The music was written by John Kellette. The lyrics are credited to “Jaan Kenbrovin” — actually a collective pseudonym for the writers James Kendis, James Brockman and Nat Vincent, combining the first three letters of each lyricist’s last name. The number was debuted in the Broadway musical The Passing Show of 1918, and it was introduced by Helen Carrington.
The copyright to “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” was originally registered in 1919, and was owned by the Kendis-Brockman Music Co. Inc. This was transferred later that year to Jerome H. Remick & Co. of New York and Detroit. When the song was written, James Kendis, James Brockman, and Nat Vincent all had separate contracts with publishers, which led them to use the name Jaan Kenbrovin for credit on this song. James Kendis and James Brockman were partners in the Kendis-Brockman Music Company.
Becomes a hit
The waltz was a major Tin Pan Alley hit, and was performed and recorded by most major singers and bands of the late 1910s and early 1920s. The song was a hit for Ben Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra in 1919. The Original Dixieland Jass Band recording of the number is an unusual early example of jazz in 3/4 time.
The writer Ring Lardner parodied the lyric during the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when he began to suspect that players on the Chicago White Sox (a United States-based baseball team) were deliberately losing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. His version began: “I’m forever blowing ballgames.”
The song also became a hit with the public in British music halls and theatres during the early 1920s. Dorothy Ward was especially renowned for making the song famous with her appearances at these venues. The song was also used by English comedian “Professor” Jimmy Edwards as his signature tune—played on the trombone. Harpo Marx would play the song on clarinet, which would then begin emitting bubbles. The melody is frequently quoted in animated cartoon sound tracks when bubbles are visible. The title air, or first line of the chorus, is quoted in the 1920s song “Singing in the Bathtub”, also a popular standard in cartoon sound tracks, including being repeatedly sung by Tweety Bird.
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The song features extensively in the 1931 prohibition gangster movie The Public Enemy starring James Cagney. It also was sung by a white bird in the Merrie Melodies cartoon I Love to Singa. The song is also sung in the 1951 film On Moonlight Bay starring Doris Day and Gordon MacRae, which was the prequel to the 1953 film By the light of the silvery moon. A parody of the song was written and performed as “I’m Forever Blowing Bubble-Gum” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers. In Ken Russell’s 1969 film Women in Love the song is featured in an unusual scene where two sisters, played by Glenda Jackson and Jennie Linden, wander away from a large picnic gathering and are confronted by a herd of cattle. In the early 1970s, The Bonzo Dog Band’s stage show featured a robot that sang the title air while blowing bubbles. A solo guitar rendition is periodically featured within the action of Woody Allen’s 1999 film Sweet And Lowdown. Director Brad Mays paid homage to that scene in his 2008 film The Watermelon, in which actress Kiersten Morgan sings the song while dancing on a Malibu beach.