Jimmy Van Heusen
Jimmy Van Heusen playing the piano
Jimmy Van Heusen playing the piano
Background information
Birth nameEdward Chester Babcock
Born(1913-01-26)January 26, 1913
Syracuse, New York, United States
DiedFebruary 6, 1990(1990-02-06) (aged 77)
Rancho Mirage, California, United States
GenresPopular music
Occupation(s)Songwriter, pianist
Years activeMid 1930s–Late 1970s

James Van Heusen (born Edward Chester Babcock; January 26, 1913 – February 6, 1990[1]) was an American composer. He wrote songs for films, television and theater, and won an Emmy and four Academy Awards for Best Original Song.[2]

Life and career

Born in Syracuse, New York, Van Heusen began writing music while at high school. He renamed himself at age 16, after the shirt makers Phillips-Van Heusen, to use as his on-air name during local shows. His close friends called him "Chet".[3] Jimmy was raised Methodist.[4]

Studying at Cazenovia Seminary and Syracuse University, he became friends with Jerry Arlen, the younger brother of Harold Arlen. With the elder Arlen's help, Van Heusen wrote songs for the Cotton Club revue, including "Harlem Hospitality". He then became a staff pianist for some of the Tin Pan Alley publishers, and wrote "It's the Dreamer in Me" (1938) with lyrics by Jimmy Dorsey. Collaborating with lyricist Eddie DeLange, on songs such as "Heaven Can Wait", "So Help Me", and "Darn That Dream", his work became more prolific, writing over 60 songs in 1940 alone. It was in 1940 that he teamed up with the lyricist Johnny Burke. Burke and Van Heusen moved to Hollywood and wrote for stage musicals and films throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Swinging on a Star" (1944). Their songs were also featured in many Bing Crosby films including some of the Road films and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949).

He was also a pilot of some accomplishment; He met Joe Hornsby, who worked for the FAA in Los Angeles CA (Hornsby was the son of Dan Hornsby and the brother of Nikki Hornsby), because of his music career with his interest in flying. Joe Hornsby sponsored Jimmy into an exclusive pilots club called the Quiet Birdmen which held meetings at Proud Bird restaurant at LAX and these men were lifelong friends until Joe and his wife Dorothea's death in the late 1970s. Using his birth name, Jimmy also worked as a part-time test pilot for Lockheed Corporation in World War II.

Van Heusen then teamed up with lyricist Sammy Cahn. Their three Academy Awards for Best Song were won for "All the Way" (1957) from The Joker Is Wild, "High Hopes" (1959) from A Hole in the Head, and "Call Me Irresponsible" (1963) from Papa's Delicate Condition. Their songs were also featured in Ocean's Eleven (1960), which included Dean Martin's version of "Ain't That a Kick in the Head", and in Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), in which Frank Sinatra sang the Oscar-nominated "My Kind of Town".

Cahn and Van Heusen also wrote "Love and Marriage" (1955), "To Love and Be Loved", "Come Fly with Me", "Only the Lonely", and "Come Dance with Me" with many of their compositions being the title songs for Frank Sinatra's albums of the late 1950s.

Van Heusen wrote the music for five Broadway musicals: Swingin' the Dream (1939); Nellie Bly (1946), Carnival in Flanders (1953), Skyscraper (1965), and Walking Happy (1966). While Van Heusen did not achieve nearly the success on Broadway that he did in Hollywood, at least two songs from Van Heusen musicals can legitimately be considered standards:[3] "Darn That Dream" from Swingin' the Dream; "Here's That Rainy Day" from Carnival in Flanders.

He became an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971.[5]

Van Heusen composed over 1000 songs of which 50 songs became standards. Van Heusen songs are featured in over five hundred and eighty films.

