Blue Moon:

In Search Of
The Song My Father Wrote

By

Liz Roman Gallese

(Updated October 2021)

Listen To Playlist


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 As MGM's Song #225, dated June 14, 1933, it was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.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, reviving it to be the title song for a 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama. Also entitled “It’s Just That Kind of A Play” (from a line of the lyrics), this second iteration was cut from the film and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934.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. This version, 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 decamped to rival Paramount Pictures, because a favor was owned Robbins for a generous bonus the year before.

And it is here that 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.

Table of Contents Navigation

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

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

CLICK IMAGE


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 in my mind with the $900 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 reality and what may be a figment of the imagination, there would occasionally emerge a fantastical thought: 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, material that may contribute to an understanding of the culture, history, economics, and personalities 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 1950s 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 affable and generous-minded 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

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
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"

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
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. Throughout the 1950s, he’d trade our Chrysler every few years, each new model longer and sleeker and with sharper-looking fins than the one before, each eliciting in him a burst of pride and pleasure that wouldn’t be equaled until the cycle began all over again.

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

My mother's father, an Italian immigrant—the surname 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 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 transportation to work would continue to be his bicycle.

My Roman grandfather, by contrast, didn’t buy a house until the 1940s (actually a cottage 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 children: my father, born on January 1, 1914, and a daughter, Niel, born in December of that same year.

A clear indication of my father's youthful infatuation with cars emerges from the photos he'd taken such care to arrange in the family album. In one, he's seated cheekily in the driver’s seat of an Overland, while 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 (it's a Ford, he writes, but 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 that's dated 1937—the year that 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.” This was when I was nine or 10 or 11 and had heard one too many of the whispers.

I remember thinking it 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 knew he liked things done properly, and that he’d always execute precisely. I could sense it 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 had set up in the pantry off of our kitchen.

I remember regarding with awe a drawing he had sketched and colored of a car with a running board. He had slid it into the lower right-hand corner of the mirror over his dresser, and whenever I'd pass by, I’d marvel at how he had rendered the pale pinks and blues and greens lightly and evenly, and had kept each color within its allotted space, never once veering outside of 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 would 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 from the archway that separated the parlor from the adjacent room, dangling by their laces right there in front of me.

And he had 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 Holiday, 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


It's taken me awhile to put together the pieces, but I can see now that my father had come from a family of artists.

My grandfather once whittled a walnut into a tiny basket with a handle, the nut as its contents. For years, we had hung it as a beloved ornament on our Christmas tree. From his woodworking came a toy chest, with a segmented compartment that could be taken out and put back in, that I had loved as a child and have kept to this day.

I remember how my grandmother would thrill at finding an exquisite teacup or trinket at a flea market. She’d turn it over lovingly in her hands when we visited, and sometimes offer it to my mother—but only if she were reimbursed the five cents that it 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 put together from the simplest of pieces. She'd take a white sleeveless blouse, a slim skirt, and a belt, pair them with spectator pumps and a leather shoulder bag, and 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 us, 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 former First Lady had dressed and decorated and entertained in the White House.

A relative from the Ukraine, a skilled watchmaker and gem-cutter, founded a jewelry business in 1952, 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, and mastered, the fine art of 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, as I was to learn shorly after his death in 1992, wasn’t limited to the visual talent so obviously on display in his drawings and photography.

In the attic I found a handsome leather-and-cloth portfolio, albeit tattered from its many decades in storage, whose contents took me completely by surprise.

These were my father's poems. For as long as I’d known him, I hadn’t the slightest clue that he'd been interested in, let alone a writer of, poetry. I never once saw him put pen to paper, but he had in these.

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

Many of the latter were playful, and I could understand 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.” Significantly, 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 arrange them in a 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. 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 together as it did in 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 would march proudly with his tuba in the Italian community band. He was even said to have been recruited for the tuba by the famous bandleader, John Philip Sousa, a foreshadowing perhaps of what would transpire on the professional level two generations later (more to come.)

