Skip to main content

Johnny and Ginger Mercer papers

 Collection
Identifier: M002
The Johnny and Ginger Mercer Papers contain manuscripts, photographs, sheet music, recordings, printed materials, and memorabilia documenting the early careers (1920s through about 1931) of both Johnny and Ginger Mercer; their courtship and marriage (1930 and 1931); and Johnny Mercer's career as a songwriter, performer, and businessman as it continued after their marriage; Johnny Mercer's work as a lyricist. Other topics covered in the Papers include Johnny Mercer's Savannah roots, including information about his parents, siblings, and other relatives; Ginger Mercer's family; the family that Johnny and Ginger established in California, with their children Amanda and Jeff; and Ginger Mercer's life and activities following her husband's death.

The Johnny and Ginger Mercer Papers (accession number M002) were acquired by Georgia State University in 1995, nearly 14 years after Mrs. Mercer donated to GSU the Johnny Mercer Papers (M001). The Johnny Mercer Papers (M001) originated in Mercer's studio, housed in an outbuilding at the couple's Bel-Air home; they focus more on Johnny Mercer's professional activities, although his family and personal life are also represented. The Johnny and Ginger Mercer Papers (M002), on the other hand, were housed in the living quarters of the Mercer's Bel-Air home, and although they document Johnny Mercer's career and professional activities, they also include more materials relating to the personal lives of both Johnny and Ginger Mercer.

Oversize items and non-manuscript materials, including photographs, books, artifacts, sheet music, and recordings, have been separated from the rest of the collection. Photographs, books, sheet music and recordings are indexed separately. Books are also listed at the end of this finding aid, along with artifacts and oversize materials. Researchers should note that the books in this collection were received by GSU in 1995, nearly 19 years after Johnny Mercer's death. Although all of them came from the homes that Ginger and Johnny Mercer had owned and lived in, other individuals had visited and resided in the homes during the years following Mercer's death. Therefore it is not possible to absolutely confirm which books were acquired or used by the Mercers during Johnny Mercer's life, as opposed to books that may have been added to the collection at a later date, perhaps by friends, relatives, or visitors.

Dates

  • 1925-circa 1992

Creator

Restrictions on Access

Unrestricted access.

User Restrictions

Researchers must agree to abide by the restrictions stated in "Notice Regarding Use of the Johnny Mercer Papers and the Johnny and Ginger Mercer Papers" (available on the Special Collections website at http://www.library.gsu.edu/spcoll/forms/mercerrestrict.htm and in the reading room). All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Extent

4 Linear Feet (in 11 boxes)

Abstract:

The Johnny and Ginger Mercer Papers contain manuscripts, photographs, sheet music, recordings, printed materials, and memorabilia documenting the early careers (1920s through about 1931) of both Johnny and Ginger Mercer; their courtship and marriage (1930 and 1931); and Johnny Mercer's career as a songwriter, performer, and businessman as it continued after their marriage; Johnny Mercer's work as a lyricist.

Biographies of Johnny and Ginger Mercer

Biography of Johnny Mercer

John Herndon Mercer (1909-1976), a native of Savannah, Georgia, began writing songs at the age of fifteen and eventually became one of the foremost figures of 20th century American popular music. His catalog includes many numbers that have become American classics, and his activities as lyricist, composer, performer and businessman span a period of nearly five decades.

Mercer was born on November 18, 1909 to real estate investor George A. Mercer and his wife Lillian (Ciucevich). He spent his childhood and youth in Savannah, growing up in a household where music was much in evidence (despite the fact that no one in the family was especially "musical") and in a region where the local culture combined the rich literary and language traditions of both white and black Southerners. In later years, fans and observers noted the traces of this Southern heritage still evident in his writing. In 1922, at age 13, he continued the family educational tradition by joining his brothers at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. Mercer received his last formal education during his five years at Woodberry; he did not continue on to college after leaving the school in 1927.

After leaving school Mercer worked in his father's business before traveling to New York as an actor with a Little Theatre group that had entered a competition for one-act plays. He received favorable notices for his performances, determined to return to New York to pursue an acting career, and returned the following year to spend 1929 and 1930 trying to establish himself as an actor. He continued writing songs during this time (he had written his first song at age 15 while a student at Woodberry Forest). When told that casting for the Garrick Gaieties of 1930 was complete but that the show still needed songs, he supplied "Out of Breath And Scared To Death of You." The song was included in the show, marking the start of his career as a professional songwriter.

