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The Story Behind 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas'

Songwriter Hugh Martin co-wrote the Christmas tune that Judy Garland made famous in the 1944 classic Meet Me in St. Louis. Martin, who recently released a memoir, explains how he came up with his famous lyrics.

19:41

Other segments from the episode on November 19, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 19, 2010: Interview with Astrid Kirchherr; Interview with Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane; Review of the film "Harry Potter and the deathly hallows./Part 1."

Transcript

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Beatles' Photographer Astrid Kirchherr Opens Up

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of TVworthwatching.com sitting in for
Terry Gross.

This week, the music of The Beatles becames available for the first time on
iTunes, and there's another new release as well: a book of photographs that
includes many rare shots of The Beatles in their early days. It's by Astrid
Kirchherr the German photographer who, in 1960, was the girlfriend of Stu
Sutcliffe. He was the bass player for a group that was playing clubs in
Hamburg, Germany, a group called The Beatles. Here they are in a 1961 recording
with John Lennon singing lead on "Ain't She Sweet?".

(Soundbite of song "Ain't She Sweet")

Mr. JOHN LENNON (Lead Singer, The Beatles): (Singing) Oh, ain't she sweet? I
see you walking down that street. Yes I ask you very confidentially ain't she
sweet? Oh, ain't she nice? Well look her over once or twice. And I ask you very
confidentially ain't she nice? Just cast your eye in her direction, oh me oh
my. Is that perfection? Oh, I repeat, well don't you think that's kind of neat?
Yes, I ask you very confidentially, ain't she sweet?

BIANCULLI: Astrid Kirchherr took many pictures of the young musicians then and
continued to photograph them after Stu Sutcliffe left the group. In 1961, he
died suddenly of brain hemorrhage. Astrid Kirchherr was on the set of "A Hard
Day's Night" in 1964 but stopped taking pictures of The Beatles and other
subjects in 1967.

After that she assisted other photographers instead. A current exhibition of
her work is on view in Liverpool at the Victoria Gallery and Museum and an
exhibition catalogue, "Astrid Kirchherr, A Retrospective" has just come out in
paperback. Terry Gross spoke with Astrid Kirchherr in 2008.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Astrid Kirchherr, welcome to FRESH AIR. What led you to go hear The Beatles in
the first place when they were performing in Hamburg where you lived?

Ms. ASTRID KIRCHHERR (Photographer): Well, the first time I met The Beatles was
through my former boyfriend, Klaus Voormann, who saw them one night when he was
wandering around Hamburg and then he heard this beautiful sound of rock 'n'
roll music. And he went down into a quite dark, filthy cellar where these boys
were standing on a very, very tiny stage and performed in such way that he was
absolutely, let's call it, knocked out by the music and by their looks and
everything around it.

So he told me about it and it took him a couple of days to convince me to go
with him to see the boys because the Reeperbahn is not a place where young
ladies in the '50s or '60s were to have seen or go there. You know, it was not
a nice place to go. But one night I just said all right, I come with you and so
we went there and when I went down the stairs and looked at the stage, I was
just amazed how beautiful these boys looked, and being a photographer then it
was a photographer's dream. After that first night, I went nearly every night
to see them and that's how it started.

GROSS: Now you describe when you first met The Beatles that their hair was
greased back?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you change their hair and why did you change it?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, my boyfriend, Klaus, had a big problem because his ears
used to stick out and then I had the idea to just grow the hair over them,
which he then did and it looked absolutely beautiful. So when the boys saw
Klaus, Stuart was the first one who said, oh I would like to have that
hairstyle and because their hair was very long I could do it in one night so -
which I did. And Stuart was the first one who performed onstage with the so-
called Beatles or Klaus haircut.

GROSS: Yeah, I never heard it before referred to as the Klaus haircut.

Mr. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So how did the other Beatles decide to pick up on the same style?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: When they finished playing in Hamburg, they went back to
Liverpool, and I visited Stuart there. And then George came up to me and said,
could you please cut my hair like Stuart's? But the other two didn't want to
know about it, John and Paul. And Pete couldn't have the hairstyle anyway
because he had curly hair. But a little bit later John and Paul went to visit
an old friend of ours, another German photographer called Jurgen Vollmer, and
he persuaded them to have their hairstyle changed. And so they came back from
Paris looking like the rest of The Beatles.

