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Smilin' Through
Written February 4, 2007


Mel Brooks and I must have learned from the same songbook.

That thought occurred to me while watching, on HBO, the movie version of the musical version of The Producers.  Mel wrote all the songs, both words and music.

The tunes are not bad, by the way.  For example, the friendship duet "'Til Him" near the end is one of those versatile Broadway melodies that can be taken out of context and sung as a ballad.

But my thought occurred while I was listening to Hitler sing "Heil Myself!"  It begins:

I was just a paperhanger,
     No one more obscurer.
Got a phone call from the Reichstag,
     Told me I was Führer!

Germany was blue.
Oh, oh, what to do?
     Hitched up my pants
     And conquered France;
Now Deutschland's smilin' through!

Smilin' through?  Why end the verse with a preposition?  Isn't the expression usually something like "smiling through the tears?"  Why use the preposition "through" at all, besides the fact that it completes the rhyme? 

Then I remembered a sentimental 1918 waltz song by Arthur Penn called, coincidentally enough, "Smilin' Through."  It goes like this:

There's a little brown road
Windin' over the hill
     To a little white cot by the sea;
There's a little green gate
At whose trellis I wait,
     While two eyes o' blue
     Come smilin' through
          At me.

There's a gray lock or two
In the brown of the hair,
     There's some silver in mine, too, I see;
But in all the long years
When the clouds brought their tears,
     Those two eyes o' blue
     Kept smiling' through
          At me.

I found that song in one of the Hits through the Years albums that my parents bought me when I was a young boy learning to play the piano.

Each book contains about 30 songs that were published by a particular Tin Pan Alley firm in the early 20th century.  This one was Witmark Hits through the Years, from M. Witmark & Sons. 

Did Mel Brooks remember the phase "smilin' through" from Arthur Penn's words on page 29, where blue eyes were smiling through the trellis of the gate?

And I recall
     A still stronger connection
Between Mel Brooks
     And this oldies collection.

On page 2 we find "Ma Blushin' Rosie," by Edgar Smith and John Stromberg from the year 1900.  It's written in a minstrel blackface dialect, beginning thus:

Dar's a colored bud ob beauty
     Dat I longs ter call ma bride,
An' dis coon am neber happy
     Les' his baby's by his side.

Of course, those lyrics could never be sung that way today, so we need to translate them into standard English, continuing thus:

Her baptismal name is Rosie,
     But she puts the rose to shame;
And 'most any night you'll hear me
     Call her name:

Rosie, you are my posy,
     You are my heart's bouquet.
Come out here in the moonlight;
     There's some fine sweet love I want to say.
Your honey man is waiting
     Those ruby lips to greet.
Don't be so aggravating,
     My blushing Rosie,
     My posy sweet.

Mel Brooks sang this odd old song, in the character of odd old Uncle Phil, on a television sitcom.  It was during the final season of Mad About You, in an episode that first aired on March 1, 1999.

In the scene, he was dancing.  He was singing to his dance partner/girlfriend, who was of course a character called Rosie. 

And Rosie was played by none other than my classmate at Syracuse, Edie McClurg!

(Here's Edie in a more recent guest role, in an episode of Campus Ladies that aired just this past Tuesday on the Oxygen network.)

So why did Mel choose to sing the odd old song?  Where had he learned it?  Who's to say he didn't find it on the pages of Witmark Hits through the Years?



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