From this beginning Mercer went on to become one of America's major songwriters of the 1930s to the 1960s, often writing tunes as well as lyrics, despite his lack of formal musical training. He worked primarily in New York through the early 30s, writing for such shows as Pajama Lady and Americana, producing the hit "Lazybones" with songwriter Hoagy Carmichael in 1933, and collaborating with various other writers including Harold Arlen, "Yip" Harburg, Bernard Hanighen and Matty Malneck. A 1935 offer from RKO for Mercer to write and act in two films prompted him to move to the west coast. There his talents proved to be perfectly suited for work with the flood of Hollywood musicals produced during the following decade.

Mercer's work in Hollywood resulted in a remarkable record of hit songs. During the decade between 1936 and 1946 his catalog grew to include "I'm An Old Cowhand From The Rio Grande," "Too Marvelous For Words," "Hooray for Hollywood," "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," "Jeepers, Creepers," "Day In-Day Out," "Blues In The Night," Skylark," "That Old Black Magic," "Tangerine," "Accentuate The Positive," "Dream," "On the Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe" (Academy Award winner, 1946), "Laura," and "Come Rain Or Come Shine," written with a series of collaborators that included Richard Whiting, Bernard Hanighen, Harry Warren, Rube Bloom, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Victor Schertzinger and David Raksin.

Although his Hollywood acting career never developed beyond the initial contract with RKO, Mercer was active as a performer from the 1930s on, singing first with Paul Whiteman's band, where he was paired vocally with Jack Teagarden and served as master of ceremonies, songwriter and arranger. He began recording with Bing Crosby in the 1940s and was active during World War II as a favorite Armed Forces entertainer, performing on G. I. radio shows and producing such topical numbers as "G. I. Jive" and "Duration Blues."

In 1942 Mercer expanded his career as songwriter and performer to include the role of businessman when he and colleagues Glenn Wallichs (owner of a Hollywood music store) and Buddy De Sylva (then of Paramount Pictures) founded Capitol Records, Inc. Mercer served as Capitol's first president, and despite shellac shortages, union disputes and the fact that the most popular artists were already signed to other labels, the young company prospered. By the mid-40s Capitol was giving the Decca, Columbia and RCA Victor labels serious competition by producing one-sixth of all the records sold in the United States. Under Mercer's guidance Capitol signed and developed lesser-known artists and new stars, such as Nat "King" Cole, Stan Kenton, Jo Stafford, Paul Weston, Peggy Lee and Margaret Whiting. Mercer himself made a number of popular recordings on the Capitol label, most notably with Paul Weston and the Pied Pipers.

Although the decline in production of movie musicals around 1950 left Mercer with few opportunities for work on full-length scores, he remained active nonetheless. He continued ongoing collaborations with such colleagues as Robert Emmett Dolan, Harold Arlen, Rube Bloom and Hoagy Carmichael and began new associations with others such as Gene De Paul and Henry Mancini. His film scores during this period included Daddy Long Legs (1955), and stage productions included Top Banana (1951) and Li'l Abner (1956). Mercer attained distinction as a songwriter by receiving Oscars for three more of his songs between 1951 and 1962, namely "In The Cool, Cool, Cool Of The Evening" (1951), "Moon River" (1961) and "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962). Other songs from the period include "Glow-Worm," "Something's Gotta Give" and "Satin Doll."

As the musical trends of the late 1950s continued into the 1960s and early 1970s, the demand for extensive film scores of popular songs gradually dwindled. Although Mercer continued to collaborate with various songwriters, and received an Academy Award nomination as late as 1970 for the song "Whistling In The Dark," there were undeniably fewer opportunities for the type of writing for which he had been noted in the past. Nevertheless he continued to write virtually until his death, not only with many of his early collaborators but also with some of his younger colleagues ("Whistling In The Dark" was written with composer Marvin Hamlisch, and another relatively "late" song, "Two Of A Kind," was written with Bobby Darin in 1960). Mercer's last major collaborative venture was a musical called The Good Companions, produced in 1974 in collaboration with composer Andr Previn. In the end his catalog included over 1000 songs, created over a period of 45 years on his own and in partnership with a remarkable number of America's most prominent popular composers.

