BUFFALO, N.Y. - It was a friendship that began on the legendary Crystal Beach steamship, The Canadiana, and ultimately wound up in Oz.
Local Author William Kae has written 6 books on Crystal Beach, Buffalo's waterfront and the legendary ships that called it home, and the Canadiana holds a special place in that history. Thousands of people would step on board off Dante Place, around where Canalside is today, and they would sail off across the lake, dancing the night away.
One of the local musicians who performed on the Canadiana in the summer of 1923 went on to become one of America's most popular composers of all time. Harold Arlen, the man behind such classics as Stormy Weather, Accentuate the Positives, and Paper Moon, began his career as Hyman Arluck, born in Buffalo in 1905.
Last Summer Walter Rimler released the book "The Man that Got Away: The Life and Songs of Harold Arlen." He says those early years were a great time of discovery for Arlen. It was also the start of a friendship that would start on the Emerald Channel of Lake Erie and wind up in the Emerald City of Oz.
According to many accounts, in the Summer of 1923, while playing with his band the Southbound Shufflers, Arlen met an eccentric young performer named Ray Bolger. They became fast friends. Bolger came to Buffalo again to perform with Arlen's next band, The Buffalodians, and their paths would cross several more times over the years
Rimler says, "Bolger would stay up late listening to Arlen on the piano working out arrangements for his band." Little did either know that a decade later, these best friends would collaborate on a classic. Bolger's Scarecrow, with a little help from Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, bringing to life Arlen's song-writing genius on the silver screen, and within one of the Unknown Stories of Western New York.