GROSS: What other changes did you make or suggest to The Beatles about their
look or their clothes, whatever?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, the fact is that Stuart was the same height as I am and he
could wear my clothes. So immediately when he moved in with me and my mother,
he got hold of all my clothes like leather pants, leather jacket, collarless
jackets and white shirts with big, big collars like in the old days and
waistcoats and big scarves and things like that.

But when he first appeared to play with them in Hamburg again, he used to wear
my - a suit of mine made out of corduroy in black and it had no collar, it was
collarless. And John just couldn't stop laughing and said, oh have you got your
mum's jacket on? So that was the start of the collarless jacket, which later
on, it was copied all over the place. But in fact I copied it from Pierre
Cardin, a Paris designer who I saw in a magazine or something, and I thought
that was a fantastic idea.

GROSS: Well, if John was making fun of Stu's jacket that didn't have lapels,
how come he ended up wearing one himself, like what changed the attitude from
mockery to I want one, too?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well John was always a little bit sarcastic, so at first, even
with the hairstyle, he couldn't stop laughing, but in the end he just joined
in. That was John. That was typical.

GROSS: It's interesting that Stu Sutcliffe would wear your clothes because most
men wouldn't dream, back then particularly, of wearing their girlfriend's
clothes. It would be more okay for a girlfriend to wear her boyfriend's clothes
but not vice versa.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, you know, Stuart was a very special person and he was
miles ahead of everybody. You know as far as intelligent and artistic feelings
are concerned he was miles ahead. So I learned a lot from him and because in
the '60s we had a very strange attitude towards being young, towards sex,
towards everything because it was even - it was still so short after the war
and we had this big burden to carry as far as our parents and as far as our
country after the war.

GROSS: Well tell us a little bit about what it was like to be a teenager
growing up in post-World War Germany?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well it was very hard because it is hard to imagine now that
there weren't any magazines. You couldn't buy any English authors or anything
that came from America like jeans or what ever you - it was impossible. So we
had to do our own clothes if we had weird ideas like wearing long scarves like
the French people did. You had to knit them yourself. Or long sweaters, we used
to nick from your father because they were miles too big, because you wanted to
look like, like the Sartre people in France or in Paris like Juliette Greco or
other people. And I was very, very much influenced by the films of Jean Cocteau
and of - by Sartre and everything that came out of France, because it was
closer than America or England. And anyway, England was then told by the older
generation of Germans, were still our enemies.

GROSS: Did that come between you and the Beatles at all? The sense that your
country had recently, your countries had recently been enemies? Did that
interfere, at all, in the relationship?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No, not in our relationship, but John used to make funny remarks
of it from stage, because most of the youngsters couldn't speak English because
we didn't have English in school, you know, in the beginning when after the war
we went to school. So he used to shout from the stage, we won the war and you
Krauts and all that, you know, which most of the people didn't understand. But
the English people, they just were furious with laughter.

GROSS: So that's why he said it because he knew the German people wouldn't
understand?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah, sure, yeah.

BIANCULLI: Astrid Kirchherr speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. More after a
break, this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Cry Instead")

Mr. LENNON: (Singing) I've got ev'ry reason on earth to be mad, 'cause I've
just lost the only girl I had. And if I could get my way, I'd get myself locked
up today, but I can't, so I'll cry instead. I've got a chip on my shoulder much
bigger than my feet...

.BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2008 interview with Astrid Kirchherr. She
met the Beatles and began photographing them in Hamburg in 1960. She was still
photographing them in 1964 when the Beatles were on the set of their first
movie, "A Hard Day's Night".

(Soundbite of song, "A Hard Day's Night")

Mr. LENNON: (Singing) It's been a hard day's night and I've working like a dog.
It's been a hard day's night. I should be sleeping like a log. But when I get
home to you I find the things that you do will make me feel alright. You know I
work all day to get you money to buy you things and it's worth it just to hear
you say you're going to give me everything, so why on earth should I moan
cause' when I get you alone you know I feel okay. When I'm home everything
seems to be right. When I'm home feeling you holding me tight, tight. Yeah,
it's been a hard day's night and I've been working like a dog. It's been a hard
day's night.

BIANCULLI: Terry asked Astrid Kirchherr about her early connections to the
Beatles.

GROSS: You became engaged to Stu Sutcliffe, who, at the time when you met him
in 1960, was the bass player in the band. You seemed so taken by all of the
Beatles. What special happened between you and Stu Sutcliffe? What was the bond
that you had?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, it's very strange and maybe it sounds sort of sentimental,
but when I saw him for the first time I knew that was my man, you know. He was,
and still is, the love of my life. Even though he's gone for such a long time,
but I never, ever - and I was married a couple of times - met another man who
was so fascinating, so beautiful and so soft and well-mannered. You name it and
that he was, and such a gifted artist.

GROSS: It seems to me you both lived in a very visual world. I mean he was an
artist who learned to play bass so he could be in the Beatles, and you, of
course, you know a photographer, a very visual person - so even though you
didn't speak each other's languages at first - he's English you're German - you
seem like you must have had this visual connection.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes, there was a sort of bond between us, because maybe I
correct you there. Stuart just played in the band because John persuaded him to
be in the band. And the first painting Stuart sold, John persuaded him again to
buy a bass for that, to be in his group. So actually all Stuart wanted was to
become a good painter.

GROSS: Why did John want him in the band? Why did John want him in the band so
much, knowing that he didn't know how to play?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well because John always said, when Paul was moaning about you
know how Stuart didn't practice and all that, but John always said it doesn't
matter, he looks good. He is rock and roll.

GROSS: So you were engaged, what kind of a life had you envisioned for
yourselves together?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well when you're young you're just in love and every day is so
new and so fresh and so beautiful. You just don't think of the future. But
Stuart was there very much, very mature, and he thought he could become a
teacher in art school in London. And so that was what he was planning and then
that we maybe go back to England or he gets - maybe he could teach in Germany.

GROSS: He died, Stu Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage after a series of
excruciating headaches.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: When he was getting those headaches, did you think and did he think,
that they were a symptom of something very serious?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No, not at all. Because, I mean, when you're so young, you don't
- or death doesn't occur to you at all. It is not, it's so far away. I mean, a
21-year-old boy, you never think that there's something very drasticly
happening to him.

GROSS: You know you said that death doesn't occur to you when you're young, but
you had to deal with it. You must have been quite, quite shocked?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Of course I was, but you know, all my friends helped me an awful
lot. And first of all, John did, you know, and George, the two of them.

GROSS: How did they help you?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well John, you know, John had a very funny way of telling the
people he loved what was going on. And one day he just said you have got to
decide if you want to live or die. There is no other question. And you think
about that and then we talk about it again. And George was just sweet, you
know? The - not like John in a harsh way, but the things that helped me was
John.

GROSS: So you made the decision to go on?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes.

GROSS: And continued with your work as a photographer?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes, yes.

GROSS: What were you photographing when the Beatles went back to England and
they were no longer your muse?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, you know, I was an assistant to a very famous German
photographer, and he had a big studio where we did advertising pictures and
portraits of famous musicians and things like that, you know, a real normal
photo studio. So I worked there, and next to it, my boss let - I could take
pictures and develop them in his darkroom, which was absolutely great. So I
just wandered around and took pictures of my friends and things like that. But
the work was very, very hard and so I didn't have the time to take a lot of
pictures.

GROSS: The photos in your new book, "Yesterday the Beatles Once Upon a Time"
are from 1964 when they were shooting "A Hard Day's Night." How did you end up
with them when they were shooting that?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well the magazine, Stern, in Hamburg, maybe you know the
magazine. The chief photographer there was a friend of a friend of mine. And so
he knew that I was very close to the Beatles and he asked me if I could sort of
act as a door opener for him to take pictures of the Beatles. And because at
that time when they did "A Hard Day's Night" Brian Epstein stopped all the
press activities and no photos were allowed to be shot then.

So I'd phone George, and you know, George was always my sort of guardian angel,
and told him about it. And he said, okay you can come over if they pay you for
it, otherwise you can stay at home. So I went to Stern and told them and they
gave me quite, for the 60s, quite a good amount of money. And then we went over
and George sent a chauffeur and they picked us up from the airport. And I
stayed with George and Ringo then at the time they were making the film. So -
and then when we went to the movie and did all the shots of them acting and
relaxing and having fun, after that we went to Liverpool to meet Ringo's father
and mommy and Georgie's mum and dad.

