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Malaria: The 500,000-Year-Old 'Fever' That Won't Die
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
It's another big summer for seductive vampires in movies, books and television;
but the creatures that really suck our blood are creatures with zero sex
In the U.S., mosquito bites are usually no worse than a distracting itch, but
in many parts of the world mosquitoes are very dangerous. They carry malaria, a
disease that's been with us for half a million years and kills about a million
people each year.
How mosquitoes bite and infect humans and animals and why malaria has been so
hard to eradicate in spite of the drugs we have, are among the subjects Sonia
Shah writes about in her new book "The Fever." She was first exposed to and
terrified by malaria-bearing mosquitoes when she was a child visiting her
grandparents in India.
Sonia Shah, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, maybe other people know this, but I
didn't know this until I read your book. It's not the mosquito itself that
actually is responsible for the malaria, it's a parasite that the mosquito
carries that actually spreads the poison, so to speak. Would you tell us about
Ms. SONIA SHAH (Author, "The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000
Years"): Well, the parasite is called plasmodium, and it's protozoan. It's a
very wily little creature.
It reproduces sexually and asexually, but all of this takes place inside the
bodies of mosquitoes for half their life, and then the other half of the life
in whatever host they are targeting; and different malaria species target
So for us, there's at least five malaria parasite species, these species of
plasmodium that actually infect humankind, and what they do is they come into
our bodies in the saliva of a mosquito, they hide in our liver for a while, but
what they're really after is the hemoglobin in our red blood cells. So that's
what they feast upon. And then they leave to go on and infect another person.
So it's this cycle of being infected by malaria parasites and having them feed
on our red blood cells, the hemoglobin in our red blood cells, that makes us
sick from malaria.
GROSS: Wait until they leave? How do they leave your body after they've
Ms. SHAH: Well, they go through several cycles of regeneration inside the human
body, and so they sort of go inside the red blood cells, and they chomp down
all the hemoglobin and reproduce inside of there.
Once they're done, they burst out, and that's actually when you start feeling
sick. And they do that for several cycles. Meanwhile, some of them transform
into what are called gametocytes, and these are the form of the parasite that
then comes out into the bloodstream and waits for another mosquito to come
along and bite that infect person and carry â and then they do another cycle of
reproduction inside the mosquito and then go on to the next victim of the
GROSS: Wow, that's really horrible. So as you're suffering, you're also
becoming a breeder.
Ms. SHAH: Exactly, and you donât really know about that. I mean, I think that's
one of the great tricks of this parasite, is that you can be infected for a
week without really realizing that you've infective.
So you don't feel sick the whole time you have malaria. You have â the fever
and chills that are the typical symptoms of malaria only occur when those
parasites burst out of your red blood cells. What that does is release some of
the poisons from their digestive process, and that is what, you know, you have
this sort of toxic effect in the body, and that's what makes you sick.
But meanwhile, the parasite has already, you know, doubled, tripled, has â you
know, its numbers have become huge inside the body, and they're already
creating these gametocytes that get picked up by other mosquitoes.
GROSS: So what makes a mosquito a good host for this horrible parasite that
Ms. SHAH: Well, mosquitoes and the parasite probably, sort of, evolved
together. So the parasite itself has some vestigial machinery inside of it that
suggests that it once photosynthesized.
So it was probably some kind of, like, algae floating in the water. And so the
larvae are formed inside - in bodies of water. So they probably were together
for a lot longer than the parasites started infecting us, but I mean,
mosquitoes take these blood meals.
As we all know, the itchy bites that we get are from the female mosquito trying
to suck our blood, and the reason they are taking blood is, not for food for
themselves, but to nourish their eggs.
So that's, like, evolutionarily speaking, such a hugely important thing to do,
you know, to secure the next generation. So the mosquito actually will risk her
life to get a few drops of blood to feed her eggs, because, of course, taking
that blood meal for a tiny little mosquito is incredibly dangerous.
I mean, not only can they be easily swatted away and killed by the animals that
they take blood from, but once they take the blood...
GROSS: Like you and me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SHAH: Well, exactly. They can â they get filled up with such a huge volume
of blood that they can't fly, or they can't fly very well, and that is a mortal
debility for a mosquito, obviously. It needs to be able to fly to avoid
predators and things.
So it risks its life to do that. So that makes the parasite's exploitation of
this behavior in the mosquito so wily, because the mosquito is not going to
give up its blood meal. I mean, it's more important than food. It's about
GROSS: So the parasite has a pretty confirmed ride.
Ms. SHAH: Exactly, so long as the mosquitoes are biting. But the trouble is,
mosquitoes are very vulnerable to the environment. I mean, they're cold-
blooded, obviously, and they require bodies of water that are pretty ephemeral.
