Prolific American pop composer James Van Heusen produced an extraordinary number of hit songs from the late '30s through the 1960s, particularly for movie musicals.
Born Edward Chester Babcock in Syracuse, NY, Van Heusen began writing music while a high school student there. It was also during this time that he adopted the last name of Van Heusen to use as his on-air name during a local radio show. After graduating from high school, he went on to study at the Cazenovia Seminary and then Syracuse University, where he wrote for the school musicals. While at Syracuse, Van Heusen became friends with a classmate, Jerry Arlen, the younger brother of pop composer Harold Arlen. With the elder Arlen's help, Van Heusen wrote songs for the Cotton Club revue, including "Harlem Hospitality." After a few months of this, Van Heusen worked as an elevator operator until he became a staff pianist for some of the Tin Pan Alley publishers. He wrote "It's the Dreamer in Me" in 1938 to lyrics written by Tommy Dorsey. After this, he co-wrote several successes with lyricist Eddie DeLange, including "Heaven Can Wait" and "So Help Me." From here, Van Heusen's career picked up with great speed -- in 1940 alone he wrote over 60 songs, many of which were hits. It was also in this year that he teamed up with lyricist Johnny Burke. The duo moved to Hollywood and wrote for stage musicals and films throughout the '40s and early '50s, including "Swinging on a Star" for the 1944 Academy Award winning picture Going My Way, and over 20 Bing Crosby productions. Some of the their successful songs are "Personality," "But Beautiful," "I Couldn't Care Less," "Suddenly It's Spring," and "Like Someone in Love." After working with Burke, Van Heusen 's main collaborator was acclaimed lyricist Sammy Cahn. Van Heusen and Cahn received two Academy Awards in the late '50s for the songs "All the Way" (used in the movie The Joker Is Wild) and "High Hopes" (from the film A Hole in the Head). They also wrote "Love and Marriage" (1955), "To Love and Be Loved," "Come Fly With Me," "Only the Lonely," and a great number of their songs were recorded by Frank Sinatra. From the late '40s on, Van Heusen was active in music publishing and, over the years, had several publishing companies of his own. The Songwriters Hall of Fame member was also a celebrity on the Hollywood scene and made occasional appearances on television. ~ Joslyn Layne, Rovi