Who Was Gus Kahn? Originally Published October 30-31, 2020.

Born on November 6, 1886, in Koblenz, Germany, Gustav Gerson Kahn was the son of Isaac and Theresa Kahn.  The family moved to Chicago around 1891, and after graduating high school, young Gus worked as a clerk in a mail-order business.  It would be his sideline that made him famous.

Gus Kahn had been writing special material for Vaudeville while in school and then while working his day job, and at the age of 20, he had his first song published, “My Dreamy China Lady.”  In 1908 he collaborated with Grace LeBoy on “I Wish I Had a Girl”; it was a hit and eventually he married her.  In 1916, he composed the lyrics to the hit “Pretty Baby,” by New Orleans jazz artist Tony Jackson (who had moved to Chicago in 1913) and Egbert VanAlstyne.

Mr. Kahn would go on to write lyrics with various collaborators for the well-known “Ain’t We Got Fun?” (1921), “My Buddy” and “Toot Toot Tootsie” (1922), “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and “It Had to Be You” (1924), “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” (1925), “Side by Side” (1927), “Love Me or Leave Me” and “Makin’ Whoopee” (1928).  He wrote the ever-popular “Who’s That Knocking at my Door?” and “Carolina in the Morning,” “My Buddy,” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”  And he wrote songs for the films Ziegfeld Girl (1941), the Marx Brothers’ Day at the Races (1937), Flying Down to Rio, Kid Millions, Thanks a Million, Everybody Sing, and many more.

Under the category of obscure history applicable to today, Kahn and VanAlstyne wrote the music for The Cinderella Girl, book by Jo Swerling, which opened in late September 1918 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the middle of the flu pandemic.  They were only allowed to sell every other seat in every other row, thus making it impossible for the production to break even.  With that weak start, the tour went all the way to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where they played for five days before closing for good.  The show was presented by Minnie Palmer and starred her sons, The Four Marx Brothers.  Some say it was the only flop the brothers ever had.  But out of it, Groucho got grandchildren:  many years later Gus Kahn’s daughter Irene married Groucho’s son Arthur.

Gus Kahn passed away in Beverly Hills, California, on October 8, 1941.