ON A ROLLThen followed GOLDEN EARRINGS, lyrics by Jay and Ray to a melody of Victor Young's for the Marlene Dietrich film of the same name. In 1948 came DREAM GIRL for a Betty Hutton picture.
Next assignment on their list was a song for Bob Hope to sing to Jane Russell in "The Paleface." In the scene in question, Hope was driving a covered wagon, and, when he turned around to sing to Jane in the back of the wagon, his horses took a wrong turn and Bob, Jane and all the wagons behind them ended up in an Indian ambush. This was the only reason for the song. They wrote a song called "Skookum," which is an actual Indian word meaning (loosely) "OK." But much to their consternation, director Norman McLeod absolutely refused to use the song, arguing that the Indians were supposed to appear as a menace, a threat, and a comedy song about Indians would botch the scene. Jay and Ray argued that this was a comedy and a big star like Hope was invulnerable. McLeod wouldn't budge.
Grumbling all the way back to their office, they set back to work and came up with BUTTONS AND BOWS. The song garnered them their first Oscar and, considering that if Norman McLeod had gone with "Skookum," BUTTONS AND BOWS would never have been written, the guys re-evaluated their idea of McLeod's musical taste.Grumbling all the way back to their office, they set back to work and came up with BUTTONS AND BOWS. The song garnered them their first Oscar and, considering that if Norman McLeod had gone with "Skookum," BUTTONS AND BOWS would never have been written, the guys re-evaluated their idea of McLeod's musical taste. The song was so popular that the marquee of the Paramount Theater in Hollywood read: "Bob Hope Jane Russell and Buttons And Bows in THE PALEFACE."
Dinah Shore, very close to giving birth to her first child, recorded the song at three minutes 'til midnight with the orchestra ad-libbing behind her. At midnight, a planned musician's strike halted all orchestra recordings for a year. This was the last song recorded before the deadline. Next up they were assigned a title song for the first Martin and Lewis picture, "My Friend Irma." Studios love title songs because, if they are lucky enough to get a recording, the picture is plugged every time the song is played. Livingston & Evans became known as The Title Song Kings.
But many titles were patently ridiculous and didn't have a prayer. But, ever faithful, the guys wrote CROSSWINDS and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and SANGAREE (they still don't know what THAT means). Not to mention BEYOND GLORY (they still don't know what THAT means, either and the lyric, as far as they are concerned, is totally incomprehensible).
The only titles they ever turned down were "Desert Fury" (they gave up on that one) and "Vertigo." But Alfred Hitchcock was the director of the latter, and he called on them personally for help. He said, "Gentlemen, the studio thinks that no one knows what the word 'vertigo' means. But that's what my picture is about, and if you will write a song explaining what the word 'vertigo' means, it will help me a great deal." So, to please Hitchcock, they wrote VERTIGO, about getting dizzy from the heights, giddy with joy, etc. When they were cutting the demo, Jay decided to see if they had done their job. He asked the singer if he knew what 'vertigo' means. The singer replied, "It's an island in the West Indies, isn't it?"
In 1949, Alan Ladd was starring in a picture called "O.S.S." (which was the CIA of World War II). They needed a device to warn Alan Ladd and the partisans in this Italian town that a Nazi patrol was coming. So, as usual, one of the writers suggested somebody sing a song as a warning. It was a pretty unimportant assignment, but they gave it a shot. They wrote a pretty Italian-style song, figuring that the Germans would say "Ja, ja, das ist sehr gemutlich", and Alan Ladd would say, "Let's hide the radio and get the hell out of here." They called the song MONA LISA.
The song was accepted, but a few weeks later, Jay and Ray were called to the front office to be told that the new title for "O.S.S" was "After Midnight." Of course, they wanted a title song. "Keep that pretty melody," they said, "but throw out the MONA LISA lyric and write a lyric called 'After Midnight.' " This didn't make the writers happy, but they dutifully wrote "After Midnight" and MONA LISA hit the dead song pile. They made a demo of "After Midnight" with the 44-piece Paramount Orchestra, which was expensive and showed how serious they were. But there was a half-hour left on the session, so Jay handed the MONA LISA lyric to the singer and asked him to sing these words to the same melody, "Just for us."
