DATE July 16, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Actor Vince Vaughn discusses his life growing up and
his film career
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Vince Vaughn, has starred in such films as "Clay Pigeons," "Return
to Paradise," "The Cell," "Jurassic Park 2," and the remake of "Psycho." He
made his movie breakthrough in the independent film comedy "Swingers,"
starring with his friend, John Favreau, who also wrote and directed the film.
Vaughn played a guy who thinks he's cool initiating his friend, played by
Favreau, into the Vegas and LA lounge scene.
Now Vaughn and Favreau, or `Favs,' as Vaughn calls him, have teamed up again
in the new movie "Made." Favreau wrote and directed the film; Vaughn is one
of the producers. This time, the duo is getting initiated into the crime
world. Favreau plays an amateur boxer who needs money, and at the urging of
his do-nothing friend, played by Vaughn, takes a job with Vaughn working for a
mob boss in LA, played by Peter Falk. The job brings them into the unfamiliar
world of money and guns. Favreau knows they're in over their heads, but
Vaughn thinks he's cool enough to fake it, which, of course, keeps getting
them deeper into trouble. Here they are on the way to their mission, flying
first-class for the first time. The flight attendant has just told Vaughn
that he can choose from a selection of videos.
(Soundbite from "Made")
Mr. VINCE VAUGHN: What's the--what's the overhead on something like that?
What's the action that's gonna come my way for the videos?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: The action that's gonna come your way?
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah.
Mr. JOHN FAVREAU: What's it gonna cost him for the videos?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Oh, no. You're up front. Everything's free
Mr. FAVREAU: Oh, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. See that.
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah. Oh, wait a minute. That--see now? They set you up
tax for this ...(unintelligible).
Excuse me, sweetie.
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Yes.
Mr. VAUGHN: Where the drinks are concerned, is that a hidden tax? Does that
fall under the complimentary up-front service, as well, or is that something
you pay for?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: No, no. They're complimentary. Would you
care for another one?
Mr. VAUGHN: They're complimentary?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Yes.
Mr. VAUGHN: You bet your ass I would.
Mr. FAVREAU: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Unidentified Flight Attendant: OK.
Mr. VAUGHN: Thank you.
Mr. FAVREAU: Can I get a Cutty on the rocks, too? Is that complimentary?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Yes.
Mr. FAVREAU: Thank you.
Mr. VAUGHN: Cheers, mean. You hear that? (Censored). Everything up here
Mr. FAVREAU: OK.
GROSS: I asked Vince Vaughn about that scene.
Mr. VAUGHN: When John and I did "Swingers," that was actually the very first
time that I ever flew first class, going from Los Angeles to Venice for the
film festival. And so when I was on first class, I was a bit overwhelmed by
it, and I remember John being uncomfortable because I rang the bell and I
asked some questions. But, of course, you know, I don't--I didn't hit on the
stewardess or flight attendant during that time or...
GROSS: What questions did you ask?
Mr. VAUGHN: I was just, like, `Is this for free?' And I said, you know, `So
if I want, like, you know, a glass of champagne, that's free, and I could get
more glasses of champagne?' She was, like, `Yeah.' I was, like, `Are you
serious?' You know, I just couldn't believe it. I was, like, `Now not only
is there, like, one movie I can choose from, but you're saying that there's
like a list of videos and I choose the video that I put in? I can watch any
video that I want to watch?' And I was just amazed that that was happening.
And Favs was kind of embarrassed, like, you know, `Act like you've been here
before.' And my point of view was, `But I haven't been here before. Why
should I cheat myself out of this first-time experience, you know?'
So then as we took it, you know, made in the movie with the mob, it was made,
as far as being an actor having an avenue in, we exaggerated it then for the
comedy and also for who the characters were and what they had to serve for the
overall story of the plot.
GROSS: There's also first times in New York in a swank New York hotel. Did
you have any of those first-time experiences yourself where you maybe said
something inappropriate or acted too overwhelmed by the riches?
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, the biggest one...
Mr. VAUGHN: The biggest one that sticks out was I remember that--so we do
the "Jurassic Park," which was like I went from, like, "Swingers" and did this
other little film called "The Locust." Then I go--which was a very small
budget--to "The Lost World." Then I was just amazed by the toys and the
amount of people that they had and the time that they had to shoot. And when
that was over with, we--there's a thing called Toy Fair, which I'm familiar
with because my dad is actually a toy salesman. But they made toys and stuff
for "Jurassic II," and so now you go to Toy Fair and they're sort of selling
the toys to the buyers, which would be like Toys 'R' Us or any of those
And so they asked the actors to come and, like, we had to come out, like, with
lights and stuff like that and be a part of it and, like, meet the people and
stuff. It was a very odd experience. And they said, `You have $150, I think,
in incidentals,' which means that, you know, the mini bar and, you know, the
telephone's included in that in this case and room service and that kind of
stuff. So I thought it was like $150 for the three days I was there, so I was
budgeting. And then I realized afterwards, 'cause Jeff Goldblum was there,
that is was actually $150 every night I could have spent in the room. But I
was, like, budgeting, thinking that $150 had to go over the whole time. And I
was just amazed by that number figure to be spent in a day on sort of
pleasantries, you know.
