Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia,
The whole day through.
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind.

Had Hoagy Carmichael’s classic song from 1930 been written a few years earlier, it could have easily served as the primary love theme for THE GOLD RUSH. Georgia is certainly on Charlie’s mind throughout the film, and Chaplin used some old sweet songs to bring her to musical life.

1925 SILENT VERSION

For the 1925 premiere at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Chaplin and compiler Carli D. Elinor supplied Georgia with three musical themes in the compilation score. Instead of using generic love themes from the vast library of silent film music books, Chaplin chose tunes that would have struck a chord with audiences of the day.

The first theme takes inspiration from the title card attached to Georgia’s entrance in the film. She appears from the doorway of the rough frontier town, a vision in her full-length fur, with just a simple statement of her name and a decorative rose on screen. Chaplin underscores her character with a tune actually written during the Klondike Gold Rush, Chauncey Olcott’s “My Wild Irish Rose” (1899).

“My Wild Irish Rose”

There is nothing particularly wild about the turn-of-century waltz tune, and it may seem an odd musical choice for Georgia Hale’s feisty portrayal of the character. But this is Georgia as seen through Charlie’s loving eyes. The song had received hit recordings from John McCormack (1914) and Olcott himself (1913) a decade earlier. The tune would have been instantly recognizable to the premiere audience, who no doubt heard the missing lyrics in their head—”My wild Irish rose / The sweetest flow’r that grows / You may search everywhere / But none can compare / With my wild Irish rose.”

Charlie has Georgia on his mind all throughout the film, even when she’s not around. When she carelessly throws a photo of herself on the floor of the dance hall, Charlie snatches it up. Every time he gazes at the photo, it is underscored by Florence Methven’s “When You Look in the Heart of a Rose.” Written in 1918, John McCormack had a hit with the song the following year. The tune becomes the love theme, occupying a prominent role in the score, especially at the end of the film when the two finally reunite.

“When You Look in the Heart of a Rose”

Not surprisingly, Fermo Dante Marchetti’s “Fascination,” which Louis F. Gottschalk also used in his revised compilation score for A WOMAN OF PARIS, accompanies Charlie’s obsession with the mysterious, dark-haired beauty. The song began life as an instrumental piece in 1904 titled “Valse Tzigane,” or “Gypsy Waltz.” Maurice de Féraudy added lyrics the following year to become the more popular song version.

The theme occurs no less than six times throughout the film. It is invariably played at a slow tempo, supplying an aural clue for us as the audience—and perhaps for Charlie himself—that this fascination might be nothing more than “just a passing glance,” much less “a brief romance.”

“Fascination”

Among Chaplin’s papers is sheet music for James Thornton’s “She May Have Seen Better Days” (1894). While it would have been period-appropriate for the film, there is no indication that the song ever was seriously considered for use in either the 1925 or 1942 scores. Still, the lyrics may provide some clue of how Chaplin viewed the character of Georgia:

She may have seen better days,
Once upon a time.
Tho’ by the wayside she fell,
She may yet mend her ways.
Some poor old mother is waiting for her
Who has seen better days.

1925 CUE SHEET

While the audience at the 1925 premiere heard Chaplin and Carli Elinor’s excellent compilation score, most movie houses didn’t have the first-class orchestra that Grauman’s had. That’s where the cue sheet c came in—to provide suggested direction for pianists, organists, and other random musicians and hopefully some musical consistency at screenings across the country. Compiled by James C. Bradford for the Cameo Thematic Music Co., the cue sheet included many of the same tunes that were used in the compilation score, including those for Georgia.

The lilting “My Wild Irish Rose” once again underscored Georgia’s devil-may-care attitude, while “When You Look in the Heart of the Rose” served again as the love theme. Where the cue sheet deviated significantly was the use of Frank H. Grey’s Valse Fascination (1917) for what Bradford called the “Girl Theme.”

Marchetti’s more popular “Fascination” was still in copyright, as we Grey’s instrumental waltz. The inclusion of Grey’s less well-known piece no doubt had to do with its publication by Sam Fox Publishing Co., a major supplier of silent film music.

1942 SOUND VERSION

In his score for the 1942 sound version of THE GOLD RUSH, Chaplin again followed a standard template for a silent film score, mixing classical music with original tunes.

Arranger and musical director Max Terr and Gerard Carbonara composed one of Georgia’s main themes. The cue, entitled “Snowbound,” opens the film’s main titles in an appropriately dramatic fashion and later underscores the members of the law “snowbound” out in the blizzard looking for Black Larsen. So its appearance at Georgia’s entrance takes you by surprise.

“Snowbound” from THE GOLD RUSH

The love theme is an adaptation of the fifth of Johannes Brahms’s six Klavierstücke, Op. 118, Romance. Chaplin adapts the two sections of the piece into three separate themes.

The beginning Andante melody is buried in the left hand, giving it a darker quality, which suits the unrequited love between Charlie and Georgia. The Allegretto gracioso section becomes the seed for the lighthearted cues out in the snow. The final six bars of the Romance form the basis of the other half of the love theme, which is usually scored high in the strings.

“Love Theme” (Brahms)

Chaplin’s penchant for waltzes is evident throughout the GOLD RUSH score. His graceful “Valse Elegante” underscores the tentative bond between Georgia and Charlie. In the final scene as Georgia tries to convince the sailors aboard the ship that Charlie is not a stowaway, the theme’s orchestrations are richer and deeper, with the melody in the lower strings, indicating a much stronger bond between the two characters.

“Valse Elegante”

From Olcott, Methven, and Marchetti to Terr, Carbonara, and Chaplin himself, the musical transformation of Charlie’s beloved dance hall girl took many forms over the years. But whether the tunes were new or not, all these old sweet songs keep Georgia on my mind.

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