I mean, a lot of times mosquitoes are breeding in puddles, which can dry up.
They also breed on the edges of streams or ponds and things like that. And if
that water gets flushed out by rains, or if the water becomes deeper because
other water is coming into it, and fish can come and eat those mosquitoes.
So mosquitoes are, you know, they're reliable carriers in the sense that
they're always going to try their best to get that blood meal and deposit
parasites in that blood meal, actually in the saliva that they drop into the
wound when they plunge their proboscis into your skin.
It's still something that is very vulnerable to the climate and to the local
GROSS: Are there malarial mosquitoes in the U.S. today?
Ms. SHAH: There are many species of malarial mosquitoes in the U.S. today. So
there's nothing environmentally...
GROSS: Do I want to hear more, or should we just end the interview now?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SHAH: I mean, it's amazing, really, because environmentally speaking,
there's no reason for us not to have malaria again today. I mean, we once had
malaria all over this country, particularly in the South, but right up through
the Upper Mississippi Valley.
Michigan was considered, you know, the land of ills. It was known for its
chills and fever. You know, people thought at one time that the West would
never be settled because there was so much malaria in the Upper Mississippi
GROSS: And how come there isn't that much now?
Ms. SHAH: Well, there's been a number of changes. It happened pretty slowly. I
mean, the sort of myth is that we developed DDT after World War II, and we
blitzed millions of homes with DDT, which we did, and that ended malaria.
But actually, malaria was already very much on the decline by the time DDT came
online, and it had to do with agricultural changes demographic changes, changes
in settlement patterns.
You know, we drained a lot of our wetlands, and, you know, today we've lost
probably half of the wetlands we originally had in this country. And as we did
that, of course, we destroyed a lot of mosquito habitat.
We also paved over a lot of mosquito habitat, and then we also stopped living
near wetlands and the shores of rivers because we stopped relying on those
water bodies for our trade and our transportation.
You know, we started using railroads and then roads, and so we didn't have to
live so close to water bodies that made us vulnerable to mosquitoes.
And we also improved our housing. I mean, I think that's a huge part of our
solution to our malaria problem here in the United States, is we started
screening our windows and screening our doors and, you know, having air
conditioning and living indoors more.
GROSS: So what are my chances of getting malaria now?
Ms. SHAH: Here in Philadelphia? Probably pretty slim, unless â the idea is that
malaria could come back to the United States, but only if our public health
system really fails.
So, you know, if you got malaria â I mean, you could get malaria because
malarial mosquitoes probably bite you when you're outdoors, when you have your
windows open. They're around. They are biting you. And there is enough people
coming over from malarious(ph) areas who carry parasites in their bodies that
come into the United States.
I mean, a thousand or so, Americans get sick with malaria every year in the
United States. So, it's not that the parasites aren't here, it's that when you
get sick - if you got that sick you would spike a 103-104 fever, and you would
run to the hospital right away and get prompt care.
And, of course, we have, you know, we have treatments that work for malaria,
and we've had them for hundreds of years. So it's not that we don't know how to
cure the disease.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Sonia Shah. She's the
author of the new book "The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000
Years." Sonia, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more
about malaria and the parasite and the mosquitoes that spread it. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Sonia Shah. She's the author of the new book "The Fever: How
Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years."
There was a period when there was an attempt to eradicate malaria by spraying
with DDT, the very powerful, toxic insecticide which, you know, killed insects
but also ended up being toxic to humans. Tell us first what the approach was in
using the DDT.
Ms. SHAH: Well, it was a pretty good plan. After mosquitoes feed on people, so
they're full of blood, they need to rest almost immediately because they can't
fly very well.
So they rest on the nearest vertical surface that they can find, and they
excrete out all of the liquid from the blood, and that makes them lighter so
that they are able to fly away. So â and that takes about 45 minutes.
So the idea with DDT was to spray the insides of houses, so spray all the walls
of the interior of houses with a thin layer of DDT so that when, after
mosquitoes took their blood meal, they'd land on this and for 45 minutes absorb
all of this DDT, and that would kill them.
And so in the 1950s, the U.S. State Department actually decided that they would
bankroll - they would suggest bankrolling a massive DDT blitz. This would be a
global effort that would actually attempt to eradicate malaria forever. And
that was the first time that we, as a species, had kind of risen up against
this pathogen that had, you know, plagued us for millennia.
And about 93 different countries signed on to that effort. You know, about 18
countries out of that effort actually did succeed in eradicating malaria from
their borders, and most of those were islands, where, you know, re-infection
from other people coming in could be more easily controlled.
