—proposed shortly after The Knickerbocker News article appeared that they collaborate. 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, “Stains of Love” and “Broken Hearts That Weep at Evening,” my father’s name appears without Dutton's on the music as well as the lyrics.

On another, “I Gambled and Lost,” there are handwritten lyrics by my father with a notation that the melody is by Dutton. But no music is found.

Two fairly developed songs appear to have originated with Dutton, who, in 1936, had copyrighted the music and lyrics to one of them, “Are You Really in Love?,” and the music to the other, “All Because of You.”

“Are You Really in Love?” is curious because it presents with a second title, “I Am Really in Love,” with different lyrics penned by my father. A receipt from Dutton acknowledges this. It makes me wonder if the song were to be a duet, alternating between a question asked and an answer given.

My father’s lyrics for Dutton’s “All Because of You” surfaces, as well as a score by Dutton for yet another song, “A New Star Was Born,” with a few lines of lyrics by my father: “A new star was born/It came with the dawn. . .”

My father's song-writing collaboration with Dutton appears to have flourished from late 1936 into 1937. But the broader point is that from his penning of “Blue Moon” in 1931 through the settlement of the lawsuit six years later, in 1937, my father was fully engaged in his artistic pursuits.

A letter from October 1933 spills out of the portfolio. It’s from my father to The H.N. White Co. He needs to replace his King trumpet and asks about their new model, which he admires. Another letter from November 1935 is from the Midland Broadcasting Co., to which he had apparently sent his poems. “I liked them,” writes Midland's Ted Malone, and after “I wondered what the story was behind each one—well—I liked the poems more than ever!”


Perspectives


With the statement of the court dismissal in 1937, the trail runs dry, as do the songs and poems and any further mention of Dutton or “Blue Moon.” There are other folders that I go through, mostly filled with my father’s letters to prospective 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 sticky note to this folder on which I scribble: “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 my Uncle Chris came forward for my father. Indeed, it was Chris alone who understood instinctively what it meant for “Blue Moon” to be played on the radio without my father’s permission, and who had insisted that something must be done about it.

This was a Chris who wasn’t so much “making trouble” as spotting an opportunity and running with it. This was a Chris who was aligned, in temperament and inclination, with the likes of those mysterious figures from faraway cities, Jack Mahoney and Jack Robbins and the others on the opposing side of this story.

The court papers reveal, for example, that a summons was attempted on Mahoney at his “place of business” in New York City, only to be rebuffed. An operative said Mahoney wasn’t in, but a photograph of Mahoney had been taken, and a person resembling that image was right there in the office. It's a tactic my Uncle Chris, on a gut level, would have understood.

I wonder, in particular, about Briggy, given his tie to my mother and his connection to the young E. Stewart Jones. They had been contemporaries at the SUNY Albany graduate schools, Briggy in medicine and Jones in law, and were both rising young professionals in Troy. I can't help but think that Briggy must have known, although not a shred of evidence to support such a thesis appears in any of the documents.

But if he did, and had chosen not to get involved, or, if he did, and had encouraged Ed to settle, any inkling of regret on Briggy's part can only be intimated. It hangs by a thread from a letter he wrote two decades later, in the late 1950s, to his sister, Care, who had taken over his medical practice during the months he spent in Florida.

In this letter, Briggy mentions that surely she must have heard: Nicky had quit college. He'd been jamming with a quintet that had been invited to play at the Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village. Its legendary owner, Jimmy Garofolo, thought the world of him, and now he'd be back for a return engagement, leading the ensemble and getting top billing.

In a tone that can only be described as less-than-heartfelt, Briggy writes that he and Margaret had tried unsuccessfully to convince Nicky to finish the academic year at Ithaca College, or to take “special courses.”

“Well, a man must do what he must do—make decisions of his own,” 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 a witness to what happened, in that year and a half between January 1932 and July 1933 when—and I'm presuming now—the song made its way across a vast continent, by rail rather than air, and facilitated in part by unwieldy telegrams and infrequent and expensive long-distance telephone calls. From Jack Mahoney in New York City to Los Angeles, where MGM likely foisted it upon its increasingly dispirited hired hands, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. “Hates California, it’s cold and it’s damp.”

And upon its publisher Jack Robbins, who had the great good sense—heck, they all did, not only Robbins, but also Mahoney and MGM, and Rodgers and Hart—to realize the song’s beauty and potential in the marketplace and to get it out into the world. 

But I wasn't, so I don't know, and any documents from that side are likely locked up somewhere in an archive or have been lost or destroyed. 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 as a child, he and I never again spoke about “Blue Moon.”

I do know this, though. In 1961, when I was 13 and entering high school, I found myself one Friday night in front of my dresser primping for a sock hop. Into the bottom right corner of my mirror I had tucked a photo of a teenage dancer, a "regular" on American Bandstand. I liked her hairdo and was trying to copy it.

The country's number-one hit was blaring from the transistor radio that, yes, my father had given me. It was the Marcels’s upbeat and irreverent take on “Blue Moon. “Bom-ba-ba-bom-ba-bom-ba-bom-bom/. . . Dang-a-dang dang-ding-a-dong-ding. . .”

In the mirror I could see my father’s reflection. He wasn’t recoiling from what he had happened upon, but rather, as we’d say today, “leaning in.” Intently, reflectively.

By 1961, his nephew, Nicky, was making it on the baritone saxophone in the Village, and in wider modern-jazz circles. His little daughter was now a teenager, a collector of gold stars, and on her way.

He had a lot to be proud of.


Sources



Unpublished


  • Brignola, Carolyn Veronica, M.D., 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 Brignola, Almerinda, “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 Brignola, Almerinda, “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,” personal communication, n.d.
  • "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, Mike, “Preparing for the Holidays Fifty Years Ago,” Troy United, http://www.uncle-sams-home.com/tui/199712/a19971201120504.html, 2009.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 section, 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.
  • “Trojan Suing for Song Cash,” Times-Union, October 21, 1936.
  • “Young Troy Musician Wins Highly-Coveted Jazz Award,” The Times Record, 1958.
  • Young, William H., Jr., and Young, Nancy K., Music of the Great Depression (American History Through Music), Greenwood Press, 2005.

Other


In addition to unpublished and published documentary 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; Kathy T. Sheehan, County and City Historian, Rensselaer County Historical Society, November 6, 2014; 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.