By Kevin Kelley
When silent films gave way to talking pictures in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Hollywood looked to Broadway to provide not only sound, but music, to the growing motion picture business. Broadway composers such as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Hoagy Carmichael were lured to California by the movie studios.
The move of those Broadway composers to California will be the focus of a musical lecture by Laura Varcho Sunday at 2 p.m. at Westlake Porter Public Library, 27333 Center Ridge Road. The talk, entitled “Hollywood Heyday: Tin Pan Alley Goes West,” is part of the library’s Sunday Sounds program.
Varcho, a singer of jazz and popular standards, will intersperse her lecture with 12 songs from Hollywood’s early musicals. “Cheek to Cheek,” written by Irving Berlin for the 1935 Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire film “Top Hat,” will be among those Varcho performs.
While the composers were paid handsomely once they arrived in Hollywood, they were no longer the demigods they were on Broadway, Varcho said. On Broadway, the composer’s name was often above the production’s title on the theater marquee, she told West Life. Once in California, they were treated more like the unsung heroes of Hollywood, she said.
Scores and lyrics were either changed or cut from movies entirely, Varcho said.
“The music wasn’t sacrosanct,” the Lakewood resident said. “They didn’t have any control in Hollywood.”
The urbane composers and lyricists also had to adjust to a metropolitan area just starting to develop, Varcho said. At time the victims of anti-Semitism, Jewish composers formed their own country clubs where they spent their days swimming, golfing and playing tennis.
“They found ways to make the best of it,” Varcho said. Even so, many returned to New York City.
Varcho has performed as a singer for 15 years. She developed her musical lecture series after attempting to obtain a gig at the Rocky River Senior Center. When then-Activities Director Margaret Allen told her they didn’t book singers, she developed a lecture on the career of Harold Arlen, who composed the songs for “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I fell in love with public speaking and immersed myself in the history,” Varcho recalled.
Although she always plans to sing, Varcho said her goal is to be a motivational speaker. In addition to “Hollywood Heyday” and her lecture on Harold Arlen, Varcho gives talks on composers George and Ira Gershwin, as well as the psychology of successful entrepreneurs.
Varcho offers private vocal and performance lessons. However, she had little formal music education, as her family did not consider a career in the entertainment field a respectable profession.
She first developed an interest in the Great American Songbook in the 1970s watching Cher sing standards during “The Sonny & Cher Show.” Many songs from Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood musicals were also appropriated by jazz artists over the years, she noted.
“It’s always enchanting and interesting, and I never get tired of it,” Varcho said of the genre.
(For more information about Varcho, visit her website at www.lauravarcho.com.)