Buck, Gene

Eugene Buck was born August 8, 1884 in Detroit. He was elected to The Lambs in 1916 and was a Life member.

Around 1907 he was a graphic designer & artist, Gene took a studio next door to artist James Montgomery Flagg. He started writing jokes and verses for comic weeklies. The bulk of his 5000 cover illustrations range from 1904 to 1914, a time when he started experiencing more permanent vision problems, making any continuation of drawing difficult at best.

Starting in 1910 Buck tried his hand at composing. Many of his earliest songs contributions were as a lyricist to the music of Dave Stamper, the accompanist at that time for Nora Bayes and Lamb Jack Norworth. Gene was quite active in the New York music scene and mingled with stars of stage and screen. In 1912 he was engaged by Oscar Hammerstein to do set designs for singer Lillian Lorraine, and also directed her act.

Gene wrote with composers Victor Herbert and Rudolph Friml. He was also one of the founding members of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1914.

Buck spent nearly seventeen years in the employ of Florenz Ziegfeld contributing compositions and set design for the famous Follies, and even doing some directing as well. His 1918 draft registration showed him as a playwright with Ziegfeld working at the New Amsterdam Theatre. As Ziegfeld’s male talent scout he was responsible for either discovering or engaging the services of stars such as Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields and dancer Joe Frisco. He was said to be most proud of acquiring set designer Josef Urban, a European who had been stranded when his company folded.

Gene was also responsible for originating the combination restaurant and show on the roof of the New Amsterdam, which became known as the Midnight Frolics, ultimately producing 17 editions of the revue. In 1919, Gene married again, this time to actress Helen Falconer, with whom he would remain for life.

Buck continued composing into the 1920s and was the President of ASCAP from 1924 to 1941, playing a large role in the licensed use of music on radio. He also was known to have kept some black composers from direct involvement in ASCAP, and was admittedly surprised to find that there were objections to this mode of thinking. Buck helped ASCAP to win a major music protection case in front of the Supreme Court in 1931. During much of this time the Buck family lived in Kensington, Nassau County, then in Great Neck.

In 1936 Gene and ASCAP were up in arms about proposed changes to 1909 copyright laws which, in his words, would legalize music piracy by broadcasters, hotel operators and the film industry. He already had offered some choice words for radio, saying that it could “kill a popular song” in just six weeks. The lobby behind the Duffy bill called ASCAP a group of “racketeers.” At issue was the removal of a damage clause and limit royalties to songwriters. Buck was passionate to the cause, introducing some of the “racketeers” at a press conference, including Lambs George Gershwin and Rudy Vallee.

Buck tried to buck BMI and their licensing practices in front of Congress in 1940 and 1941. In 1940, while vacationing in Phoenix, Arizona, he was arrested on a Montana warrant that charged attempted extortion. This came from the demand by Buck and ASCAP that certain radio stations pay fees for the use of music over the air.

In 1940 he received the Henry Hadley Medal from the National Association of American Composers and Conductors for his efforts in advancing and protecting American music. He also became the president of the Catholic Actors Guild, a position he held through the end of his life. He was also a lifelong member of the board of directors of ASCAP. In his long career Gene was reported have had done as many as 5000 covers, although this includes arranging photographic as well as text-based covers. He also contributed to over 500 songs. Gene died in Great Neck in February 1957 after an illness of two weeks. His funeral rites were presided over by former president Herbert Hoover.

He and his wife are interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, in the Park View section.