Friday, February 15, 2013

"If I Had My Life to Live Over"

By Chet Williamson

Henry Tobias was the youngest of three songwriting brothers, who were known as the Royal Family or Esquires of Tin Pan Alley. 

Born in Worcester and raised at 79 Harrison Street (second floor of the three-decker), he was a notable songwriter and pianist, who with his brothers, Charlie and Harry, wrote thousands of songs.

Henry Tobias’ career spanned more than eight decades. As music writer Warren W. Vache points out in his book, The Unsung Songwriters, America’s Masters of Melody, Tobias performed as a pianist in vaudeville, wrote special material (including a song to save former president Richard Nixon from impeachment) for stars of stage and radio, and for nightclubs and theater. 

“As a songwriter he often wrote the music to others’ lyrics. This is true of his first published song, “Katinka,” written in 1926,” Vache said.

“My early recollections of my introduction to popular music were writing amateur lyrics or parodies to popular songs of the day when I was still in my teens in Worcester,” Tobias said. “I guess I inherited the song strain from the days I went on amateur night at the old Poli Theatre in Worcester.

“After graduation from grammar school my high school education continued when I joined a musical stock company through
New England selling songs between acts … 

Eddie Cantor

“While on one of those demonstrating safaris, I went along with my cousin, Eddie Cantor, and prevailed on him to sing one of my songs in his act. The title of the song was ‘I’d Love to Be in Ireland, the Day They Set Old Ireland Free.’ Naturally, I had the opportunity to watch Eddie perform at every show,” Tobias said. 

In addition to his own musical endeavors, Tobias was the social director and master of ceremonies at such famous Catskill resorts as Grossinger’s and Totem Lodge, as well as Fountainbleau, Eden Roc and Diplomat hotels in Florida.
Grossinger's, 1959

He is also the author of two books, The Borscht Belt with Joey Adams and his autobiography Music In My Heart and Borscht in My Blood.

He penned a series of theme songs such as “Here Comes the Berle” for Milton Berle, “And Away We Go” for Jackie Gleason, and “Our Sunday Serenade,” for Sammy Kaye.  

Cousin, Eddie Cantor

   As told to T&G writer James Lee: “Undoubtedly the most important influence in my life was Eddie Cantor. He was married to my first cousin Ida Tobias Cantor. I was only 10 years old, when I heard that cousin Ida had married a skinny pop-eyed vaudeville actor. 
   She wrote that Eddie was going to appear at the Poli Theater in WorcesterMass., where I was born and where we lived. We were told that he planned to pay us a visit. 
   In those days the parlor was only used for special occasions such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals and in the event we had a distinguished visitor or important relative. Eddie Cantor was our first celebrity. The moment he knocked on the door and stepped inside the parlor, I fell in love with this dynamic personality.
   My mother (whom he afterwards affectionately called Aunt Min) was excited and greeted him royally, Eddie was always the life of the party and was always on, as they say in show biz. Mom had her precious dishes hanging on the wall of the parlor. We were always warned never to touch or go near them for fear we would break them. Eddie grabbed two of them. “I’ll never forget his big trick. He would place the plate on his bent elbow and let go. Just as it was about to crash on the floor he would grab it and yell. Mom screamed in dismay, but when he caught it and laughed, we all laughed along. 
   He invited the entire family to be his guests at the evening performance at Poli’s. We all went and sat in a box. If you think Eddie had pop-eyes you should have seen my eyes pop when Eddie introduced us from the stage. 
   Result of all this: I was bitten by the show biz bug and determined to be part of it in some way or other. After Eddie left Worcester I started learning one of his songs, ‘I’m Hungry for Beautiful Girls,’ and the next year I entered Poli’s amateur contest and won $2 for second prize imitating Eddie Cantor. I was hooked and became a confirmed ham.” 
Henry at the piano with one of his first bands

STANDARD: “Miss You” (1929)

Writers: Henry Tobias, Charles Tobias, Harry Tobias

Written collectively by three of the songwriting brothers, "Miss You," was first published by Santly Bros. Inc., New York, in 1929. It was first introduced by Rudy Vallee. Billboard Magazine writer Jack Burton describes the song as one that has “worn well over the years and has become a recognized standard.” 

That was in 1950. Unfortunately, in the years since, it has not fared as well. Its vintage sound and sentiment immediately evokes a bygone era. Though each had prolific careers, “Miss You” is one of the few songs that the Tobias boys wrote together. It was revived in 1959 by singer Jaye P. Morgan and charted at #78 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The song has also appeared in the films of Come Back to The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean and most recently, Atonement.

Performers of the song, “Miss You” include: Nat Cole, Ray Conniff, Bing Crosby, Les Elgart, Bill Haley, Eddie Howard, Sammy Kaye, Wayne King, Freddy Martin, the McGuire Sisters, the Mills Brothers, Art Mooney, Boots Randolf, Dinah Shore, Rudy Valle, Dinah Washington, and Jimmy Young.  


“If I Had My Life To Live Over” – sung by Lou Rawls

Lou Rawls

“Sleep Song” – performed by Glenn Miller


“Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love” – Fanny Brice

“I Remember Mama” – sung by the Gutierrez Sisters

“May I Have the Next Dream With You” – Jerry Vale

“Passover Time on the Range” – Bernie Knee

And, “Hello Sunshine Hello” (Eddie Cantor), “I Used to Be Her One and Only” (Sammy Kaye), “Roses” (Jean Goldkette), “Katinka” (Vaughn Monroe), “I’m Winging Home (Paul Whiteman), “Moon on My Pillow” (Jimmy Dorsey), “That Day in June” (Jim Miller)

Other Songs by Henry Tobias include: “Along Comes Love,” “At Last” (Not the Harry Warren classic of the same name), “The Bowling Song,” “Brother,” “Bicycle Song,” “Drifiting,” “Easter Sunday with You, Brother,” “Gazing at the Blazing Fire,” “Got a Big Date with a Little Girl,” “Hang in There Mr. President,” “Hello Sunshine Hello,” “If I Had a Lover,” “If I Knew Then,” “Let’s Go Skiing,” “A Man Needs to Know,” “Moon on My Pillow,” “Never Resent Growing Old,” “No Longer,” “The Old Square Dance is Back Again,” “Pretty Little Thing,” “Rolleo Rolling Along,” “Roses,” “Sweet Pete Rose,” “Then Came the Indians,” “A Thousand Times A Day,” “The Wedding of the Birds,” “We’ve Just Begun to Fight,” “Without Your Love,” “You’re Not Fooling Anyone but Yourself,” and “You Walked Out of the Picture.”


Milton Berle, Judy and Zeke Canova, Eddie Cantor, Al Dubin, Moe Jaffe, Charles Kisko, Al Lewis, Sam Lewis, Ballard MacDonald, David Oppenheimer, Don Reid, Billy Rose, Bennee Russell, Frank Silver, Jack Stern, Charles Tobias, Harry Tobias, and Larry Vincent.

Moe Jaffe
Quotes: “Up until I was about 10 years-old, nothing unusual happened that I can remember other than that I led a very normal kid’s life – going to Providence Street School, living on the top of the hill near the Worcester Academy, enjoying the usual children’s pleasures…. My life has been so closely associated with show business that my memories really start with the first day I faced an audience. I was only nine years-old and, like other kids attending Hebrew School, I had to recite a poem in my synagogue at the foot of Providence Street Hill. I chose the 23rd Psalm, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd.’ That was my first appearance before an audience. I was petrified.”

DOB: April 23, 1905 (Worcester)
DOD: December 5, 1997 (Los Angeles)     


This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome. Also see:

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