So many other countries, you know, they got a lot of DDT, and malaria did
decline for some time, but since it wasn't a perfect effort, the mosquitoes
learned how to circumvent DDT. So the DDT stopped working as well.
And meanwhile, people were losing their immunities to the disease. So there
were a few years when many people in these countries under the DDT blitz
stopped having exposure to malaria, but then as the DDT campaign fell apart,
malaria came back, sort of with a vengeance. And there was a massive resurgence
of malaria after the DDT campaign ended in the 1960s.
GROSS: So what do scientists think are the best approaches, now, to dealing
with malarial-carrying mosquitoes?
Ms. SHAH: Well, we're still doing some of the same things we did in the 1950s.
I mean, we're still spraying the insides of houses with different chemicals
now. We're not using DDT so much, since that chemical has really fallen out of
favor, although it still could be useful in some places.
So we're using sprays, and we're also using bed nets that are impregnated with
insecticides, so that when mosquitoes try to reach somebody who is sleeping
under a bed net, they actually absorb insecticide through the net, through
their legs, actually, as they land on it.
GROSS: The mosquitoes absorb it through their legs?
Ms. SHAH: Yes, that's right, not the people inside.
Ms. SHAH: So the mosquitoes will come buzzing towards the person who's sleeping
inside, and as they do, they'll land on the net. And by landing on the net,
they'll absorb, you know, a killing dose of the insecticide on the net.
GROSS: Now, you write that the new global movement against malaria is led by
private interests. What kind of private interests?
Ms. SHAH: It's really a coalition of different actors. I mean, the WHO is part
of the global campaign against malaria today, but it's really not the leader
The Gates Foundation, for example, has become really the leader in setting the
global health agenda, because they're just such a huge, you know, a huge
contributor to a lot of these programs.
So it's private philanthropists, it's WHO and organizations like the Global
Fund to Fight TB, Malaria and Tuberculosis. And then a number of NGOs and state
actors and also corporations. I mean, companies have really stepped up their
interest and their stake in fighting malaria, particularly in Africa.
GROSS: Yeah, well, you write oil companies have become active in the anti-
malaria campaign because of their oil interests in Africa.
Ms. SHAH: I mean, it's oil companies and mining companies that are really â in
terms of the corporate participation in the anti-malaria fight, it's probably
the mining and oil companies that are really the biggest actors, because they
are dealing with it, you know, just in their own businesses, because, of
course, oil companies are doing a lot of work in West Africa now, and they've
had to deal with awful malaria problems, just in their own installations.
I remember visiting - seeing Bioko Island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea,
and Exxon Mobil had built all of these ranch houses there for, you know, the
natural gas installation they had put up there. They built all these ranch
houses because they wanted all these Texas oil workers to come live there and
work on it.
Well, nobody came. They were all empty because people were scared of coming,
because of the malaria.
GROSS: So we have ways of preventing and treating malaria? What are the ways?
Ms. SHAH: Well, we know that by avoiding the bites of infected mosquitoes, we
can avoid completely getting infected with malaria. So the trick is knowing
where those mosquitoes are living and, you know, building our habitations far
away enough that they don't bite us, and also protecting ourselves during the
times when they bite.
So these are things that entomologists have figured out in many places. You
know, in some places, the malarial mosquitoes hatch from salty waters. In some
places, they prefer freshwater that's sunny. Some places, they prefer streams
and dark, you know, shaded waters. But these are things that can be known.
And we can also know when the mosquitoes are biting. Oftentimes, they bite in
the middle of the night. Some of them also bite in the evening. So we can know
when to avoid the bites of mosquitoes.
We also can know - to recognize the symptoms of malaria and get prompt
treatments, because the treatments we have, the medicines we have, actually
kill the parasites in our bodies so that we're not infective anymore.
So if we get prompt treatment, that also can also start to end malaria. And of
course, that is what we have done here in the United States because we had
malaria all of this country, and, you know, prompt treatment and changing the
way we live actually has protected us.
GROSS: Sonia, you have an interesting and kind of scary history with
mosquitoes. You grew up in New England, but your grandparents were in India
when you were a child, and you used to visit them every summer. And the
mosquitoes were a real problem. Were you dealing with malarial mosquitoes when
you visited your grandparents in India?
Ms. SHAH: Almost certainly I was. I didn't know it at the time, but, you know,
malaria was always this thing that everyone else in India was allowed to have,
and I wasn't allowed to have. So as a kid...
GROSS: What do you mean by that?
Ms. SHAH: Well, it had a kind of romance to it. I mean, my cousins â I was the
American kid. You know, I was the American-Indian kid who went back, stayed
with all my Indian cousins, and I really wanted to fit in.
