Long before Harold Arlen wrote “Lose That Long Face” for “A Star Is Born” starring Judy Garland, songwriter Carrie Jacobs-Bond practiced those words. Mostly forgotten today, Jacobs-Bond was one of the most successful composers of the 20th century. She endured tragedies and struggled for many years before finally finding huge success and happiness in her Hollywood home. Jacobs-Bond tried to live faithfully and gratefully long before there was Dale Carnegie or televangelists preaching the power of positive thinking.
From an early age, Jacobs-Bond exhibited a love and talent for music. At the age of 4, she could play the piano and could play by ear at the age of 7. Jacobs-Bond began piano lessons at 10.
Jacobs-Bond married E. J. Smith in 1880, when she was 18 and had a son within a couple of years, but divorced him within seven years. In 1887, she married Dr. Frank Lewis Bond, the love of her life. They all moved to a mining camp where he cared for miners and their families and invested in the mining company. The doctor encouraged her love for music and her nascent composing skills.
The family moved to Chicago when Dr. Bond suffered financial calamity after the mining company declared bankruptcy. Jacobs-Bond began selling some of her songs, which helped their financial condition. In 1894, the doctor was tragically killed when he slipped on an icy sidewalk and hit his head after a child pushed him, dying five days later.
Jacobs-Bond and her son moved out of Chicago, and she attempted to run a boarding house. Her poor business skills caused it to founder. They moved back to Chicago, into a $15-a-month room, where she composed songs, painted china, rented rooms, sold off furniture, anything to make money to survive. She suffered depression trying to stay afloat. In a foreword to “Songs Everybody Sings” she notes that many of her songs came from improvised tunes she hummed while painting china, to which she later added verses. Jacobs-Bond later wrote in her 1927 memoir, “Roads of Melody,” “I am glad I have been poor, being poor makes one more human. But for poverty I may never have written the songs that have brought success.”
After struggles getting publishing companies interested in her work because she was a woman, Jacob-Bond’s first published composition was the children’s song “Is My Dolly Dead?,” which later became a hit in a musical show. Newspaperwomen began introducing her to musicians and composers, helping promote her work. John Philip Sousa’s band played her instrumental compositions. For several years, Jacobs-Bond sang her way to California in railroad sitting cars, remaining for two months at the Hollywood Hotel, singing songs in exchange for room and board.
A publisher bought some songs and they made a little money, without much support or publicity. Starting a little “store” called the Bond Shop, with her stock stored in a bedroom closet, Jacobs-Bond began publishing and promoting her own work, attempting to appear on the vaudeville stage. In a newspaper story, Jacobs-Bond states that she walked out on stage with lilies clutched to her chest. No sound came from the audience and when she began “one of my daintiest little songs, a veritable tumult rushed at me from the audience.” The audience mocked her before the curtain dropped in front of her and she ran home crying. She began giving real concerts and recitals and gradually began making money as serious performers like Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Chauncey Olcott sang her works in concert. Recordings soon followed.
Most of Jacobs-Bond’s work would be called sentimental today, dealing with emotions like family and romantic love, happiness, and sorrow. She also wrote greeting cards, poems and mottoes. As Edwin Palmer restates in “The History of Hollywood” what her bound volume of music stated, “At heart she is a child of nature, of flowers, of all things beautiful. Her voice is the voice of humanity. She writes heart songs from her big heart through tears in a dream world of melody and poetry for the people and of the people, charming a music loving world.”
“Just A ‘Wearyin’ for You” was her first big success in 1901. Edison Photograph Monthly said: “A dainty little song, with its homely but tender sentiments and pretty melody, is of a high standard and a prime favorite with the best vocal artists.” Jacobs-Bond followed with “I Love You Truly” in 1906, a popular song in weddings and movies for decades, including appearances in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The King’s Speech.”
