"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Back in 1957, [Johnny Mercer] had received a letter from Sadie Vimmerstedt, a fifty-eight-year-old grandmother who worked at the cosmetics counter of a Youngstown, Ohio, department store. She had been outraged when Frank Sinatra divorced his first wife, Nancy, to marry Ava Gardner; when Ava Gardner left Sinatra, Sadie relished the fact that the cocky singer had gotten his comeuppance. Tearing several sheets from an old desk pad calendar, she wrote to Johnny Mercer, asking him to write a song about how "Frankie boy" got his just deserts for leaving Nancy. She suggested a title, "When Somebody Breaks Your Heart," and gave Mercer the idea of the lyric: "I want to be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart." She put the sheets in an envelope and addressed it simply to:
Johnny Mercer Songwriter New York, NY
The post office forwarded the letter to New York's ASCAP office, and eventually it reached Mercer.
Although he was usually responsive to correspondents, Sadie's letter came at the low point of Mercer's career, when his confidence in his songwriting ability was at its ebb. With the success of "Moon River" and "Days of Wine and Roses," however, his creative spirits surged, and in 1962 he wrote back to Sadie Vimmerstedt, apologizing for not responding sooner but telling her he had written the song, lyrics and music, and had been waiting for a major recording artist to do it. "He said he didn't want to record the song until he got the best singer," Sadie Vimmerstedt said. "When he told me Tony Bennett was going to record it I got really excited." Bennett, coming off the success of "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," was the biggest star at Columbia Records, and his recording of "I Wanna Be Around" sold fifteen thousand copies the day it was released. Mercer explained to Sadie that he wanted to publish the song and split the royalties with her. He suggested she receive one-third, since she had had the idea for the song, and he receive two-thirds for writing the lyric and the music...
The song was a huge hit, and Sadie Vimmerstedt found herself a celebrity. She would write to Mercer about people coming into the department store to ask for her autograph and being interviewed on the radio in Cincinnati and Cleveland. "I'm getting to be very famous," she wrote to him. "You can't believe how, it's like a fairy story, a Cinderella story." Then she was invited to appear on network television, but after her experience in New York, she wrote to Mercer, "I'm tired. I think I'm getting out of show business."