And of course, they were allowed to, you know, sleep under the stars and sleep
under the ceiling fan, but I had to be enclosed in this, like, hot, suffocating
mosquito net. It would take about 20 minutes to put it up, and, you know, I
just wanted to be like them.
But I had to be protected from the bites of mosquitoes, and I had to take these
giant horse pills that were, you know, the prophylactic medications for malaria
at that time, whereas they were allowed to have their bouts of malaria, you
know, and it was just something they lived with.
I mean, they considered it a normal part of life, but for me, it was very
dangerous. So it was another way that I was sticking out, and the mosquitoes
seemed to know it because they really, I mean, they just attacked me and my
They somehow knew that we were not locals, or somehow we responded in this, you
know, in this very virulent way. We'd be covered with scabs while all my
cousins would just be completely smooth and, you know, unbothered by the
GROSS: So what does it say that you've devoted a considerable amount of time to
studying malarial mosquitoes?
Ms. SHAH: Well, I think I have kind of a â I mean, most people would just have
sort of a hate relationship with malarial mosquitoes, but I kind of have a
love-hate relationship because it is something I've been so fascinated by and
I mean, and this goes back to, you know, mosquitoes and my own family's
response to insects generally. We come from the Jain religion, and, you know,
most people if they hate mosquitoes can swat them without guilt, but I can't.
I mean, to this day, I feel guilty if I kill a mosquito because in the Jain
religion, you're not supposed to â I mean, you're not even supposed to walk on
grass because that could kill the little, you know, ants and microbes that are
in the grass.
So, you know, my grandmother used to praise people who let flies just walk all
over them because they were so nonviolent, you know, and they'd â or praise
people who would take a spoonful of sugar and feed anthills.
So there was this whole ethos of being kind and nonviolent, even to insects, I
mean to all creatures but even insects - whereas, you know, all I wanted to do
was swat these mosquitoes. And of course, I did, and then I'd feel really
GROSS: Now, there's one more thing I want to ask you about. You mentioned that
after a mosquito feeds, it's kind of too heavy to fly well. So it sits on a
vertical surface, like a wall, for about 45 minutes and does what?
Ms. SHAH: It excretes out all the liquid from the blood. So it's just keeping
the sort of proteins in the blood, and that's what it needs to nourish the
eggs. So it's much lighter then because it's not, you know, they've gotten rid
of all the excess water.
GROSS: Does it leave a stain on your wall when the mosquito excretes the
Ms. SHAH: You can actually see them doing this. It comes out as a clear liquid.
So it looks like their urinating, basically, but you can actually see that
liquid coming out. I've seen it myself.
If you take the time to actually a watch a mosquito that has bitten you sit on,
you know, wherever it has flown to rest, you can actually see this happening.
GROSS: Is that a good time to kill a mosquito because it's heavy with blood,
and it has to rest for a while, it's like a time out for the mosquito?
Ms. SHAH: Absolutely, and they can't fly very well at that time, either. So, I
mean, I remember traveling in malarious places, the walls are always speckled
with smooshed mosquitoes, because it's just so easy to kill them when they're
resting on the walls, and also you can see them better.
GROSS: Of course, at that point, they've probably already bitten you, right?
Ms. SHAH: That's true. They probably have already bitten you or, you know,
whoever else is in your house with you.
GROSS: Right, okay. Sonia Shah, thank you so much for sharing some of what
you've learned about malaria. I appreciate it very much.
Ms. SHAH: Thank you.
GROSS: Sonia Shah is the author of "The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind
for 500,000 Years." You can read an excerpt on our website, freshair.npr.org.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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When Hollywood Had A Song In Its Heart
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
There was a time when movie characters often broke out into song and those
songs were written by some of the best songwriters of the 20th century, like
the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Harold Arlen.
My guest, Philip Furia, writes about songs from movie musicals, as well as
theme songs from dramatic films in his new book, "The Songs of Hollywood."
Furia is also the author of "The Poets of Tin Pan Alley," and "Skylark: The
Life and Times of Johnny Mercer." He's a professor in the Department of
Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.
"The Songs of Hollywood" is coauthored by Laurie Patterson. Let's start with
one of the most famous songs from one of the most famous Hollywood musicals.
Here's Gene Kelly.
(Soundbite of song, "Singin' in the Rain")
Mr. GENE KELLY (Actor): (Singing) Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo. Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-
doo. Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo. Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo. Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo.
I'm singin' in the rain. Just singin' in the rain. What a glorious feeling. I'm
happy again. I'm laughing at clouds so dark up above. The sun's in my heart and
I'm ready for love. Let the stormy clouds chase everyone from the place. Come
on with the rain. I've a smile on my face. I walk down the lane with a happy
refrain. Just singin', singin' in the rain.
GROSS: Philip Furia, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
Professor PHILIP FURIA (Department of Creative Writing, University of North
Carolina, Wilmington; Author): Thank you so much.
GROSS: As you point out in your book, songs for Hollywood movies have always
played second fiddle to songs from Broadway musicals. Why is that?
Prof. FURIA: In a Broadway musical the songwriters were really central to the
production right from the beginning. They worked with the playwright, they
worked with the director, the choreographers and they were in on where the
songs were going to go in the show and who was going to do them and if new
songs needed to be added. And very often on opening night their names were on
the marquee, you know, Rogers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" or George and Ira
Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band."
But in Hollywood, songwriters were just part of the whole production machine.
They had very little say in how their songs were used. They were not brought in
on conferences with the screenwriter, with the director, with the
choreographer. They were just put in little bungalows and told to write songs.
They really didn't have much to say in how the songs were used in the films.
GROSS: When you say that in movie musicals the songwriters were told just like
write songs, write hits and that they weren't integral to the shaping of the
musical the way Broadway songwriters were, that was in part because of the
nature of the movie musicals and the songs weren't integral in most of the
movie musicals to the story itself. Do you want to explain?
Prof. FURIA: Yeah. Historically, what happened was when they first began to
present songs in movies with "The Jazz Singer" in 1927 starring Al Jolson,
studios realized that the addition of sound made movies very realistic. You
know, silent movies had transported audiences to another world where, you know,
for one thing, people didn't talk out loud. But when sound came in, the movies
became almost painfully realistic and studios worried that if people suddenly
burst into song the way they did in a stage musical, audiences would just find
So their solution to presenting a song in a movie was to make it a performance.
Have someone putting on a Broadway show or have somebody singing in a night
club - hence, "The Jazz Singer" is about a professional singer and he sings
because he's performing or rehearsing.
GROSS: Yet there are lots of exceptions like in a lot of the Fred Astaire-
Ginger Rogers movies.
Prof. FURIA: Oh yeah.
GROSS: Even some like "A Fine Romance," they're sitting on a bench in the park
talking about their relationship and they break out into that song.
Prof. FURIA: Yeah. Well, that's what I really love about the movie musicals,
the ones that don't present songs as performances but as they are presented in
a stage musical as an expression of what a character feels and presented as
conversation, a duet between two characters that, you know, is part talk and
part song. But that took a while for Hollywood to figure out.
They started doing that in the early '30s, first actually, with Maurice
Chevalier. There was something about the fact that he was European that made it
seem more realistic that he could suddenly go from talking into singing. You
know, because they do that in Europe, I guess.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: That's right. They're so romantic in Europe.
Prof. FURIA: Yeah, they just burst into song. And so it, you know, it didn't
strain the realism of the piece.
But you're right. It's when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers began making movies
at RKO in the mid-1930's that they established the principle that ordinary
characters could argue in song or, you know, romance each other in song and
audiences began to accept that convention.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite Astaire-Rogers example of them breaking into song
naturally from the conversation?
Prof. FURIA: Well, the one you mentioned, "A Fine Romance," is a great example
of that where they're quarreling and the quarrel leads into a song, and a song
where they don't dance, which is unusual for an Astaire-Rogers musical. The
music is by Jerome Kern and it has a wonderful lyric by Dorothy Fields, where
she has clever rhymes: fellow and jello, and we should be like a couple of hot
tomatoes, but you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes. Just a delightful
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear it?
(Soundbite of song, "A Fine Romance")
Ms. GINGER ROGERS (Actor): (Singing) A fine romance, with no kisses. A fine
romance, my friend this is. We should be like a couple of hot tomatoes, but
you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes. A fine romance, you won't
nestle. A fine romance, you won't wrestle. I've never mussed the crease in your
blue serge pants. I never had the chance. This is a fine romance.
A fine romance, my gorgeous fellow. You take romance, and I'll take jello.
You're calmer than the seals in the Arctic Ocean. At least they flap their fins
to express emotion. A fine romance with no quarrel, with no insults and all
morals. You're just as hard to land as the 'Isle de France.' I never get the
chance. This is a fine romance.
GROSS: So that's Ginger Rogers from the movie "Swing Time."
My guest is Philip Furia and his new book is called "The Songs of Hollywood."
The kind of singing in movies was different from the kind of singing on
Broadway before Broadway singers could mic themselves. Like now on Broadway you
can sing in a small voice because you're miked. You couldn't do that until
relatively recently, Broadway singers were not miked. So what was the
difference between how film singers could sing and Broadway singers and how did
that change the kind of songs that were written for movie musicals?
