We continue our voyage through the murky sewers of a corrupt New York in our latest Tale for Our Time: P G Wodehouse's Psmith, Journalist. In tonight's episode, changes are afoot at the offices of Cozy Moments. Hence the presence of up-and-coming boxer Kid Brady:
Master Maloney was no early bird. Larks who rose in his neighbourhood, rose alone. He did not get up with them. He was supposed to be at the office at nine o'clock. It was a point of honour with him, a sort of daily declaration of independence, never to put in an appearance before nine-thirty. On this particular morning he was punctual to the minute, or half an hour late, whichever way you choose to look at it.
He had only whistled a few bars of 'My Little Irish Rose,' and had barely got into the first page of his story of life on the prairie when Kid Brady appeared. The Kid, as was his habit when not in training, was smoking a big black cigar. Master Maloney eyed him admiringly. The Kid, unknown to that gentleman himself, was Pugsy's ideal. He came from the Plains; and had, indeed, once actually been a cowboy; he was a coming champion; and he could smoke black cigars. It was, therefore, without his usual well-what-is-it-now? air that Pugsy laid down his book, and prepared to converse...
If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club you can hear my reading of Part Fourteen of our serialization of Psmith, Journalist simply by clicking here and logging-in. All previous episodes can be found here - so you can choose whether to listen each night twenty minutes before you lower your lamp, or save them up for a weekend binge-listen now that Netflix et al have exhausted all their pre-lockdown stock of watchable telly.
Re "My Little Irish Rose" above: Throughout Wodehouse's writing, tough guys are always whistling the most lachrymose and sentimental of songs. So, upon reading that Pugsy was smitten by "My Little Irish Rose", I assumed it was the only song by that title I've heard of - written by Victor Herbert and Henry Blossom for an operetta set in 1798 about a plucky Irish revolutionary who gets sprung from captivity when his highborn Anglo-Irish sweetheart disguises him as her servant. This was how the rebel son of Erin felt about her:
The only problem is that the blarney-riddled operetta in question, Eileen, did not open on Broadway until 1917 - well after Wodehouse wrote his tale. So that shamrock-hued ballad could not have been what Pugsy Maloney was whistling.
Back to the drawing board. And, after racking my brains, I remembered a song about an Irishman who gets shipwrecked on a desert isle, where the natives proclaim him their Grand Panjandrum. And he's living the life, so he writes to his lovely colleen back in Dublin to come out and join him:
I've got rings on my fingers
Bells on my toes
Elephants to ride on
My little Irish rose...
The way it's placed in the lyric it would be easy to mistake "My Little Irish Rose" for the title. But in fact that honor goes to the first line: "I've Got Rings on My Fingers".
The song is by Maurice Scott, R P Weston and Fred J Barnes. Mr Weston's songs are still known, not least the one that gave our chum Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits a Billboard Number One hit in America half-a-century after it was written: "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am." "Rings on My Fingers" didn't linger quite as long, but it was interpolated into the 1909 Broadway musical The Midnight Sons and became the show's only hit - so big a hit that the following season, 1910, they put it in another musical, The Yankee Girl. So it was a song in the air around New York at exactly the time Wodehouse was writing Psmith, Journalist.
More remarkably, it was still sufficiently popular two decades later that the great Max Fleischer turned its lyric into the plot of this lively cartoon short:
Okay, we're getting a bit Song of the Week here, so I'll wrap things up with a peppier version of "Rings" fifty years after its debut from the boundlessly perky Theresa Brewer:
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