My grandfather’s penchant for at-home musical entertainment took hold in some of his children: Chris played the banjo; Dom, the youngest, the clarinet.

Even Briggy, the oldest, played—in his case, the guitar—despite the pressures of college and medical school, and later, a thriving general practice in downtown Troy. On the saddest of occasions, he'd play. I remember wishing that Briggy, who died in 1990, were there at the family gathering (held at the home of his widow, Margaret) after my father's funeral in '92. At my mother's, in '84, Briggy had strapped his guitar across his compact frame and slowly strummed a song that was his go-to for evoking the bright side. “If you are among the very. . .” and then, emphatically, “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, Mary, as the oldest of the nine, functioned as a second set of parents to the younger ones, not so much to Chris and Jim, who were next, but to those born in the late teens and ‘20s: Care, Jo, John, Rose, and Dom.

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

This meant Mary would need to leave school after 8th grade and work at the Cluett Peabody shirt factory, where she rose to the top 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 1920s and ‘30s, and besides her paid job, attend to the housework and the care of the younger children.

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 writes, or ". . .introduce her to someone she might take a liking to."

Turns out it was my father to whom she took a liking, and that she met him 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 ran 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 to her of a radio became a family story, because he'd never let go of that radio. It was “worth something,” he’d often say.

Ed's arrival into the Brignola family, along with that of Briggy’s high-school sweetheart, Margaret (whom he'd marry in ’35), brought to the tight bond between brother and sister two more people who would offer lifelong support and care for each other. With Margaret's arrival in the '20s, the tie became a threesome, and with Ed's a decade later, a foursome.

In the album, there’s a picture of the couples 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 1940s, 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 for as much vacation time as Ed could get. Later in the decade, when Briggy and Margaret worried that Nicky was missing too much school, they'd leave him to stay with Mary and Ed in Troy for the winter.

My father bought his 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 other as they came of age during the years of World War II in the early 1940s.

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 graduates, 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, went to a local college for a degree in math and taught at Troy High.

That left Chris and Care as the odd ones out, albeit 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 at 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, on the other hand, dropped out of school after—or possibly before —8th grade, as many young people did in those days. There’s no record of his entering high school. Certainly no one was grooming him for medicine, let alone providing the resources for that to happen. Unlike his younger brothers, he was too old to enlist when the War broke out.

It was as if he were Briggy’s inverse: “Making trouble,” his brothers and sister would say, because 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, knew how to wire a house, gravitated for a while to plumbing. Subsequently, he took a job at a plant in the area, and became boss of the union's local chapter. Later, he rented out flats in properties throughout downtown Troy.

Edward Roman Family At Dinty’s Terrace Garden

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

The Brignola Family, about 1927

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
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.

CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Lyrics to "All Because of You," 1936

Chris Brignola

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


Trumpeter


I've tried to envision my father's entry into this family, in which 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" on the second floor of the tenement where he and my mother lived when they first married.

And he'd play on Havermans Avenue, Chris said, 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, I became determined to learn the facts behind his involvement with "Blue Moon." This didn't happen for more than a decade because of my own commitments at work and to my family, the latter reaching a turning point in 2004 with the passing 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 at the time. But my son's situation—he was only 14—meant that I was faced with new and immediate challenge of being a single parent.

When I finally began my search, in 2006, I turned first to my Uncle Dom, the youngest of the nine. He'd been a kid in the 1930s, nine or 10 or 11, when my father was courting my mother. They'd take him for rides in the summer 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" played on the radio, learned that it had already made $75,000 in sheet music alone, and insisted that they sue.

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

Dom said Richard Rodgers called my father with an offer to settle for $1,200, not the $900 I had thought as a child. I countered with the $900, 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 own, and also between my $900 and the $600 that I had thought was the price of a car in the '30s. A magazine article subsequently emerged that put the settlement figure at $1,500, again a $300 difference, this time from Dom's $1,200.

