“LET IT SNOW” Remembering Sammy Cahn

Sammy Cahn & Me three months before his death in October 1991

Sammy Cahn & me in October of 1992

At one point or another over the next few weeks you will undoubtedly hear the holiday tune “Let It Snow.”  The classic that rose to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1946 was written by the legendary Sammy Cahn. 

Cahn wrote more of Frank Sinatra’s hits than any other songwriter with Sinatra recording 89 of Cahn’s songs.   Among his hits are “Love & Marriage,”  “All the Way,” “High Hopes,” “Come Fly with Me,” “Three Coins In A Fountain,” “My Kind of Town” and countless (and I mean countless) others.

As I heard “Let it Snow” recently I got to thinking about Sammy Cahn who died in January of 1993.  Three months before his death I was working in Atlantic City  covering the opening of a local chapter of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers.)  Burt Bacharach was there for the news conference and so were many other noted song writers.  I did my interviews and then went into the reception that followed.   It was there I spotted an older gentleman sitting alone at a table.  I thought to myself is it?  No, they didn’t introduce him earlier so it couldn’t be.  What the heck I’ll ask so I went up to him and said “excuse me sir are you Sammy Cahn?”   His face lit up at the fact some 20-something reporter knew who he was.  I said can I grab a word with you? He said have a seat. 

We were wrapping up our interview when I said to him I recalled hearing a story behind “Three Coins” which won Cahn his first Academy Award in 1954.  With full showmanship a light went on, his smile widens and he says to me “We were doing a picture called Pink Tights, with Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Dan Dailey. We wrote one of the best scores we ever wrote,” recalled Cahn.  But it was music that would never be heard. 

“When the picture’s about to start Miss Monroe runs off to Japan with some baseball player called Joe DiMaggio leaving us all there without anything,” said Cahn.  It’s a break that wouldn’t last for long. 

“One day we’re hanging around and the door opens and the producer walks in and says ‘Can you fellows write me a song called three coins in a fountain?’” Cahn’s answer showed he was more than up to the challenge. “I looked at him and I said I can write you a song called “Eh.”

Cahn asked the obvious questions, “I said can we see the picture? He says you can’t see the picture it’s all over the lot.  I said can we read the script? The scripts in Italy,” the producer responded.   “Would you mind telling me what this picture’s about?” Cahn asked.  “Three girls go to Rome, they throw coins in a fountain and they hope they fall in love.”   And with that the producer left.

“Well we had a title, a pretty good clue,” said Cahn.  “I went to the typewriter and I typed three coins in a fountain, each one seeking happiness, thrown by three hopeful lovers, which one will the fountain bless.

While the words came easy enough to Cahn, he knew that was only half the job.  “I gave the lyrics to composer Jules Styne.  Now you could spend a hundred years figuring out notes to these words,” he said.  But it would take Styne only about twenty minutes.

“We wrote that song in about an hour.  It went on to become one of the biggest hits in history and I never saw the fountain, never saw the picture,” he said proudly.

Well they had a song but now they needed a record. They first asked Cahn himself to sing it but since Frank Sinatra wasn’t doing anything, with their film on hold, Cahn turned to his old buddy and asked him.

“I said would you do it? He said sure,” said Cahn.  “So he came the next day and Jules Styne taught him the song and it became the theme for the film.”

The song would go on to become a big hit for Sinatra and The Four Aces, it would also win Cahn the first of his four Academy Awards.

On January 15, 1993, just about three months after we spoke Sammy Cahn died at his home in Los Angeles at the age of  79.  He was a one of a kind figure who brought joy to millions around the world through his songs and his words.  Cahn’s final words are the four he left to be inscribed on his gravestone…  

“Sleep with a smile.”

This is the clip I ran on the news the night Sammy died with part of that interview.

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