A Moment In Time : Morris Stoloff & George Cates©2005JCMarion


The time was 1956 and the vehicle was the film adaptation of William Inge's "Picnic" which was directed by Josh Logan and starred William Holden and Kim Novak. Morris Stoloff was the musical director for the film and two of the featured songs were the "Theme From Picnic" written by George Duning (Steve Allen wrote the lyrics) and a tune from the early thirties called "Moonglow". The ingenious arrangement of combining the two melodies and let them play off each other was a singular sound of the pop music of the fifties. Right into the teeth of the rock revolution this melodic and swinging song combination topped the charts during the spring of 1956. The interesting thing about that feat is that it was accomplished by two musicians that had a somewhat anonymous career for many years, hit the spotlight for one hit record, and then retreated once again mostly behind the record scene.

The first of these one record hit wonders, was Morris Stoloff. He was born in 1898 in Philadelphia, and at a young age began his studies on the violin. He was a musical student of noted classical violinist Leopold Auer, and by the age of 16 went on a tour of the country. One of his musical patrons was W.A. Clark Jr. financial backer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Stoloff soon joined that orchestra as its youngest member and in due time became its conductor. Stoloff began his distinguished career in motion pictures soon after the advent of sound pictures in the late twenties. He was first with Paramount, and later in the late nineteen thirties moved to Columbia Pictures where he remained from 1936 until 1962. He was conductor, arranger, composer, and musical director for the studio. He won the Academy Award three times - "Cover Girl" in 1944, "The Jolson Story" two years later ( in which he had an on screen moment as an orchestra leader) , and "Song Without End" in 1960. All told Stoloff was nominated for an Oscar eighteen times. He was a musical director for four hundred ( ! ) films beginning with "Craig's Wife" in 1936. Other noteworthy film scores by Stoloff include "The Eddy Duchin Story", the original "Gidget", and "The Last Angry Man". He left Columbia Pictures in 1962 to become musical director for Frank Sinatra's new record label Reprise Records. His version of "Moonglow And The Theme From Picnic" for Decca ( #29888) was a million seller and spent an incredible twenty seven weeks on the best seller lists to become one of the big hits of the fifties. Morris Stoloff passed away in 1980.

George Cates was the other recording artist who hit the top with the combination melodies. Cates was born in New York City in 1911, and had an interest in music from a young age. He graduated from New York University and by the early nineteen forties he was an accomplished arranger, conductor, and producer. He worked with the comedy team of Olsen & Johnson and their long running Broadway revue "Hellzapoppin". He also played saxophone in the bands of Henry Busse, Dick Stabile, and Russ Morgan. He worked for Decca and its subsidiary label Coral Records, and also for a time with Dot Records. He worked with Bing Crosby, Teresa Brewer, the Andrews Sisters, Champ Butler, Steve Allen, and Pat Boone. His version of "Moonglow And The Theme From Picnic" for Coral # 61618 also sold more than a million copies and got to number two for a month and remained on the hit parade charts for five and a half months. Cates also became the musical director for the Lawrence Welk television show for many years from the late fifties until the last show in 1983. He was the composer of two of the Welk theme songs - "Champagne Fanfare" and "Champagne Time". Two somewhat strange recordings are also part of the George Cates story. The first is an LP for Dot Records called "Polynesian Percussion" which is somewhat in the style of Martin Denny (space age lounge music) and in the same category there exists a record for Coral ( # 1149) called "The Space Man" featuring the most oddball group to record together - Alan Freed, Steve Allen, Al "Jazzbo" Collins, The Modernaires, and George Cates & His Out Of Spacers. Top that one if you can. George Cates was certainly a well rounded musician who had his one shot at the top of the pops. Cates passed away in May of 2002.

Both men were obviously accomplished musicians of the first order. They both had distinguished careers in their chosen field. Their paths crossed on the strength of one record which became a huge success for both, and then they returned to their chosen field of endeavor and are remembered by those familiar with their work. It was nice that for one moment both were in the forefront of popular music and everyone knew their names.

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