Johnny Green shares a name with Greenhaven, NY; Green Court of Mount Vernon; Green Farms of Scarsdale; Green Gardens of Greenwich Village; the Green Terminal Building; the Green Exchange Building; and the Green Industrial Corporation for the simple reason that his father Vivian Green had a role in bringing them all about.
Vivian Green was a hugely successful New York developer whose life “was actuated less by a desire to win acclaim and amass wealth than by the desire to do worthwhile things that would make people happier and give them more attractive environments to live in.” Along the way, SPOILER, he did indeed amass wealth.
The 14-year-old Johnny would somehow get to meet George Gershwin at a party in 1922 and show off his piano playing proficiency by playing a Gershwin tune to a 23-year-old Gershwin. The two became friends and Green became another in a long line of musicians whom Gershwin encouraged and guided.
After Johnny graduated from Harvard with a degree in history, government, and economics, his father Vivian compelled Johnny to become a stockboker’s clerk, saying, “There’ll be no &#%@ songwriters in this family!” After six months on Wall Street, Johnny finally had to break the news to his father — with his mentor George Gershwin evidently also making the case to Vivian on the wisdom of Johnny’s career move and vouching for Johnny’s prodigious musical talent — that Wall Street was NOT for him and that music was his destiny.
Real estate magnate Vivian, who himnself was a skilled pianist, went on to warn his son Johnny:
“There is no bum like a pretty good artist, and you’re a pretty good artist.”
By age 20, Johnny Green had a major hit with his song “Coquette,” and would go on to quite a glorious musical career as a composer, arranger, pianist, and conductor with 14 Academy Award nominations (including an Oscar Best Score win for the movie An American in Paris) and hits like “Body and Soul” and “I Cover the Waterfront,” among many others.
“Rain, Rain, Go Away!” was a 1932 song that Green composed with lyrics by Edward Heyman and Mack David that used the old “Rain, Rain, Go Away” nursery rhyme as its basis. It was recorded by the orchestras of Lew Stone (with Al Bowlly on vocals), Jerry Kruger, Bob Causer, and Phil Harris.
Download the PDF of the simplified sheet music to “Rain, Rain, Go Away” here:
Described by Paul Harrison in his In New York column as “handsome, affable, and thoroughly modest,” Johnny Green also came across as reminding Harrison of Gershwin. He continued, “And his music, it’s said, even reminds Mr. Gershwin of Gershwin.”
Green would not regret having left the stockbroker business (just months before the crash of ’29), but toward the end of his life he did voice one regret:
“It’s regrettable that I spent all those years — and, far from incidentally, made all that money! — slaving over other people’s music instead of creating my own.”
So Johnny earned his own green, without living off his dad’s, but ended up being green otoward composers who spent even more of their lives composing. How upset would Vivian Green be over that!?!
Lyrics to “Rain, Rain, Go Away” by Edward Heyman and Mack David:
Pitter patter, pitter patter. Listen to the rain.
Pitter patter, pitter patter. There it goes again.
It’s getting late. It’s after eight. Oh what am I to do?
I’ve got a date and what a date! Oh rain, I’m begging you.
Rain, rain, go away! Come again some other day.
Let the moon come out and play tonight.
Rain, rain, go away! Though you took the sun away.
Don’t you take my fun away tonight.
If you were I, you’d want a sweet romance.
If I were you, I’d give a guy a chance.
Rain, rain, go away! On a sunbeam stowaway.
Make a lover’s holiday tonight.