Biographical/historical: Composer, producer, writer and teacher, Jay Gorney was born Abraham Jacob Gornetzky in Bialystok, Russia on December 12, 1896. In 1906 he and his family fled a pogrom and came to the United States, settling in Detroit, Michigan. While in high school, Gorney organized and led the school orchestra and played the piano in a local movie theater. In 1913, the year he graduated from high school, he became a U.S. citizen due to his father's naturalization. At the University of Michigan (B.A., 1917, LL.B., 1919) he studied music at the University's School of Music, organized and led a jazz band and wrote several of the school's musical shows. During World War I, he enlisted in the navy and led a band at the Great Lakes Training Center.
After a year of practicing law in Michigan, Gorney moved to New York to focus on his real love, songwriting. It was at this point that he changed his name legally to Abraham J. Gorney and professionally, to Jay Gorney. In the 1920s he wrote the scores for a number of Broadway shows including Top Hole, Vogues of 1924and Merry-go-Round. In the early 1930s he wrote music for Earl Carroll's Vanities, The Ziegfeld Folliesand the Shuberts' Americana. For this last show he wrote perhaps his most famous song, the Depression anthem, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg. During this period, Gorney also worked for Paramount Studios in New York, coordinating musical stories and ideas, and wrote songs with lyricist, Howard Dietz.
In 1933 Gorney went to Hollywood to work at Fox Studios. It was here that he discovered Shirley Temple for whom, with Lew Brown, he wrote the song, Baby, Take a Bowwhich she sang in the movie, Stand Up and Cheer.
Gorney's greatest stage success was Meet the People, a revue he wrote and produced with Edward Eliscu and Henry Myers that opened in Hollywood in 1939 and on Broadway on Christmas night 1940. A number of performers who rose to stardom including Nanette Fabray and Jack Gilford, began here. The revue was revived in 1943-1944 and again in 1955.
In the 1940s Gorney worked in both California and New York. He was a composer and producer for Columbia Pictures, writing the scores for Hey, Rookieand The Gay Senorita, among others. He also wrote They Can't Get You Down, a musical play and the Broadway musicals, Heaven on Earthand Touch and Go, the latter with sketches and lyrics by Jean and Walter Kerr. Gorney also did some television work as a writer-composer-producer.
Gorney began teaching his craft of writing for musical theater beginning in 1948 when he and his wife Sondra created a musical play department at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York City. They ran the department for three years producing five student productions. In 1952 they joined the faculty of the American Theatre Wing's professional training program where they produced On the Wing, an original student musical. Gorney also taught writing for musical theater at Hunter College.
In 1953 Gorney was subpoened by the House Un-American Activities Committee where he declined to answer any questions invoking both the Fifth and the Sixth Amendments. Instead he serenaded the Committee with his musical version of the First Amendment, a song he called The Bill of Rights. For this he was blacklisted in the entertainment industry, fired from his contract at CBS-TV and from his position teaching writing for musical plays at Hunter College.
Gorney continued to teach, however, even setting up his own school, the Jay Gorney School of Musical Comedy which offered classes and private lessons in his Manhattan home. He also continued to compose musical scores including The Happiest Girl in the World, an adaption of the music of Offenbach with lyrics by Harburg, the children's shows Kris Kringle Rides Againand The Geografoofand he wrote the music for the NBC-TV 1961 series, The Frontiers of Faith.
Gorney received a number of awards including a special Tony Award for his dedicated teaching at the American Theatre Wing in 1962, a citation for 40 years of creativity from the Yale Drama School in 1965, the Songwriters Hall of Fame outstanding song award in 1976, and the ASCAP/Richard Rodgers Award for his outstanding contribution to the American musical theater in 1986.
Gorney was married twice. In 1922 he married Edaleine Rodin with whom he had one son, Roderic. They were divorced in 1942. On January 27, 1943 he married Sondra Karyl with whom he had two children, Karen and Daniel. Jay Gorney died on June 14, 1990 at the age of 93.
Content: Collection consists of personal and professional papers, production files and teaching materials documenting the life and career of composer Jay Gorney. The bulk of the collection consists of professional files relating to productions. The general files (personal and professional) contain biographical material, correspondence, legal documents, articles by Gorney, publicity, photographs, programs and certificates. Production files including correspondence, scripts, notes, lyrics, story ideas, contracts, photographs, programs and clippings illustrate Gorney's work primarily for theater and film, though there is also a small amount from radio and television. Teaching materials reflect Gorney's efforts to teach the writing of musical theater to others and include lectures, notes, correspondence, contracts, publicity and clippings. Oversized ephemera includes diplomas, certificate and posters.