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Bobby Troup, Writer of Classic Song 'Route 66,' Dies

February 09, 1999|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Songwriter-pianist Bobby Troup, whose career moved from hit songwriting and jazz piano playing to acting roles in the television series "Emergency!" and the film "M*A*S*H," died Sunday in Sherman Oaks of a heart attack. He was 80.

Troup will forever be known as the writer of one of the classic American road songs, "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66." The blues-based number was composed in 1946 while he was heading west on that venerable roadway. Little did he realize at the time that it would become a signature song, the one number that--despite his numerous other accomplishments--would forever come to mind when his name is mentioned.

In fact, Troup wrote many well-known songs, some well before his road song classic. Among the more familiar items are "Daddy" (his first hit, a No. 1 song for seven weeks for Sammy Kaye), "Baby, Baby All The Time" (a hit, along with "Route 66," for Nat King Cole), "The Meaning of the Blues" and the lyrics for "Girl Talk."

Born Robert W. Troup Jr. on Oct. 18, 1918, he was immediately drawn to music through his piano playing father. And despite earning a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania, he soon turned to songwriting as a career. After serving in the Marine Corps as a captain during World War II, he headed to California, giving himself two years to make it in the music business--helping his ambitions enormously by writing "Route 66" along the way.

In a review of a television special dedicated to Troup's works, the late, influential jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote that his tunes "were variously sophisticated, witty, ingenious, trivial or just funny."

They also were particularly well-favored by jazz artists and were recorded by, among others, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, Peggy Lee and the Manhattan Transfer. Which was not surprising, given Troup's solid skills as a pianist and accompanist. Much of his time in the 1950s and '60s, was spent as an active participant in Los Angeles' then-burgeoning West Coast jazz scene ("I think I worked every club in Los Angeles," he once said).

But his closest connection to jazz came in 1957, when Troup began a 2 1/2-year run hosting a KABC television series titled "Stars of Jazz," which went national for a few months in 1958. One of the earliest and most successful airings of jazz on television, the show featured an extraordinary lineup of artists, including Stan Getz, Carmen McRae and Erroll Garner, as well as West Coast stars June Christy, Julie London (Troup's wife), Shorty Rogers, Bud Shank and Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars.

"It was an exciting time," Troup told writer Stephen Stone. "We got started in spite of a reluctant producer. . . . I made an appeal on the air for listeners to write in if they liked the program. Within three days we received 7,000 letters."

Television and film fans of the 1970s, however, knew Troup from a completely different context. His film career included parts in "M*A*S*H," "The High Cost of Loving," "Number One" and "First to Fight." He also was cast in musical roles in "The Five Pennies," "The Gene Krupa Story" and "The Duchess of Idaho," and wrote scores for "The Girl Can't Help It" and "Man of the West."

Troup appeared in the television shows "Dragnet," "Fantasy Island," "Acapulco" (for which he also wrote the music) and "Musical Chairs." From 1972 to 1977 he played the role of Dr. Early in the medical series "Emergency!" His wife, singer Julie London, also appeared in the show--which was produced by her first husband, actor Jack Webb--in the role of Dixie.

"I loved doing the show," Troup told Feather, "because I enjoy being active, and because of the camaraderie--we were known as the happiest crew at Universal."

Despite the success of "Emergency!," the show largely marked the end of Troup's visibility as a songwriter and musician. In the intervening decades, he and London lived quietly in Encino, raising what they described as a "his, mine and ours family" that included two children from Troup's first marriage (Cynnie and Ronne), two children from London's marriage to Webb (Stacy and Lisa) and three children from the Troup-London marriage (Kelly and the twins Reese and Jody), all of whom--with the exception of Stacy, who died in an automobile accident--survive him. Funeral services are pending.

Heckman is The Times' jazz writer.

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