Mercer underwent surgery for a brain tumor in October of 1975, and never recovered from the operation. He died on June 25, 1976 and was survived by his wife Elizabeth "Ginger" (Meehan) Mercer, to whom he was married in 1931, and their two children, Georgia Amanda (known as "Mandy") and John Jefferson (known as "Jeff").

Biography of Ginger Mercer

Ginger Mercer was born Elizabeth Meltzer on June 25, 1909 in Brooklyn, New York, one of three daughters born to Anna and Joseph Meltzer. Specially gifted from childhood, Ginger studied piano and dance and made her stage debut at age 16 under the stage name "Ginger Meehan." From the mid-1920s through approximately 1930 Ginger appeared as a dancer in numerous shows, including Honeymoon Lane (1926), in which Kate Smith made her debut, and the 1930 production of Ruth Selwyn's Nine-Fifteen Review.

While a member of the cast of the Garrick Gaieties of 1930 Ginger met an aspiring actor named Johnny Mercer, who had moved to New York from Savannah, Georgia to try his hand at a show business career. Mercer had hoped to win a role in the Gaieties, but instead placed one of his songs in the show and met Ginger, his future wife. Their courtship continued throughout 1930 and 1931, complicated by the separations they endured as each of their shows toured from city to city, and the two were finally married in New York City on June 8, 1931. They raised two children, Georgia Amanda (known as "Mandy," the inspiration for the Mercer song "Mandy is Two") and John Jefferson (known as "Jeff"), during a marriage that lasted 45 years, until Johnny's death on June 25, 1976.

Following her husband's death, Ginger traveled widely and spent much of her time promoting her husband's legacy. In 1982, she founded the Johnny Mercer Foundation, a charitable foundation that awards grants to songwriters and contributes funds to charities and non-profit organizations in the arts, to selected medical sciences, and to projects commemorating Johnny Mercer.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Ginger Mercer, April 1995.

Related Archival Materials

Related Materials in This Repository
  1. Johnny Mercer papers, 1885-1981 (M001)
  2. Ginger Mercer collection, circa 1960-1983 (M003)
  3. Johnny Mercer Oral History Project, 1970; 1995-1998; 2001-2002
  4. John and Seymour Rennolds collection, 1933-circa 1992 (M135)
  5. Hugh Mercer, Jr. collection, circa 1937-1973 (M145)
  6. Come Rain or Come Shine collection, 1997 (M152)
  7. Johnny Mercer Mike audio collection, circa 1967 (M210)
  8. Johnny Mercer paintings reproduction collection, 1947; 1965-1966 (M211)
  9. Johnny Mercer contracts collection, 1933; 1939; 1952-1978 (M212)
  10. Charles S. Tigerman papers, 1975-1995 (M214)

