Jay Livingston, three-time Oscar-winning songwriter who with partner Ray Evans penned some of Hollywood's most beloved songs, died of pneumonia October 17 in Los Angeles. He was 86.
Included on Livingston and Evan's roster of hits are such tunes as "Buttons and Bows," from 1948's "The Paleface," "Mona Lisa" from 1950's "Captain Carey, USA," and "Que Sera Sera," from 1956's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." All three won Academy Awards. The duo also received Oscar nominations for "The Cat and the Canary," from 1945's "Why The Girls Leave Home," "Tammy" from the 1957 film, "Tammy and the Bachelor," "Almost in Your Arms," from 1958's "Houseboat," and the lyrics for Henry Mancini's "Dear Heart," in 1964.
Livingston and Evans contributed the songs to two Lucille Ball features: "Sorrowful Jones" in 1949, and "Fancy Pants" in 1950. Both, of course, also starred Bob Hope.
Jay Harold Livingston was born March 28, 1915, in McDonald, Pennsylvania, to Maurise and Rose Livingston. His father was a local shoe merchant. Jay studied piano as a child, and during high school worked as a musician at parties and local nightspots. He was graduated from the local Maurice High School in 1933, and attended the University of Pennsylvania, from which he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 1937. While attending the university, he met Ray Evans. The two shared a love of music, and were soon best friends. With Livingston on piano and Evans on saxophone and clarinet, they joined a band on a series of Cunard Line cruises during Easter and summer vacations. Livingston was also the pianist and leader of the college dance orchestra during his sophomore, junior and senior years.
After graduation, Livingston and Evans tried their hand at songwriting in New York. Livingston worked as a piano accompanist and musical arranger at NBC. He also worked as a rehearsal pianist for Olsen and Johnson's famed 1938 Broadway revue, "Hellzapoppin," which later incorporated the Livingston and Evans tune, "G'bye Now." It was their first major sale, and the song quicky became a top 10 hit for Horace Heidt's orchestra. They subsequently contributed to "Sons o'Fun," which opened at the Winter Garden theatre on December 1, 1941... A week later, the United States entered World War II. Jay then joined the Army for two years (1942-43), and Evans was employed by an aircraft company.
Back in New York in 1944, Jay and Ray were urged by Olsen & Johnson to move to Hollywood. Olsen, in fact, needed someone to drive his new automobile to California, and convinced the writers to do so... Once there, he put them up in his Hollywood home.
The boys quickly found employment with a small studio called PRC, which stood for Producers Releasing Corporation. It had a small studio on Santa Monica Boulevard near that of Sam Goldwyn. Originally, the firm had been known as a producer of low-budget Westerns. By 1944, however, the company was under new management and seeking to improve its image and put out a classier product. Livingston and Evans joined them and provided songs for five films -- "Swing Hostess," "I Accuse My Parents," (the aforementioned) "Why Girls Leave Home" (all in 1944) and "Crime, Inc." (released in 1945). Perhaps more importantly, they wrote "Stuff Like That There," which Betty Hutton turned into a juke box favorite.
Johnny Mercer, impressed by their work, introduced Livingston and Evans to Buddy DeSylva, who prompted hired them at Paramount Pictures. They would stay with the studio 10 years, creating some of their most memorable tunes. Their "big break" came shortly after they arrived at their new studio: Victor Young, who had scored the new Olivia deHavilland film, "To Each His Own," declined to write a title song for it. Livingston and Evans did it, and although it was not sung in the picture, Eddy Howard's recording of it "went gold." The song was so popular that for one week five versions were listed on Billboard's Top Ten list, with Howard's recording #1, followed by those of Tony Martin, Freddie Martin, the Modernaires and the Ink Spots.
In March, 1947, Jay married Lynne Gordon, with whom he had a daughter, Travlyn.
Jay's younger brother Alan Livingston, meanwhile, had also pursued a career in music, landing a key position (vice president of artists and repertoire) at Capitol Records. (Alan had played music with Jay as a child, then joined him in the bands at college and on the Cunnard Line cruises.) Both Paramount Pictures and Capitol Records were excited by a "cute little song" that Livingston and Evans came up with in 1948 for Bob Hope's latest comedy, "The Paleface." The tune was "Buttons and Bows." Bob Hope sang it to Jane Russell in the picture -- but it was Dinah Shore's Capitol recording of it that zoomed the song to the top of the charts. The song was such a hit that three years later, when Hope and Russell reteamed for "Son of Paleface," the song was again used -- this time with Russell singing it with Hope.
Between the two comedies, Livingston and Evans wrote a song for an Alan Ladd picture called "Captain Carey, USA." Sung only in Italian in the movie, "Mona Lisa" was used as a plot device, warning the Italian underground that the Nazis were nearby. The song was pitched to Capitol artist Nat "King" Cole, who initially declined to record it. Someone at Paramount persuaded Cole, then living a few blocks from the studio in Hancock Park, to listen to the songwriters' demo version. Cole finally agreed to make the record in April, 1950, but -- still displeased with it -- left it on the shelf. Two months later it was finally released as the "B" side to a song called "The Greatest Inventor of Them All." Bottom line: "Mona Lisa" not only won an Oscar, but also became a huge jukebox success and later a standard. In 1986, it provided the inspiration for the movie "Mona Lisa," starring Bob Hoskins.
