A Song Is Born

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A Song Is Born
A Song is Born poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Written by Billy Wilder
Thomas Monroe
Harry Tugend (adaptation)
Starring Danny Kaye
Virginia Mayo
Benny Goodman
Tommy Dorsey
Louis Armstrong
Lionel Hampton
Charlie Barnet
Mel Powell
Steve Cochran
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Edited by Daniel Mandell
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • October 19, 1948 (1948-10-19)(Premiere-New York City) [1]
  • November 6, 1948 (1948-11-06)(U.S.) [1]
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.3 million [2]
Box office$2.4 million (US rentals) [3]

A Song Is Born (also known as That's Life) [4] is a 1948 Technicolor musical film remake of Howard Hawks' 1941 movie Ball of Fire with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. This version was also directed by Hawks, based on the story "From A to Z" by Billy Wilder and Thomas Monroe, adapted by Harry Tugend (uncredited) and produced by Samuel Goldwyn and released by RKO Radio Pictures.


Filmed in Technicolor, it featured a stellar supporting cast of musical legends, including Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman (with Al Hendrickson as cameo), Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Benny Carter. Other notable musicians playing themselves in the cast include Charlie Barnet (with Harry Babasin as cameo), Mel Powell, Louis Bellson, The Golden Gate Quartet, Russo and the Samba Kings, The Page Cavanaugh Trio, and Buck and Bubbles. Other actors include Steve Cochran and Hugh Herbert.


Mild-mannered Professor Hobart Frisbee (Danny Kaye) and his fellow academics, among them Professor Magenbruch (Benny Goodman), are writing a musical encyclopedia. In the process, they discover that there is some new popular music that is called jazz, swing, boogie woogie or bebop, introduced to them by two window washers Buck and Bubbles.

The professors become entangled in the problems of nightclub singer Honey Swanson (Virginia Mayo). She needs a place to hide out from the police, who want to question her about her gangster boyfriend Tony Crow (Steve Cochran). She invites herself into their sheltered household, over Frisbee's objections. While there, she introduces them to the latest in jazz, with which they are unfamiliar, giving the film an excuse to feature many of the best musicians of the era. The songs they play include "A Song Is Born", "Daddy-O", "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You", "Flying Home", and "Redskin Rumba".

Eventually, Tony comes by to collect Honey, but by that time, she and Hobart have fallen in love. And the finale, of course, is not decided by guns but by music, its resonance and reverberation.




Kaye's personal writer/composer, Sylvia Fine, who also happened to be Kaye's wife, refused to take part in any more of his projects because Kaye had recently left her for actress Eve Arden. Kaye didn't want anyone else writing songs for him, so he did not perform any songs in the film. [5] [6]

Hawks had little interest in remaking his own earlier movie, and only came to work on it because of the $250,000 paycheck. When speaking of the film, he said "Danny Kaye had separated from his wife, and he was a basket case, stopping work to see a psychiatrist [every] day. He was about as funny as a crutch. I never thought anything in that picture was funny. It was an altogether horrible experience...and Virginia Mayo's performance was 'pathetic'... she's not Barbara Stanwyck, I'll tell you that." [5]


A Song Is Born was the number one film in the country from the time of its release until November 1948, while Hawks's other (and in his opinion, best) film, Red River , was second. [5] However, A Song Is Born never broke even, only earning about $2.2 million (equivalent to $23.7  million in 2020 [7] ), while Red River went on to gross $4.1 million. [6] It has since been released on home video in both VHS and DVD formats. [8]

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  1. 1 2 "A Song is Born: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
  2. Variety (4 February 2018). "Variety (February 1948)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company via Internet Archive.
  3. "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  4. A Song Is Born at the TCM Movie Database
  5. 1 2 3 "A Song Is Born". Tcm.com. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  6. 1 2 Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye. Martin Gottfried. Simon and Schuster, 1994, ISBN   0-7432-4476-1 [ page needed ]
  7. 1634 to 1699: Harris, P. (1996). "Inflation and Deflation in Early America, 1634–1860: Patterns of Change in the British American Economy". Social Science History . 20 (4): 469–505. JSTOR   1171338. 1700-1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How much is that in real money?: a historical price index for use as a deflator of money values in the economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–" . Retrieved January 1, 2020.
  8. "A Song is Born: Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Louis Bellson, Benny Goodman, Sidney Blackmer, Felix Bressart, J. Edward Bromberg, Buck and Bubbles, Howland Chamberlain, Lane Chandler, Ben Chasen, Steve Cochran, Joseph Crehan, Esther Dale, Joe Devlin, Tommy Dorsey, Robert Dudley, Jack Gargan, Karen X. Gaylord, The Golden Gate Quartet: Movies & TV" . Retrieved 2012-09-08.