Like a Hell-Broth Boil and Bubble

‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ has some interesting stories associated with it and it debuted in the Broadway musical The Passing Show of 1918 and it was introduced by Helen Carrington.  The music was written by John William Kellette, but the lyrics were a collaboration between James Kendis, James Brockman and Nat Vincent who all had all had separate contracts with different publishers, which led them to creating the collective pseudonym of Jaan Kenbrovin as the credit for this song.  It debuted in 1918 and it was published in 1919 and the original lyrics used a first verse which seems to have disappeared over time.  The very first recording of this was done by the star tenor duo Albert C Campbell and Henry Burr of the second decade of the twentieth century.  The sheet music for this song has been preserved in the National Museum of American History along with an illustration of American silent film actress June Caprice who is surrounded by floating soap bubbles.  There are a lot of good versions of this song, as it was recorded by Vera Lynn, Dean Martin, Chet Atkins, Mildred Bailey, Doris Day, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Johnny Nash and others.

This song became associated with the English West Ham football club which now plays at London Stadium and the fans often sing this song.  One story says that a young player called William Murray, who played for Park School in east London and West Ham’s school boys’ team, was nicknamed ‘Bubbles’ by the headmaster, Cornelius Beal due to his similarity in appearance to the boy in the 1886 painting called ‘Bubbles’ by Sir John Everett Millais, which became famous due to its use in a poster to advertise Pears’ soap.  West Ham fans turned out in big numbers to watch the team, and they would sing this song when the team played well.  Eventually the house band started playing the tune before kick-off and during half-time, encouraging fans to sing along with it.   They started using bubble machines to create the tens of thousands of bubbles for each home game.

Baseball was different back in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox deliberately threw the World Series on the promise of a big payoff from gamblers.   When the Chicago Tribune sportswriter Ring Lardner realized that Baseball had lost its innocence, after news of the 1919 Black Sox scandal came out, when they deliberately lost to the Cincinnati Reds, his love for the game was gone and he was finished with baseball.  John Sayles wrote and directed the 1988 film Eight Men Out, and in it there is a parody of this song with these lyrics, “I’m forever blowing ballgames, pretty ballgames in the air. I come from Chi, I hardly try, just go to bat and fade and die. Fortune’s coming my way, that’s why I don’t care. I’m forever blowing ballgames, and the gamblers treat us fair.

The tune was a major hit in the United States, before it crossed the Atlantic and became a hit with the public in British music halls and theatres during the early 1920s.  The variety artist Dorothy Ward whose specialty was pantomime was especially renowned for making the song famous.  The song was also used by English comedian “Professor” Jimmy Edwards as his signature tune which he played on the trombone.  Harpo Marx would play the song on clarinet, which would then begin emitting bubbles, but in the video that I have here is with Milton Berle singing and Harpo is playing the clarinet.

The melody is frequently quoted in animated cartoon sound tracks when bubbles are visible.  The first line of the chorus is quoted in the 1920s song ‘Singing in the Bathtub’, which became popular when it was done by Tweety Bird.

‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” is featured extensively in the 1930 prohibition gangster movie The Public Enemy that starred James Cagney.  This song was used on the end credits of a Sopranos episode when Tony is watching Public Enemy on TV.  The ‘Public Enemy’ version contained that first verse of:
“I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes
I’m building castles high
They’re born anew, their days are few
Just like a sweet butterfly
And as the daylight is dawning
They come again in the morning”.

The song is also sung in the 1951 movie On Moonlight Bay starring Doris Day and Gordon MacRae, which was a prequel to the 1953 film By the light of the silvery moon.

This song became a morale-boosting song that was sung by the poor British souls that had to take shelter in underground stations during air raids of World War II, when Hitler was dropping bombs.   A parody of the song was written and performed as “I’m Forever Blowing Bubble-Gum” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers.  In Ken Russell’s 1969 film Women in Love the song is featured in an unusual scene where two sisters, played by Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden, wander away from a large picnic gathering and are confronted by a herd of cattle.  In 1970, The Bonzo Dog Band’s stage show featured a robot that sang the title while blowing bubbles.  A solo guitar rendition is periodically featured within the action of Woody Allen’s 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown.  Director Brad Mays paid homage to that scene in his 2008 film The Watermelon, in which actress Kiersten Morgan sings the song while dancing on a Malibu beach.

During his year as Imperial Potentate in 1919-1920, Freeland Kendrick visited every Shriners temple in the United States.  At the Imperial Session of 1920, held in Portland, Ore., Kendrick proposed that the Shriners build a hospital for children.  Conservative Shriners had their doubts, both about the two-dollar yearly assessment from each Shriner, and what it would mean to assume this kind of responsibility.  The prospects of the plan being approved were fading when Noble Forrest Adair rose to speak to the Yaarab Shriners, in Atlanta.  He said, “I was lying in bed yesterday morning, about four o’clock, and some poor fellow who had strayed from the rest of the band stood down there under the window for 25 minutes playing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”  Adair wondered if there might be a deep significance in the tune that was being played for the Shriners.

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams they fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew, their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning!

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams they fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

When shadows creep, when I’m asleep,
To lands of hope I stray!
Then at daybreak, when I awake,
My bluebird flutters away.
Happiness, you seem so near me,
Happiness, come forth and cheer me!

I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams they fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

Written for Paula’s Thursday Inspiration 89 where this week’s theme is “bubbles” and I am thinking that Paula has a bottle of champagne in her refrigerator that she is going to pop open tonight to ring in the New year, while she listens to ‘Tiny Bubbles’ which was written by Leon Pober and recorded, released and performed by Don Hồ in 1966.  That is an extremely odd-looking letter ồ having the grave mark above the circumflex, but Don Hồ was Vietnamese and they have some strange looking letters in their alphabet.  I actually prefer the Connie Francis or Ray Conniff versions of this song.

21 thoughts on “Like a Hell-Broth Boil and Bubble

    1. Thanks Carol Anne and I got the title of this post from the ‘Song of the Witches’ which is in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.
      Double, double toil and trouble;
      Fire burn and caldron bubble.
      Fillet of a fenny snake,
      In the caldron boil and bake;
      Eye of newt and toe of frog,
      Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
      Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
      Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
      For a charm of powerful trouble,
      Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

      Double, double toil and trouble;
      Fire burn and caldron bubble.
      Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
      Then the charm is firm and good.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The Blacksox? That’s a blast from the past.

    Doris Day was the very first media personality I ever had a crush on. Still in early grade school, hadn’t even hit puberty yet, and I was madly in love with her.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes indeed, I’m forever blowing bubbles has been sung by West Ham United supporters since the 60s.
    I shall be seeing the New Year in watching Jools Holland’s Hootenanny show on TV. They also have great music on it.
    I’ve two bottles of beer in the fridge ready.
    Happy New Year to you Jim

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew the song before I started researching it, but I had no idea that it had so many interesting stories. Slept late this morning and I hope that your New Year brings you everything that you desire.

      Liked by 1 person

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