“Johnny Mercer: The Dream’s on Me” is a Warner Brothers
documentary film, directed by Bruce Ricker. It was released as
a part of a two-DVD set in 2009, in conjunction with Turner
As with the other Ricker film previously discussed, “Tony Bennett:
The Music Never Ends,” this film provides a thorough portrait
of Mercer, a seminal figure in the entertainment world. Clint
Eastwood also served as executive producer of this project, and
his prominent presence includes appearances at various points
in both the documentary film and the accompanying bonus features.
Johnny Mercer (1909-1976) was born into a well-to-do family in
Savannah, Georgia. His childhood years were chronicled in a fair
amount of detail, set here against the musical and political backdrop
of the South. From there, the film moves throughout many different
stages of his life and career, touching on his early enthusiasm for
jazz, the theater, and his relationships with Hollywood and
Broadway. Along the way, his collaborations with different
entertainment personalities are mentioned. Their names read like a
“Who’s Who” of music and dance: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Andre
Previn, Nat “King” Cole, Henry Mancini, Blake Edwards, and others.
This list goes on and on.
Mercer was considered to be one of the greatest lyricists ever, and
just a few of his songwriter collaborators include: Jerome Kern,
Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, Ziggy Elman, Johnny Mandel,
and the aforementioned Mancini and Previn. He also wrote for
Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and worked alongside Duke Ellington.
Archival film footage is featured of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire,
Mel Torme, The Mills Brothers, Nat “King” Cole, and many other
greats. Performances are also included from Johnny Mercer, who
was an excellent singer and recording artist, in his own right. It isn’t
common knowledge that he wrote music as well as lyrics, and I
was disappointed that this aspect of his career wasn’t explained
in more detail.
A discussion of Mercer’s personal life included topics such as his
longtime affair with Judy Garland, his sometime irascible behavior
while under the influence of alcohol, and his strong desire to be a
family man and an “ordinary guy.” Mercer demonstrated his power
in the entertainment industry by co-founding Capitol Records in 1942,
and signing Nat “King” Cole to this label, the following year.
Disc One consists of the 90-minute documentary film. Bonus
features are found on Disc Two, and are quite worthwhile.
These include footage of Clint Eastwood discussing Johnny Mercer
with composer John Williams and performer Jamie Cullum.
Various singers and musicians also offer their renditions of
Mercer’s songs, including Clint’s teenage daughter, Morgan,
Audra McDonald, Cleo Laine, Michael Feinstein, and others.
Like Tony Bennett, Mercer was also a talented painter, and one of
the bonus features is even devoted to his artwork. A montage of
family photos is narrated by Mercer’s niece, and an informative text
biography concludes this portrait.
Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics for some 1,500 songs, roughly 100 of
which were hits, and his place in the pantheon of American song is
assured. This wonderful and informative two-DVD set was a revelation
to me, and worthy of an “A.”