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Archive for Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TCM fetes music’s Huckleberry Friend

November 4, 2009

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Executive producer and lifelong jazz enthusiast Clint Eastwood presents “Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s On Me” (7 p.m., TCM), a profile and appreciation of one of the most prolific lyricists of the 20th century.

Born to a pedigreed Georgia family a century ago this year, Mercer is best known to the casual fan as the man who wrote the words to “Moon River.” But as “Dream’s” demonstrates, he wrote an astounding number of popular songs that have become part of the great American songbook, interpreted by artists including Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Pearl Bailey, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra — all seen here.

Director and producer Bruce Ricker (“Tony Bennett: The Music Never Stops,” “Last of the Blue Devils”) has spent decades making films about jazz and is particularly adept at finding remarkable performance footage from old newsreels, classic films, home movies and TV shows. The result is a visual Niagara of performance and interview clips featuring Mercer at various stages of his life and interpretations of his songs by many of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

The film’s presentation of one darn clip after another mirrors and accentuates Mercer’s phenomenal output and influence. You’ll find yourself uttering “I didn’t know he wrote THAT!” over and over again as you see performances of “Hooray for Hollywood,” “That Old Black Magic” “Blues in the Night,” “One for My Baby,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Laura,” “Skylark,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Moon River” and too many other favorites to mention.

From the 1930s through the 1970s, Mercer’s collaborators included Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini and John Williams, contributing to more than 100 movies. Mercer received four Academy Awards and 16 nominations.

Written for the 1961 adaptation of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the song “Moon River” arrives like an elegy for a passing scene. You clearly get the sense that musical tastes have changed. By the mid-1960s, the popular American songbook was all but eclipsed by rock-and-roll artists, most notably the Beatles, whose records were released in America on the Capitol label, a company founded and nurtured by Johnny Mercer.

Mercer died in 1976, not long after making a series of retrospective TV specials recalled in this remarkable little film. Like a good musical, “The Dream’s On Me” will leave you humming tunes for days or weeks to come. Or if you’re really lucky, a lifetime.

• Another major star and celebrated champion of jazz gets his due on “Bill Cosby: The Mark Twain Prize” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings), a Kennedy Center salute to the comic and a review of his career.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Veronica’s double life begins to unravel on “Mercy” (7 p.m. NBC), recently picked up for a full season run.

• The Phillies and Yankees meet in game six of the World Series (7 p.m., Fox).

• A game show becomes the event of a lifetime in director Danny Boyle’s 2008 triumph “Slumdog Millionaire” (7 p.m., HBO).

• Good fencing makes for good neighbors on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC)

• Software malfunctions on “CSI: NY” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Roxie goes on a mission for Chad on “Eastwick” (9 p.m., ABC)

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