GROSS: Well, something similar happens to your character in "Made." He's
told by Peter Falk, who is like the mob guy who's assigning them a job--he's
told that they have a daily stipend, and your character thinks, `Oh, and what
Mr. VAUGHN: Right. The per diem. I remember I was...
GROSS: The per diem. That's what it was. The per diem, yeah.
Mr. VAUGHN: The first time I heard that was on location hired as an actor
and they said, `You have X'--I didn't know what the word `per diem' meant at
all. And they said, `This is your per diem.' I just thought, like, `Boy, am
I getting over on these guys. They're giving me some cash money up front,'
GROSS: You and John Favreau also starred together in "Swingers," which, like
"Made," he wrote and directed. And in "Swingers," you played somebody who
was--he played somebody who was very naive and is reluctantly led into Vegas
by you, 'cause you--he's broken up with his girlfriend and you think Vegas is
just what he needs.
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, exactly.
GROSS: And you're really arrogant and really faking it with a lot of flare...
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah.
GROSS: ...in this movie. Let me play a short scene.
Mr. VAUGHN: OK.
GROSS: In this scene, you're--this is your first time at one of the casinos
with John Favreau's character and you're demonstrating to him how to pick up a
Mr. VAUGHN: Right.
GROSS: ...at the casino.
(Soundbite from "Swingers")
Unidentified Waitress: I walked around for an hour with that stupid Scotch on
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, you got knocked out pretty fast.
Unidentified Waitress: Oh, a couple of high rollers like yourself.
Mr. VAUGHN: You believe it?
Unidentified Waitress: I'll go get you that Scotch.
Mr. VAUGHN: No, forget about it. I don't even want it. I just wanted to
Unidentified Waitress: Well, can I get you something else? I mean, you
really shouldn't leave here without getting something for free.
Mr. FAVREAU: Why ruin a perfect night?
Mr. VAUGHN: Listen, bring a single, malted Glengarry for me and one for my
boy, Mikey, here. And if you tell the bartender to go easy on the water, then
this 50 cent piece has your name written all over it. OK. I want you to run
along 'cause I'll be timing you. I'm gonna keep time; one, two, three,
Mr. FAVREAU: What an (censored).
Mr. VAUGHN: Baby, that was money. Tell me that wasn't money.
Mr. FAVREAU: That was so demeaning.
Mr. VAUGHN: She smiled, baby.
Mr. FAVREAU: I can't believe what an (censored) you are.
Mr. VAUGHN: No, baby, she smiled.
Mr. FAVREAU: She was smiling at what an (censored) you are.
Mr. VAUGHN: No, no, no. She was smiling at how money I was; what I did with
Mr. FAVREAU: Could we get out of here--All right?--because I'm not gonna pay
for a room and I have to get out of here.
Mr. VAUGHN: Mike, what the hell do you want to get out of here for? The
honey baby's bring us a cocktail.
Mr. FAVREAU: What are you, nuts? Do you think she's coming back here?
Mr. VAUGHN: Baby, I know she's coming back here. Did you even hear what she
said? `You shouldn't leave here without getting something for free.' Baby,
she wants to party. She wants to.
GROSS: Vince Vaughn, in this scene, we heard one of the catch phrases that
you became well known for, after pursuing this waitress, `You're so money' or
`That was so money.' That's a phrase that you came up with for the film?
Mr. VAUGHN: Sort of. I mean, it's sort of a Frankenstein, that phrase,
because money existed in sort of a sports culture or a hip-hop culture, but
sort of going `You're so money' and--or `You're so money, you don't even know
it,' it was sort of the phrase that caught on, which was, `You don't even know
it and you're so' is sort of what I added to it. And I used to say that a
lot, half jokingly, with John when we were friends and, you know, "Swingers"
was based on a real-life experience in that he did break up with his
girlfriend in order to move out after he filmed "Rudy," to pursue acting. And
he was really kind of, you know, in a bad way about it and I sort of, you
know, took him out. And the places that I took him was The Dresden, The
Derby, and I was sort of into swinging music and that lounge scene and, of
course, you know, John exaggerated, for comedy's sake. And we always look at
comedy sort of as an overcommitment to the ridiculous. So that fact that, you
know, Trent would say this and believe it so much and sort of spin it as if
this was the ultimate truth and you had to get this down is, to me, kind of
pathetic. I was always sort of surprised that Trent was perceived as cool.
GROSS: Were there people who thought that your character was so cool in the
movie, they tried to emulate you?
Mr. VAUGHN: I've heard that, yeah. I've had people come up and say, `Well,
boy, I'm the Trent in my group or this or that.' I just thought--I always
thought it was funny because I always just thought--like, you know, these
guys, I mean, you look at the movie, we're, like, playing video games, you
know. It's not like--the only girl I think Trent ever goes home with is the
waitress, and it doesn't really work out with them. They go in the back and
knock some stuffed animals off the couch and that's about it, and then it gets
interrupted, you know.