GROSS: Are you still taking photographs?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No.

GROSS: Why not?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No, because, you know, when all this Beatles thing was going on
nobody was interested in my other work, no one at all. They just said, yeah,
great, but where are the Beatles pictures? And so I wasn't sure if I'm really
good or is it just the Beatles that made me, sort of in a way, famous? And I
wasn't sure anymore if I'm good or not so I just gave it up. That's it.

GROSS: What did you do instead?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well I was always an assistant to a photographer, for another 20
or 30 years, and then I started interior design. And I just did things which I
liked to do you know which - which had at least fun.

GROSS: For my next question I'm kind of curious how do you dress now? What's
your look now?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Still in black and I've got very short hair, still like to wear
leather pants, even though I'm going to be 70 next year. And well, I try my
best to look okay, you know.

GROSS: Still into long scarves?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah, a little bit, but that is because they're fashionable
again. I wouldn't wear them if they don't - if they weren't fashionable.

GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Oh, it was lovely talking to you, thank you very much.

BIANCULLI: Astrid Kirchherr speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. Her collection of
photographs, "Astrid Kirchherr, A Retrospective" is now out in paperback. The
exhibition on which it is based at the Victoria Gallery and Museum in Liverpool
continues through January. I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "Things We Said Today")

Mr. MCCARTNEY: (Singing) You say you will love me if I have to go. You'll be
thinking of me somehow I will know. Someday...
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The Story Behind 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas'

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross.

Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine were songwriting partners during the golden age of
Broadway and MGM musicals. They are best known for writing "Have Yourself a
Merry Little Christmas," song Judy Garland sang in the movie, "Meet Me in St.
Louis."

(Soundbite of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

Ms. JUDY GARLAND (Actor, singer): (Singing) Have yourself a merry little
Christmas. Let your heart be light. Next year all our troubles will be out of
sight. Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Make the yuletide gay. Next year
all our troubles will be miles away. Once again, as in olden days, happy golden
days of yore, faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more.

Some day soon we all will be together, if the saints allow. Until then we'll
have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry Christmas night.

BIANCULLI: Hugh Martin has written a new memoir recounting his songwriting
years, called "Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door." Terry spoke with both Hugh
Martin and Ralph Blaine in 1989 about the movie version of "Meet Me in St.
Louis," which was directed by Vincent Minnelli. Terry asked them about working
with Minnelli.

TERRY GROSS: Did he have any suggestions about how he wanted to get into the
songs and...

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, boy. He sure did.

Mr. BLAINE: He's a perfectionist.

Mr. MARTIN: And they were very brilliant suggestions too.

GROSS: Can you give an example?

Mr. MARTIN: The best example, I think, that when we wrote "The Trolley Song"
and everyone had loved it, Vincent came up with the idea that he wanted it song
by the chorus before Judy sang it, which sounded terrible to me. I couldn't
understand why he wanted that. It just seemed wrong to me. But now seeing the
movie, I can see how beautifully that idea worked out, of having the chorus
kids come in on the car and set up the whole melody and lyric idea.

Mr. BLAINE: And then John Truett, the boy next door, dashing and trying to
catch the trolley and she's so thrilled that he's trying to make it, and does
finally, at the end.

Mr. MARTIN: He masterminded all of that and he was a wonderful - wonderful
director.

GROSS: Did he is telling you how he wanted to stage it affect how you wrote the
song at all?

Mr. MARTIN: Oh yes, because when he wanted that extra chorus of "The Trolley
Song," we have to write to brand new lyric for it.

Mr. BLAINE: See, it's on the way to the fair.

Mr. MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BLAINE: And it was - we made a travel log of what part of St. Louis we were
driving through.

Mr. MARTIN: But we welcomed that, sort of, being produced by brilliant people
like Minnelli and Freed. It brings out the best in us. We don't resent it, we
love it.

Mr. BLAINE: Oh, absolutely.

GROSS: Now I want to play a version of "The Trolley Song." Now this is a song
that's kind of owned by Judy Garland in a way, as a singer.

Mr. MARTIN: You bet.

GROSS: But on this version, we're going to hear Hugh Martin singing it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: How nice.

GROSS: And this is from an album that Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine made
together in 1957.

