The “Iffy-ness” of a Love

saturday night

If I Loved You is a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel.

The song was introduced in Carousel by John Raitt as “Billy Bigelow” and Jan Clayton as “Julie Jordan.” The song was performed in the 1956 Carousel (film) version by Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. Carousel was the second musical by the team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics). The 1945 work was adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s 1909 play Liliom, transplanting its Budapest setting to the Maine coastline.

In the show, the characters of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan sing this song as they hesitantly declare their love for one another, yet are too shy to express their true feelings.
If I loved you, time and again I would try to say
All I’d want you to know
If I loved you, words wouldn’t come in an easy way
`Round in circles I’d go
Longin’ to tell you but, afraid and shy,
I’d let my golden chances pass me by

Soon you’d leave me, off you would go in the mist of day
Never, never to know
How I love you, if I loved you

The song was inspired by lines of dialogue entirely drawn from Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom, the source material for the musical. The twelve-minute “bench scene,” as it is called, in which Billy and Julie get to know each other while sitting on a park bench and which culminates with the song, If I Loved You is considered to be one of the most completely integrated pieces of music-drama in the American musical theatre and probably the single most important moment in the evolution of contemporary musicals.
Here is the dialogue from Liliom upon which the song is based:
Do you love me?

No, Mister Liliom.

Then why do you stay here with me?


Um nothing. [There is a pause. The music from afar is plainly heard.]

Want to dance?

No. I have to be very careful.

Of what?

My character.



Because I’m never going to marry. If I was going to marry, it would be different. Then I wouldn’t need to worry so much about my character. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re married. But I shan’t marry and that’s why I’ve got to take care to be a respectable girl.

Suppose I were to say to you I’ll marry you.



That frightens you, doesn’t it? You’re thinking of what the officer said and you’re afraid.


No, I’m not, Mister Liliom. I don’t pay any attention to what he said.


But you wouldn’t dare to marry anyone like me, would you?


I know that that if I loved anyone it wouldn’t make any difference to me what he even if I died for it.


But you wouldn’t marry a rough guy like me that is, eh if you loved me


Yes, I would if I loved you, Mister Liliom. [There is a pause.]


[Whispers.] Well, you just said didn’t you that you don’t love me? Well, why don’t you go home then?

It’s too late now, they’d all be asleep.

Locked out?

[They are silent a while.]


I think that even a low-down good-for-nothing can make a man of himself.


[They are silent again. A lamp- lighter crosses the stage, lights the lamp over the bench, and exits.]

Are you hungry?

No. [Another pause.]


Suppose you had some money and I took it from you?

Then you could take it, that’s all.


[After another brief silence.] All I have to do is go back to her that Muskat woman she’ll be glad to get me back then I’d be earning my wages again.
[Julie is silent. The twilight folds darker about them.]


[Very softly.] Don’t go back to her [Pause.]


There are a lot of acacia trees ‘round here. [Pause.]

Don’t go back to her [Pause.]


She’d take me back the minute I asked her. I know why she knows, too [Pause.]


I can smell them, too acacia blossoms
[There is a pause. Some blossoms drift down from the tree-top to the bench. Liliom picks one up and smells it.]

White acacias!


[After a brief pause.] The wind brings them down.
[They are silent. There is a long pause as before]

Except for the ending, the plots of Liliom and Carousel are very similar. Consider the plot lines of the two works.

In Molnár’s Liliom, Andreas Zavocky (nicknamed Liliom, the Hungarian word for “lily,” a slang term for “tough guy”), is a carnival barker who falls in love with Julie Zeller, a servant girl, and they begin living together. With both discharged from their jobs, Liliom is discontented and contemplates leaving Julie, but decides not to do so upon learning that she is pregnant. Desperate to make money so that he, Julie and their child can escape to America and a better life, Liliom conspires with a scoundrel named Ficsur to commit a robbery. The robbery goes badly, and during the crime, Liliom stabs himself. He dies, and his spirit is taken to heaven’s police court. As Ficsur told Liliom while the two waited to commit the crime, would-be robbers like the two of them do not come before the Highest Judge of All – God Himself. Liliom is told by the magistrate that he may go back to Earth for one day to attempt to redeem himself of the wrongs he has done to his family, but first he must spend sixteen years in a fiery purgatory.

On his return to Earth sixteen years later, Liliom encounters his daughter, Louise, who like her mother is now a factory worker. Saying that he knew her father, he tries to give her a star he stole from heaven. When Louise refuses to take it, he strikes her. Not realizing who he is, Julie confronts him, but finds herself unable to be angry with him. Liliom is ushered off to his fate – presumably Hell – and Louise asks her mother if it is possible to feel a hard slap as if it were a kiss. Julie reminiscently tells her daughter that it is very possible for that to happen.