Prof. FURIA: Well, Gene Kelly once said that he had an advantage over people
who could really sing because he could talk his way through a song. And that
really became the style in the 1930s where you have someone who's not really a
professional singer like Fred Astaire kind of chatting his way through a song.
And the fact that they had developed this system of pre-recording and playback,
where they would record the songs in the studio singing into a microphone so
the song could be much more intimate and casual, much more conversational, and
then when they did the song on the set they would lip sync to a playback of the
recording they'd done in the studio.
So when you see all those singers in the 1930s and 1940s, I always think of
Donald O'Connor in "Singin' in the Rain" where he doesn't make him laugh and
he's bouncing all over the room. He's lip syncing to his own pre-recorded
performance so that they could make the song seem even more casual, more
nonchalant and that established a style of presenting song in film where it's
almost as if the characters are talking to each other.
GROSS: My guest is Philip Furia, the coauthor of the book "The Songs of
Hollywood." Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk more about music
in the movies. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Philip Furia, coauthor of the new book "The Songs of
Hollywood." When we left off, we were talking about the casual conversational
style of singing that was popular in many movie musicals.
You know, in talking about that style of casual talk singing, one of my
favorite examples of that, which I know from your book is one of your favorite
examples of that is Bob Hope and Shirley Ross from "The Big Broadcast of 1938,"
singing "Thanks for the Memory."
Prof. FURIA: Oh yes, I love that scene and that song.
GROSS: And I'd like you to talk about what makes this song so special.
Prof. FURIA: Well, the song is by, again, Hollywood songwriters that most
people probably have never heard of. Leo Robin was the lyricist and Ralph
Rainger was the composer. And the producer came to them and said, you know,
we've got this new star, Bob Hope, and he's going to be in a movie and it's
going to be a song about divorce.
Well, 1938, you know, divorce is still a pretty touchy subject. And they said -
the producers said to the songwriters, write a song about a divorced couple
that still is in love with each other but can't really acknowledge the fact
that they're still in love. And they're going to be on an ocean liner sitting
at a bar and they're going sing to each other. But Hope is a comedian, so make
sure the song is funny too.
So you can imagine these poor songwriters. You know, write a funny song about
divorce. And they came up with this delightful - it would be called in the
1930s - a list song or a catalog song, which consists of, you know, one image,
one illusion after another in a great big long list of images. The song is done
with Hope and Shirley Ross sitting at a bar and they part talk it and they part
sing it as they go through the memories of the days when they were married.
And the song is witty and clever and yet underneath it, Leo Robin, the lyricist
manages to suggest that these are two very sophisticated people whose veneer of
sophistication won't let them show their real feelings until the very end when
Shirley Ross breaks down in tears and runs off. So it's a very moving
performance and again, very much in the Hollywood style of a conversational
kind of song.
GROSS: Yeah, they talk and sing this.
Prof. FURIA: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: Yeah, I love this. So, let's hear "Thanks for the Memory."
Prof. FURIA: Great.
GROSS: This is Bob Hope and Shirley Ross.
(Soundbite of song, "Thanks for the Memory")
Mr. BOB HOPE: (Comedian, Actor): (Singing) So thanks for the memory of crap on
Ms. SHIRLEY ROSS (Actress): (Singing) ...nights in Singapore. You might have
been a headache but you never were a bore.
Mr. HOPE: (Singing) I thank you so much.
Ms. ROSS: (Singing) Thanks for the memory of China's funny wall, transatlantic
Mr. HOPE: (Singing) That weekend at Niagara when we hardly saw the falls.
Ms. ROSS: How lovely that was.
Mr. HOPE: Thank you.
Ms. ROSS: (Singing) Thanks for the memory of lunch from 12 to 4, sunburn at the
shore, that pair of gay pajamas that you bought and never wore.
Mr. HOPE: Say, by the way, what did happen to those pajamas? Huh?
Ms. ROSS: (Singing) There's a sweet little secret that couldn't be put in a day
Mr. HOPE: (Singing) Too bad it all had to go haywire. That's life I guess. I
love your dress.
Ms. ROSS: Do you?
Mr. HOPE: It's pretty.
Ms. ROSS: Thanks, (Singing) for the memory of faults that you forgave, rainbows
on a wave.
Mr. HOPE: (Singing) And stockings in the basin when a fellow needs a shave. I
thank you so much.
(Soundbite of crying)
Ms. ROSS: (Singing) Thanks for the memory.
GROSS: That's Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing "Thanks for the Memory" from
"The Big Broadcast of 1938." My guest is Philip Furia, coauthor of the new book
"The Songs of Hollywood."
That song became Bob Hope's theme song.