Mr. MARTIN: I'm very flattered. Thank you.

GROSS: Let's give it a listen.

Mr. MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "The Trolley Song")

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) With her high-starched collar, and my high-topped shoes
and her hair piled high upon my head. She went to find a jolly hour on the
trolley and found my heart instead. With my light brown derby and my bright
green tie, I was quite the lonesomest of men. I started to yen, so I counted to
10 then I counted to 10 again.

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley. Ding, ding, ding went the bell. Zing,
zing, zing went my heartstrings for the moment I saw her I fell. Chug, chug,
chug went the motor. Bump, bump, bump went the brake. Thump, thump, thump went
my heartstrings. When she smiled I could feel the car shake. Clang, clang,
clang.

GROSS: Hugh Martin, I like your singing a lot.

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, bless you, Terry.

GROSS: Do you still sing?

Mr. MARTIN: You know, just your playing the record has given me the old itch to
sing again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: I'm going to go home and do my vocalises. Thank you for playing it.

GROSS: Oh, it's a pleasure. How did you come up with clang, clang lyric?

Mr. BLAINE: Well, after we had written three different songs for Arthur Freed,
which we thought would be corny to be about a trolley, and we thought that
we'll write something wonderful for Judy to sing on the trolley. And we did
three different songs, of which he said, I know, oh, I love it. It's a
beautiful song, but I've got a better place for it. I'm going to use it in the
follies.

Mr. MARTIN: Which she never did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: It was a tactful way of throwing them out. And I'm so glad he did.

Mr. BLAINE: And finally he says now about "The Trolley Song," I want you to try
again for me. And I said Hugh; he's not going to take anything less than a
trolley about - a song about the trolley. So I went to the public library in
Beverly Hills and was rummaging through some old turn-of-the-century newspapers
and found a picture of a double-decker trolley, which they incidentally used in
the movie. And under the trolley picture said clang, clang here comes the
trolley. And I said, Hugh, look at this. And he said clang, clang, clang went
the trolley. And about, was very few minutes he had the whole thing going. In
fact, it didn't take long to write that song at all once we got the first line.

Mr. MARTIN: It was exactly three hours. Can you believe it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLAINE: We were in Freed's office demonstrating it in three hours.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah. So excited.

Mr. BLAINE: And he says that's what I wanted all to time.

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, he was so excited.

Mr. BLAINE: He knew what he wanted.

GROSS: That's great.

Mr. MARTIN: And, you know, oh this is interesting about the verse. Remember,
Ralph? I called up the Irene Sharaff, who had done the costumes for the film
and I said, Irene could you tell me what Judy might be wearing in this scene?
And she said why do you want to know? And I said well, we are working on this
new song for the trolley and I might be able to work in some of those phrases
if I know what they wore in those days. And she said well, it might be, she
might have on a high starched collar. She might have on high topped shoes. And
I said might her hair be piled high up on her head?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: And she said yes, it might. And I said well, what might the boy be
wearing? And she, you know, I practically set her words to music from the
costume descriptions.

Mr. BLAINE: And then when the picture was made her hair was hanging down, not
piled upon her head.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah.

GROSS: That's right.

Mr. BLAINE: He was wearing a straw hat, not a brown derby.

Mr. MARTIN: They screwed us up again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLAINE: Didn’t do a thing that the lyrics said. We're doing it in the show.

Mr. MARTIN: But it made a nice verse.

Mr. BLAINE: Yes.

Mr. MARTIN: Yes.

GROSS: Because you don't think about that as you’re listening and watching.

Mr. MARTIN: That's right. Right.

GROSS: Have you both been in retirement for the last few years?

Mr. BLAINE: No.

Mr. MARTIN: Ralph always says no and I always say yes. So you explain your
standpoint...

Mr. BLAINE: Well, you're never retired as long as your head is on your head and
you can think of things you can put down on paper. It's not like physical. I
mean it's mental.

Mr. MARTIN: I always say yes, because I haven't done anything in show business
were like 15 years. Well, I've been very active in church work. That's the
passion in my life now, is that I became a Christian 10 years ago and got
baptized. And now I'm a zealot for Jesus, and that is more exciting to me than
the theater.

GROSS: Do you do music within the church?