But I think that Trent had a real innocence to him. You know, he's not
maniacal or manipulative. Manipulative, but not from a complete understanding
of what he's doing. I think he's very innocent. I think a lot of men--young
me at that age, it's just sort of the thing of it's such a big deal. In a
way, I think it shows women as very powerful because all this time and all
this attention is spent on sort of, `How do we communicate with the opposite
sex?' So, in a way, I think it really shows the power that women have,
especially where men are concerned, because their whole lives are sort of
dictated around, you know, how to connect or talk or communicate with women.
GROSS: "Swingers" was really the movie in which you were noticed. What was
your life like when you were working on "Swingers" with John Favreau?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, it was, you know, very much in the moment at the time,
meaning there was no plan of anything. You know, we did the movie for
$250,000 in, like, 21 days, so it was completely off the radar. And part of
the reason we were able to do it so cheaply was a lot of it was illegal. We
didn't get all the permits and things that you need if you were a larger movie
that was being tracked on the radar. The places that we shot at did us
favors, because we knew the owners and they'd let us shoot there for free.
And it actually, you know, gave the movie a great feel that it felt very
authentic; that this--these were the people that would be at those places.
And it brought a real energy that worked for the movie. But it came from a
place of economics, of that was the only way we could get the movie done.
And, in a way, that really served it and made the movie better.
And the making of "Swingers," honestly, Terry, I was just looking to get taped
to get an agent. I didn't have an agent at the time. I mean, I didn't know
what would come of the thing. You know, we were putting this thing together,
and we had the read the screenplay for a year, trying to get it set up so it
was like a play. We were able to go and shoot and make our days very quickly
because we all knew our stuff very well. But, you know, there was always a
hope or a dream that it could get bought or that it could be seen, but the
odds were just so against it. And we were lucky in that we did what we wanted
to do and what we thought we found funny and sort of truthful what our life
experience was. You know, we didn't portray in that movie ourselves out to
be, you know, street guys or, you know, really overly successful with girls or
dealing with heavy problems of drugs and stuff like that, because that wasn't
our experience. We were really out-of-work actors playing video games who
liked girls and were sort of trying to figure out what was the best way to
meet girls. And I think by being simple and telling the story not having
things go good in Vegas, I think it became something that was somewhat
universal and a lot of people could relate to.
GROSS: My guest is Vince Vaughn. We'll talk more after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Vince Vaughn is my guest and he's starring in the new movie "Made."
He's starring with John Favreau. They also made the movie "Swingers"
I want to ask you about another role that you played, and this was in the
movie "Clay Pigeons." This was one of two movies that you starred in with
Joaquin Phoenix. And in this film, you play a cowboy who's very glib, who it
turns out he's a con artist, not to mention a serial killer. How did you
envision the part?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, I saw it as a piece--to make it not so serious and have it
be sort of funny and not take it so serious so it you could come off like a
bad HBO movie. And I was fascinated by the response to Trent, to some degree,
and I thought, `Well, can you play someone who's killing people in a way that
has all these--what's considered to be pleasant social graces and still have
him be liked by people; give him a point of view and some sort of, you know,
really messed up code that somehow he followed and go on that journey with
sort of this guy who'--how he perceived himself and all these sort of things.
And I guess I've always been more drawn and fascinated to those kind of
characters because I find them more interesting. And also, it's sort of my
life experiences with people that I knew. I mean, I would go to the racetrack
as a little kid. My dad would take me all the time. And a lot of the people
that I met were colorful people, interesting people, and a lot of them, you
know, good people, but hustlers, you know. But with my dad being a salesman
and sort of the people that I met, I was always really just sort of fascinated
by that mind-set.
GROSS: Well, in this scene from "Clay Pigeons," you're at a bar. You've just
walked in and you're trying to pick up a character played by Janeane Garofalo.
And there are, as you mentioned, kind of traces of your character, Trent, from
"Swingers" in your approach here. Let's hear it.
(Soundbite from "Clay Pigeons")
Mr. VAUGHN: Damn good-looking girl; drinks Johnnie Walker Black, even pays
with her own money. I can't wait to start dreaming tonight.
Ms. JANEANE GAROFALO: You're very colorful.
Mr. VAUGHN: Oh, you don't know the half of it. I'm like a big fireworks
show. I'm very bright; like Lite Brite.
Mr. GAROFALO: You know what? No offense, but this seat is saved.
Mr. VAUGHN: Who for?
Ms. GAROFALO: First guy not wearing denim.
Mr. VAUGHN: You're not from around here, are you?
Ms. GAROFALO: What makes you say that?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, you don't look like the town much. You don't. My name's
Lloyd. I won't bite you.
Ms. GAROFALO: That's a plus, Lloyd.
GROSS: That's a scene from "Clay Pigeons."
Vince Vaughn, do you want to say anything about that scene?
