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Guide to the Jay Gorney Papers TAM 152

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Sally Jhehan Roberts

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on April 23, 2018
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Title: Jay Gorney Papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1932-1992
Abstract: Jay Gorney (1896-1990) was a composer for musical theater, most notably of the Depression-era hit, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" He was questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) on May 6, 1953 regarding his participation in pro-Communist groups and publications. This collection contains biographical material, documents concerning Gorney's appearance before HUAC, files on him compiled by the FBI, and sheet music of songs with a political slant.
Quantity: 1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)
Language: Materials are in English.
Call Phrase: TAM 152

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Historical/Biographical Note

Jay Gorney, born Abraham Jacob Gornetzky, was a composer and lyricist for theater, films, and television. Born in Bialystok, Russia on December 12, 1896, he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1906. After settling in Detroit, Gorney took piano lessons and improvised music for the local silent film theater. He studied at the University of Michigan in the literary department and took music classes on the side in harmony, counterpoint, and composition. He enlisted in the Navy during World War I and was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Later earning his LL.B degree, he practiced law for less than one year before deciding to move to New York City and work in musical theater.

Gorney's songs started appearing in Broadway shows in the 1920s. He began collaborating with lyricist E.Y. ("Yip") Harburg and in 1932 they scored their biggest hit in the show Americana with the song "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" This simple melody based on a Russian lullaby soon became the anthem of the Great Depression.

In the 1930s Gorney served as a musical advisor for films made by Paramount Pictures and Universal Films. Capitalizing on this success, Gorney and his family moved in 1934 to Hollywood where he had a contract composing for Fox Films. It was here where he wrote the hits "You're My Thrill" and "Baby, Take a Bow," the latter sung by child-star Shirley Temple, who had recently been discovered by Gorney dancing in the lobby of a movie theater. In 1939 Gorney worked as the administrator, composer, and coordinator of the musical revue, Meet The People, a talent-filled production of legendary forces, that was made into a movie starring Lucille Ball and Dick Powell in 1943.

Gorney eventually moved back to New York and in 1950 was hired by CBS television as a producer, writer, and composer. It was during this period that Gorney was attacked as having pro-Communist sympathies, based on meetings and committees he participated in while living in Hollywood. He was ousted from his new job at CBS. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) called him to a hearing on May 6, 1953, where he sang his song "The Bill of Rights" and then took the Fifth Amendment when asked if he was a Communist. He was not jailed but was considered to be on a blacklist and lost a number of opportunities to work because of his association with Communist sympathizers.

Gorney died on June 14, 1990 in New York City of complications of Parkinson's disease and pneumonia.

Sources: Gorney, Sondra K. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?: The Life of Composer Jay Gorney. Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.

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Scope and Content Note

Series I: Personal Papers, 1941-1992. This series contains correspondence, government files, and other assorted documents. Newspaper clippings about the House Committee on Un-American Activities are contained in this series, as are copies of materials sent to CBS president F. M. Flynn about Gorney's pro-Communist actions. Gorney's multiple requests for his personal files under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are included, along with correspondence with his counsel regarding obtaining files and the possibility of illegal mail seizures.

Series II: Sheet Music, 1932-1982. This series contains sheet music of politically-themed songs written by Gorney, as well as lyric sheets, and correspondence. Related lyric sheets, correspondence, and printed materials are filed with the sheet music.



Organized into 2 series: I. Personal Papers, 1941-1992; II. Sheet Music, 1932-1982. Arranged alphabetically within each series.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Abzug, Bella S., 1920-1998
  • Harburg, E. Y. (Edgar Yipsel), 1898-1981
  • Eliscu, Edward, 1902-1998
  • Gorney, Sondra

Document Type

  • Sheet music.

Subject Organizations

  • United States. Freedom of Information Act

Subject Topics

  • Musical theater -- United States -x History -y 20th century.

