Composer, lyricist and arranger Hugh Martin, who created the enduring standards “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song,” all performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” died March 14 of natural causes in Encinitas, Calif. He was 94.
Martin shares songwriting credit for the three songs with Ralph Blane but claimed in his 2010 autobiography that he’d written the songs himself. The pair had an unusual method of collaboration in which each wrote both words and music, often independently, and then would combine their efforts. Martin and Blane, who met as cast members in “Hooray for What?,” a 1937 Broadway revue, agreed to share credit for all of their output.
The Christmas ballad initially had foreboding lyrics — It began, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last” — and Garland refused to essay it in a scene in which she would be addressing those words to adorable Margaret O’Brien. The second line was changed to “Let your heart be bright.”
The song, along with “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” owe their wistful quality to the period in which they were written — not the early 1900s setting of “Meet Me in St. Louis” but WWII.
Martin studied at music at Birmingham Southern College, seeking to become a classical musician. His discovery of George Gershwin’s music changed that, and he moved to New York.
Martin penned five Broadway musicals (both music and lyrics) including 1941’s “Best Foot Forward” (with Blane), “Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!” (1948), “Make a Wish” (1951) and 1964’s “High Spirits” (he collaborated with Timothy Gray on book, music and lyrics). For the 1989 stage version of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” he wrote new songs.
Other film credits, all shared with Blane, include the 1943 pic version of “Best Foot Forward,” “Abbott and Costello in Hollywood” (1945), “Athena” (1954), “The Girl Rush” (1955) and “The Girl Most Likely” (1958).
Martin worked with Garland again on “A Star Is Born,” but another conflict between them — he didn’t want her to belt out “The Man That Got Away” — caused him to leave the picture. Years later he faced a similar conflict with Ann Miller when he was musical director of “Sugar Babies.”
He was nominated for original song Oscars for “The Trolley Song” in 1944 and “Pass That Peace Pipe” from “Good News” in 1947.
Martin is survived by a brother.