Jul 18, 2014
My wife Nancy celebrates her birthday today, so it's time for my annual posting of a version of the song "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)". This year the track comes from Kurt Elling's album, Dedicated to You, a tribute to the collaboration of Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane.
Since my old blog site has disappeared as of late, let me re-post one version of the story of this song, as reported by Ida Zeitlin in Modern Screen magazine in 1946. I’m not sure how true this one is, but it’s a doozy!
She came running in, her face lighting
up as always when she sees her father. Frank scooped her into his
arms. “Here’s Nancy with the laughing face—”
“Hey, that’s a cute song title,” said Phil Silvers, who’d dropped in at Frank’s with Jimmy Van Heusen. Jimmy was doodling at the piano. “Lemme write a lyric and run the pros out of town—”
He didn’t mean it. Phil’s that unique bird who doesn’t want to write a lyric. All he wants is to be an employed actor. This lyric he wrote in spite of himself. Because Jimmy grinned up at him and went on doodling, and out of the music little Nancy’s face laughed again, and words began forming inside Phil’s dome.
When it was finished, he sang it for big Nancy, who got all choked up and made the boys send it to Frank in New York. He read it and gulped and introduced it on his next broadcast. Maybe he sang it three times altogether before leaving with Phil and the rest of the gang for the ETO. No one expected the song to be commercial. The boys had written it for their buddy, Frank had put it on the air for Nancy, and now it could be retired to private life.
So they go overseas and the song’s forgotten and comes time for Frank to do his request numbers. “What’ll it be, fellas?”
Twenty thousand guys yell: “Nancy with the Laughing Face—”
Frank looks at Phil and Phil looks at Frank and they’re both thinking: “Wise guy! You put ’em up to this—” But it wasn’t a rib. The Armed Forces Radio Service had taken the song off the air and recorded it on V-discs. It was No. 1 in the Stars and Stripes Hit Parade.
Happy Birthday, Nancy! And thanks for marrying me.