Tin Pan Alley’s hall of fame is a boy’s club: Berlin, Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Arlen, Mercer, Kern, et al. Leading the line in the anteroom, however, is the finest female lyricist of American popular song, Dorothy Fields. Like other wordsmiths, her name is as little known as her lyrics are indelible. Think “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I Won’t Dance,” “I’m in the Mood for Love,” “You Couldn’t Be Cuter.” Think Bobby Short and “My Personal Property.” Think “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off,” which Barack Obama quoted in his inauguration speech and which Charlotte Greenspan has borrowed for her bizarrely inept gesture at a biography.

Dorothy Fields (1905–74) was a showbiz pro, to the boards born. Her father was Lew Fields, of Weber and Fields, the celebrated performers and...


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