Ms. VAUGHN: Just that, you know, that was--my favorite scenes in the movie
was with Janeane Garofalo. I think she's incredible. And some of that was
improvised, and she's just so great and so available. It was really very easy
to respond off of her. I mean, I knew I had the burden of Janeane, who's a
very bright, sophisticated person, although she's playing this character and
she knows, ultimately, that she has to give in to me because that's, you know,
the script and sort of where we need to take it for the movie. So she's open
to that. So my job's a little easier, but I knew it had to come off
believable that you bought that I made her laugh or that I got her to be open
to talking to me. And so, you know, I went in there with a real specific
point of view. And really, the biggest thing with those kind of things are
listening and really paying attention to her movement and her talking and
seeing what--you know, what was the way in, what was the way into this
GROSS: You grew up in Minnesota. Would you describe the neighborhood that
you were from?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, I didn't really grow up in Minnesota. I was born outside
GROSS: You grew up in Chicago, right.
Mr. VAUGHN: I lived there for about a month. My dad was a salesmen for
Swift meat company, and he was transferred. I lived in Minnesota for one
month and then I was raised in Buffalo Grove, which is sort of a middle-class
suburb in Illinois. And I lived there until I was eight, and then I moved to
Lake Forest, Illinois, which is an upper-class suburb of Illinois. And I
lived there until I was 18 and graduated ...(unintelligible).
GROSS: Were your parents moving up, financially, when you moved up to a
Mr. VAUGHN: My dad was. Yeah, my dad was. He--my dad was a very driven man
in that, you know, he grew up not very well off or well-to-do--and, you know,
sort of self-motivated and put himself through college. He used to work in a
factory in the summer to, you know, pay for college and that and, you know,
got a job right away working sales for Swift's meats and then got transferred
around and moved up and did very well. And then he became--and then
moved--switched over to the toy industry. So then he opened up his own
company when we moved to Lake Forest. And it was big deal, I think, for my
mom, in that--who grew up sort of blue collar, as well, to sort of give us
kids a better education opportunity than what they had.
A big part of the reason for us moving there was because of the schools and
the academics, which is sort of funny. I became an actor and I never went to
GROSS: Now I read that you were in a class with problem kids. Is that
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, you know--well, the thing--as time has gone on, people
have learned more, but I went into a class-one period a day, they would make
me go to a classroom with, you know, maybe 10 or 12 other students, all who
had no obvious sort of retardation or anything, but it was more learning
disabilities. But for me, it was like--you know, and I sort of felt like
McMurphy in "Cuckoo's Nest" and I've said that before, in that you'd have the
tallest girl in the whole school. She would never talk, she'd never raise her
hand in class, but, you know, you sort of look at that and say, `Well, this
girl's already sticking out in a sort of way. Maybe she doesn't feel like
raising her hand,' you know. And I think most of the people there, it had
more to do with sort of an emotional position, based on a physical thing.
Chuck Suitmeyer was in the thing and he--his parents were still farmers and he
dressed differently than everybody else, so that probably had more to do with
it than anything else.
But we would go. And it was embarrassing because you'd been 10 years old and
you'd go for one period a day and they'd make you play Candyland. And
everyone in the school knew you were going to this classroom, so as you're
struggling to have a social life, that was definitely something that was a
hindrance. But it was really a gift for me. I mean, in a way, it made me be,
I think, more outspoken and that sort of thing in order to have friends. And
I was always very popular and well liked; not just by one group, but, I think,
by most of the kids in my school growing up. And I felt a need to sort of
counter that by, I think, being funny and having a sense of humor and maybe
being a bit confrontational with teachers and that sort of thing.
And when I first went into the class I was very kind of mean to the other
kids. And I felt like, `I don't belong here. These kids are, you know--these
kids are crazy. I don't belong here with these kids.' And then that kind of
grew into me feeling very connected to them and very protective of them and,
you know, going out of my way to try to include them in, you know, whether we
were playing kick ball at recess or whatever. I would go, you know, and pick
them for my team. I felt very including of them after a while.
GROSS: What was your learning disability?
Mr. VAUGHN: I don't know. I don't know what it was. I think I just had a
short attention span, and I think everyone learns differently. And, I mean, I
was in all normal classes. It was just that, you know, certain kids who they
felt like needed one class a day to go, but it's not like the class was
effective. There was nothing that was done there. It was just a place to put
these kids, you know. And all the other people that were in the class were
all fine and very capable people, and I think it probably had more to do with
the family home experience or a physical thing in school or, maybe, you know,
a dyslexia that was, you know, better understood now, today, than it was in
the early '70s. Sort of the thing to do then was sort of throw Ritalin at it,
GROSS: Yeah. Were you ever treated with Ritalin?
Mr. VAUGHN: They said that they wanted to put me on Ritalin. My mom gave it
to me one time, and I reacted badly to it. And then both my parents--my dad
says, you know, `There's no way my son's gonna go through life doped up.
There's just--you know, how can he process or learn anything or mature or grow
if he's not--doesn't have his senses about him, you know? He's not going to
be able to process anything.' So I was lucky that my parents were--you know,
had that sort of vision. A lot of parents went through it, I think, with
their kids, but, you know, when the school's telling you it's the right thing
and it's helping them, you know, it's just hard to say, you know, that they
did bad. But my parents--I was fortunate enough--knew that that wasn't the
GROSS: Vince Vaughn is my guest.