Mr. MARTIN: Yes. I've written a few sacred songs, but they're not as good as my
pop songs, so I've sort of stopped doing it. But I do play a lot - I use my 10
fingers to - I go on camp meetings circuits and all those things. I tell Ralph,
I feel just like Katherine Hepburn in the opening scene of the "African Queen"
when she's pumping away at that old organ and her hair is flying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, I want to play, you Ralph Blaine singing something from the Martin
and Blaine album, again recorded in 1957. And why don't we listen to you
singing "The Boy Next Door," one of the songs that you both wrote for "Meet Me
in St. Louis."

Mr. MARTIN: Oh wonderful.

Mr. BLAINE: Good.

Mr. MARTIN: He does that beautifully.

GROSS: Do you want to say anything about writing the song before we hear it?

Mr. BLAINE: No.

Mr. MARTIN: It was just one of those melodies that really, I'm so grateful for
because it really just came out of the blue and then we put lyrics to it. It's
nothing really special. Oh, there's one little special thing about it. After it
was more or less finished, I asked Ralph if he thought it needed any finishing
touches. And he said why don't you work the address into it - Sally's address,
5135 Kensington Avenue? So we added that and I think it's a nice touch.

Mr. BLAINE: It's a wonderful touch. I love that verse.

Mr. MARTIN: It was her real address.

Mr. BLAINE: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We're quite escaped the verse and start with the melody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Because we're so - just because were so limited for time.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah. I really messed you up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: That's okay.

Mr. BLAINE: I live at 5135 Kensington Ave and he lives in 5133.

GROSS: Hit it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "The Boy Next Door")

Mr. BLAINE: (Singing) How can I ignore the girl next door? I love her more than
I can say. Doesn't try to please me. Doesn't even tease me. And she never sees
me glance her way.

And though I'm heart-sore, the girl next door. Affection for me won't display.
I just adore her. So I can't ignore her. The girl next door.

GROSS: That's Ralph Blaine singing "The Girl Next - The Boy Next Door sung as
The Girl Next Door."

Mr. BLAINE: I have a terrible habit now. I've been listening for six weeks now
as the young lady Donna Cain sings "The Boy Next Door." I tried to sing it on
an interview the other day and I completely got mixed up and I had the boy and
the girl all mixed up and my sexes were completely totally destroying - I
couldn't help myself.

BIANCULLI: Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin speaking with Terry Gross in 1989.
Ralph Blaine died in 1995.

After a break, we'll be back with a more recent conversation between Terry and
Hugh Martin.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Hugh Martin, with the late Ralph Blaine, co-wrote the songs for the
musical "Meet Me in St. Louis." He has a new memoir out. It's called "Hugh
Martin: The Boy Next door." Terry spoke with Hugh Martin again by phone shortly
before Christmas in 2006.

GROSS: Now you once told the story on our show about how you and your late
partner Ralph Blaine wrote "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Can I ask
you to tell it again?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, first of all, I feel rather self-serving admitting this, but
Ralph didn’t really write it, honey. We wrote our songs separately so it's
words and music by me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, well, good. So now you're really able to tell the complete story of
how you wrote it.

Mr. MARTIN: I can really tell the complete story. Ralph was working in one room
and I was working in another on "Meet Me in St. Louis," and I played the first
16 bars of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" over and over and over and
got stuck. I could not get - I couldn't find a bridge for it. And so I just put
it aside and decided not to work on it. And Ralph, who had heard it through the
walls, came to me the next day and said whatever happened to that little
madrigal-sounding melody that you were playing? And I said well, I couldn't
make it work, Ralph and so I discarded it. And he said well, you find it and
finish it because I have a big feeling about it. And so we did find it and I
did finish it.

But the original version was so lugubrious that Judy Garland refused to sing
it. She said, if I sing that to little Margaret O'Brien they'll think I'm a
monster. So I was young then, and kind of arrogant, and I said, well, I'm sorry
you don't like it, Judy, but that's the way it is, and I don't really want to
write a new lyric. But Tom Drake, who played the boy next door, took me aside
and said, Hugh, you've got to finish it. It's really a great song, potentially,
and I think you'll be sorry if you don't do it. So I went home and I wrote the
version that's in the movie.