The $300 has surfaced to the extent that I've come to believe it was 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's 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 that 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, and for us as a family, to the extent that it’s like she'd always been one of us.

Yvonne said Nicky often told her that my father had written "Blue Moon." For Nicky, it was something he had known forever 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 asked, and Nicky pointed to his Uncle Ed as the composer of "Blue Moon."

Nicky thought my father may not have written the bridge, Yvonne said, 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 lay my father’s papers, which had languished for seven decades in the attic, and 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 trimmed so closely that dates were missing, as well as the names of the news outlets in which they had appeared. From the text, though, it was clear they'd been published locally and 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 rimless 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 holding a document.

Jones was the scion of a Troy family that founded the law firm before the close of the 19th century. He graduated from a private high school for boys and prestigious Williams College.

That he took this 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 is 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 write.

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 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 considered his trumpet-playing as something to be executed at home. Tantalizingly, it means that he may even have been pushing beyond my grandfather’s decision to turn down bandleader Sousa's offer and settle (however willingly) for amateur status on the tuba as well.

My father had instead put himself "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 would commandeer his talents and energies, not his own public high as a '34 class member (and eventual graduate), not even (were it possible, which it wasn't), one suspects, Jones's private one.

He had somehow intuited that it was "out there" that he needed to be. Somehow understood that "out there," and not in a classroom, was where a muscian learns, and stands a chance of becoming a professional. He may have even discerned that "out there" would be as demanding as Jones's prestigious college or law school. 

The lawsuit named as defendants, not only Rodgers and Hart, but also MGM, the studio'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 had found out 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 at some point 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 by some to whom I've told this story: didn't the composer of a song as iconic as "Blue Moon" write other songs? Until I went through my father's papers, I wouldn't have been able to answer that question. 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—proposed shortly after the article in The Knickerbocker Press appeared that they collaborate.

In the letter, Dutton writes that he empathizes with my father's "difficulties" and bemoans "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 developed songs appear to have originated with Dutton, who in 1936 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, as is acknowledged in a receipt from Dutton.

The songwriting collaboration, along with other materials that emerge, speaks to a broader point: that from his penning of "Blue Moon" in 1931 to the settlement of the lawsuit six years later, my father had been 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, his anguished restlessness honed perhaps in a "classroom" as far from the conventional as my father's own, driving any effort to assure that Ed would be rightfully recognized, and, yes, rewarded, for having written “Blue Moon.”

It was Chris alone who had intuited, with razor-sharp perspicuity, what it meant for the song to be played publicly without my father's consent, and what a resolution would mean, not only for his sister’s beau, but also for 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 did) 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 a mere handful of blocks. Once Jones got involved, Briggy 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, she'd say, "would eat nothing but the rolls" at restaurants on their way back from Florida, whereas the world would eventually know him as Nick Brignola, one of the most accomplished of his generation on the baritone saxophone and in the sub-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 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 about her father-in-law, said that Briggy, by contrast, was a “bird-in-the-hand type of guy.”

That resonated. It means to me 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 to be assured that his sister and future brother-in-law would settle on the 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 in the late 1950s (it isn't dated) to his sister, Care, who had taken over his medical practice that winter when he and Margaret were in Florida.

He writes to tell Care—although surely she must already know, he says—that Nicky had dropped out of college. A quintet that Nicky 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," Briggy writes. But his heart doesn't seem to be into this advice.

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

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

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


Legacy


I wish I were witness to what 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 left MGM, he'd have hardly been eager to revisit a MGM song whose lyrics had failed on three previous attempts. Nor could he be blamed if he had—and a plausible case can be made for it happening this way—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've 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 at the turn 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, who had, in fact, worked in the same building as Mahoney in the early 1920s when Mahoney began transitioning into song brokering.

A decade later, Robbins, albeit now a continent away, assuredly would have been receptive 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 the song's first iteration, "Prayer," a date is handwritten on the upper left that suggests a tie to my father. It appears as follows: 1-12-32, and 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