The "Bench Scene" from Liliom, starring Madeleine Ozeray and Charles Boyer (France, 1934)

The “Bench Scene” from Liliom, starring Madeleine Ozeray and Charles Boyer (France, 1934)

In Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, the story revolves around carousel barker Billy Bigelow and millworker Julie Jordan. Two young female millworkers in 1873 Maine visit the town’s carousel after work. One of them, Julie Jordan, attracts the attention of the barker, Billy Bigelow. When Julie lets Billy put his arm around her during the ride, Mrs. Mullin, the widowed owner of the carousel, tells Julie never to return. Julie and her friend, Carrie Pipperidge, argue with Mrs. Mullin. Billy arrives and, seeing that Mrs. Mullin is jealous, mocks her; he is fired from his job. Billy, unconcerned, invites Julie to join him for a drink. As he goes to get his belongings, Carrie presses Julie about her feelings toward him, but Julie is evasive. Carrie has a beau too, fisherman Enoch Snow, to whom she is newly engaged. Billy returns for Julie as the departing Carrie warns that staying out late means the loss of Julie’s job. Mr. Bascombe, owner of the mill, happens by along with a policeman, and offers to escort Julie to her home, but she refuses and is fired. Left alone, she and Billy talk about what life might be like if they were in love, but neither quite confesses to the growing attraction they feel for each other. It is here that the song, If I Loved You is introduced.

A month later, the townsfolk are preparing for a summer clambake with Julie’s cousin Nettie Fowler. Julie and Billy are now married and live with Nettie, but Julie confides in Carrie that Billy has hit her, Carrie is more smitten with her love life, introducing Mister Snow to the girls. Billy is rude to both Enoch Snow and Carrie and goes off with the despicable Jigger Craigin, much to Julie’s dismay.

At the shipyard, Jigger and his shipmates sing about their life on the sea. He tries to recruit the unemployed Billy to assist with a robbery that he thinks will make them a lot of money. Billy is unsure as it may involve the killing of Julie’s ex-boss, Mr. Bascombe. Mrs Mullin reappears to tempt Billy back to the Carousel, but he turns her down. Julie tells him that she is pregnant and Billy is instantly happy. He contemplates life with his future son, er, or daughter, as the case may be. Everyone prepares to attend a clambake and Billy decides to join Julie, so he can carry out the robbery with Jigger.

At the clambake, Jigger makes an effort to be noticed ahead of the robbery and flirts with Carrie as Enoch finds them in a compromising position. The girls attempt to calm Carrie down and Julie gives them her philosophy on love. As the treasure hunt begins, Billy and Jigger return to shore to plan the robbery. They pass the time playing cards and staking a claim at the money they are about to steal. The robbery goes very wrong and Mr. Bascombe pulls out a gun to use on Jigger, who gets away. To escape punishment, Billy stabs himself just in time for Julie to enter and speak to him one final time. As everyone returns from the clambake, Julie is left alone with the dead Billy and Nettie Fowler helps her in her hour of need.

Billy is greeted by a Starkeeper who takes him to heaven. The Starkeeper tells Billy that he did not do enough good to get into heaven, but can still return to earth for one day to redeem himself. Fifteen years have passed in a flash and he tells Billy he should return to earth to help his daughter Louise. Looking down from “up there” Billy sees Louise alone on the beach, lonely and bitter, being taunted by the children of Carrie and Enoch. Billy steals a star before deciding to help her on earth.

Julie is visited by Carrie and her perfect family who tell her about their recent trip to New York. Their oldest son tries to flirt with Louise, but she is mean to him and he taunts her about her father. Louise is angry, and Billy lets himself be seen, startling her on her porch. He offers her the star, but loses his temper, slapping her after she refuses to take it. She runs to get her mother as Billy requests to be made invisible. Louise asks if it is possible to be hit and not feel a thing, and Julie tells her that it is.

At Louise’s graduation ceremony, the class is encouraged not to be held back by their parents or bask in their success, but instead to live for themselves. As the ensemble sings You’ll Never Walk Alone, Billy tells his daughter to believe in the words, and she reaches out to a classmate, determined not to live life as a loner. Billy tells Julie that he loves her and as they unite with a new power, Billy is granted access to heaven. The music then swells, we see “The End” flash on the screen, and we know that we have witnessed a beautiful love story with an almost happy ending.

The "Bench Scene" from Carousel, starring Jay Clayton and John Raitt (1945)

The “Bench Scene” from Carousel, starring Jan Clayton and John Raitt (1945)

Molnár’s ending was unsuitable for Rodgers and Hammerstein. After a couple of false starts, Hammerstein conceived the graduation scene that ends the musical. Rodgers explained his rationale for the changed ending, “Liliom was a tragedy about a man who cannot learn to live with other people. The way Molnár wrote it, the man ends up hitting his daughter and then having to go back to purgatory, leaving his daughter helpless and hopeless. We couldn’t accept that. The way we ended Carousel it may still be a tragedy but it’s a hopeful one because in the final scene it is clear that the child has at last learned how to express herself and communicate with others.” For those who needed a happier ending to the original Molnár play, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel filled the bill.

Of all the memorable songs from Carousel, only three made the Billboard charts: You’ll Never Walk Alone, June Is Bustin’ Out All Over and If I Loved You.

Here are three versions of If I Loved You from the cast albums and the movie soundtrack:
First, the John Raitt and Jan Clayton version from the 1945 original cast album of Carousel; If I Loved You
second, the John Raitt and Eileen Christy interpretation of the song, an extended version from the 1965 Lincoln Center Production of Carousel; If I Loved You
and lastly, the Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones handling of the song, from the 1956 motion picture version of Carousel.If I Loved You

The song has been recorded by many artists, four of which charted on the Billboard charts.
Perry Como, Russ Case and his Orchestra (#3) If I Loved You
Frank Sinatra, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra (#7) If I Loved You
Bing Crosby, John Scott Trotter and his Orchestra (#8) If I Loved You
Harry James and his Orchestra, vocals by Buddy DiVito (#8) If I Loved You

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Richard Rodgers and
Oscar Hammerstein II


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