GROSS: Now I should explain that in the 1944 movie musical "Meet Me in St.
Louis," when Judy Garland sings this, you know, she and her younger sister are
very - it's Christmas time but she and her younger sister are very unhappy
because their father's job is taking him from St. Louis to New York and he is
going to move the whole family to New York, and they don't want to go and leave
their friends behind. So the younger sister, played by Margaret O'Brien, is
crying, and Judy Garland tries to comfort her by singing the song.

Now you said that the first version was lugubrious. What made the lyrics
lugubrious?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I'll sing it for you.

(Singing) Have yourself a merry little Christmas. It may be your last. Next
year we may all be living in the past.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Pretty sad.

GROSS: But you changed that lyric, didn't you?

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, I did. The one in the movie was let's see, have yourself a
merry little Christmas. Oh, until then we all will be together if the fates
allow. Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow. That was the one that
was in the movie. Then I got a phone call from Frank Sinatra saying I'm doing
an album called "A Jolly Christmas," and I love your song, but it's just not
very jolly. Do you think you could jolly it up a little bit for me? So then I
wrote the line about have your - hang a shining star up on the highest bough.
And Frank liked that and recorded it. And people, they do, sometimes they do
that line, and sometimes they do the muddle through line somehow.

GROSS: I like the muddle through one.

Mr. MARTIN: I like the muddle through one better too.

GROSS: We're about to hear a version of "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas" that
you recorded a year ago and...

Mr. MARTIN: That's right.

GROSS: ...was released earlier this year in a CD that's called "Hugh Sings
Martin."

Mr. MARTIN: Right.

GROSS: And this features recordings that you’ve made, you know, throughout your
career, particularly liked in the, I guess in the 40s and 50s.

Mr. MARTIN: That's right.

GROSS: But it has this new recording from a year ago. You made this recording
when you are 90?

Mr. MARTIN: I was 90 years old. I don't know how I got through it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And you're at the piano playing and singing. It's quite beautiful. Do
you want to say anything about making this recording before we hear it?

Mr. MARTIN: Well, I just want to say, Terry that I never would have continued
singing at all if it hadn't been for you, because you did an interview with
Ralph and me in 1989, I think it was, when "Meet Me in St. Louis" opened on
Broadway. And you played a little recording of me singing "The Trolley Song"
and I was just about to stop singing because I wasn't getting all that much
encouragement. But when at the end of the cut you said, ooh, I like your
singing; I like it a lot, and that thrilled me so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: But I kept on singing.

GROSS: Well, it thrills me to hear you say that.

Mr. MARTIN: I mean it.

GROSS: And I still really like your singing.

Mr. MARTIN: Thank you.

GROSS: And I want to thank you for writing such a great Christmas song. Some of
those Christmas songs tend to wear thin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARTIN: Boy, God really blessed me.

GROSS: And your song is so enduring. It's just one of the most beautiful and
moving I think of all the Christmas songs. So thank you so much and thank you
for talking with us again.

Mr. MARTIN: Oh, thank you, deeply, for saying that.

(Soundbite of song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) Here we are as in olden days. Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas night.

BIANCULLI: Hugh Martin, playing the piano and singing. He spoke with Terry
Gross in 2006. His new memoir called "Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door," has just
been published.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part
1"

This is FRESH AIR.

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Paranoia, Psychodrama Dominate 'Deathly Hallows'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The blockbuster series of films based on J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" novels
continues with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1." It's based on
the first half of Rowling's seventh and final "Harry Potter" book. The three
young heroes are no longer at Hogwarts School for Wizards and the dark wizard,
Voldemort, is eliminating his enemies and, of course, Harry is at the top of
the list.

Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: There's nothing wrong with the two-and-a-half-hour "Harry
Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" that couldn't be solved if this
weren't, in fact, Part 1 - if the saga ended here instead of stopping at the
climax and saying, in effect, see you in 2011, suckers.

But two years ago, Warner Bros. got antsy about losing its so-called tent poles
- multi-part properties that prop up the studio - and decided to split J.K.
Rowling's seventh and last book into two films. I'm surprised they didn't split
the second part in two, and the second part of that in two, and on into
infinity.

The movie has no satisfying finish - but to be fair, it has no satisfying
beginning, either. Wander in without having seen another Potter film, and you
won't have the faintest idea what's going on. I needed a refresher course in
Horcruxes.