Separated Materials note

During processing, books were separated to the Popular Music book collection, and oversize materials and artifacts to separate locations.
Separated to Special Collections Books -- See catalog for access
  1. Ace, Goodman. The Book of Little Knowledge: More Than You Want to Know About Television. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955.
  2. Allen, Steve. Bop Fables. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955. [Signed by the author]
  3. Allen, Steve. Fourteen For Tonight. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1955. [Signed by the author]
  4. American Heritage. Volume XXII, Number 1 (December 1970).
  5. Anthony, Bascom. Fifty Years in the Ministry. Macon GA: J. W. Burke, 1937. [Signed by G.A. Mercer and "Pop"]
  6. Antiques at Savannah. Reprinted from Antiques Magazine. March 1967. Bailey, Pearl. Duey's Tale. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975. [Signed by the author]
  7. Bailey, Pearl. Hurry Up, America, and Spit. New York, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976. [Signed by the author]
  8. Bailey, Pearl. The Raw Pearl. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968. [Signed by the author]
  9. Baring-Gould, William S. The Lure of the Limerick. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1967. [Signed by Franz[?]]
  10. Barnes, Ken. The Crosby Years. London: Elm Tree Books/Chappell, 1980. [Signed by the author]
  11. Bell, Malcolm, Jr. Savannah. Savannah: Historic Savannah Foundation, 1977.
  12. Bell, Malcolm, Jr. Savannah, Ahoy! Second Printing (1952). Savannah: The Pigeonhole Press, 1959.
  13. Bent, Stephen Vincent. John Brown's Body. With illustrations by Fritz Kredel and Warren Chappell. New York, Toronto: Rinehart and Company, 1927.
  14. Bent, Stephen Vincent. The Last Circle: Stories and Poems by Stephen Vincent Bent. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1946.
  15. Bent, Stephen Vincent. Western Star. New York, Toronto: Farrar and Rinehart, 1943.
  16. Berlin, Irving. Songs by Irving Berlin. [Signed by the author]
  17. Bragg, Lillian Chaplin. Old Savannah Ironwork. Savannah, 1959.
  18. Clark, Robert S. High Fidelity's Silver Anniversary Treasury. With an essay by Gene Lees. Great Barrington MA: Wyeth Press, 1976. [Signed by Gene Lees]
  19. Condon, Eddie and Richard Gehman, eds. Eddie Condon's Treasury of Jazz. New York: The Dial Press, 1956. [Signed by Eddie [Condon]]
  20. Dachs, David. Anything Goes: The World of Popular Music. Indianapolis, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964. [Signed by Clark Dennis]
  21. DeFore, Penny. With All My Love. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965. [Signed by the author]
  22. Dexter, Dave Jr. Playback: A Newsman/Record Producer's Hits and Misses from the Thirties to the Seventies. New York: Billboard Publications, 1976. [Signed by the author]
  23. Easton, Carol. Straight Ahead: The Story of Stan Kenton. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1973. [Correspondence from James Landis, Senior Editor of William Morrow and Company, enclosed]
  24. Ephron, Henry. We Thought We Could Do Anything: The Life of Screenwriters Phoebe and Henry Ephron. New York: W.W. Norton, 1977. [Signed by the author]
  25. Frost, Robert. In the Clearing. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962. [Signed by Harold [Arlen]]
  26. The Geechee Cook Book. Savannah: Woman's Auxiliary, St. Michael's Episcopal Church, 1956.
  27. Gilbert, W.S. "The Mikado" and Other Plays. New York: Boni and Liveright, ca. 1917. [Enclosure signed by Hal]
  28. Goolrick, John T. The Life of General Hugh Mercer. New York and Washington: The Neale Publishing Company, 1906. [Clipping enclosed with unsigned annotation]
  29. Guichard-Meili, Jean. Dufy. New York: Tudor Publishing, 1964. [Signed by Eleanore [Whiting]]
  30. Hailey, Arthur. Airport. Garden City NY: Doubleday and Co., 1968. [Signed by Flo and Jerry]
  31. Harburg, E. Y. Rhymes for the Irreverent. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1965. [Signed "Yipper" [E. Y. Harburg] and Eddy; enclosure by the author]
  32. Hart, Dorothy, ed. Thou Swell Thou Witty: The Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart. New York: Harper and Row, 1976. [Signed by Dorothy Hart]
  33. Harvey, Byron, III. Ritual in Pueblo Art: Hopi Life in Hopi Painting. New York: Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, 1970. [Signed by Kathleen H.]
  34. Hartridge, Walter Charlton. Savannah. Columbia, SC: Bostick and Thornley, 1947. Harwood, Ronald. Articles of Faith. London: Secker and Warburg, 1973. [Signed by the author]
  35. Hersey, John. A Bell for Adano. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1944. [Signed by Howard Jackson]
  36. Hervey, Harry. The Damned Don't Cry. Garden City NY: Sun Dial Press, 1942. [Signed by Carleton; enclosures]
  37. Historic Savannah, Georgia: Official Souvenir Guide. Savannah: Dixie News [distributor].
  38. History of St. Andrew's Society, Savannah, Georgia. Limited Edition. 1972.
  39. Hope, Bob. The Last Christmas Show. As told to Pete Martin. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1974. [Signed: Bob and Dolores [Hope]]
