Sunday, 16 May 2010

Lee Roberts and J. Will Callahan Smiles

Dick's eye falls on an old dusty American jazz record, of the tune. Tender Is The Night - a film script by Malcolm Lowry

One of the things I like about Malc's film script for Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night is that it is littered with references to films and jazz music which give us an insight into Lowry's cinema and jazz favourites.

Smiles was written by Lee Roberts and J. Will Callahan in 1917 and was recorded by a number of artists including Campbell and Burr on Columbia.

I have yet to find a definitive list of who recorded the tune. A more jazzy foxtrot version can be heard here:

Joseph C.Smith's Orchestra Smiles RCA Victor 1918

The above contains some great photos of old gramophones which also fits in with the scene painted by Lowry:

In the corner, the camera sees an old fashioned gramophone with a horn. Tender Is The Night - a film script by Malcolm Lowry

You can read an account of how Roberts and Callahan wrote the song here:

The Rotarian July 1951 Page 51

The most famous version of the song was sung by Helen "Smiles" Davis. Her career as an entertainer began before World War I. Soon after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, General Pershing issued a call for performers to travel to Europe to entertain American troops. Helene was among those selected to go. As a dancer and singer, she took with her several current tunes, including one so new that it had not been published. She took a lead sheet written in pencil with just single notes of "Smiles." She sang it for the troops and for the rest of her life was known as "Smiles."

There was even a version by the The United States Army Ambulance Service Jazz Band. This has a certain resonance given that Dick was a captain in the Us Army Medical Corps in the novel!

An early version I like the most is this one I found at the UC Santa Barbara Library's Cylinder Preservation and Digitisation project by Harmony Four:

The Harmony Four on Edison Blue Amberol

Here are the lyrics to the song so you can sing along:

Verse: 1

Dearie, now I know
Just what makes me love you so,
Just what holds me and enfolds me
In its golden glow;
Dearie, now I see
’Tis each smile so bright and free,
For life’s sadness turns to gladness
When you smile on me.

[sung twice after each verse]

There are smiles that make us happy,
There are smiles that make us blue,
There ae smiles that steal away the tear-drops,
As the sunbeams steal away the dew,
There are smiles that have a tender meaning
That the eyes of love alone may see,
And the smiles that fill my life with sunshine
Are the smiles that you give to me.

Verse 2:

Dearie, when you smile
Ev’ry thing in life’s worth while,
Love grows fonder as we wander
Down each magic mile;
Cheery melodies
Seem to float upon the breeze,
Doves are cooing while they’re wooing
In the leafy trees.

(CHORUS 2 times)

The song also featured in the famous The Passing of 1918 show.

The Passing Show of 1918 was a Broadway musical revue which opened in the Winter Garden Theater on July 25, 1918. Playing for 142 performances, it closed on November 9 of the same year. The show was produced by Lee and Jacob J. Shubert.

The show featured music of Sigmund Romberg and Jean Schwartz with book and lyrics by Harold Atteridge. It is noted as an early appearance of Fred Astaire and the debut of the hit songs I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles and Smiles.

Apparently, the song has featured in at least 25 films to date. Lowry probably knew the song from when he was a youth but it is also possible given that he is including the song in the film script that he had a movie in mind. The song features in the 1939 Rose Of Washington Square and the 1943 Is Everybody Happy?

It is more than likely that if Lowry had a film in mind then it would have been Rose Of Washington Square as another record that Dick looks at in the film script is Japanese Sandman which is featured in the same film.


  1. My father has an original movie poster of the top photo, "Smiles". Any idea of it's value? Condition is not new and not junk.

  2. Bells Of Memory by Slim Whitman was written by
    Lee Roberts and J. Will Callahan. Poor Little Angeline by Slim Whitman was originally another
    Jazz song.