The Harry Potter Wiki site says they're objects quote "in which a Dark wizard
or witch has hidden a fragment of his or her soul for the purpose of attaining
immortality." You need to know that, since the whole movie is the dark wizard
Voldemort's nasty hordes chasing Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron as they
try to find and destroy various Horcruxes.

The first hour of "Deadly Hallows" is virtually a video game, and it's deadly,
alright. Voldemort's followers have taken over Hogwarts and the Ministry of
Magic, and are on the hunt for Harry. Director David Yates does a poor job on
the opening action sequence, in which Harry's friends and allies transform
themselves into Harry lookalikes to confuse the onrushing villains. It's a
funny scene when they all get Harryfied(ph), but Yates stays with the real
Harry during the aerial chase, missing the obvious sight gag of bad guys thrown
into confusion by so many bespectacled young men of small stature.

Then Harry and friends sneak into the Ministry to steal one of several
Horcruxes, and the sequence is so badly staged and goes on for so long the
filmmakers appear merely to be filling out the running time.

The surprise is how much better the second part of "Part 1" is - when the
action stops dead. Harry, Hermione and Ron go on the lam and drift around the
English countryside, across barren landscapes, under low, gray skies, getting
on one another's nerves. In an invisible tent they've erected, Rupert Grint's
Ron finally breaks and attacks Daniel Radcliffe's, Harry and Emma Watson's,
Hermione.

(Soundbite of movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1")

Mr. DANIEL RADCLIFFE (Actor): (as Harry) What's wrong?

Mr. RUPERT GRINT (Actor): (as Ron) Wrong? Nothing's wrong, according to you
anyway.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Look, if you've got something to say don't be shy.
Spit it out.

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) All rights, I'll spit it out. But don't expect me to be
grateful just because now there's another damned thing we've got to find.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) I thought you knew what you signed up for.

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) Yeah. I thought I did too.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Well, then I'm sorry. I don't quite understand. What
part of this isn't living up to your expectations? Did you think were going to
be staying in a five star hotel? Finding a Horcrux every other day? You thought
you'd be back with your mom by Christmas?

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) I just thought, after all this time, we would've actually
achieved something. I thought you knew what you were doing. I thought
Dumbledore would have told you something worth while for you to plan.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) I told you everything Dumbledore told me. And in case
you haven't noticed, we have found a Horcrux already.

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) Yeah. And we're about as close to getting rid of it as we
are to finding the rest of them, aren't we?

Ms. EMMA WATSON (Actor): (as Hermione) Come on. Please take, please take off.
You wouldn’t be saying any of this if you hadn't been wearing it all day.

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) Don't know why I listened to that radio idea, to make sure
I don't hear Jenny's name or Fred or George or Marla.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Oh, you think I'm not listening too. You think I
don't know how this feels?

Mr. GRINT: (as Ron) No, you don't know how it feels. Your parents are dead. You
have no family.

(Soundbite of fighting)

Ms. WATSON: (as Hermione) Stop. Stop.

Mr. RADCLIFFE: (as Harry) Well, then go. Go then.

EDELSTEIN: That's excellent psychodrama. And it's a vivid reminder that with
all the enchanted-kingdom imagery of Rowling's first books, her real subject is
deadly serious. In common with her fellow Brits, Tolkien and Orwell, Rowling is
haunted by harbingers of fascism - in this case, race-based fascism.
Voldemort's allies are purebloods obsessed with rooting Muggles and mongrel
Mudbloods. The film's feel is paranoid and post-apocalyptic, and it's no wonder
the central trio's well of affectionate banter has run dry.

The rest of the actors are practically extras: It's like a Royal Shakespeare
Company Halloween party. Helena Bonham Carter shakes her fright wig, Brendan
Gleeson models his eye patch. Alan Rickman has a line or two, Michael Gambon
and John Hurt. On one level it's a waste. On another, hail to Warners for
subsidizing their low-paying stage work. The series is a British-actor tent
pole, too.

Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort provides the scares. He looks like a flesh reptile and
declaims like Captain Hook, if the crocodile had bitten off his nose instead of
his hand. I sure hope he gets a good sendoff in "Harry Potter and the Deathly
Hallows Part 2" - or, who knows, Warners might order up a reboot and do it all
again.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(Soundbite of music)
..COST:
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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