For six years, Jay supported himself playing the piano and making vocal arrangements on assignment, while Ray, although at the top of his class at The Wharton School, had to content himself with working as an accountant during those Depression years. They wrote their songs at night.For six years, Jay supported himself playing the piano and making vocal arrangements on assignment, while Ray, although at the top of his class at The Wharton School, had to content himself with working as an accountant during those Depression years. They wrote their songs at night.
During most of this time, one of their songs and ten cents could buy you coffee. Then one day Ray saw a publicity item stating that Olsen & Johnson, then one of the most powerful acts in show business, were looking for new songs for their hit show "Hellzapoppin." Unfortunately, that PR item was only true inside the mind of the misguided publicity hack that planted it. But, not knowing this Ray wrote to Olsen & Johnson and told them that Livingston and Evans had great songs for them. In another stroke of good fortune, Olsen & Johnson had recently hired a new secretary who, not knowing any better, stuck Ray's letter under Ole Olsen's nose during a letter-signing blitz, and next thing you know, Jay and Ray were presenting themselves (as the "invited guests" they thought they were) backstage after a "Hellzapoppin' " matinee. Olsen was obliged to listen to their songs, having signed the letter, and thus started a new and very important relationship.
They were assigned to write many songs for Olsen & Johnson for numerous charity events, and some songs even made it into "Hellzapoppin'." One of these, G'BYE NOW, made The Hit Parade of 1941, giving the guys a much-needed shot in the arm (and boost to the bank account). In 1944, Olsen told Jay and Ray that, if they would drive his car out from Chicago to Los Angeles, they could stay at his house. Thus were Jay and Ray introduced into the Hollywood scene. Olsen & Johnson were making two pictures for Universal, and putting together a new Broadway show, and Olsen suggested that something might come of this for the fledgling songwriting team. But the honchos at Universal weren't interested in two unknown songwriters, and neither were the Shuberts, who were in charge of the Broadway show.
Olsen & Johnson ultimately went back to New York, but Jay and Ray stayed on. They soon got an assignment writing songs for a picture called "Swing Hostess" starring singer Martha Tilton, at a small, now-defunct studio named PRC. Martha was a Capitol recording artist, and Capitol's then-president Johnny Mercer (also one of the great all-time lyricists, you might recall) was obliged to listen to the score. He didn't pick any of the songs for Martha, but one day his office called saying Johnny wanted to do one of the songs from "Swing Hostess," entitled THE HIGHWAY POLKA, on his nightly NBC radio show. With this foot in the door, they wrote a special song for Mercer called THE CAT AND THE CANARY.
They sat in his office for three straight days before Mercer would see them. When he finally heard it, he liked the song and sang it on his radio show. They then wrote another song called BAND BABY for Mercer. This time, they were ushered right in. Mercer sang this one on the show, as well as mentioning Jay and Ray by name before each of the three nightly performances. Publicity... the grease that glides the wheel.
Still in 1944, Louis Lipstone, head of the Paramount Pictures Music Department, asked Johnny Mercer if he knew any young songwriters who would write a song on assignment (and on spec) for Betty Hutton. Johnny suggested Livingston & Evans (the "and" having now been traded for the more household-name-like "&").
They wrote three songs for this shot, as this was their first assignment from a major studio and they didn't want to blow it. But Lipstone told them they could only play one song; the only one he liked. The boys played it for Buddy DeSylva, a prominent Paramount producer (and a notoriously great audience). He laughed at every punch line, often pounding the table in delight, then turned to them when they finished and said "I don't like it." Thud... welcome to show business. Jay and Ray, totally disheartened, had to wait in the outer office while the head of the Paramount Pictures Music Department, Louis Lipstone, did some business with DeSylva. They knew what was going on in there. At some point, Lipstone said to DeSylva, "Buddy, they had another song that I didn't like, but maybe you should listen to it." Buddy looked at his watch and thought about lunch. Nope... too early. O.K., send 'em in for one more. This was the turning point for Livingston & Evans.
Raymond Bernard Evans
February 4, 1915
Salamanca, NY, USA
February 15, 2007
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Wyn Ritchie Evans
Additional bios:New York Times (PDF)
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