Friday, November 26, 2021

William Steig Illustrates Bing Crosby's "Small Fry" Album

The song "Small Fry" with music by Hoagy Carmichael and lyrics by Frank Loesser was written for Paramount's "Sing You Sinners" (1938). In the film it is performed as an onstage musical number by Bing Crosby as Pappy, a young Donald O'Connor as Small Fry, and Fred MacMurray cross-dressing as Mammy. Crosby later recorded the song with Johnny Mercer and Victor Young's Small Fryers for a 1941 Decca album named "Small Fry: A Collection of Songs About 'Small Fry.'"

William Steig was already known for a long-running cartoon series in The New Yorker called "Small Fry." His cartoons may have done much to popularize the term or at the very least to associate it with his sophisticated and nostalgic humorous sensibility. It is therefore no surprise that Steig was asked to illustrate the album cover. Aside from the title song, his drawings seem to specifically draw inspiration from the songs "Shoe Shine Boy," "The Girl with the Pigtail in Her Hair," "School Days," "Sunbonnet Sue," and "Poor Old Rover." In addition, the boy hawking newspapers refers to "Just a Kid Named Joe." The boy leaning against the lamppost may or may not reference the song "If I Was a Millionaire." The same Steig drawings are used for the cover of the enclosed booklet, but with a different layout to accommodate the taller proportions. Steig's Small Fry was not collected in book form until 1944, so it's interesting that his series known primarily to readers of The New Yorker was used in this mainstream album promotion in 1941.

Bing Crosby
eBay listing accessed November 25, 2021

Bing Crosby
eBay item description

"Small Fry" from "Sing You Sinners" (1938)
Sung by Bing Crosby and Johnny Mercer (1941)
Music by Hoagy Carmichael
Lyrics by Frank Loesser

The published sheet music uses images from the movie and does not feature any art by William Steig:

"Small Fry"

Note:  To me it seems obvious that Bing Crosby's "Small Fry" album with its cover art by William Steig should have been advertised in The New Yorker, but I am unable to find any evidence of this. 

You can watch the song "Small Fry" as it appeared in the 1938 movie "Sing You Sinners" on Vimeo here.


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