Savannah, Home of Dream Weaver Johnny Mercer

Savannah, Home of Dream Weaver Johnny Mercer PLAYBILL TRAVEL -- September 1996

PLAYBILL TRAVEL -- September 1996 Savannah's south pervades lyricist/composer Johnny Mercer's 1,500 songs just like the river‹immortalized in his classic "Moon River"‹that meandered through the marshes near his boyhood home. "Savannah was the greater part of his life," said Margaret Whiting, star of the new Mercer musical Dream, premiering in Tennessee in September with a probable Broadway opening in April. "It was the way he wrote, the way he thought."

Born in 1909 Mercer grew up in Savannah playing alongside the river with his "huckleberry friend" cousin; the twosome pretended they were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, picked berries and lived a life filled with good manners, genteel laziness and easy-going ways. "There was always that little southern, gentle way of living life in most of his songs," said Whiting who, as a child, met Mercer when he collaborated with her father, composer Richard Whiting. Whiting, later coached by Mercer, sang many of his songs and recorded on his Capitol Records label.

Mercer's presence still lingers in Savannah. The Mercer-Wilder house at 429 Bull Street, a private residence not open to the public, was initially built by Mercer's great-grandfather, Hugh, and finished by the Wilder family. Hugh later moved to Germany; consequently, no Mercer ever lived in the home.

Mercer is buried beneath an inscription reading "...And the Angels Sing," alongside his wife at the Bonaventure Cemetery. Off the Wilmington River the cemetery, filled with 150-year-old moss- covered oaks and azaleas, occupies the grounds of a former plantation. "Savannah [natives] believe that to be buried in Bonaventure Cemetery is almost as good as being alive anywhere else," says Savannah historian John Duncan.

Exhibits The Savannah History Museum on 303 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard contains a Mercer exhibit that includes the Academy Award for his song "Days of Wine and Roses" (Mercer won four Oscars), photos, signed music and his Grammy for Overall Contribution. Call 912-238-1779. Atlanta's Georgia State University houses a special tribute to Mercer, a bequest by his wife Ginger, that includes copies of his sheet music, photos, memorabilia, personal artifacts and sound recordings. The Johnny Mercer Collection, located on the eighth floor of the Pullen Library, opened in 1982. Call 404-651-2477.

Dream Dream previews in Nashville (Tennessee Repertory Theatre) Sept. 4 and runs to Sept. 22. Directed/choreographed by Tony Award winner Wayne Cilento, the show also stars Leslie Ann Warren. Call 615-255-9600.

Traveling with Southern Hospitality Visit the southern charm of South Carolina and Georgia with an American Express Travel coach bus tour that includes stops at Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Savannah. The eight-day trip starts at $849 and includes transportation, accommodations (double occupancy), 12 meals and 3 shows. Call 1-800-YES-AMEX.