Nancy (with the Laughing Face)

"Nancy (with the Laughing Face)" is a song composed in 1942 by Jimmy Van Heusen, with lyrics by Phil Silvers, called, originally, "Bessie (With The Laughing Face)". Many, perhaps most, people wrongly assume the song was composed specifically for Frank Sinatra's wife or daughter, each named Nancy, not only because the original recording of the song was Sinatra's for Columbia in 1944, but because the song was never published or recorded as anything but "Nancy".


Former broadcast executive and music historian Rick Busciglio tells the story of the song's inception as related to him by Van Heusen:

In 1979, I was working with songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen on a TV special with Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope that was never produced. Jimmy told me that one day (circa 1942) he and his lyricist Johnny Burke were working at 20th Century-Fox composing for a film. While Burke was out of their writer's bungalow, Phil Silvers, the comedian, a friend to both, entered and suggested to Jimmy that they write a song for Johnny's wife, Bessie, who was soon to celebrate a birthday. Silvers provided the lyrics, later revised by Van Heusen and Burke. At the party they sang "Bessie... with the laughing face." It was such a hit that they used it at other female birthday events. When they sang it as "Nancy... with the laughing face" at little Nancy Sinatra's birthday party, Frank broke down and cried, thinking it had been written especially for his daughter; the trio wisely didn't correct him. Jimmy assigned his royalties to Nancy after Frank recorded it for Columbia in 1944.[1]

Notable recordingsEdit

In popular cultureEdit

  • In the Sopranos episode, "Watching Too Much Television," Paulie Gualtieri returns from jail to a big welcome back party at the Bada Bing! club. Following a group toast, Silvio Dante cues up some music and "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)" begins to play. Paulie, lost in emotion for a few moments, finally smiles and says "my song." Bobby Bacala is seen asking Silvio "What the fuck? Why is this his song?"
  • An episode of The Commish entitled "Nancy with the Laughing Face" features a guest character named Nancy who is played by Wendie Malick. It aired in October 1994 as part of the fourth season.
  • In a 1973 episode of Doctor Who, The Green Death, a member of the environmental activists group the Wholeweal community is referred to by its leader Clifford Jones as "Nancy with the Laughing Face" to Jo Grant during her visit to the community's hub, the "Nuthutch".


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