James Van Heusen

About James Van Heusen

James van Heusen is one of the best known composers of popular songs from the mid-twentieth century, with countless hits sung and recorded by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Lena Horne, Rosemary Clooney, and many other major stars. Some of his most popular songs were written for movies: "Swinging on a Star," for Going My Way (1944); "All the Way," for The Joker Is Wild (1957); "High Hopes," for A Hole in the Head (1959), which became President Kennedy's unofficial theme song; and "Call Me Irresponsible," for Papa's Delicate Condition (1963). All of these won Academy Awards for Best Song. Van Heusen also wrote the mega-hit "Love and Marriage," for the 1955 television musical production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and that song received an Emmy. As one might surmise, many of van Heusen's other songs were also written for movies and television, although he did write scores for several musicals, including Skyscraper (1965) and Walking Happy (1966). Without doubt, van Heusen must be counted among the most popular American songwriters of his time.
James van Heusen (Edward Chester Babcock) was born on January 26, 1913, in Syracuse, NY. At 15 he became a disc jockey and changed his name to James van Heusen, though he preferred the nickname Jimmy. A talented pianist, he studied at Syracuse University and took voice lessons from Howard Lyman.
With the aid of friend Harold Arlen he began writing music for the Harlem-based Cotton Club in the early '30s. Van Heusen's first major success was the musical Swingin' the Dream, which included the hit "Darn That Dream."
Van Heusen wrote songs for the 1942 Crosby/Hope film Road to Morocco, which included "Moonlight Becomes You." There followed a string of hit songs in major films, including "Road to Utopia" (Personality, 1945), "Road to Rio" (But Beautiful, 1947), "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," (Busy Doing Nothing, 1949), and many others.
In 1955 van Heusen began collaborating with lyricist Sammy Cahn (from 1939-1955 he had worked with lyricist Johnny Burke). Their first success was the 1955 Our Town. Beside the films previously mentioned, the two collaborated on the title songs for A Pocketful of Miracles (1961), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), and Star! (1968). Van Heusen married for the first and only time in 1969 and thereafter curtailed his musical activities. He officially retired in the late '70s and died in Rancho Mirage, CA, on February 7, 1990.