Gus Arnheim and His Ambassadors

Some bite size factoids today on bandleader, piano player and songwriter Gus Arnheim (1897-1955). Arnheim was born in Philadelphia and raised in Chicago, two great vaudeville towns. Early in his career he accompanied Sophie Tucker in vaudeville. By 1919 he was in a West Coast jazz trio with Abe Lyman and Henry Halstead. When Lyman started his own orchestra in the early ’20s, Arnheim was its piano player. In 1923 the pair cowrote the hit tune “I Cried for You” with Arthur Freed.

In 1927 Arnheim peeled off and started his own band. They made three VItaphone shorts: Gus Arnheim and His Ambassador Hotel Orchestra (1927), Gus Arnheim and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra (1928), and Gus Arnheim and His Ambassadors (1928). By 1928 they were stars of radio and recordings. A number of notable singers and performers collaborated with Arnheim’s band over the years: Bing Crosby, with and without the Rhythm Boys (1930-31), Fred MacMurray (1930-31), Russ Columbo (1930), Eddie Cantor (1931), Shirley Ross (1933) and Stan Kenton (1937).

Arnheim (usually with his band) also appeared in the films Broadway (1929), Why Leave Home? (1929), Flying HIgh (1931, with Bert Lahr, Pat O’Brien, and Charlotte Greenwood), Her Majesty Love (1931, with Marilyn Miller and W.C. Fields), Scarface (1932), Bombshell (1933), Palooka (1934), Gift of Gab (1934), and Trocadero (1944), among others. He also conducted movie studio soundtrack orchestras for dozens of other films.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.