Since Twentieth Century-Fox could not make a film version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Oklahoma! in 1945 because that particular Broadway musical would remain a “hot ticket item” until near the end of the decade. The production ran for 2,212 performances, finally closing on 29 May 1948. That being the case, the studio did the next best thing. They hired Rodgers and Hammerstein to pen the score for State Fair, Fox’s remake of the non-musical film of Philip Duffield Strong’s 1933 novel, State Fair. Directed by Walter Lang, the film starred Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers in the leads and was an Oscar© nomination for Best Picture in 1933.
The 1945 musical remake downplayed the older characters in favor of the younger members of the cast. Set during the annual Iowa State Fair, the story concentrates on the Frake family. Each family member has his own reason for attending the fair: Abel Frake (Charles Winninger) intends to win the blue ribbon with “Blue Boy,” his prize hog. Melissa Frake (Fay Bainter) hopes to defeat her longtime snooty rival in the food contest. She wins when the judges become intoxicated on the alcohol in her entry. Margy Frake (Jeanne Crain) falls in love with fast-talking journalist Pat Gilbert (Dana Andrews), and Wayne Frake (Dick Haymes) woos footloose and fancy-free vocalist Emily Edwards (Vivian Blaine). Even Abel’s prize hog “Blue Boy” perks up when he sees the sow in the next judging pen!
Though the film follows the time-honored template of musicals in the 1940s, this musical foreshadows the rest of the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon and demonstrates the undetectable complexity of pure narrative songwriting. The story is simple enough and Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote only six songs for the film. But those six songs were so well placed that no one felt shortchanged. For example, It Might As Well Be Spring is arguably one of the finest songs that Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote and it deservedly won the Oscar© for Best Song in 1945. It is a perfect marriage of melodic line and lyric. Just listen to Rodgers’ twitchy melody on Hammerstein’s lyrical line “jumpy as a puppet on a string” and you hear the genius that was Rodgers and Hammerstein.
State Fair may not be one of the all-time great musicals, but it is one of the tenderest and sweetest ones that has ever come to the silver screen. State Fair is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written directly for film rather than for the stage. It is not about spectacle or riches; it is about family and the lives of everyday people. Not much happens in the film, at least not in terms of action, but emotionally, we run through what feels like a lifetime of emotions and every one of them is as sweet and as sincere as the last.
Living the small-time life causes young Margy to yearn for more. She is in a melancholy mood, singing It Might As Well Be Spring, as she packs for the Iowa State Fair. She muses about how the fair will at least give her a break from seeing and doing the same old things every day on the farm. She has the affection of a kind, but extremely boring young man, Harry Ware (Phil Brown) who she is expected to marry one day and live the same life her mother does. Of her life and her boring beau, Margy sings:
The things I used to like
I don’t like anymore.
I want a lot of other things
I’ve never had before.
It’s just like mother says…
I sit around and mope.
Pretending I am wonderful.
And knowing I’m a dope.
I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm,
I’m as jumpy as a puppet on a string.
I’d say that I had spring fever,
But I know it isn’t spring.
I’m starry-eyed and vaguely discontented
Like a nightingale without a song to sing.
Oh, why should I have spring fever
When it isn’t even spring?
I keep wishing I were somewhere else,
Walking down a strange new street.
Hearing words that I have never heard
From a man I’ve yet to meet.
I’m as busy as a spider spinning daydreams,
I’m as giddy as a baby on a swing.
I haven’t seen a crocus or a rosebud
Or a robin on the wing.
But I feel so gay,
In a melancholy way,
That it might as well be spring,
It might as well be spring.
I keep wishing I were somewhere else
Walking down a strange new street
Hearing words that I have never heard
From a man I’ve yet to meet.
He would be a kind of handsome combination
Of Ronald Coleman, Charles Boyer and Bing…
(Voices or sound-alikes of Coleman, Boyer, and Crosby are heard)
In our air-conditioned, patent leather farmhouse,
On our ultra-modern, scientific farm,
We’ll live in a stream-lined heaven,
And we’ll waste no time on charm!
No geraniums to clutter our veranda,
Nor single little sentimental things,
No Virginia Creepers, nothing useless!
The film helped make the naturally beautiful Jeanne Crain a star. No wonder, what with those very generous close-ups of her singing. While her voice was dubbed by Louanne Hogan, she does a very good job of acting the songs, especially the song that introduces her and her indecisive character, It Might As Well Be Spring.
The film was remade in 1962 with the same title, this time starring Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, Ann-Margret, Tom Ewell, Pamela Tiffin and Alice Faye. While the stage musical, 1933 and 1945 film were set at the Iowa State Fair, the 1962 version was filmed in Dallas, Texas, where the State Fair of Texas takes place every year in Fair Park.
Though his writing partner, Oscar Hammerstein II died in 1960, Richard Rodgers wrote additional songs, both the music and the lyrics, for this film version that included Never Say No To A Man, Willing And Eager, This Isn’t Heaven, The Little Things In Texas, and More Than Just A Friend. All of these Richard Rodgers songs are easily forgettable.
But not the original and enduring It Might As Well Be Spring.
Of the recordings of It Might As Well Be Spring, three versions reached the Billboard charts. Dick Haymes, the original Wayne Frake, made the first hit recording of the song, His recording reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on 8 November 1945 and lasted 12 weeks on the chart, peaking at #5.
The recording by Paul Weston/Margaret Whiting reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on 22 November 1945 and lasted 6 weeks on the chart, peaking at #6.
The recording by Sammy Kaye reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on 20 December 1945 and lasted 4 weeks on the chart, peaking at #8.
Through the years, there have been other significant recordings that have contributed to the song being considered a “Standard” in both the pop and the jazz fields. A partial list artists that have produced significant recordings of this song include Shirley Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone (on her first album entitled The Amazing Nina Simone, Blossom Dearie (in French) on her Blossom Dearie album, Julie Andrews, Ray Conniff and his Orchestra and Chorus, Andy Williams, Jane Monheit, and Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio.
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Dick Haymes, Victor Young and his Orchestra It Might As Well Be Spring
Paul Weston and his Orchestra, vocals by Margaret Whiting It Might As Well Be Spring
(Swing and Sway with) Sammy Kaye, vocals by Billy Williams It Might as Well Be Spring
OTHER SIGNIFICANT REPRESENTATIVE RECORDINGS:
Shirley Bassey It Might As Well Be Spring
Ella Fitzgerald It Might As Well Be Spring
Sarah Vaughan It Might As Well Be Spring
Nina Simone It Might As Well Be Spring
Blossom Dearie (in French) It Might As Well Be Spring
Julie Andrews It Might As Well Be Spring
Ray Conniff and his Orchestra and Chorus It Might As Well Be Spring
Andy Williams It Might as Well Be Spring
Jane Monheit (performs the song as an up-tempo swing waltz on Live at the Rainbow Room) It Might As Well Be Spring
Brad Mehldau and his trio in a version that runs at about 280 beats per minute in a 7-in-a-bar meter. (The shorter version at the same tempo and meter, without improvised solos but with an extended improvised coda on the turnaround is heard here.) It Might As Well Be Spring
From the 1945 soundtrack of State Fair
Jeanne Crain (voice dubbed by Louanne Hogan) It Might As Well Be Spring
Jeanne Crain (voice dubbed by Louanne Hogan: Reprise I) It Might As Well Be Spring: Reprise I
Jeanne Crain (voice dubbed by Louanne Hogan: Reprise II) It Might As Well Be Spring: Reprise II
From the 1962 soundtrack of State Fair
Pamela Tiffin (voice dubbed by Anita Gordon) It Might As Well Be Spring (1962)