Prof. FURIA: Yes. Most people misquote the title. They call it "Thanks for the
Memories," but it's "Thanks for the Memory." But yeah, always associated with
him but very few people, I think, have seen that movie.
GROSS: So sometimes songs were worked into dramatic films, films that weren't
musicals. And was that sometimes because the studio owned the rights to the
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. FURIA: Oh yes.
GROSS: ...and wanted to make money from it?
Prof. FURIA: Oh yes. When sound movies came out in the late 1920s, a lot of the
studios, particularly Warner Brothers, bought up the old sheet music publishing
firms that used to be known as Tin Pan Alley.
Prof. FURIA: Because they wanted that catalog of songs. They figured songs that
have proven their popularity, that they would own these songs and they would
stick them in a movie. Probably the most famous example of that is Warner
Brothers stuck the song "As Time Goes By" - which was written way back in 1931
- into the 1942 movie "Casablanca." One guy who loved the song when it came out
in the 1930s was the author of a play called "They All Come to Rick's," which
was the basis of "Casablanca."
And he had used the song in the play. So when Warner Brothers took the play,
they thought well, they were already using that song, "As Time Goes By," and
hey, we own the song. And they thought, well, that was a popular song. We'll
make it popular again and sell some sheet music and some records of "As Time
Goes By," and the song will have popularized the movie.
Nobody thought the song was very good when they made "Casablanca." In fact, the
guy who scored the movie thought it was terrible, and he said I can write a
better song than that, and actually wrote one and they were going to re-film
the scene with Ingrid Bergman and Dooley Wilson, who plays the piano and sang
it. But Ingrid Bergman had already cut her hair off to play Maria in "For Whom
the Bell Tolls." So the song was saved by a haircut, and it turned out to be
enormously popular all over again.
GROSS: So why don't we hear the song performed by Dooley Wilson?
Prof. FURIA: Ah. Wonderful.
(Soundbite of movie, "Casablanca")
Ms. INGRID BERGMAN (Actor): (as Ilsa Lund) Play it once, Sam. For old time's
Mr. DOOLEY WILSON (Actor, Singer): (as Sam) I don't know what you mean, Miss
Ms. BERGMAN: (as Ilsa Lund) Play it, Sam. Play "As Time Goes By."
Mr. WILSON: (as Sam): Oh, I can't remember it, Miss Ilsa. I'm a little rusty on
Ms. BERGMAN: (as Ilsa Lund) I'll hum it for you.
(Soundbite of humming, "As Time Goes By")
(Soundbite of song, "As Time Goes By")
Ms. BERGMAN: (as Ilsa Lund) Sing it, Sam.
(Soundbite of song, "As Time Goes By")
Mr. WILSON: (Singing) You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is
just a sigh. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by. And when two lovers
woo, they still say, I love you...
GROSS: That's Dooley Wilson singing and playing piano from the movie
"Casablanca." My guest is Philip Furia, author of the new book "The Songs of
There's a great example of Hollywood studio working a song into a movie because
they own the rights to it, and a movie that is so not a musical.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I'm thinking of "Key Largo" and...
Prof. FURIA: Oh, wonderful scene, yeah.
GROSS: Tell us the story behind the song in that movie. I mean, this is a movie
where people are basically held hostage on an island during a storm.
Prof. FURIA: Yeah. A wonderful use of a song in a dramatic film is in the movie
"Key Largo," where Claire Trevor sings the song "Moanin' Low." She's the moll,
the girlfriend of Edward G. Robinson who, as always, plays, you know, a
notorious criminal. And she's also become an alcoholic, and she's begging him
for a drink in the bar in Key Largo as he is holding Humphrey Bogart and Lauren
Bacall and other people hostage under gunpoint, he and his henchmen. And he
says you can have a drink if you sing that song you used to sing when you were
And she says: Do I have to sing it without accompaniment? And he said, yeah.
Just get up and sing. So she starts singing "Moanin' Low," and it's a wonderful
song about a woman who's trapped in a relationship with a very cruel man. And
as she's singing it, performing the song, you see her realize that that's
exactly her real life situation, that she's trapped in a relationship with
Edward G. Robinson. And that realization has her slowly break down, and her
voice falters and she sings off key. And after she finishes, she asks for the
drink and Robinson says, you were lousy. And he won't give her one.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. FURIA: And Bogart walks over, under gunpoint, he goes over to the bar,
pours her a stiff drink, walks it over and gives it to her and says, you
deserve this. So it's just a great dramatic scene, but it's a wonderful use of
a song in a non-musical picture. She won a best Supporting Actress award based
purely, I think, on that performance of a song.
GROSS: So let's hear that scene with the song from the movie "Key Largo."