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to materials in this collection created by Jay Gorney was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Jay Gorney Papers; TAM 152; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Edward Eliscu Papers. (Tamiment # 270) Jay Gorney Papers, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Jay Gorney Scores, Music Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Jay Gorney Collection of Non-commercial Sound Recordings, Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Separated Materials

Three photographs: Jay Gorney, Jay Gorney and Lionel Stander, and statue of Frederick Douglass and one photographic negative of statue of Frederick Douglass, have been separated to the Non-Print Department of the Tamiment Library. One audiotape containing a Paul O'Dwyer campaign song has been separated to the Audio Collections of the Tamiment Library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials donated by Sondra Gorney in September and December 1993. The accession number associated with this gift is 1993.017.

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Container List

Series I: Personal Papers, 1941-1992, 1941-1992

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Biographical Information
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Brooklyn Museum Exhibition
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Film and Radio for Children
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Frederick Douglass Paper typescript
Box: 1 Folder : 5 House Un-American Activities Committee- Clippings and Correspondence
Box: 1 Folder : 6 House Un-American Activities Committee- Transcripts
Box: 1 Folder : 7 The Musicians Congress
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Passport Difficulties
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Peoples Educational Center
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Performances for Causes
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Public Relations News Thirtieth Anniversary
Box: 1 Folder : 12 School for Writers, League of American Writers
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Screen Writers Guild
Box: 2 Folder : 1 US FOIA File
Box: 2 Folder : 2 US FOIA Requests
Box: 2 Folder : 3 U.S.S.R. Trip
Box: 2 Folder : 4 World War II

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Series II: Sheet Music, 1932-1982, 1932-1982

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 5 "Are You Backing Up Your Commander-In-Chief?"
Box: 2 Folder : 6 "The Army Air Force"
Box: 2 Folder : 7 "The Bill of Rights- Congress Shall Make No Law"
Box: 2 Folder : 8 "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?"
1932, 1950
Box: 2 Folder : 9 "Darling, I Am Growing Young"- National Lawyers Guild Tribute to Leo Linder
Box: 2 Folder : 10 "The Four Freedoms"
Box: 2 Folder : 11 "Four Rivers"
Box: 2 Folder : 12 "General MacArthur's Message To The Russian Army"
Box: 2 Folder : 13 "Hitler, und Goebels, und Goering, und Schact"
Box: 2 Folder : 14 "It's The Same Old South"
Box: 2 Folder : 15 "Let's All Unite Round Bella!" ("Let's Go Out And Ring Doorbells")
Box: 2 Folder : 16 "The Man With A Cigarette"
Box: 2 Folder : 17 Meet the People – "Finale" – for Women's League for Israel
Box: 2 Folder : 18 Meet the People - "Let's Go Out And Ring Doorbells"
Box: 2 Folder : 19 Meet the People – "Meet the People" – for Women's League for Israel
Box: 2 Folder : 20 Meet the People – "No Lookin' Back"
Box: 2 Folder : 21 Meet the People – "Union Label"
Box: 2 Folder : 22 "Mister Roosevelt Won't You Please Run Again?"
1939, 1982
Box: 2 Folder : 23 "Moscow Nights", "Manhattan Nights", "Friendship is Right" – National Council of American Soviet Friendship
Box: 2 Folder : 24 The New Meet the People – "Damn The Torpedoes (Full Speed Ahead)"
Box: 2 Folder : 25 The New Meet the People – "Juarez and Lincoln"
Box: 2 Folder : 26 "O Israel, Do Not Despair"
Box: 2 Folder : 27 "Opening (John Howard Lawson)," "Meet the People," "Happy Birthday, My Old Friend, Jack!!"
Box: 2 Folder : 28 "Sing Out For Ramsey!"
Box: 2 Folder : 29 "Sing Out The Answer (Join The C.I.O.)"
Box: 2 Folder : 30 "Some Days You Can't Make A Nickel"
Box: 2 Folder : 31 "Tell Us More / Proud To Be In P.R." [Public Relations]
Box: 2 Folder : 32 "These Are The Times"
Box: 2 Folder : 33 "Trust Captain L.B.J."

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