“Fame, what is fame? It’s the net result when folks pronounce your name…”
So go the opening lyrics to the song, “Would You Like A Souvenir?” from the 1947 Warner Brothers pot boiler, NORA PRENTISS starring Ann Sheridan as Nora. The song was written by M.K. Jerome, Jack Scholl and Eddie Cherkose.
By 1947 Jerome and Scholl had a list of songwriting credits as long as your arm. Jerome started out playing piano for the Tin Pan Alley publishing house, Waterson, Berlin and Snyder. Scholl had gotten his first break as a young man writing lyrics for Eubie Blake. These two old pros were the natural choice for NORA PRENTISS. As staff writers for Warner Brothers, the songwriting team had tailored tunes for Ann Sheridan’s smokey, no-nonsense vocal stylings several times before in films like, JUKE GIRL and TORRID ZONE. The net result of their years in the business was not fame, but the satisfaction of a steady paycheck for doing what they did best. M.K. Jerome’s grandson Richard put it this way: “There were many great songwriters of that period beyond just the Gershwins’ and the Porters’ that are never acknowledged…These guys didn’t make the bucks that the big boys did, but they loved what they were doing and it shows…Moe liked this assignment and loved working with Ann.”
NORA PRENTSS was going to be an important film for Ann Sheridan. She hadn’t stepped on a soundstage in eighteen months after having been suspended by Warner for refusing lousy scripts and demanding a higher salary. Nora’s first song had to present us with Ann Sheridan – Movie Star! – brimming with warmth, beauty and sex appeal. As it is, we’ll never know the creative process that made “Would You Like A Souvenir?” Nora Prentiss’s opening number. Oh, to have been perched on top of the piano in that songwriting bungalow!
The only information so far comes from Richard Jerome: “My grandfather M.K. (Moe) Jerome did the melody. Among his papers I found a neatly typed page with what had been the original lyrics (by Jack) called,“Would You Like My Autograph?” For whatever reason they changed it and had Eddie do it…”
Eddie, who’s Eddie? How did he get into the act? Why would a veteran songwriting team want a third man? What could he add to their tried and true musical know how?
“Then with constant repetition it becomes a household word…”
No one could say that Cherkose was a household word in 1947, but he certainly had an eclectic list of credits under his belt, beginning with writing a few lyrics for the Ben Pollack, Harry James tune, “Peckin” in the movie, NEW FACES OF 1937. Eddie went on to write lyrics for movies like, MELODY RANCH, HAT CHECK HONEY, LARCENY WITH MUSIC and SARONG GIRL. He also seemed to be the go-to guy whenever a number needed a certain something extra. In CRAZY HOUSE (1943) Eddie provided Cass Daley with a pre-amble to the Saul Chaplin, Sammy Cahn specialty number, “Every Vocal Teacher I Go To, Tells Me I Ought To Dance.” Why that number needed a funny little bit of business at the top, who knows? But it’s there. This Cherkose fellow knew how to set up a song.
“Would You Like A Souvenir? “ is a specialty number if there ever was one. It’s a striptease without the strip. Lowbrow sophistication at it’s finest. A song with two loosely connected introductions and a finish that should be sung on a ramp trailing a boa. When gorgeous Nora Prentiss, dressed to the nines in a sequined Travilla gown sings, “I’ve got that certain…nothing” – a mischievous lyricist is afoot. Eddie Cherkose had a lyrical mind full of witticisms and wisecracks. When Jerome and Scholl asked Eddie to put pen to paper, what they got was a charmingly off-kilter something; an opening number that instantly endears us to Ann Sheridan’s Nora Prentiss and make us wonder what she will do for an encore.
“ My mother must have been been frightened by a rhyming dictionary because from a very early age my vocabulary was lyrical.” Eddie Cherkose
Born in Detroit, Edward Maxwell Cherkose landed in Hollywood on his twenty-fourth birthday determined to become a writer. Knowing not a soul in the business, he would frequent the Brown Derby Restaurant, not to eat, but to have himself paged. Since all the big shots ate at the Derby he figured that if he were ever introduced to one of them, they might rub their chins and say, “Hmmm…Cherkose, Cherkose…I’ve heard of you.” Whether the Brown Derby Method opened any doors or he got his break some other way, soon he had assignments at various studios writing specialty numbers and gags for the Ritz Brothers, cowboy tunes for Gene Autry and romantic ballads for Deanna Durbin.
In 1942 he had a hit with the song, “Breathless” written with his frequent collaborator, Jacques Press. Popular with dance orchestras, “Breathless” is about as catchy as it gets with Press’s playful scale excersise melody providing the perfect delivery system for Eddie’s spritely patter.
Throughout his career, the net result of folks pronouncing the name, “Cherkose” was that they pronounced it wrong. So somewhere around the late forties Eddie changed his last name to what he considered his more euphonious middle name, “Maxwell.”
As Eddie Maxwell, he toured with Spike Jones And His City Slickers and collaborated with Desi Arnaz on the tune that introduced Little Ricky to the world, “There’s A Brand New Baby In Our House.” But it was with soon-to-be Broadway luminary, Jule Styne (GYPSY, FUNNY GIRL, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) who he had worked with back in his Republic Picture days that he would have his most beloved hit.
“There are many ways and means to win acclaim..”
The story goes that Eddie Maxwell who’s mind was always working on rhythm and rhyme would have to stop at the same intersection on his way to visit his mother in Venice Beach. The intersection itself was drab, but the names of the streets caught Eddie’s lyrical fancy – especially when repeated over and over to a Latin American beat. With Jule Styne’s smooth melody top, “Pico and Sepulveda” takes the listener on a delightful conga line through the streets of Los Angeles, depositing them right in the middle of the “La Brea Tar Pits…Where nobody’s dreams come true.” Dr Demento knew a good thing when he heard it and soon fans of his radio show had a theme song for their misspent youth.
Eddie’s daughter, Casey Maxwell Claire has written a fascinating and beautiful book: AN ONLY CHILD AND HER SISTER. It’s about growing up in Hollywood in the fifties with Eddie for a father and Eve Whitney (yes I LOVE LUCY fans – that Eve Whitney) for a mother. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Casey was also kind enough to share some of her father’s pictures and papers with me.
Here’s a little souvenir, “To keep this memory evergreen…”
I would like to thank Ken Muir for playing the piano and Guy Sherman for background vocals and Spike Jones-like flourishes on the recordings found above.
For more information about Eddie:
Sean and I were so taken by “Would You Like A Souvenir” that it was our very first video: Fabulous Film Songs