Harpo Marx joins the extended family of Gershwin 100 artists with one of his few published songs, “Guardian Angels.” Harpo’s connection to George Gershwin appears to be lifelong. They both came up in New York City and on Broadway around the same time, knew many of the same people, considered each other friends, hung out together in Hollywood when both moved there, and Harpo tells of playing ping-pong with Gershwin in his autobiography, Harpo Speaks!. Harpo was also known to play his harp at George Gershwin gatherings in Hollywood.
Harpo’s mastery of the harp and piano are evident in his many films, so it’s not surprising that he would have the inclination to compose as well.
His lyricist for this song, Gerda Beilenson (1903-1985), was the wife of the Marx Brothers’ lawyer, Larry Beilenson, who also represented Ronald Reagan, Greta Garbo, Jimmy Stewart, and most importantly for our story, Mario Lanza. The Beilensons showed the song to Lanza and he ultimately recorded it on his Christmas album in 1951. Gerda went on to write lyrics for other songs such as “Dance The Hula In The Sea” and “My Christmas.” The song was also recorded by Harpo on his Harpo in Hi-Fi LP. More recently it was covered by Idina Menzel and Plácido Domingo and can be heard here. But I think you’ll prefer my more upbeat version as theirs, while well-sung, is a bit overwrought for my taste.
Download fake-book style sheet music to “Guardian Angels” here: Guardian Angels
And here is as harp only version because, well, do I have to explain that?
Lyrics to “Guardian Angels” by Gerda Beilenson
Guardian angels around my bed
joining me in my prayers.
They hush the shadows when they dance about.
They shoo away the bears.
Guardian angels to comfort me if I wake in the night.
They gather all my dreams.
Their halos are my light.
They dry my tears if I should weep.
They tuck me in.
They rouse me from my sleep.
Guardian angels around my bed,
standing by till I rise.
There’s one with shining wings who holds my hand
and shows me paradise.