One day, Jay and Ray picked up Daily Variety and read that the new title for the Alan Ladd picture was now "Captain Carey, U.S.A." They rushed to the front office and said "You don't need 'After Midnight' anymore. Can we have our MONA LISA lyric back?" They thought all the Italian singers would jump on it, from Sinatra to Damone to Como. But they all turned it down. Larry Shayne, now in charge of publishing for Famous Music on the West Coast, went after Nat King Cole and never quit. Nat remembered, "I recorded that song to get that Shayne fellow out of my hair." Capitol (Cole's record label) didn't think much of the song and took full-page ads touting the other side "The Greatest Inventor Of Them All," a religious song, without even mentioning MONA LISA. It ended up winning Livingston & Evans their second Oscar.
SILVER BELLS is their annuity, however. It has sold 160 million records since they first were assigned to write it for Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in 1950 for the Paramount picture "The Lemon-Drop Kid." The picture takes place in New York at Christmas, and the studio wanted a Christmas song. Jay and Ray balked. "It's impossible to write a hit Christmas song," they said. "Every year everybody sings the same old Christmas songs, and new ones never make it." Also, they were uneasy because they had an option coming up in their contract, and they hadn't had a hit for awhile. But, as usual, the studio was insistent.
So, with great reluctance, they wrote a song called "Tinkle Bell," about the Santa Clauses and the Salvation Army workers who stand on New York streetcorners tinkling their bells. But when Jay told his wife, Lynne, that they had written a song called "Tinkle Bell," she asked him, incredulously, "Are you out of your mind?..."So, with great reluctance, they wrote a song called "Tinkle Bell," about the Santa Clauses and the Salvation Army workers who stand on New York streetcorners tinkling their bells. But when Jay told his wife, Lynne, that they had written a song called "Tinkle Bell," she asked him, incredulously, "Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word 'tinkle' means to most people?" She went on to explain it's association with a very specific bodily function. Of course, Jay and Ray had never heard it used in that way. 'Tinkle' (for 'pee') was a woman's term.
As Jay says in the act that they do, "When I was a boy, I said 'Pee-pee'. Come to think of it, I STILL say 'Pee-pee,' only more frequently." They put aside "Tinkle Bell" and started to write a new song. But they liked the music and melody of "Tinkle Bell," so they just changed "Tinkle" to "Silver," and the money's been pouring in ever since. To give the song added dimension, they wrote the verse and chorus so that they could be sung at the same time, and even added a lyric counterpoint to the chorus.
Bing Crosby made the first record, using all these musical tricks. Jay and Ray think this helped the song get started, besides the fact that it was about the city, while most Christmas songs were about home and hearth. They also purposely put it in three-quarter time, in contrast with most other Christmas songs around.
1950 was also the year in which the film "Sunset Boulevard" was released, containing a Livingston & Evans number entitled THE PARAMOUNT DON'T WANT ME BLUES. Seldom, if ever, before has a movie undertaking to reveal a facet of behind-the-scenes Hollywood attained the entertainment quotient, the emotional wallop and the financial potentialities of this offering from the celebrated team of Producer Charles Brackett and Director Billy Wilder, who - with one collaborator - were responsible also for the screenplay. A masterfully adroit projection of a bizarre, fictional-but-possible film colony situation, the picture still keeps spectators spellbound, while their reactions shuttle with lightning speed of the story's constantly changing aura of pathos, satire and humor. Performances generally are excellent, most especially that of Gloria Swanson. But the most sterling credit goes to writing and direction. They make the feature truly terrific - and a trifle terrifying.
Raymond Bernard Evans
February 4, 1915
Salamanca, NY, USA
February 15, 2007
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Wyn Ritchie Evans
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