In the aftermath of the holiday weekend and the many activities enjoyed by folks, my thoughts turned to the musical side of picnics, and that led me to one of the most interesting pairings in music. It’s the curious case of an old standard that became so closely identified with a movie theme that the resulting medley became familiar to just about everyone. In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m referring to “Moonglow/Theme From Picnic.”
I’ve always liked the original “Moonglow” and have featured the instrumental version in earlier pieces about immortal jazz pianists Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. The song was written by the team of Will Hudson and Irving Mills, and first began appearing in the songbook of dance bands back in the early Thirties. Benny Goodman also had a very nice version of it, as did Artie Shaw and many others.
But the movie match-up came along a couple of decades later, when the song was included in the William Holden/Kim Novak film, Picnic. Although the 1955 movie received mixed reviews and seems pretty tame now, it did make a big impression at the time. Holden was in his late thirties by then but was playing younger in this movie (helped by a shaved chest) and he was still considered plenty hot by the ladies of the era. Kim Novak was in her early twenties and still relatively unknown, but the movie would start her on the road to stardom.
In what was considered a scorching scene at the time, Holden and Novak had a long, sensuous dancing experience that included a ton of innuendo but nothing the censors could really find objectionable. (According to reports, he didn’t really want to do it and was half-drunk while filming it.) The music was an integral part of the scene, and in that moment “Moonglow” and Picnic were forever joined in the minds of countless swooning fans. (Video below.)
Taking advantage of that occurrence, movie music veteran Morris Stoloff generated a record that not only shot to the top of the charts, but became the de facto standard.