Staying in to write ‘Tea for Two’

By Glen R. Goodhand
Musical Memories

‘Tea for Two ‘grossed a half-million dollars for Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar, mainly as a result of its featured place in the musical No, No, Nanette. Commencing with a year-long run in New York, and then moving to Chicago, it was airlifted to London, England where it enjoyed a two-year tenure.

It was during their on-going composition of another tune for the aforementioned film that the seed thoughts were planted for ‘Tea for Two’. They had been working long hours when actress Gertrude Lawrence invited the pair to enjoy a change of pace by attending a welcome party for a singing troupe arriving from Europe. Caesar hesitated, maintaining he needed to catch up on his shut-eye first, but he urged Youmans to go along without him.

But Vincent, perfectionist that he was, decided to stay home to fool around on the piano and to fine-tune the numbers which they had already completed. As planned, Irving dropped off to dreamland, his partner’s whistling and tinkling of the ivories assisting in his dropping off.

In what seemed to the snoozing lyricist to be no time at all, he was aroused by the composer shaking his shoulder and urging him to “wake up and listen to this!”

He explained that a tune had come to him and now words were needed for the music — which happened to be Caesar’s half of the creative task.

As the notes sounded, he began to hum the score, then toss out a word or two: “You for me and me for you….dedum, dedum.” By the time Youmans has finished the melody, Caesar was reaching for a pencil. Within 10 minutes, as the words came so easily; ‘Tea for Two’ was born.

Originally they agreed not to use it in the musical stage show but to save it for some future one. So, they treated it as a lark at the party to which they finally went. They were asked to sing it again and again at the get-together.

However, when No, No, Nanette made a test run in Detroit, the verdict was that one of the songs had to be deleted with a new cast in its place. The logical move was to insert their quickie ditty. It was a hit with the cast, and with audiences as long as the production played.

It was the most-played song on the Lawrence Welk show; Tommy Dorsey chose it as a favourite; Doris Day revived the 1925 hit decades later; and even Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded it on one of their albums.

Nobody near us to see us or hear us.
No friends or relations on weekend vacation;
We won’t have it known, dear
That we own a telephone, dear.

Picture you upon my knee
Just tea for two and two for tea.
Just me and you,
And you for me alone.

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