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Lounge Legend Tony Bennett Owes His Enduring Fame To A Homesick Gay Couple

Queerty reader M. Bedwell recently clued us in to an interesting bit of pop culture trivia: Tony Bennett’s signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” was actually written by a gay couple more than a half-century ago.

The City by the Bay is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bennett’s recording—And Bennett returned to sing it live last week—but as Bedwell explains:

In the hundreds of mainstream articles about yesterday’s huge, citywide celebration of the 50th anniversary of Tony Bennett first recording “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone noting that the international romantic favorite was written—originally “When I Return to San Francisco”—by gay couple and WWII veterans George Cory and Douglass Cross, who missed the city after moving to New York…

Cross had been raised across the bay in Oakland and once sang in the San Francisco Opera Chorus. Cory grew up in San Francisco and Mill Valley, and studied music at UC Berkeley. They moved back to California in 1966, building a home in Lake County with their composer royalties, and were present in 1969, a few months after Stonewall, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors made their creation San Francisco’s official song. It’s also played after every home victory at the San Francisco Giants’ China Basin ballpark (exactly 573 times, so far).

Cross told the supervisors and spectators [when the song was made San Francisco's official anthem]: “This is a very proud moment for George Cory and me. If our song is success, it is because it reflects in some small measure, perhaps, the history, the legend, the magic of this beautiful city that has fascinated the imagination of the world.”

Cross died of a heart attack in 1975, and Cory, apparently still mourning his partner of over two decades, committed suicide a few years later after having finally returned to San Francisco where he bought a house on Pleasant Street on Nob Hill. The three-story building still stands near the Fairmont Hotel, where Bennett first sang the couple’s love song.

Below is Bennett singing his trademark song with a little help from Judy Garland. (We thought we’d gay it up a bit more.)

Although “Heart” was originally written for opera singer Claramae Turner, she never recorded it. Bennett got a hold of it from his longtime accompanist, Ralph Sharon, and first sang it in December 1961 at the Fairmount, before recording it on January 23, 1962, as a b-side to the song “Once Upon A Time.”

Cory and Cross wrote it in Brooklyn Heights back in 1953. “It was pure nostalgia. We missed the warmth and openness of the people and the beauty. We never really took to New York,” said Cory in an interview: “New York is a hard, ruthless city. It lives on the edge of terror and catastrophe. New York is tired. San Francisco has newness and vitality,” added his mate, Cross. (We don’t know if we’d say our hometown was “on the edge of terror” but SF is one of a kind.)

The song has also been recorded by Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Womack, but Bennett’s is the version that has stood the test of time. “That song helped make me a world citizen,” he once said. “It allowed me to live, work and sing in any city on the globe. It changed my whole life.”

 Photos via Columbia Records, Tom Beetz

By:           Dan Avery
On:           Feb 22, 2012
Tagged: , , ,

  • 9 Comments
    • The Real Mike in Asheville
      The Real Mike in Asheville

      Fun story UNTIL suddenly it makes no sense:

      “Cross told the supervisors and spectators: “This is a very proud moment for George Cory and me.”

      vs.

      “Cross died of a heart attack in 1975, and Cory, apparently still mourning his partner of over two decades, committed suicide a few years later….”

      So Dan, which is it? Did Cross arise from the dead to speak to the supervisors and spectators, or was it someone else? And, if it was someone else, then why was that person speaking in the first person as Cross?

      Please, please, please, get an EDITOR, or at the very very least, require proof reading aloud before being allowed to press the “enter” key.

      Feb 22, 2012 at 8:30 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dan Avery
      Dan Avery

      Cross’s comment was from when SF adopted the song as its anthem back in the 1960s, when both were alive.

      Feb 22, 2012 at 9:22 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • christopher di spirito
      christopher di spirito

      Tony Bennett is a classy guy. The song that will always be the official song of San Francisco.

      Feb 22, 2012 at 10:46 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Michael Bedwell
      Michael Bedwell

      Thanks for helping memorialize this little-known gay history.

      Feb 22, 2012 at 11:28 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • The Real Mike in Asheville
      The Real Mike in Asheville

      @Dan Avery: Thanks for the clarification; I do hope you understand, though, the frustration of readers when, so often, the stories make no sense. I’m not sure what your view:comment ratio is, but for the many who just move one w/o comment, many must be getting annoyed and don’t return.

      Somewhere in the Queerty model, I hope you address editing.

      Feb 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sohobod
      Sohobod

      @The Real Mike in Asheville

      Queerty’s free. They make the occasional mistake. Big deal. I think the site’s informative and good fun.

      Feb 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • tomanymistakes
      tomanymistakes

      No. They make MANY mistakes. The content on this site can’t be trusted. It’s annoying because there are so few resources like queerty, but then the quality is terrible. Write your posts in a word processing program and have just one intelligent person proofread beyond that. I come back, but less and less often.

      Feb 22, 2012 at 11:52 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sohobod
      Sohobod

      @tomanymistakes

      Shouldn’t that be toomanymistakes?

      Feb 23, 2012 at 6:06 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • David Evanier
      David Evanier

      I write of Cory and Cross in my book, the first biography of Tony just published, “All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett.” (Wiley & Sons). Fans of Tony will love it.

      Apr 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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