Personal life

Van Heusen was known to be quite popular among women. James Kaplan in his book Frank: The Voice (2010) wrote, "He played piano beautifully, wrote gorgeously poignant songs about romance...he had a fat wallet, he flew his own plane; he never went home alone." Van Heusen was once described by Angie Dickinson, "You would not pick him over Clark Gable any day, but his magnetism was irresistible."[6] In his 20s he began to shave his head when he started losing his hair, a practice ahead of its time. He once said "I would rather write songs than do anything else – even fly." Kaplan also reported that he was a "hypochondriac of the first order" who kept a Merck manual at his bedside, injected himself with vitamins and painkillers, and had surgical procedures for ailments real and imagined.[6]

I took song writing seriously when I discovered girls.[7]

It was Van Heusen who rushed Sinatra to the hospital after Sinatra, in despair over the breakup of his marriage to Ava Gardner, slashed one of his wrists in a suicide attempt in November 1953.[8] However, this event was never mentioned by Van Heusen in any radio or print interviews given by him. Van Heusen himself married for the first time in 1969, at age 56, to Bobbe Brock, originally one of the Brox Sisters and widow of the late producer Bill Perlberg.


Van Heusen retired in the late 1970s and died in 1990 in Rancho Mirage, California, from complications following a stroke at the age of 77.[9] His wife, Bobbe, survived him. Van Heusen is buried near the Sinatra family in Desert Memorial Park, in Cathedral City, California.[1][10] His grave marker reads Swinging on a Star.[11]

Academy Awards

Van Heusen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song 14 times in 12 different years (in both 1945 and 1964 he was nominated for two songs), and won four times: in 1944, 1957, 1959, and 1963.[2]


Emmy Award

He won one Emmy Award for Best Musical Contribution, for the song "Love and Marriage" (1955) (lyrics by Sammy Cahn), written for the 1955 Producers' Showcase production of Our Town.[12]

Other awards

He was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965 for Best Musical Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV show for Robin and the Seven Hoods.

He was also nominated for three Tony awards:

He was nominated three times for a Golden Globe Award.

He won a Christopher Award in 1955 for the song "Love and Marriage".



With lyricist Sammy Cahn

With lyricist Johnny Burke

With lyricist Eddie DeLange

With others



  1. ^ a b "Palm Springs Cemetery District, "Interments of Interest"" (PDF). Pscemetery.com. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Academy Awards Database, Jimmy Van Heusen". Oscars.org. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Coppula, C. (2014). Jimmy Van Heusen: Swinging on a Star. Nashville: Twin Creek Books.
  4. ^ Jimmy Van Heusen - Vanity Fair https://www.vanityfair.com › archive-march-2015-jimmy-van-heusen “Jimmy,” Van Heusen's good friend and occasional lover Angie Dickinson recalls ... Jessica Lange Breaks Down Her Career, from King Kong to American Horror Story .... He had been born in 1913, in Syracuse, New York, to rock-ribbed Methodists ... “Jimmy was a really interesting composer,” says Sammy Cahn's son, jazz ...
  5. ^ "Songwriters Hall of Fame, Jimmy Van Heusen". Archived from the original on November 6, 2016. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
  6. ^ a b "The King Of Ring-A-Ding-Ding". Vanityfair.com. February 5, 2015. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 1, side A. Van Heusen interviewed 1971 July 22
  8. ^ "Fridays Are For Frank: "(Love Is) The Tender Trap" – Sinatra & Jimmy Van Heusen". hMag. January 29, 2016. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
  9. ^ "Jimmy Van Heusen Collection of Musical Works and Papers". UCLA Libraries. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2011.
  10. ^ Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert". Laid to Rest in California: a guide to the cemeteries and grave sites of the rich and famous. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-0762741014. OCLC 70284362.
  11. ^ James "Jimmy" Van Heusen at Find a Grave
  12. ^ "Best Musical Contribution – 1956". Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 26, 2012.
  13. ^ Online Archive of California (OAC). Finding Aid for the Jimmy Van Heusen Collection of Musical Works and Papers 1853-1994, bulk 1939-1972.
  14. ^ OCLC 498384972