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Oscar-Winning Songwriter Sammy Fain Dies at Age 87

December 07, 1989|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sammy Fain, among the last of that select breed of tunesmiths who peddled their songs from the backs of trucks and in the dingy hallways of New York City's legendary Tin Pan Alley, died Wednesday.

The two-time Academy Award-winning songwriter (for "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" and "Secret Love") was 87 when he died of a heart attack at UCLA Medical Center.

Prolific and pleasant, Fain kept at his piano until shortly before his death, adding to a library of song that brought him admission to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971. His dozens of tunes, many of them for films, included such evergreen melodies as "I'll Be Seeing You," "Katie," "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella," "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine," "I Can Dream, Can't I?," "Dear Hearts and Gentle People," "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" and "When I Take My Sugar to Tea."

Films he scored or wrote for include "Footlight Parade," "Hellzapoppin," "I'll Be Seeing You," "Anchors Aweigh," "Alice in Wonderland," "Calamity Jane," "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," "A Certain Smile," "Tender Is the Night," "Myra Breckinridge," "The Rescuers" and others.

In all, he was nominated for nine Oscars.

He also collaborated on four Broadway musicals in the 1950s and 1960s, including "Flahooley," "Ankles Aweigh" (revived in 1988), "Christine" and "Something More."

Born Samuel Feinberg in New York City, he attended school there and taught himself the piano and composition as a youth.

Fain became part of a unique group of early 20th-Century American songwriters such as Irving Berlin who were gifted with an abundant talent for simple melodies that remained popular decades after the tunes first were heard.

While his success wasn't instantaneous (he worked for several Tin Pan Alley song publishers before establishing an independent reputation), it proved lasting.

His collaboration with lyricist Irving Kahal produced the first of his hits, "Nobody Knows What a Redheaded Momma Can Do."

With Kahal he also wrote "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella," "Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine" and "When I Take My Sugar to Tea," all immensely popular hits.

His other lyricists over the years included Bob Hilliard, Paul Francis Webster, Sammy Cahn, E. Y. Harburg and Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Fain came to Hollywood as one of the country's rising young composers in the early days of sound films when producers were grinding out musicals with abandon.

His first recorded film credit was "It's a Great Life" in 1929 and his last was "The Rescuers" in 1977.

He wrote songs for Dick Powell ("By a Waterfall"), Mae West ("Now I'm a Lady") and Maurice Chevalier ("You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me.")

He and Kahal were reunited on Broadway in 1938 for a long-forgotten flop called "Right This Way" but the score contained two of Fain's greatest songs, "I'll Be Seeing You" and "I Can Dream, Can't I?"

"I'll Be Seeing You" was used as a signature song by the cabaret singer Hildegarde throughout her career while "I Can Dream, Can't I?" was a wartime hit for the Andrews Sisters.

In the last several years Fain could be seen about Los Angeles playing for former radio or film stars or fellow songwriters at their various meetings.

Frail but enthusiastic, he dressed in the latest styles and would offer up his long-ago melodies in a reedy, infectious voice and always with a smile.

His awards included several from foreign governments, including Italy and France.

Earlier this year he was presented a special award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for being "one of America's premier composers of popular songs."

Sammy Cahn, a decades-long colleague and collaborator with Fain on "Peter Pan" and its enduring song "You Can Fly, You Can Fly, You Can Fly," said his old friend leaves "not just a few but a staggering medley of hits, songs that are readily identifiable to everyone."

And then he added, "You know, old songwriters never really die because their songs keep them alive forever."

Fain is survived by a son, Frank, of New York City. Funeral arrangements were pending.

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