1

What changes did Oscar Hammerstein II make to P.G. Wodehouse's lyrics for the Jerome Kern tune Bill?

According to Wikipedia :

"Bill" is a song heard in Act II of Kern and Hammerstein's classic 1927 musical, Show Boat. The song was written by Kern and P. G. Wodehouse for their 1917 musical Oh, Lady! Lady!! for Vivienne Segal to perform, but it was withdrawn because it was considered too melancholy for that show. When Kern and Hammerstein were at work on a serious and somewhat tragic production of Show Boat, however, they decided that the song would be perfect for a nightclub scene in that show. Hammerstein revised Wodehouse's original lyrics somewhat (although he would always give full credit to Wodehouse for the song and take none for himself), and the song was given to real-life nightclub singer Helen Morgan to sing as she portrayed the mulatto Julie in that version of Show Boat.

1 Answer 1

1

Change 1

In the Wodehouse original, the lyrics

But along came Bill, whose quite the opposite
of all the men in storybooks
in grace and looks
I know that Apollo
would beat him all Hollow

in the Hammerstein version becomes

But along came Bill, whose not the type at all
you'd meet him on the street and never notice him
His form and face,
his manly grace,
are not the kind you would find in a statue

Change 2

Later in the song, Wodehouse wrote

He's just my Bill
He has no gifts at all
A motorcar he cannot steer And it seems clear
Whenever he dances His partner takes chances

which Hammerstein changed to

He's just my Bill
An ordinary guy He hasn't got a thing that I can brag about
And yet to be upon his knee
So comfy and roomy — feels natural to me.

Research recordings

Here is the Wodehouse version, sung by Lara Cazalet with pianist Steven Blier.

And the Hammerstein version is sung in this recording by Rebecca Trehearn with accompaniment by musicians of the New London Theatre's 2016 production of Show Boat!

Other differences (in the recordings)

There are two other trivial changes, which may be due to the singers themselves:

Difference 1

Like the heroes bold in the books I read

becomes

... in the books I've read

and

Difference 2

and I can't explain why he should be

becomes

Oh, I can't explain ...

3
  • There is also a change at 1:28 Wodehouse: "Because he's just OK"" becomes Hammerstein: 1:38 "Because he's just so Bill" (which in other versions like Artie Shaw/Helen Forrest is "Because he's just my Bill".
    – rocky
    Dec 6, 2023 at 10:49
  • As I mention in youtube.com/watch?v=mpH8fohNP30 Helen Forrest sings at 1:06 Are not the KIND that you would FIND in a statue But phrasing suggested in the Hammerstein lyrics suggest another stress and rhyme: Are not the kind THAT you would find in a STATue For a rendition of that listen to youtu.be/eQmsCUHSxqc?si=oE2piuQUH6VpOAgM&t=73 or youtu.be/dDwPhfN-wCM?si=J2lQYGAsamtJQmsY&t=67. The latter comes the closest to trying to get both rhymes in there
    – rocky
    Dec 6, 2023 at 11:01
  • However even better go get both rhymes is youtube.com/watch?v=_H48C_xf8HE where "statue" is changed to "Chris Matthews".
    – rocky
    Dec 6, 2023 at 11:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.