Meanwhile at Paramount, Bob Hope was starting work on a new comedy (based on Damon Runyon characters) called "The Lemon Drop Kid." The picture had a Christmas theme to it, but to Hope;s chagrin, there was no special Christmas music prepared. When an early rough-cut of the film turned out to be as bland as Hope had feared, the studio agreed to reshoot the Christmas scenes and asked Livingston and Evans to write the music. They proudly unveiled a new song, which they called "Tinkle Bells."
"Originally we had called it 'Tinkle Bells,'" Livingston recalled years later, "but then my wife informed me that 'tinkle' stood for something else, which you do in the bathroom -- so we hurriedly switched the word to 'silver,' and miraculously it became one of the biggest hits we've ever written. It's still being played around the world at Christmas time every year." Jay frequently referred to the song as "our annuity." By 1955 it had sold 140 million recordings.
Livingston and Evans completed their ten year tenure at Paramount with a bang: "Que Sera Sera" was written for Alfred Hitchcock's remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Songs were not normally part of Hitchcock's bag-of-tricks, but Paramount demanded one because Doris Day was starring, and everyone would expect her to sing. Hitchcock agreed -- but only because he had come up with an interesting way to make the song an interesting plot device: Doris, playing an American mother whose child is kidnapped, uses the song to signal the child that she (and husband Jimmy Stewart) were coming to his rescue. Paramount loved the idea -- but again the title was an issue: they asked that it be released as "Whatever Will Be, Will Be" (the English translation) because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences would not permit a non-English title to be submitted for Oscar consideration.
Whatever the title, Doris Day hated it -- "It's a kiddie song," she said. But manager-husband Marty Melcher disagreed, and with Hitchcock on one side and Melcher on the other, Day finally relented. She had no idea that the song would become the biggest hit of her career. She later reprised it in two more films ("Please Don't Eat the Daisies" in 1960, and "The Glass Bottom Boat in 1966) and used it as the theme of her long-running CBS television series.
In 1957, Universal asked Livingston and Evans to create the title song for the new Debbie Reynolds movie they were doing, "Tammy and the Bachelor." "Tammy," like "Que Sera Sera" caught eveyone off-guard. What was thought to be a "corny little tune" in a "folksy little picture" stuck the right note with the movie and record-buying public, and within a few weeks Reynold's recording of the song was a number one hit.
By the late 1950s all of the studios were getting into television in a big way... Paramount was starting production on a new western called Bonanza, for NBC, which would be broadcasting the one-hour drama in color. Jay's brother Alan, who had moved over from Capitol Records to become vice president of programming at NBC, understood that the new show would need theme music to capture the majesty of the raw Nevada countryside that would be the setting of the new show. He asked Livingston and Evans to undertake the assignment.
"The title didn't make any sense," Jay later pointed out. "They talked about changing it but they liked the sound of it. There's no reason for 'Bonanza' when you think about it. The ranch is called Ponderosa." Understand it or not, the team did write the theme -- complete with lyrics (that were never used) -- and it became one of the most popular TV theme songs of all time.
A few months later another television assignment came their way. Producer Al Lubin, who had directed the first six of the "Francis the Talking Mule" pictures had come up with a similar idea for the home screen -- a talking palomino, who speaks only to his new owner, Wilbur, a shy architect. Alan Young had agreed to star in the show, which had been given the title, "Mr. Ed," which was also the name of the horse.
Livingston and Evan's lyrics were actually performed by Livingston on the soundtrack. Jay recalled later, "Raoul Kraushaar, who scored all of Filmways' pictures, went to Rome to record it. They got an Italian opera singer to sing 'Mr. Ed.' I'd like to have heard that!" Apparently producer Al Simon called just a week or so before the show was to go on the air, panicked because the operatic version -- to no one's suprise -- was unusable. Simon had liked the way Livingstonn had performed the song at an early demonstration, and asked if he could pitch hit until a professional singer could be engaged to perform the song for the show's soundtrack. "I said okay. I thought it was a temporary track. And I had a lot of trouble with it because there's no place to breathe... My wife coached me; otherwise, I would never have gotten through it." Livingston's voice was never replaced.
Years later, Livingston and Evans also wrote the title song for the John Forsythe comedy, "To Rome with Love," which ran on CBS from 1969-71.
The pair, who contributed two songs to the 1979 Broadway musical "Sugar Babies," continued to be fairly active into the 1980s. They wrote special material for their old pal Bob Hope and for charity shows. Livingston also oversaw his music publishing company in Nashville, which was run by his daughter, Travlyn Talmadge. "We wrote every day until rock came in. If George Gershwin were alive today," Jay told one reporter, "he'd be standing on the corner with a tin cup."
Jay's wife Lynne died in 1991, and he married actress Shirley Mitchell in 1992. (The two were loyal attendees at our annual Loving Lucy Conventions -- Shirley always participating as a panelist or cast member, Jay leading the applause out front.)
He is survived by Shirley, his daughter Travlyn, a granddaughter, three great grandchildren, brother Alan, and, of course, his longtime partner, Ray Evans. Funeral services were private.
Photos of Jay from our Loving Lucy Conventions:
Left: Jay converses with cameraman Paul Bunnell. Right: Jay and Shirley share the
festivities with (standing) Ken Wessler, Joe Genua and (sitting) George Ridjanek.
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