  40. Jablonski, Edward. Harold Arlen: Happy With The Blues. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1961. [Signed by Harold [Arlen]]
  41. Kane, Henry. The Finger. London, New York: Boardman and Co., 1957. [Signed by the author]
  42. King, Spencer Bidwell, Jr. Ebb Tide As Seen Through the Diary of Josephine Clay Habersham 1863. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1958. [Enclosure from Hugh Mercer]
  43. Landesman, Fran. "The Ballad of the Sad Young Men" and Other Verse. London: Polytantric Press, 1975. [Signed by the author]
  44. Lawrence, Alexander A. Johnny Leber and the Confederate Major. Darien GA: The Ashantilly Press, 1962. [Signed by the author]
  45. Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley's Lover, Including My Skirmish with Jolly Roger. Privately printed, 1929.
  46. Lees, Gene. The Modern Rhyming Dictionary: How to Write Lyrics. Greenwich CT: Cherry Lane Books, 1981. [Signed by the author]
  47. Lees, Gene. Singers and the Song. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. [Signed by the author]
  48. Lewine, Richard and Alfred Simon. Songs of the American Theater. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1973. [Signed by the authors]
  49. Lewis, John Ransom. To Dock at Stars. Washington, DC: The University Press, 1962. [Signed by Janie Pidcock and the author]
  50. Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1872.
  51. Mackey, Harry D. The Gallant Men of the Delaware River Forts 1777. Philadelphia: Dorrance and Company, 1973. [Signed by the author]
  52. McGuire, Patricia Dubin. Lullaby of Broadway. Secaucus NJ: Citadel Press, 1983. [Signed by the author]
  53. Mamoulian, Roubel. Abigayil: The Story of the Cat at the Manger. Greenwich CT: New York Graphic Society Publishers, 1964. [Signed by the author]
  54. Mancini, Henry. Did They Mention the Music? With Gene Lees. Chicago, New York: Contemporary Books, 1989. [Signed by Hank [Mancini]]
  55. Miller, Zell. They Heard Georgia Singing. Franklin Springs GA: Advocate Press, 1984.
  56. The Nassau Literary Magazine. Conducted by the Senior Class. Princeton, NJ: undated [Signed by George A. Mercer; enclosures of clippings (Savannah obituaries of George A. Mercer)]
  57. Nathan, Robert. Juliet in Mantua. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966. [Signed by R[obert] N[athan]]
  58. Pidcock, Jane Rainaud. Wings, Water and Dogs. Savannah GA: 1962. [Signed "Jane and John"]
  59. Pleasants, Henry. Serious Music--and All That Jazz! New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. [Signed by the author]
  60. Priestley, J. B. Bright Day. New York, London: Harper and Brothers, 1946.
  61. Quiller-Couch, Arthur (ed). The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918. New Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939. [Signed "Harold"]
  62. Rauers, Betty, Terry Victor, and Franklin Traub. Sojourn In Savannah. An official guidebook and map of Historic Savannah and the surrounding countryside. [Savannah]: Savannah Visitors Service, undated [Signed by Rauers and Traub]
  63. Raye, Don. Like Haiku. Rutland VT and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1971. [Signed by Don [Raye]]
  64. Rubin, Benny. Come Backstage With Me. Bowling Green OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, undated [Signed by the author]
  65. Simon, George T. (comp.). The Big Bands Songbook. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, undated [Signed by George (the author?)]
  66. Sloan, James. More Faces in the Crowd. Redlands CA: By the author, 1967. [Signed by the author]
  67. Thomas, Edward J. Memoirs of a Southerner, 1840-1923. Savannah GA: By the author, 1923. [Signed by Lillian Mercer and G.A.M.]
  68. Vanstory, Burnette. Georgia's Land of the Golden Isles. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1956.
  69. Waterman, Joseph M. With Sword and Lancet: The Life of General Hugh Mercer. Richmond VA: Garrett and Massie, 1941. [Signed by cousins Nelson, Jeanne, and Constance Mercer]
  70. Webster, Jean. Daddy-Long-Legs. New York: The Century Co., 1912.
  71. White, Ellen G. The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan. Mountain View CA: Pacific Press Publishing, 1911. [Signed by the Olsens]
  72. The White House Record Library. Washington, DC: The White House Historical Association, 1973. [Signed by Pat Nixon]
  73. Wodehouse, P.G. and Guy Bolton. Bring on the Girls: The Improbable Story of Our Life in Musical Comedy, with Pictures to Prove It. London: Herbert Jenkins, 1954. [Signed by the authors]
  74. Wycoff, Capwell. The Mercer Boys at Woodcrest. Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1948. [Signed by Ollanor, Mandy Mercer]

Processing Information

Processed by E. Lee Eltzroth, Christopher Ann Paton, and Christine de Catanzaro, June 22, 1995; Revised July 31, 1999. EAD finding aid created by Apex Data Services, February 2002. EAD tagging updated by Morna Gerrard, 2003; Laura Botts, 2005; EAd edited by William Hardesty, 2007.
Title
Johnny and Ginger Mercer:
Subtitle
A Guide to Their Papers at Georgia State University Library
Status
completed
Author
Georgia State University Library
Date
February 2002
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Contact:
100 Decatur St., S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
404-413-2880
404-413-2881 (Fax)