You made a movie with John Travolta called "Domestic Disturbance." I think
it's finished shooting, but it hasn't been released yet.
Mr. VAUGHN: Yes.
GROSS: Did you see him in "Saturday Night Live"--I mean, in "Saturday Night
Fever"? How old--you must have been about seven when that came out?
Mr. VAUGHN: I was seven years old. I saw that movie. They took me to that
movie. I loved that movie; "Grease." I mean, those were movies that fall
under the category of movies that really influenced me, as well. I loved
"Grease." I loved "Saturday Night Fever." I loved "Urban Cowboy." He was
it, you know? John was my favorite as a young child because there was
something so vulnerable about him. Whereas a lot of other guys of his age and
stuff were playing roles like they were so tough and unbreakable, he was
always a guy sort of going through something, but always with a vulnerability.
And I could always relate to that more so than I could relate to the guy who's
GROSS: While you were shooting that movie, there was an incident in which
Steve Buscemi, the actor, was knifed and you ended up being arrested for
disorderly conduct. What happened?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, it's nothing that I can talk about because there's a case
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Right.
Mr. VAUGHN: And I've been asked by the prosecutors not to say anything, you
know, and try the case down there. You know, all I can say is everything will
come out in the wash. Every--Steve's fine. Everyone's OK and, you know, I
feel confident about how we carried ourselves that evening.
GROSS: OK. Well, Vince Vaughn, I want to thank you so much for talking with
Mr. VAUGHN: All right, Terry. Thank you. It was fun to be here. Nice
talking to you.
GROSS: Vince Vaughn stars in the new film "Made," with John Favreau. They
also made the film "Swingers." "Made" has opened in New York and LA and will
open in more cities over the next few weeks.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "On the Sunny Side of the
Street," "I'm In the Mood for Love," "I Feel a Song Coming On," "Too Young to
Go Steady" and "Let's Get Lost" are just some of the songs written by Jimmy
McHugh. Coming up, we talk about his life and music with grandson Jim McHugh
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Jimmy McHugh III discusses his grandfather Jimmy
McHugh's career in music
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Today we remember composer Jimmy McHugh, who wrote "I Can't Give You
Anything but Love," "I'm In The Mood For Love," "Don't Blame Me," "Let's Get
Lost," and this song. Here's Billie Holiday.
(Soundbite of "The Sunny Side of the Street")
Ms. BILLIE HOLIDAY (Singer): (Singing) Grab your coat and get your hat.
Leave your worry on the doorstep. Just direct your feet to the sunny side of
the street. Can't you hear a pitter-pat? And that happy tune is your step.
Life can be so sweet on the sunny side of the street.
GROSS: Jimmy McHugh's songs are having something of a revival. Terence
Blanchard's new CD is a tribute to McHugh. His songs are also featured on
albums that recently reached the Billboard jazz top 10 by Diana Krall, Karrin
Allyson, Louis Armstrong and Steve Tyrell. Public TV will broadcast a Boston
Pops tribute to McHugh, featuring Blanchard and singer Jane Monheit later this
My guest is Jim McHugh III, the grandson of Jimmy McHugh. In addition to
being one of the managers of his grandfather's estate, Jim McHugh is a
photographer for People magazine and is the official photographer for the
Grammy Awards. Before we meet him, let's hear his grandfather Jimmy McHugh at
the piano with lyricist Dorothy Fields recorded in the early 1930s. This was
recorded to promote their songs from their revue "Black Birds of 1928," for
which they wrote "I Must Have That Man," "Doin' a New Low Down," "Diga Diga
Doo," and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love."
(Soundbite of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love")
Ms. DOROTHY FIELDS (Lyricist): (Singing) Gee, these records really do sound
swell, baby. Let's all say a prayer so they will sell, baby. Until that
lucky day, you know darn well, baby, we can't give you anything but love.
GROSS: Here's the grandson of Jimmy McHugh, Jim McHugh III.
How well did you know your grandfather?
Mr. JIM McHUGH III (Photographer): I knew my grandfather really well. He was
a real father figure for me, and I grew up with him and I spent many years of
my life with him, and he died when I was about 20 years old, just as I was
leaving college. So I spent a huge part of my life with him, and he was a
very, very important figure in my life.
GROSS: When you say--did you live with him, or...
Mr. McHUGH: No, but my mother and father were divorced, and my grandfather
played a very strong part in my life. And we would go out every Sunday. We
would go to church, the Good Shepherd Church in Beverly Hills, and then we
would go with Louella Parsons to lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. And she
would write her column from the table.
GROSS: So you knew all the gossip as it was being made.
Mr. McHUGH: I knew all the gossip, but at that time, you know, it doesn't
mean anything to you. All the kids at that time called Louella Parsons
`Lollipop.' That was her name. And she was really wonderful with kids. And
I hear terrible things about her and what a terrible gossip columnist she was,
but, you know, if you were a child, she was absolutely wonderful. So I only
have very, very fond memories of her.
GROSS: Now your grandfather, Jimmy McHugh, started as a song plugger, first
working for Irving Berlin and then for the music publishing company...
Mr. McHUGH: Yeah.
