Shorty Long (not to be confused with the Motown artist of the same name) played a single stint on Broadway as Herman in the original production of Frank Loesser’s musical The Most Happy Fella (1956). Long was mainly known as a multitalented singer-instrumentalist who specialized in hillbilly music and even had a gig recording with Elvis Presley.
Born Emidio Vagnoni in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1923, he had classical music training in Rome in his teens, specializing in the violin. But the country fiddle soon won over his heart. He also played the accordion and had an easy tenor voice, which he put to good use in his various groups. He spent years in Santa Fe as the leader of the Santa Fe Rangers, which appeared in the 1948 movie Powder River Gunfire. As a vocalist in the 1940s, Long recorded many singles, and in the 1950s he can be heard playing the piano behind Elvis Presley on such songs as “One-Sided Love Affair.” He also played on Janis Martin’s 1956 rockabilly hit “My Boy Elvis.”
About the same time that he was working with Elvis, he became a member of the original cast of The Most Happy Fella. Frank Loesser’s previous Broadway offering had been the enormously successful Guys and Dolls (1950, revived 1955), for which he wrote both music and lyrics. As with that musical, Loesser wrote the music and lyrics for The Most Happy Fella, and also wrote the book, based on They Knew What They Wanted, the 1925 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Sidney Howard.
The Most Happy Fella is a long, ambitious musical with over thirty-five numbers. The music is sophisticated, almost operatic, and in fact the male lead – Tony, the Italian-born Napa Valley vineyard owner who falls in love with the much younger Rosabella – was played by Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert Weede (who also starred in the 1961 musical Milk and Honey). The musical earned six Tony® nominations, and Susan Johnson won the Theatre World Award for her performance. The original Broadway cast album was handsomely packaged and issued by Columbia, virtually complete, on three long-playing discs.
One of the best-known numbers, “Standing on the Corner” (originally intended for Guys and Dolls), was sung by a girl-watching vocal quartet led by Shorty Long. Long played one of the hired hands in Tony’s vineyard, whose love interest is Cleo, played by Susan Johnson. In most of his numbers, Long sings in duet with Johnson: “Big D” (a paean to the city of Dallas), “I Like Everybody,” “Goodbye, Darlin’,” and “I Made a First.”
Long eventually settled in Pennsylvania, where he and his wife, Dolly Dimples, put on country-music acts. He died in 1991.