By Ted Rajchel
Bronislau Kaper was a Polish film composer who scored films and musical theater in Germany, France, and the United States. Kaper is now perhaps best remembered as the composer of the jazz standards “On Green Dolphin Street” (lyrics by Ned Washington) and “Invitation” (lyrics by Paul Francis Webster), which were originally the respective title tracks for Metro-Golden-Mayers films “Green Dolphin Street (1947) and “Invitation” (1952). He also scored the MGM film musical Lili (1953) for which he received the Academy Award for the best original score, MGM’s 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, and the TV series, The F.B.I. (1965-1974). Movie composer Bronislau Kaper wrote hits for a number of Hollywood films from the mid-‘30s through the late ‘60s.
Bronislau Kaper was born on February 5, 1902, in Warsaw, Poland. He was born into a family of assimilated Jews and at the very early age of six took up the piano, soon demonstrating a remarkable musical talent. His family realized that he was a child prodigy and so enrolled him in the prestigious Chopin Music School to cultivate and refine his gift of music. By the time of his teens he had blossomed creatively and was already writing original music compositions. Although his heart was drawn to music, deference to his father’s wishes, he began studies in law at Warsaw University, Yet, soon after he returned to his true love of music, and enrolled in the Warsaw Conservatory, where he studied composition and piano. Upon graduation, Kaper relocated to Berlin, then a cultural vibrant metropolis, which abounded with countless theaters and cabarets. There he joined many aspiring artists from Eastern Europe, all seeking to make a mark on a world stage. He spent the 1920s and early 1930s working as a song composer for film and cabaret and gained an increasing notoriety. His first film score was for Richard Oswald’s German sci-fi film Alraune (1930). Kaper’s projects in the early 1930s included approximately 17 French, German, and Austrian projects, providing scores for such films as “Voyage de Noces (1932) and Madame Wunscht Keine Kinder (1933). After the 1932 German elections, which brought Adolph Hitler to power, the dark pall of Nazism descended, creating an ever-growing repression of the arts, cabaret culture, and a menace to artists of Jewish heritage. Kaper and his friend and lyricist, Walter Jurmann, relocated to Paris in 1933, where for two years he continued his cabaret and film career. Success followed immediately with perhaps his most memorable score for Alexis Granowsky’s Le Nuits Muscovites (1934). Paris was a hinge of fate for Kaper, which would forever change his destiny. Kaper ‘s song, “Ninon” caught the ear of studio executive Louis B. Mayer, who was so impressed, that he offered Kaper a seven-year contract with MGM.
Hollywood Years in the Song Writing Department
His first success was for the film, Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), where the composer tasked him with songwriting. He responded with the now iconic love song “Love Song of Tahiti”. His next assignment, the outrageous Marx Brothers Comedy, “A Night at the Opera (1935), also yielded some fine songs, including the popular “Cosi-Cosa”. The following year he gained notoriety by joining with his friend, Jurmann, to write the classic title tune for W.S. van Dyke’s spectacular earthquake drama/romance,
San Francisco (1936). In addition, he provided two notable songs for the film, “San Francisco” and “Happy New Year”. Kaper went on to score another Marx Brothers classic, “A Day at the Races” (1937), which included the song “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”.
Given Greater Opportunities
Kaper was not content being just a songwriter and was determined to break into scoring films. He boldly went to MGM management and insisted that he be given greater opportunities. MGM blinked, and in 1940 Kaper successfully began receiving scoring assignments. He rewarded MGM with one of his finest decades. He began with the old-fashioned comedy, “The Captain is a Lady” (1940), composed the song “Blue Love Bird” for the musical “Lillian Russell” (1940), “The Satirical Comrade” (1940), and penned with great satisfaction, the score for the powerful anti-Nazi film, “The Mortal Storm” (1940). 1941 proved to be the most productive year of his career, writing eleven scores which included the splendid musical comedy, “The Chocolate Soldier” (1941), which featured the wonderful song “While My Lady Sleeps” ( Gus Khan’s lyrics). The score earned him his first Academy Award nomination for best musical score. The George Cukor mystery, “Keeper of the Flame” (1942), followed, where once again Kaper’s soundscape beautifully enhanced the director’s vision with the world embroiled in WWII. Several-war and spy intrigue films followed, including “The Cross of Lorraine” (1943). Kaper was also writing wonderful comedies, such as “Slightly Dangerous” (1943), and “The Heavenly Body” (1943). Director George Cukor, who loved Kaper’s score for his film “Keeper of the Flame” (1942), tasked him with scoring his latest film “Gaslight” (1944). The rest is history. As this award-winning mystery thriller catapulted Kaper into the ranks of tier one Hollywood composers. The suspense music he provided