Jerome Kern dies at 60, composed many song hits

By United Press  |  November 12 1945
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NEW YORK -- Jerome Kern, 60, composer of the musical hit, "Show Boat" and many popular songs died at 1 p.m. yesterday at Doctor's hospital where he was taken last week after he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.

Kern had shown slight improvement until yesterday when his condition became worse. Hospital authorities said he sank rapidly during the night. His wife and daughter, Elizabeth Kern Shaw, and Oscar Hammerstein II, who was closely associated with Kern in his career as a successful song writer, were with the composer when he died.

Kern was stricken on Nov. 5 as he was walking on Park avenue. A policeman went to his aid when he collapsed to the sidewalk and he was taken to the city hospital. He was moved to Doctor's hospital a few days later.

Mrs. Kern had accompanied him to New York, Nov. 2. Their daughter came east from their Beverly Hills, Cal., home to be at her father's bedside.

Deems Taylor, president of the American society of composers, authors and publishers, said that when he saw the composer in Hollywood a few weeks ago, "Jerry" was full of plans for his stay in New York.

"I never saw a more alert, vigorous and happy man," Taylor said. "Now he is gone and I know that my own sorrow at his passing must be shared by millions ... I think that no composer in his field since Victor Herbert has inspired so much real affection from countless hearers who never saw him face to face."

Kern, composer of such modern classics as "Old Man River" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," presumably was here for conferences with Hammerstein, on plans for a forthcoming revival of the greatest Kern show of all, "Show Boat."

Kern began his musical career as a $7-a-week song plugger in Wanamaker's music department. By the time he was 33 he was earning $150,000 a year. His first big break came when Marie Dressler, then a stage star, hired him to pinch-hit for her accompanist. Miss Dressler encouraged the young composer and for once he had enough time for his work.

The first time the famous line "Music by Jerome Kern" appeared on a theatre program was when "The Red Petticoat" opened in New York in 1911. In 1913 he wrote the score for "Oh, I Say," and critics say that's when the saxophone first was given its present prominent place in dance music.

Kern was born Jan. 27, 1885, in New York City. His parents sent him to Germany to study music under the Heidelberg masters. In England, in 1910, he married Eva Leale. They had one daughter, Betty Jane, now 27, the divorced wife of bandleader Artie Shaw./

Perhaps the greatest composer to come from Tin Pan alley, Kern bore no resemblance to the other denizens of that legendary street. He was a slight man, 5 feet 6 inches, with big glasses and thin gray hair.

Kern never wore a necktie, but affected a square scarf. He did not smoke and rarely drank. He shied from both radio and stage appearances.

A writer of dreamy, romantic songs, Kern in private life was a wise investor who made money constantly. On Oct. 1, 1929, on the eve of the great crash, he sold his huge stock holdings for a fine profit.

Kern was a collector of rare books and manuscripts. One dealer hiked the price on a Shelley edition from $2,000 to $6,500 when he saw Kern coming. Later, at the auction of Kern's complete collection in January, 1929, the same book sold for $23,000. The entire collection, considered one of the finest in the country, brought $1,729,462.

Some of the shows Kern scored were "Cat and the Fiddle," "Music in the Air," "Roberta," "Sally" and "Very Warm for May." His greatest was "Show Boat," which also contained probably his greatest song, "Ole Man River." He gave much of the credit for the song's success to Hammerstein's lyrics.

Other Kern hits included "Who," "The Touch of Your Hands," "The Way You Look Tonight," "My Bill" and "Make Believe." In recent years he wrote for movies and gave the screen such tunes as "Dearly Beloved," "You Were Never Lovelier" and "More and More."

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