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Thursday, August 29, 2013

WOODIN | His Musical Contributions (Updated May 1, 2016)

William Woodin at the U.S. Embassy to 
Cuba, where he was selling RR cars. 
Photo courtesy of Anne Harvey Gerli.
William H. ("Will") Woodin became a successful businessman, and settled down as a youth in the family enterprise in Berwick, Pa.

However, his writing and musical talent disposed him to be an entertainer. After interrupting his engineering studies at Columbia, he married Annie Jessup and voyaged to Europe.

Woodin's Musical Interest in the Near East

His initial purpose in visiting the Near East was to report for the New York Herald and other papers on Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s killing of Armenians, the first of several genocides of the 20th Century. But he was also interested in the music of the area.

His granddaughter Anne Harvey Gerli tells the story from Nan’s perspective [Anne Gerli has sadly passed away since this was written, a few months prior to this update on May 1, 2016]:

Nan was jealous of Will’s love of music and resented his going off to Europe to play music with the gypsies. The family recalled him early because his father and the business were ailing. He dutifully hurried home to help out in the business and support his family.

The business conditions that generated the 1893 Panic and ensuing Depression doubtless played a part in the appeal for Woodin to come home.

Woodin's Compositions

His love of music was genuine – he had a good musical ear and played the guitar and piano all his life, though he rebelled against his piano teacher and stopped taking formal piano lessons at 7.

Woodin composed several melodies that continue to be performed, including the FDR March played at the President’s rain-soaked inaugural.

His ability to entertain people empowered him as a rolling-stock salesman, and after a second-place finish in his race for Congress, Will Woodin threw himself into a huge number of mergers and acquisitions that resulted in the American Car and Foundry Company (ACF), based in New York City. ACF created the first steel railway car in 1904 and sold hundreds of cars to the London and New York City subway systems.

Woodin worked his way up to become ACF’s chief executive in 1915. Successful and entertaining, he joined many clubs in the City and East Hampton, where he became President of the Maidstone Club in 1926-27, as well as the third Commodore of the Devon Yacht Club (1922-28) and the founding Chairman of East Hampton’s arts center, Guild Hall.

Raggedy Ann's  Sunny Songs

A popular father and grandfather, Woodin composed the music for “Raggedy Ann’s Sunny Songs,” with the lyrics supplied by his friend Johnny Gruelle, whose characters include "Little Wooden Willie". The songs came as a book, as sheet music, and as a set of small 45-rpm records made in 1930, based on the songbook. The records are purchasable today by collectors for $70-$200 based on their condition. 

You may think these 1930 songs are lost forever, but in May I was having lunch on the beach and ran into Wilson Stone who knew all the words - and music - to "Little Wooden Willie." The words were written by Woodin's friend Johnny Gruelle and the music was composed by Will Woodin.
The songbook - thanks to Charlie Miner.

Will Woodin's music.
We can be confident that Will Woodin is the model for "Little Wooden Willie."

I have looked up the Raggedy Ann books at the East Hampton Library, which has a superb and growing Children's Section. The library last weekend had two of the Raggedy Ann books available with others circulating. See photos.

The librarian in East Hampton knew exactly where the available books were and went straight for them. That could be because Johnny Gruelle and Will Woodin were friends and Woodin was an East Hampton resident.
Johnny Gruelle and
 Will Woodin

 His Raggedy Ann doll, which was a favorite of his daughter Marcella, who died in childhood in 1915, has been in production ever since then, and is said to be the oldest doll in continuous production. Take that, Barbie!

His books feature "The Gruelle Ideal - That books for children should contain nothing to cause fright, suggest fear, glorify mischief, excuse malice or condone cruelty. That is why they are called "Books Good for Children".

Raggedy Ann doll lovers include Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly to her movie fans), Margaret Truman, Caroline Kennedy and Bob Hope (who took them on tour with the troops).

The 45-rpm records. They came
 as a set and can be purchased 
for  $70-$200 online.
Woodin was as multi-talented as his friend Gruelle. Woodin and Gruelle worked on songs together, both the lyrics and the music. Woodin mainly composed the music, i.e., the melody–the rest he left to professionals.

His favorite musical instruments were the violin and the guitar, but he also played the piano by ear.

Collection of Raggedy
Ann Stories.
Raggedy Ann's Durability

My older sisters Olga and Brigid grew up in the 1930s and 1940s and they remember the Raggedy Ann dolls.

I remember seeing them at other people's homes but not in ours.

Raggedy Ann and Andy
and the Camel.
Brigid says that Mom didn't approve of Raggedy Ann for some reason – maybe because Johnny Gruelle gave her a "candy heart" which the U.S.  Catholic Church of that time may have found objectionable (a candy heart is not a soul).

But a neighboring girl in the Chevy Chase area of Washington, DC, Lois Dean, had a Raggedy Ann doll and my sisters would go play with the doll at the Dean House.