GROSS: ...Mills Music.
Mr. McHUGH: Yes.
GROSS: A song plugger was someone who sold sheet music by demonstrating the
song, and this was in the era when sheet music sales was the way of
disseminating music, at least the way of selling music. It was before the
popularity of records. What was your grandfather's approach to plugging a
Mr. McHUGH: Well, my grandfather was a song plugger, and he was a song
plugger when he died and he was a song plugger when he was a little boy in
Boston. So when he started, they had these little pianos that were attached
to a bicycle, and they would ride around and play these songs on this piano on
GROSS: This would be what? In the early 1920s?
Mr. McHUGH: No, earlier than that really. Yeah, I guess so, 1919, 1920. I
mean, he started very, very young. He was the rehearsal pianist at the Boston
Opera and then quickly realized that the commercial world was where he needed
to be and he left Boston and went to New York and worked for the Irving Mills
company and plugged songs.
GROSS: So let's get back to how he did it. So he rode around on a bicycle
that had a little piano attached to it?
Mr. McHUGH: Yes, he rode around on a little bicycle with a piano attached to
it. And then the other thing they would do, they would go into the music
stores and there would be a player piano there and they would play the piano
in the window and the thing that they sold was called the mechanical. That
was the--if it was on "The Sunny Side of the Street," that mechanical piece
that played that song was called the mechanical. So years later, when people
are getting revenue from songs, there's a type of income stream called the
mechanical and now it's about how songs are played on the radio. But at that
time it was this mechanical piece that went into the player piano. And that
was really the sort of the basis of his life, being a song plugger.
GROSS: And when he plugged songs by playing this piano while he drove around
on the bicycle, who would he do that to? Where would he stop and play?
Mr. McHUGH: Right. In those days there were a lot of people on the streets
and they would find--they would go up and down Broadway or they would go up
and down any populated street and they would stop on street corners and they
would play these songs. And I--so, interestingly, growing up at that time,
there were many other songwriters that would come around to the house,
whatever. And they were all from that era and they all had that mentality.
So if there would be a piano in a room, you--these guys would fight each other
to get to that piano stool because they were all song pluggers, so it was
funny. You'd couldn't keep these guys away from a piano.
GROSS: Let's hear a very famous song that your grandfather, Jimmy McHugh,
wrote with the lyricist Dorothy Fields for the revue "Blackbirds of 1928." And
this was some revue. It featured Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, the Mills
Brothers, Don Redman...
Mr. McHUGH: Bojangles.
GROSS: Yeah, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
Mr. McHUGH: Yeah.
GROSS: So we're gonna hear "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," as performed
by Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington from this revue, "Blackbirds of 1928." Tell
us the story behind the song.
Mr. McHUGH: Well, it's really--it's a wonderful story. You know, my
grandfather, who was the musical director at The Cotton Club, was very
instrumental in having Duke Ellington perform there. And so they had gotten
the producers of the club to agree to have Duke Ellington perform, and now he
and Dorothy Fields had to write a song for Duke Ellington. So as they were
wont to do, they would walk the streets of New York and they would think of
ideas. And they were walking down Fifth Avenue and they stopped in front of
the Tiffany's jewelry store, and there in front of the store was a young man
and a young woman. And it was right in the middle of The Depression. And
they were looking at an extremely expensive diamond bracelet that was in the
window. And the young man put his arm around the young girl and he said,
`Baby, I can't give you anything but love.' And my grandfather and Dorothy
Fields heard this and they ran back to their studio and they wrote "I Can't
Give You Anything But Love, Baby." And, of course, it became a huge hit and
it was the first song that Duke Ellington ever played at The Cotton Club.
GROSS: Well, here's Duke Ellington and Ethel Waters. And this recording is
(Soundbite from "I Can't Give You Anything But Love")
Ms. ETHEL WATERS: (Singing) I can't give you anything but love, baby. And
that's the only thing I've plenty of, baby. Dream awhile, scheme awhile, and
we're sure to find happiness and, I guess, all those things we've always pined
for. Gee, I'd like to see you looking swell, baby. Diamond bracelets,
Woolworth doesn't sell, baby. Till that lucky day you know darn well, baby, I
can't give you anything but love.
GROSS: That's Duke Ellington and Ethel Waters recorded in 1932, one of the
songs from "Black Birds of 1928," written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields.
And my guest is Jimmy McHugh's grandson, Jimmy McHugh III. And we'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Jim McHugh III, the grandson of songwriter Jimmy McHugh.
I'm going to ask you another song that was written by your grandfather, Jimmy
McHugh and the lyricist Dorothy Fields. The song is "I'm In The Mood For
Love." There's a great story behind this song. I'd like you to tell it.
Mr. McHUGH: Well, really, this is a wonderful story. It was right in the
Depression and my grandfather had lost a lot of money. He had made some very
unwise investments. And he was in New York walking down the street one day
and he bumped into George Gershwin. And George Gershwin said, `Hi, Jimmy, how
are you?' And my grandfather told him, `I'm not so good.' And George
Gershwin said, `Well, how can I help you out?' And so my grandfather said,
`Well, I could really use a piano.' So George Gershwin said, `Well, I'm going
to get you a piano, Jimmy.'
