Harry Ruby

Active - 1930 - 1957  |   Born - Oct 29, 1895   |   Died - Feb 23, 1974   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical

Share on

Biography by Hal Erickson

American composer/screenwriter Harry Ruby dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, but chose instead to pursue the career of "song plugger;" he would position himself at the pianos of major music-publishing houses, playing new tunes for the benefit of such clients as singers and record producers. In partnership with future film mogul Harry Cohn, Ruby managed to parlay a novelty ditty called "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" into a hit. Tired of promoting the works of others, Ruby began writing his own songs in collaboration with vaudeville hoofer Bert Kalmar. Like his lifelong friend Groucho Marx, Ruby's musical preferences ran to Gilbert-and-Sullivan patter, groan-inducing puns and surrealistic nonsense; all the same, his biggest hits were such "conformist" pieces as "Three Little Words," "I Wanna Be Loved By You" and "Who's Sorry Now?" Perhaps Kalmar and Ruby's best-remembered "stunt" piece was "Hooray For Captain Spaulding," which they wrote for the 1928 Marx Brothers musical Animal Crackers and which would ever after serve as Groucho's signature theme. Journeying to Hollywood in 1929, Kalmar and Ruby composed songs and wrote screenplays for such comedians as Eddie Cantor and Wheeler and Woolsey; the team also maintained its own publishing company. After the death of Bert Kalmar in 1947, Ruby curtailed his own professional activities, preferring to devote his time to his family (his wife was silent screen actress Eileen Percy) and to remain active in Beverly Hills civic activities. Ruby also acted from time to time in the '50s, appearing as himelf in Angels in the Outfield (1951) and guesting as a decidedly semitic Indian chief in the Irwin Allen all-star farrago The Story of Mankind (1957). In 1950, MGM produced a fanciful biopic about Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar, Three Little Words. Harry was played by Red Skelton and Fred Astaire costarred as Bert.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography