Friday, 27 August 2010

The Whiffenpoof Song

Malcolm Lowry refers twice to the above song in his film script for the Scott Fitzgerald novel Tender Is the Night.

The first time is when Dick Divers the hero of Tender Is the Night returns to his hotel bedroom:

Exhausted, he lies down on the bed, burying his face in his hands. Instantly dissolves into a terrible nightmare that lasts about five seconds, during which we hear a snatch of the whiffenpoof song.... The Cinema of Malcolm Lowry "Tender Is the Night" Edited by Miguel Mota and Paul Tiessen.

Later, the song reoccurs on the sound track to the proposed film during Dick's drunken binge in Rome.

The Whiffenpoofs were a Yale University singing group, founded in 1909 and named after the imaginary beast. Dick Divers would have known the song as he was an alumini of Yale.

According to Whiffenpoof historian James M. Howard:

"It was Goat Fowler who suggested we call ourselves The Whiffenpoofs. He had been tickled by the patter of one of the characters in a Victor Herbert musical comedy called "Little Nemo" which recently been running on Broadway. In a scene in which there was great boasting of terrific exploits in big game hunting and fishing, comedian Joseph Cawthorne told a fantastic tale of how he had caught a Whiffenpoof fish. It seems that Cawthorn had coined the word some years before when he and a fellow actor were amusing themselves by making up nonsense verses. One they particularly liked began: "A drivaling grilyal yandled its flail, One day by a Whiffenpoof's grave." Cawthorn recalled the verse in making up his patter for "Little Nemo" and put it into his act.

Whether the word meant fish, flesh or fowl was irrelevant to our purpose when we chose it as our name. "Whiffenpoof" fitted in with our mood of free and exuberant fancy and it was adopted with enthusiasm."
Read more on Wikipedia

The group admired a musical setting of Rudyard Kipling's poem, "Gentlemen-Rankers," that was performed by another Yale singing group, and adapted its lyrics to create The Whiffenpoof Song.

You can read a full history of the group on the Whiffenpoof Alumini pages.

This is one of the many songs that I will be featuring at the The Lowry Lounge on 29th October 2010.

The Whiffenpoofs are still active and have a Facebook page.

The song later became a hit for Rudy Valle in 1927:

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