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Monday, March 30, 2015

Songwriter's Great Grandson Journeys Back to Oz

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 5:01 PM

click to enlarge Aaron Harburg, who knows his way around a yellow-brick road, created a documentary about The Wizard of Oz called The Sound of Oz. - COURTESY AARON HARBURG
  • Courtesy Aaron Harburg
  • Aaron Harburg, who knows his way around a yellow-brick road, created a documentary about The Wizard of Oz called The Sound of Oz.

From a very early age, Aaron Harburg knew that his family had a very special connection to Hollywood history. His great-grandfather Yip Harburg (1896-1981) was a composer on Broadway and during Tinseltown's Golden Age.
The elder Harburg penned iconic tunes like Brother Can You Spare a Dime (1932), which became the anthem for those suffering through the Great Depression.  He also gave us April in Paris, which was immortalized by Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and many others,

Of the many songs that Harburg composed, one stood head and shoulders above the pack: Over the Rainbow, sung by the great Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Aaron Harburg recalls entering a restaurant in New York City, looking at the patrons, and realizing that every one of them most likely knew the song. 

click to enlarge Yip Harburg, writer of songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" - COURTESY AARON HARBURG
  • Courtesy Aaron Harburg
  • Yip Harburg, writer of songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

"The Wizard of Oz was always just sort of background for me," Harburg told SF Weekly. "I can't even remember when I first learned it. It's sort of like asking when you learned that 2 + 2 = 4. It's just always there, a fun fact that was our little claim to fame."

Harburg opined as to why the song, and the film, have resonated with so many people across the decades. "The film is really about being content with what you have and recognizing the ways in which you belong," he said. "There's no place like home is something that everyone can relate to. It's also about the necessity of courage, smarts, compassion, and teamwork to achieve the impossible."

Harburg also explained the special appeal that Judy Garland, and musicals, have with gay men. "The film starts with a girl who feels out of place," he observed. "Many gay men, myself included, are forced with a monotonous reminder of being different, or out of place in a heteronormative society.The desire to escape to a place of acceptance is very intense in gay men." 

There were other reasons for Wizard's appeal to gay audiences. "Oz is fabulous!" exclaimed Harburg. "Why would you want to go home after going there? But I suppose that's the point. Even if everything is all colorful and exciting, that doesn't mean it's fulfilling."

Harburg shared that he was the first member of his family to work in the film industry since his great-grandfather. To that end, Oz lovers should be on the lookout for The Sound of Oz, his upcoming documentary feature about the life and career of his famous ancestor.

He told us what he expects the final film to entail. "The film will center on three things: the stories of the men behind the songs, how the songs have continued to impact culture, and why they have continued to endure," he said. 

Harburg promised that there will be many gems about how Yip and collaborator Harold Arlen worked together. There might even be, he hinted, some A-list celebs who might — MIGHT — appear in the completed film.

The scion of a Hollywood legend has set up an IndieGoGo page where you can contribute and help him to complete his film:

He hopes to have The Sound of Oz ready for release in 2016.          


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