The Guardian (20/Feb/2007) - Obituary: Ray Evans
(c) The Guardian (20/Feb/2007)
- keywords: "Que Sera, Sera" - by Doris Day, Academy Awards, Alfred Hitchcock, Doris Day, James Stewart, Jay Livingston, New York City, New York, Paramount Pictures, Ray Evans, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Movie songwriter who shared the credits for three Oscars in the 1940s and 50s
The songwriter Ray Evans and his late partner, composer Jay Livingston, won three Oscars and were nominated for four others, but Evans's death at 92 marks the end of an era when Hollywood studios ordered their screen songs like commodities.
One of the pair's most famous compositions, the perennially popular Christmas song "Silver Bells", was a prime example. In 1951, under their contract for Paramount, they were assigned a Bob Hope movie from a Damon Runyon story called "The Lemon Drop Kid", which needed a song. But Evans and Livingston wanted an Oscar hit. Their first had been in 1948 for "Buttons and Bows", the novelty song Bob Hope sang to Jane Russell in the comedy western, "The Paleface". They won another for "Mona Lisa" in the 1950 film "Captain Carey, USA", but the haunting song had yet to become the international standard sung by Nat King Cole, who only released it months after the film's premiere, and then as a B-side to a now forgotten song.
What Evans and Livingston believed was that a Christmas song was not big-hit material. They grumbled, but in vain. The studio bosses insisted and the pair went back to their office. Then, inspired by a little bell on their desk, they cranked out the song in two days, with Livingston providing the melody, Evans the words. They called it "Tinkle Bell", but Livingston's wife reminded him that "tinkle" had another association. "It was something you did in the bathroom," Evans recalled years later, "but that's a woman's word and I'd never thought of it. But I was very unhappy again because I hate to rewrite." What he did was to change the first word to "silver", but still the song had problems.
The film's original director disliked it and had singers perform it so boringly that the writers thought it would be cut, but the producer loved the song and brought in another director, Sidney Lanfield. He filmed "Hope" and co-star Marilyn Maxwell singing it together as they pranced through New York. It made the film but not the Oscars. But before its release, Bing Crosby came by the songwriters' Paramount lunch table and asked if they had any songs for him. "He loved it and recorded it and that made it a definitive Christmas song," Evans recalled. It became one of the most popular, and in his later years, Evans calculated, it still brought him about $600,000 annually in royalties. He appreciated the irony that as a Jew and a non-believer he had never liked Christmas carols.
The pair's third Oscar came in 1956 with Doris Day singing "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" in "The Man Who Knew Too Much", the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, which was a remake of his own 1934 film, set in London and Morocco. Again the song was resented, this time by Hitchcock, who wanted no singing in his film, but was told by studio bosses that Day must sing.
Hitchcock provided an ingenious response, incorporating it as a plot device in which Day's singing signals her kidnapped child that she and her husband (James Stewart) were coming to the rescue. Then, because of Oscar rules, the song's Spanish title had to come after the English translation, but it was still a major hit.
Altogether Evans and his partner wrote music and words for about 100 films, mostly during their decade-long Paramount stint and mainly as title songs, including 12 Bob Hope films. Later, they freelanced - giving Shirley Bassey her first No 1 hit in 1959 with "As I Love You". The "Mona Lisa" song also featured in the 1986 British film of the same name directed by Neil Jordan and starring Bob Hoskins. Another big hit for the pair was the theme of the television western series "Bonanza", but Evans's words were cut.
Evans was born in upstate New York and attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Livingston, who ran the college band and played the piano. Evans joined him on the clarinet and saxophone, and during holidays they performed on Cunard cruise ships. It was on their last voyage, when the ship docked at New York, that they decided to stay and try their luck in the music business. They had a hit in a Broadway revue and after the war - in which Evans worked in an aircraft factory - went to Hollywood and signed with Paramount. Altogether they wrote 400 songs over 64 years, many of them hits. The partnership's total record sales exceeded 400m.
Evans's wife Wyn died in 2002 aged 102 - having not told him until 20 years after their marriage that she was 14 years older than him, not the seven years he had been led to believe.
Raymond Bernard Evans, songwriter, born February 4 1915; died February 15 2007