So a couple of days later, there's a knock at his door and he opens the door
and there are some deliverymen with this beautiful piano with a little note
that said, `Good luck, Jimmy. George Gershwin.' And so my grandfather sat
down and started playing the piano, and the first song that he wrote on it was
"I'm In The Mood For Love," and it became immediately a huge hit and he was
back on top again. And we still have that piano. It's in the Jimmy McHugh
office in Beverly Hills, and we still have the note that says, `Good luck,
Jimmy. George Gershwin.'
GROSS: Well, I want to play a great version of that song by Louis Armstrong,
who was a good friend of your grandfather's. So here's Armstrong doing "I'm
In The Mood For Love."
(Soundbite of "I'm In The Mood For Love")
Mr. LOUIS ARMSTRONG: (Singing) I'm in the mood for love simply because you're
near me. Oh, funny when you're near me, I'm in the mood for love, baby.
Heaven is in your eyes, bright as the stars under. Oh, is any wonder, oh,
baby, I'm in the mood for love?
GROSS: That's Louis Armstrong's recording of "I'm In The Mood For Love,"
music by Jimmy McHugh, lyric by Dorothy Fields. My guests is Jimmy McHugh's
grandson, Jimmy McHugh III.
I'm wondering if your grandfather had an opinion of Moody's "Mood For Love,"
which was a new version of the song based on a James Moody solo of "I'm In The
Mood For Love."
Mr. McHUGH: Yeah, it's funny you mention it, because I remember this very
well. I was young at the time, I was maybe in high school. My grandfather
felt this way: It was a terrible thing until he got his royalties on it, then
it was a great thing.
GROSS: So he did get royalties on it.
Mr. McHUGH: Yes, he did.
GROSS: I was never sure of that.
Mr. McHUGH: So he wound up making the deal, and as soon as they made the
deal--first, this is how my grandfather was, a very kind of one-dimensional
person. If you sang his song, you were great; if you didn't sing his song you
weren't so great; if he got his royalties it was terrific; if he didn't get
his royalties, it was terrible. So the Moody "Mood For Love," oh, he hated
it, and `How could somebody do this to this song,' etc., etc., and then as
soon as they worked out the deal with the estate, or with that company, then
`Oh, now it's great. Now it's fine,' because it was on the radio all the
GROSS: John Coltrane recorded two of your grandfather's songs on his
"Ballads" album, "Too Young To Go Steady" and "Say It (Over and Over Again)."
And I'm wondering if your grandfather knew about the "Ballads" album; what he
thought about Coltrane performing his songs.
Mr. McHUGH: My grandfather loved John Coltrane. He was a huge fan of John
Coltrane and was really thrilled that somebody like that would do his songs
and do them in that way. And I--particularly, he loved "Say It." He thought
of that as the consummate jazz song. It was also performed by Frank Sinatra,
and he was very, very happy with that rendition that John Coltrane had done.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear Coltrane's recording of "Say It" from the
(Soundbite of "Say It" performed by John Coltrane)
GROSS: That's John Coltrane from the "Ballads" album performing the Jimmy
McHugh song "Say It." And my guest is Jimmy McHugh's grandson Jimmy McHugh
I want to get back to a little earlier in Jimmy McHugh's career when he
started writing songs with Dorothy Fields. And this is in the 1920s when
there were very few women songwriters. How did he hook up with her, and did
he ever talk to you about what it was like for him to work with a woman
lyricist at a time when there were so few women writing songs professionally?
Mr. McHUGH: This was one of the great relationships of his life, my
grandfather. He was a very poor boy who came from Boston, very courageous.
And Dorothy Fields was the daughter of a very wealthy theatrical family in New
York. And at that time she was teaching school. And her family was extremely
opposed to her being involved in the theater or writing songs or having
anything to do with any of that. And somehow the two of them sort of helped
each other in a way. I think that Dorothy told my grandfather, you know,
`Even though you're a poor boy from Boston, you can do this.' And I think my
grandfather told Dorothy Fields, `Even though your family's telling you you
can't do this and you shouldn't do this, you're brilliant at this and you can
do this.' And she gave him that strength to feel that it was OK for him to
have the ambitions that he had. So they really paired very well together, the
two of them.
GROSS: Some of the songs they wrote together are "Sunny Side of the Street,"
"I Can't Give You Anything but Love," "I'm In The Mood For Love," and "Don't
Mr. McHUGH: "Exactly Like You," "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With
Me," just many, many tunes, you know.
GROSS: My guest is Jim McHugh III, the grandson of composer Jimmy McHugh.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Jim McHugh III, the grandson of composer Jimmy McHugh,
whose songs include "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "I'm In The Mood For
Love," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," and "Don't Blame Me."
