by Warren M. Sherk
Prior to working on their first film, Bridge of San Luis Rey, a stage musical titled Milk and Honey apparently brought them together. In the Bible, “milk and honey” is an allusion to God’s bountiful provision. Tiomkin and Herbert initially wrote nearly a dozen songs for Milk and Honey and added more, notably the love song “Sweet Surrender,” as the project developed over time.
One can only speculate on how and why Milk and Honey came to be. Tiomkin dabbled in several Broadway ventures and wrote the music for an unproduced play and musical as he transitioned to Hollywood from New York in the 1930s. In addition to providing music for U.S. government films in 1943, Tiomkin scored both a Monogram B-picture and Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, evidence that his stature as a composer in Hollywood was on the rise.
Did spare time during the war years, combined with an abundance of creative energy, result in Tiomkin devoting time to this musical venture outside of film? Something brought together Dimitri Tiomkin, Frederick Herbert, and William Walsh, who wrote the book, also known as the libretto or narrative structure, for Milk and Honey.
Tiomkin had previously worked professionally with Walsh. William Crozier Walsh (1913-1975), better known as Bill or Billy Walsh, was probably still working as a press agent when he wrote song lyrics for “Meet John Doe” intended for the 1941 film of the same name scored by Tiomkin. In 1943 Walt Disney hired the 30-year-old Walsh and a lengthy career at Disney ensued. As a producer and writer he was associated with some of the most beloved live-action Disney films of the 1960s, including The Absent-Minded Professor, Mary Poppins, and The Love Bug.
Sometime around the summer of 1943, a few months before Bridge of San Luis Rey started production in mid-September, Tiomkin and Frederick Herbert embarked on a musical project centered around early California. The songs they wrote were sent to the Copyright Office in Washington, DC., in June.
In what appears to be its earliest incarnation the operetta was titled, Milk and Honey. Later titles include Sweet Surrender, Old California, and Stormy Weather.
A carbon typescript in the Dimitri Tiomkin Collection at the Cinematic Arts Library at the University of Southern California lists the following songs.
Milk and Honey
Review of the Droops
Love is Intoxication
Americanos (copyright in 1943 as “Americans”)
Make Way for the Navy
Afraid of Love
Why Can’t Oranges
The Pretty Committee
Peed [sic] a Boo (copyright 1943, as Peek-a-Boo)
Why Can’t Oranges
Characters include the Philosopher, the Commandante, the Mayor, and others accompanied by the Senoritas, the Sailors, and the Ensemble.
The show title is from opening stanza for the fourth song in the second act, “Los Angeles.”
WE LIVE IN A SUNNY LAND,
IN A MILK AND HONEY LAND
Caliente, also known as Mi Chicos, was submitted in October 1943 to the Production Code Administration for Bridge on the San Luis Rey, but ultimately was not used in the film when it was released in February 1944.
Among the typed lyrics in the Tiomkin Collection an intriguing typed note can be seen.
DIMI [Editor’s note: the name form for Dimitri Tiomkin used by his friends and colleagues]
Check the eliniations [sic, eliminations] and the addition in Paragraph 8. The typing is still rather sloppy…
Could this be Merrill White? Film editor Merrill White, at the far left, pictured standing behind Tiomkin, served as a lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps alongside Tiomkin. In 1943 he worked on a Tiomkin-scored film, Tunisian Victory. Another editor serving in the Corps was Elmo Williams. In the 1930s Merrill White gave Williams his first break. In the 1950s Williams would edit High Noon.
A brief mention of Sweet Surrender in the October 1945 issue of Film Music Notes offers an early clue to this stage musical that Dimitri Tiomkin would work on for more than a decade.
“While in the service, Tiomkin composed music for an operetta of early California in collaboration with scenarist Claude Binyon.”
Binyon brought more experience to the project than William Walsh. By the time Claude Binyon (1905-1978) came aboard, he had scripted more than a dozen films directed by Wesley Ruggles as well as the screenplay for Holiday Inn.
Here is a timeline of the project based on reports in the press.
In October 1944 the Schubert organization buys the rights to the “satirical play” for a Broadway production. Now titled “Sweet Surrender,” California’s admission into the Union formed the basis of the story.
By late 1944 agent Frank Orsatti and producer Lee Shubert are on board. The pair intends to visit Mexico to scout for talent for the stage musical to be set in Mexico. Choreographer Albertina Rasch, Tiomkin’s wife, is to be responsible for the dances.
In early April 1945, the creative quartet, authors Claude Binyon and William Crozier Walsh, lyricist Fred Herbert, and composer Dimitri Tiomkin, arrive in New York from Los Angeles to produce the show on Broadway.
Within a month of the creator’s arrival in New York, the Shuberts give up the rights and producer Frank Fay comes aboard in May 1945. The budget is announced at $225,000. Star names floated about include Betty Keane and Ginny Simms who is making her debut on Broadway.
Update, July 26, 2018
Patrick Russ pointed out a connection between Bill Walsh and Frank Fay. Fay met Walsh when the latter was a student at the University of Cincinnati.
This came to light when screenwriter Walsh was left out of the film Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of the film Mary Poppins. A local Cincinnati writer said in an article about Walsh,
“As a UC freshman, he wrote a musical, and was offered a job by Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay, the husband-wife team performing here on their way to Broadway. He went with them to New York.”
“Local screenwriter left out of Disney film,” by John Kiesewetter, December 22, 2013, The Enquirer, on Cincinnati.com.
Lee Shubert files a claim against the quartet asking for a return of his $2,500 advance for the rights to Sweet Surrender. Shubert charges the creators with failure to provide a libretto as required by the Dramatists’ Guild contract. In arbitration Shubert loses a 2-1 decision. The New York Supreme Court upholds an arbitration award in the amount of $2,500 against Shubert.
The title of one of the songs written for Milk and Honey in 1943, “Romantic Weather,” is adopted as the title of the musical in April 1952. The Los Angeles Daily News carries a one-line synopsis, “The American naval commander heads to Monterey because he thinks the U.S. has declared war on Mexico.”
That title didn’t stick long, a few months later Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper writes Tiomkin and Binyon are writing a musical for Broadway called Sweet Surrender.
The song list above for Milk and Honey did not include “Sweet Surrender.” Additional songs with lyrics by Frederick Herbert that may be related to the musical as it developed include California, Hospitality, I Can Dream, Mañana Land [aka Maña Land], Monterey (copyright 1943), Sunshine from the Grapevine (also known as From the Grapevine), Surrender (Finale), Sweet Surrender, Where Is Love, and Woman and Man.
Even though the musical did not come to fruition, the songs survive in the Dimitri Tiomkin Collection.
“Sweet Surrender” and “Why Can’t Oranges,” sung by Whitney Kaufman with Alan Steinberger at the piano can be previewed and purchased at cdbaby.
“Cal. Admish to Union Subject of Shubert Play,” Variety, October 25, 1944
“Setting Mex Musical,” Variety, November 22, 1944
“Coming and Going,” Film Daily, April 3, 1945
“Frank Fay Musical Budgeted at $225,000,” Variety, May 16, 1945
“Lee Shubert Loses Arbitration Award,” Variety, March 1, 1950
“Romantic Weather,” Los Angeles Daily News, April 17, 1952
Hedda Hopper column, Altoona Mirror, July 18, 1952