The Los Angeles Times interviewed her in May 1907 when she visited town after its publication, calling her “ a veritable sunshine distributor.” She noted that she had overcome tragedy because, “I have learned to laugh, for a smile is a lot better than a frown, and it goes far in the right direction.” In November 1907, Jacobs-Bond sang at the White House at President Theodore Roosevelt’s request.
Jacobs-Bond wrote her most successful work, “A Perfect Day,” while visiting Riverside’s Mission Inn in 1910, after being inspired by a beautiful sunset. Through the 1920s, this song was the most popular piece of sheet music sold in the United States. Jacobs-Bond also made phonograph recordings for Ampico.
With Jacobs-Bond’s growing popularity, moving picture companies employed her songs as inspiration for production or for accompaniment. The American Film Manufacturing Co. adapted her song “A Perfect Day” into their 1914 short film, “At the End of a Perfect Day.” In 1916, Vitagraph suggested musical accompanists employ Jacob-sBond’s song, “My Soul” as the theme for its 1916 film “The Wheel of Life” on the accompanying musical cue sheet. Selznick Pictures listed “I Flavia Truly,” inspired by Jacobs-Bond’s “I Love You Truly,” as a music cue for its 1923 film “Rupert of Hentzau.”
Jacobs-Bond was so popular that San Diego’s Great Panama-California International Exposition held Carrie Jacobs-Bond Day on April 27, 1916, which included organ selections of her works, songs and even an appearance in which she accompanied a quartet.
During World War I, Jacobs-Bond supported troops out of Cleveland’s Camp Sherman with home comforts, and donated profits of the song “I’m the Captain of the Broomstick Cavalry” to the Red Cross in honor of Santa Monica’s Roland Root Speer, on whom she based the song when he was 3. Speer was supposedly the first American to “plant the Stars and Stripes on the battle front in France,” per the Aug. 19, 1917, Los Angeles Times.
In 1917, Jacobs-Bond built herself a three-level house at 2042 Pinehurst Road in Hollywood Heights called “The End of the Road,” moving there permanently. In 1920, she opened a large Bond shop at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
While Jacobs-Bond made appearances on the radio and gave concerts during the 1920s, she also suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork, spending some time in a Glendale sanitarium.
In 1927, Jacobs-Bond wrote the music to Francesca Miller’s prize-winning poem “Roses Are in Bloom,” the first time a song inspired a theme, “Songs in Flowers,” in the Tournament of Roses Parade. The New York Times reported on July 18, 1926, that, “The pageant will be the Rose song in flowers and there will also be a float for “The End of a Perfect Day.”
Later that year, she published “The Roads of Melody,” a $2 memoir detailing how she triumphed over the struggles in her long road to success. One review called it, “As sweet and charming as her songs.”
Jacobs-Bond endured more heartache in 1928 when her only son, Fredric Jacobs Smith, committed suicide. As always, she celebrated the goodness in her life and soldiered on through hard work and optimism.
The 1930s witnessed a resurgence of Jacobs-Bond’s popularity. She wrote the song “The Lovely Hour,” sung by Grace Moore in the 1930 MGM film “A Lady’s Morals.” Jacobs-Bond appeared on stage for two matinees during “Charlie Chan’s Chance” at downtown Los Angeles’ Loew’s State Theatre on Jan. 19, 1932. In 1933, journalist Edwin C. Hill wrote a Master Arts one-reel short called “Serenade,” which revealed her story through an interview at her home, along with musical interpolations of her work, sung by Ralph Kirbery. Growers named a rose after Jacobs-Bond in 1934.
Producers William Keighley and Ralph Jester formed Tower Films in 1945 to produce “I Love You Truly,” a fictionalized version of Jacobs-Bond’s life and to employ her popular songs, but the project fell through.
Jacobs-Bond died at home on Dec. 28, 1946, at the age of 84, leaving an estate of almost $350,000 to family and friends. Parts of her estate were donated to UCLA for its archives.
Jacobs-Bond found a way to overcome tragedy through the uplifting nature of the power of positive thinking and songs, demonstrating how gratitude can often bring reward and happiness to life.