Did your grandfather Jimmy McHugh ever talk to you about his songwriting
Mr. McHUGH: I think my grandfather believed a lot in--he was a very religious
man. He believed that his songs were spiritual gifts, I suppose you would say
today. He was a very devout Catholic. He often kept by the side of his bed a
pen and paper, and he felt that he would work on songs. And he would go to
sleep, and then in the middle of the night the songs would be delivered to him
and he would write down what the song was. And there's actually a very
interesting story. He and Harold Adamson were working on a movie, Frank
Sinatra's first movie, called "Higher and Higher." And they had worked and
worked and worked on this song and they just couldn't get it.
And my grandfather went to bed, and in the middle of the night he woke up, he
had the melody. And he reached for his pen and he reached for his pad and the
pad wasn't there. And so he wrote this song on a bed sheet and went to sleep,
and woke up in the morning and he called Harold Adamson; they had a big
meeting at the studio and he said, `I've got it! I've got it! Let's go!' and
they ran over to the head of the studio and they got in his office and they
sat down at his piano and my grandfather couldn't remember a word or a note,
couldn't remember anything. So he panicked, and he called the housekeeper at
the house and he said, `Get that sheet that I wrote the song on and get it
over to me,' and she said, `Well, it's too late. It's already gone to the
So the head of the studio sent his driver in full livery, with boots and a cap
and this huge Packard car, over to the laundry and they got this sheet and
brought it back to the studio, and they put it over the piano. And Jimmy
McHugh sat down and played "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night," which was a
huge hit for Frank Sinatra in his first movie, "Higher and Higher."
GROSS: What a great story.
Mr. McHUGH: Isn't it? I mean, it's wild. I mean, it's wild. And I know
that's true. My grandfather told it to me many times. But I think in terms
of how he wrote songs, he just wrote songs. He got up in the morning thinking
about it. He went to bed at night thinking about it. He plugged them, he
wrote them, he hummed them. He got other people to do that. He was one of
those extraordinary kinds of personalities, like many great artists, that they
just are that way. Their life is about that. He wasn't a particularly
self-reflecting person. I don't think he gave much thought to how he did
things or why he did things. It was a different time, too.
GROSS: And you said that your grandfather told you the story behind "I
Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" many times. What was it like when you got
to, like, the third time of hearing the story? Would you say, `Yeah, you told
me that story already'?
Mr. McHUGH: Well, no, no. You never said, `You told me that story one more
time.' We would go over, and he had this big house in Beverly Hills and a big
living room and piano. And he had his chair, and you would sit, and then he
would tell you the stories with his bourbon. He always had a highball, and he
was always dressed, always in slacks, always in a tie. And like your radio
show, he would say, `Well, let me just play you "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last
Night,"' and he would go over and play you a few bars and then he would come
back. And that was his life. And then if you left the room and somebody else
came in the room, then you would get the "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night"
story. So he was fascinated by his own story, let's say. He was funny.
GROSS: Did that get tiresome for you?
Mr. McHUGH: Well, maybe a little tiresome, but not really. And then he'd
always give me 5 bucks at the end of the day. And so I knew if I hung out,
I'd get the 5 bucks, you know?
GROSS: That's really funny. Because your grandfather was so absorbed in his
songs and in his stories about his songs and in promoting himself and his
songs, did he tell you before he died, what kind of funeral he wanted; what he
wanted played; what he wanted on his tombstone?
Mr. McHUGH: I think that if you went big, you knew you were safe. He was
so--go big. So I remember his funeral. It was huge. And I think he would
have been very happy with that. I believe--you know, when he died, I was
devastated. And I can't remember much of that day except that it was a huge
funeral. But I remember I just sobbed at the gravesite. We were very, very,
very close. But I knew that that's what he wanted. I knew that he wanted
this big send-off. And Frank Sinatra was there, and Dean Martin was there and
other, just--Jack Benny was there. Just everybody was there. Ella Fitzgerald
was there. It was an extraordinary day in Beverly Hills. Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: So tell me, when you were a kid, did you know Frank Sinatra and Dean
Martin? Did you ever hang out with them through your grandfather?
Mr. McHUGH: I did. We used to--in fact, I knew Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin
very well. And after church on Sunday, we would go to the Beverly Hills
Hotel, then we would go over to their houses and we would sit and my
grandfather would play the piano and they would sing songs. And it was
amazing. But at that time, you don't think of it that way. You just think,
well, you know, this is life. This is what you do after church. But later
on, I realized that was quite a bird's eye view, you know.
GROSS: Were Sinatra and Martin nice to you as a kid when you...
Mr. McHUGH: Absolutely.
Mr. McHUGH: Really nice. Frank Sinatra was very funny and very kind. He'd
always play with kids. And Dean Martin was absolutely hilarious. He was
great and always, `Oh, don't you want to go swimming?' or `Here, have
something to eat,' or `Here.' Really I just remember those occasions as very
GROSS: Jim McHugh III is a photographer for People magazine. He's the
grandson of songwriter Jimmy McHugh.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. Here's Sinatra singing the song Jimmy McHugh wrote
for Sinatra's movie "Higher and Higher."
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) I couldn't sleep a wink last night because we
had that silly fight. I thought my heart would break the whole night through.
I knew that you'd be sorry, and I'm sorry too. I didn't have my favorite
dream, the one in which I hold you tight. I had to call you up this morning
to see if everything was still all right. Yes, I...
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