Before there was a Rodgers and Hammerstein (The Sound of Music, The King and I, Oklahoma!, South Pacific), there was Rodgers and Hart.
Richard Rodgers the composer and Lorenz “Larry” Hart the lyricist teamed up while Rodgers was in college at Columbia University. A mutual friend acquainted the two, Hart being a Columbia graduate.
“Like Rodgers, Hart nourished dreams of glory–accomplishments in the theater that would win him fame and wealth. That’s where the similarity ended, however. Rodgers had a muscular work ethic; music flowed out of him like conversation; he was handsome and, at least at this point, upbeat, attracted by–and attractive to–women. Hart was an undisciplined, unprepossessing man, whose furtive homosexual liaisons invariably ended in sorrow. Despite these differences, the young men hit it off: ‘I left Hart’s house,’ Richard observed, ‘having acquired in one afternoon a career, a partner, a best friend and a source of permanent irritation.'” —City-Journal.org
Despite a tumultuous collaboration, Rodgers and Hart together penned some classic songs, including the oft-covered “The Lady Is A Tramp,” “Have You Met Miss Jones?,” “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered,” “I Could Write A Book”…and the immortal “My Funny Valentine.”
Who Wrote My Funny Valentine?
“My Funny Valentine” is from the musical comedy Babes In Arms which was made into the 1939 motion picture of the same name starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.
Lorenz Hart was a talented yet troubled man. Bouts with depression and alcoholism contributed to ending his short life in 1943, at just 48 years old, officially from pneumonia.
While Hart’s career and life were sadly ended prematurely, Richard Rodgers went on to more and more successes paired with Oscar Hammerstein II.
“Valentine” has been recorded hundreds of times by top jazz interpreters and torch singers, among them Gerry Mulligan, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Linda Ronstadt, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Tony Bennett, Ben Webster, Buddy Rich, Anita O’Day, Mel Tormé, Rickie Lee Jones, and even Sting and Rod Stewart.
“The song made it to the top of the charts when Chet Baker released a very popular and influential version (released on the album ‘My Funny Valentine’ / Blue Note Records). His soft, delicate and serene delivery introduced the world to Chet Baker’s singing skills (he was previously known only for his trumpeting skills, also displayed on this recording). Baker is still associated more with “My Funny Valentine” than with any other of the long list of songs he recorded.
“Chet’s version of the song leaves out the first stanza, instead beginning with the second stanza that starts with, ‘My funny Valentine, sweet comic valentine.’ As a result of this, nearly every subsequent version of this song begins the same way. The most notable exception to this rule are songs recorded from the many performances of the musicals Babes in Arms and Pal Joey.
(The first stanza is clearly a female voice speaking about her man, giving male singers an additional reason to omit it.)
“The third stanza seems quite odd at first. It begins with a series of accusatory and rude questions that one wouldn’t necessarily expect in a romantic tune. It quickly apologizes for the odd questions with assurances and then ends with the romantic sentiments of the last two verses.” — Wikipedia
“My Funny Valentine” is a quirky song. Perhaps because of its subject, or unique lyrical approach, or maybe because of Hart’s homosexuality, the song is often spoofed and has been performed in TV and films by actors not known as singers, such as Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys and Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
It’s a beautiful song that for whatever reason, somehow always seems on the verge of going “over the top” into self-parody.
My Funny Valentine Lyrics
(Words and Music by Rodgers and Hart)
Note: The “VERSE” below is what is referred to above as the “first stanza” removed by Chet Baker and most subsequent performers of the song. Notably Barbra Streisand included this first verse in her recording of the song. We think Chet Baker MADE THIS SONG by virtue of its omission! (It’s already unflattering enough without THAT verse!) Richard Rodgers, penning the music, clearly won the day on this one.
Be hold the way our fine feathered-friend
his virtue doth parade.
Thou knowest not my dim witted friend,
the picture Thou hast made.
Thy vacant brow and Thy tousled hair
conceal Thy good intent.
Thou noble upright, truthful, sincere
And slightly dopey gent – you are…
My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art
Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little bit weak
When you open it to speak, are you smart?
Don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s day