(Soundbite of movie, "Key Largo")
Ms. CLAIRE TREVOR (Actor): (as Gaye Dawn) My gowns were gorgeous. Always low-
cut. Very decollete. I wore hardly any makeup - just some lipstick, that's all.
No lights, just a baby spot. And I wouldn't have any entrance. They'd play the
intro in the dark, and a spot would come on, and there I'd be.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. EDWARD G. ROBINSON (Actor): (as Johnny Rocco) Well, go ahead sing.
(Soundbite of song, Moanin' Low")
Ms. TREVOR: (as Gaye Dawn) (Singing) Moanin' low, my sweet man, I love him so,
though he's mean as can be. He's the kind of man needs a kind of woman like me.
Gonna to die if sweet man should pass me by. If I die, where'll he be? He's the
kind of man who needs the kind of woman like me. Don't know any reason why he
treats me so poorly.
GROSS: That's Claire Trevor singing "Moanin' Low" from the movie "Key Largo."
My guest, Philip Furia, is the coauthor of the book "The Songs of Hollywood."
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk more about music in the
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Philip Furia who is coauthor of the new book "The Songs of
Hollywood." He's written extensively about American popular song. He's the
author of a biography of Johnny Mercer. The new book, "The Songs of Hollywood,"
is about music in movies.
Now, although a lot of Hollywood were written differently than Broadway songs,
and although the role of the Hollywood songwriter was different than the
Broadway songwriter, at some point a lot of Broadway musicals were adapted for
the screen, and so the Broadway musical became transposed for movies.
What do you think worked and what didnât work? Like in the - I guess it was in
the 50s that this phenomenon really bloomed.
Prof. FURIA: Right. In the 1950s television moved into the American home and it
really took business away from Hollywood. And studios had to cut back on the
number of movies they made. And the most expensive kind of movie to make is the
musical, where you have to have dancers, musicians, songwriters,
And so Hollywood, when they made a musical, took the safe route of making a
film version of a Broadway musical that had already proven successful, rather
than do what they'd done in the '30s and '40s, and that is make original film
musicals like "42nd Street" and "Meet Me in St. Louis," those are originally
done as Hollywood movies. But things like "Oklahoma" and "The King and I" and
"South Pacific" were just film adaptations of Broadway shows, and I frankly
find most of them boring.
GROSS: Oh, I'm so glad you said that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. FURIA: Oh good. I donât know, most people adore them and get very
irritated when I say that, because I say, you know, I'm writing about movie
musicals and they say oh, I love "West Side Story." And I say well, that's not
a movie musical, that's a Broadway musical that was turned into a movie. And
usually when that happens, you get the worst of both worlds.
GROSS: Well I love "West Side Story," so I love the movie adaptation of it, so
I'm going to leave that one out of...
Prof. FURIA: Oh, okay.
GROSS: But a lot of the Rogers and Hammerstein adaptations, like the songs are
schlep on and on and there's so much talking in between, and that...
Prof. FURIA: Right. Mm-hmm. They're very stagy. I mean these were successful
stage musicals. What makes it even worse sometimes, it's - some of them are
dubbed. You know, like Audrey Hepburn - poor Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady."
You know, she's so sweet and fragile looking and yet, she's dubbed by this
operatic singer, Marni Nixon. And out of little Audrey Hepburn comes this
booming voice. But the fact that people love them, I think, is a tribute to how
great the stage musical was, that even in a canned film version it can still
GROSS: When you mentioned Audrey Hepburn being dubbed by Marni Nixon for "My
Fair Lady," in the film "Funny Face," in which she co-starred with Fred
Astaire in 1957, she sings for herself and she has such a lovely voice.
Well, why donât we end by hearing that for people who haven't heard Audrey
Hepburn sing in her own voice, although probably a lot of people heard her sing
a little bit in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." So this is her singing the Gershwin
song, "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
Do you like this version of it?
Prof. FURIA: Oh yes. I love it. And again, youâre talking about a song in a
movie that's presented more conversationally, and like Gene Kelly and Fred
Astaire, not by someone who's a professional stage singer, but an ordinary
person just breaking into song.
GROSS: Philip Furia, thank you so much for talking with us.
Prof. FURIA: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Philip Furia is the coauthor of "The Songs of Hollywood."
(Soundbite of song, "How Long Has This Been Going On?")
Ms. AUDREY HEPBURN (Actor): (Singing) I must find why my mind is behaving like
a dancer. What's the clue to pursue? For I have to have the answer. I could cry
salty tears. Where have I been all these years? Is it fun? Or should I run? How
long has this been going on?
GROSS: You can read an excerpt of Philip Furia's book The Songs of Hollywood"
on our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our
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