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'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' composer Hugh Martin dies: Read our story about the song's fascinating creation

Hugh Martin

(Jesse Grant/WireImage)

Hugh Martin, the composer who wrote “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Trolley Song,” died on March 11 at his home in California. He was 96. In 2007, EW writer Chris Willman interviewed Martin for a story on “Merry Little Christmas.” “The song’s fascinatingly tangled history has left it with several very different sets of lyrics, from the near-suicidal to the downright ebullient,” Willman wrote. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

In 1943, Martin was hired to pen the songs for the movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis, which would pair Judy Garland with her future husband, director Vincente Minnelli. For the now-famous scene in which Garland and her little sister, a 7-year-old Margaret O’Brien, are despondent over the prospect of moving away from their cherished home, he wrote an initial set of lyrics that were almost comically depressing.

Among the never-recorded couplets — which he now describes as ”hysterically lugubrious” — were lines like: ”Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last… Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more.”

”I often wondered what would it have been like if those lyrics had been sung in the movie,” laughs O’Brien, now 69. ”But about a week before we were to shoot the scene where Judy sings it to me, she looked at the lyrics and said, ‘Don’t you think these are awfully dark? I’m going to go to Hugh Martin and see if he can lighten it up a little.”’

As Martin tells it, he initially balked at changing the words. ”They said, ‘It’s so dreadfully sad.’ I said, ‘I thought the girls were supposed to be sad in that scene.’ They said, ‘Well, not that sad.’ And Judy was saying, ‘If I sing that to that sweet little Margaret O’Brien, they’ll think I’m a monster!’ And she was quite right, but it took me a long time to get over my pride. Finally, Tom Drake [the young male lead], who was a friend, convinced me. He said, ‘You stupid son of a b—-! You’re gonna foul up your life if you don’t write another verse of that song!”’

You can read the full story here.

Originally posted March 14 2011 — 12:50 PM EDT

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