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The Independent (20/Feb/2007) - Obituaries: Ray Evans

(c) The Independent (20/Feb/2007)

Ray Evans

In 1956, when Alfred Hitchcock was making the thriller "The Man Who Knew Too Much, he wanted a song for Doris Day that would highlight her family life. Ray Evans and his songwriting partner, Jay Livingston, returned with "Que Sera Sera", and Hitchcock was most impressed: "Gentlemen, I told you I didn't know what kind of song I wanted," he said, "but that's the kind of song I want."

As all nominations for the Best Song at the Academy Awards had to have English titles, it was renamed "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" and won the songwriting team their third and final Oscar, after "Buttons and Bows" of 1948 and "Mona Lisa" in 1950.

Ray Evans was born in Salamanca, New York, in 1915, the son of a scrap-paper dealer. He played the clarinet as a child and obtained a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. It was there that he met Jay Livingston, who was studying journalism. They played together in a college band and later on cruise ships. Although they were to have a long-lasting songwriting partnership, they had differing interests: Evans was more outgoing than Livingston and fanatical about baseball and tennis.

They both started work in New York City, Evans in accountancy and Livingston as a pianist for NBC radio, but their intention was to write successful songs. They had their first success in 1941 with "G'bye Now" for the Broadway revue "Hellzapoppin'". In 1944, they wrote "Stuff Like That There" for the original blonde bombshell, Betty Hutton.

From 1945 until 1955, Livingston and Evans wrote exclusively for Paramount Pictures. Their first Oscar nomination came with "The Cat and the Canary" from "Why Girls Leave Home" (1945), which was sung by Frank Sinatra at the Academy Awards ceremony. The song is forgotten now, but they wrote their first standard the following year with the title song from "To Each His Own" (1946). The song was a major success for Eddy Howard and his Orchestra as well as the Ink Spots and then was revived by the Platters in 1960. The lyric may be greetings-card sentiment but it is exquisitely expressed:

A rose must remain
With the sun and the rain
Or its lovely promise won't come true
To each his own, to each his own
And my own is you.

In 1947, they supplied the lyrics for Victor Young's romantic theme for the war film "Golden Earrings", which starred Marlene Dietrich as a gypsy. The following year they won their first Academy Award for "Buttons and Bows" from the film "The Paleface". Oddly, the song is thrown away, with Bob Hope singing snatches with a concertina. Dinah Shore turned the song into a hit and it was performed in full by Hope, Jane Russell and Roy Rogers in the sequel, "Son of Paleface" (1954). Livingston and Evans befriended Bob Hope and wrote special numbers for his television and stage appearances.

In 1950, they wrote a song for the spy drama "Captain Carey, USA", starring Alan Ladd. Evans played it for his wife, Wyn, who said that the title, "Prima Donna", could be improved upon and suggested "Mona Lisa". In the film, it was sung in Italian and, although it won an Oscar, the rules were afterwards changed so that all future submissions had to be in English. Evans then wrote an English lyric for Nat "King" Cole. It led to Evans's greatest moment:

Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you,
You're so like the lady with the mystic smile,
Is it only 'cause you're lonely they have blamed you
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?

In the rock'n'roll era, the song had a new life in up-tempo arrangements from Carl Mann and Conway Twitty.

In 1951, they wrote a seasonal song for the Bob Hope film "The Lemon Drop Kid". This time it was Livingston's wife who thought that the title, "Tinkle Bells" was wrong. "Don't either of you know what a tinkle is?" she asked. They amended the title to "Silver Bells" and it became a Christmas favourite.

Normally, Evans and Livingston wrote one-off songs for films and television shows (including "Bonanza!" and "Mister Ed"), but they wrote the whole score for the parody western "Red Garters" (1954) starring Guy Mitchell and Rosemary Clooney. They also wrote the Broadway musicals "Oh Captain!" (1958) and "Let It Ride" (1961), which was based on the 1935 play "Three Men on a Horse".

Three more songs were nominated for Oscars. Debbie Reynolds was given the charming folk-styled "Tammy" for "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957), the bachelor being Leslie Nielsen. The record topped the US charts and made No 2 in Britain. Less well known is "Almost in Your Arms", which was sung off-screen by Sam Cooke in the 1958 film "Houseboat", which starred Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. In 1964, Henry Mancini asked them to write lyrics for his theme for a film starring Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page. The producers were so happy with the title, "Dear Heart", that they used it for the film itself. The song is associated with Andy Williams and Jack Jones.

The two writers gradually retired, but they were always happy to perform their songs in intimate concerts. In 1993, a theatre in Salamanca was renamed the Ray Evans Seneca Theatre and in 1995 Evans and Livingston were given a star on the Hollywood Boulevard. In 2001, Michael Feinstein recorded The Livingston and Evans Songbook with their support. Jay Livingston died in October that year. Evans's wife Wyn died in 2003, aged 102.