Club Dreyfus

Irving Berlin was never one of Max Dreyfus’ composers, because Berlin ran his own music publishing business.

Looking at the major composers in 1925 (Victor Herbert had passed away in 1924), T.B. Harms had exclusive contracts with Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Vincent Youmans, Rudolf Friml, Sigmund Romberg, Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter.  Not bad for a traveling salesman from Mississippi.  Dreyfus would eventually sell Harms to Warner Bros. in 1929, receiving approximately eight million dollars for his share of the stock.

Picking up on the comments once made by Dreyfus to Rodgers regarding being available to help, Dreyfus was true to his word.  During the Great Depression, many of his friends lost their money in the market crash.  Robert Russell Bennett recalled a conversation with Dreyfus, after Dreyfus spent most of his own money (from the sale of Harms to Warner Bros.) to support them: “ ‘I think I know what you did with your millions,’ I said, ‘and I’m not sure any of them would have done that for you.

‘That may be true,’ Max said, ‘but we don’t figure that way.  The only possible reason to have money is to be able to do what you want to do.’ ”

Bennett went on to state “I did hear of one that made good in full but he was an exception, according to those who know at least a little more than I do.”

More than any one single individual, Dreyfus was a positive force in creating a “new” Broadway, by supporting young composers and by unifying  composers and orchestrators into one organization.  He had vision, foresight; what’s more, he had a genuine affection for good music.  If “his boys” succeeded, he succeeded.  In fact, his model worked better than even he envisioned.  “His boys” wrote great music, and everyone who stayed with him enjoyed the fruits of success.

One could also say that “Max’s Boys” produced “Max’s Music.”  Without the early support for such teenagers as Kern and Gershwin who knows whether they would have achieved the success they enjoyed.  Part of their success stemmed from the fact that they were great composers; however, part of their success stemmed from being supported by a patron of the arts early in their careers.  If not for Dreyfus, would Kern have been ready for Oscar Hammerstein II in 1927?  This is a roundabout way of saying that Dreyfus has a right to claim some degree of ownership of America’s renaissance of musical composition.  By providing the incubator for success, he accelerated the process of maturation.