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Johnny Mercer: Timeline

A guide to one of the most prominent figures of 20th century American popular music.


1909 Born in Savannah, Georgia (November 18) to real estate investor George Anderson Mercer and Lillian Ciucevich Mercer.

1909-1922 Spends childhood in Savannah (the family lived on Hall Street East; later, they moved to Gwinnett Street), with summers at Vernon View.

1922-1927 Attends Woodberry Forest School in Virginia.

ca. 1924 Writes his first song, "Sister Susie, Strut Your Stuff"

1927 Father suffers business losses and liquidates all of his personal assets in order to pay off his investors; he fails to pay off all the losses, but pledges to make good on the debts.

Late 1920's Moves to New York City to become an actor; obtains some walk-on parts, and at the same time takes odd jobs, writes songs, and does whatever is necessary to keep body and soul together.

1930 Submits a song ("Out of Breath and Scared to Death of You") for The Garrick Gaieties after being told that they didn’t need any more male actors; "Out of Breath" becomes his first published song. Meets and begins to date Ginger Meehan, a dancer in the show.

1931 Marries Ginger Meehan at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City (June 8).

1932 Joins bandleader Paul Whiteman for an NBC radio broadcast after becoming a winner of Whiteman’s Youth of America auditions.

1933 First hit song, "Lazybones," written with Hoagy Carmichael.

Image of Johnny Mercer at a piano

ca. 1935 Is hired by RKO to write for and act in motion pictures, and moves to Hollywood; appears as an actor in the films Old Man Rhythm and To Beat the Band.

Mid-to-late 1930's Begins writing with Richard Whiting, Harry Warren, Hoagy Carmichael, and other major Hollywood composers.

1938 First "best song" Academy Award nomination, for "Jeepers Creepers" (with Harry Warren).

Early 1940's Begins collaboration with Harold Arlen. During World War II, participates in broadcasts for the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS). Appears on NBC radio on the Music Shop programs, first as a summer replacement for Bob Hope (summer of 1943) and later with Jo Stafford, the Pied Pipers, and Paul Weston and his Orchestra on the Chesterfield Music Shop.

1942 Co-founds Capitol Records with colleagues Buddy De Sylva and Glenn Wallichs; serves as Capitol’s first president.

1945 Three recordings featuring Mercer as a singer ("Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive", "Candy," and "On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe") reach the No. 1 position on the Hit Parade.

1946 Premiere of "St. Louis Woman" (music by Harold Arlen) featuring Pearl Bailey. First "best song" Academy Award, for "On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe," written with Harry Warren.

1951 Second "best song" Academy Award, for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" written with Hoagy Carmichael.

Late 1950's Appears as guest on television programs, including The Perry Como Show (1957), The Andy Williams Show and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (1959), and The Bing Crosby Show (1960).

1961 Begins collaboration with Henry Mancini; third "best song" Academy Award, for "Moon River," written with Henry Mancini.

1962 Fourth "best song" Academy Award, for "The Days of Wine and Roses" written with Henry Mancini.

1970's Revives performing career briefly by making a few live appearances and by releasing three albums.  Continues writing with Henry Mancini and writes with other, younger composers Begins writing his autobiography.

1971 Eighteenth "best song" Academy Award nomination, for "Life Is What You Make It," written with Marvin Hamlisch.

1974 The Good Companions, Mercer’s last theatrical work, opens in London; a collaboration with André Previn, the show was based on J.B. Priestley’s novel of the same name.

1975 Undergoes surgery for a brain tumor (October).

1976 Mercer dies (June 25), following months of confinement as a result of surgery.

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