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Obituaries

Carl Sigman; Wrote Lyrics for Many Well-Known Songs

October 04, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He wrote the songs. Boy, did he write the songs.

And most people can warble a line or two from several of them.

He threw everything from a telephone number to rejiggered French or Italian phrases into what he called "conversational lyrics." And with that formula, he wrote himself an indelible legacy.

Carl Sigman, the lawyer who hated the law and

turned to writing lyrics and sometimes music for dozens of standards, died Sept. 26 at his home in Manhasset, N.Y. He was 91.

His songs are as old as 1940 and as new as a commercial for the 2000 Summer Olympics--"Pennsylvania 6-5000," "What Now My Love," "Arrivederci, Roma," "Where Do I Begin," "It's All in the Game," "Enjoy Yourself."

"I was always listening, reading or looking for everyday expressions," Sigman told Newsday in an interview a year ago. "I strive to make conversational lyrics--that's my strength--like 'Did anyone call?' or 'I'll never forgive myself.' "

His first big hit was "Pennsylvania 6-5000" six decades ago--a tribute to New York's Hotel Pennsylvania where Swing Era icons--the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw--performed regularly. The Glenn Miller Orchestra recorded the song and it became a classic, not only still recorded but used over and over by Hollywood, from the 1954 film "The Glenn Miller Story" to the 1999 "Any Given Sunday." The hotel still answers to the phone number.

Sigman took a common adage, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think" and turned that into the popular song "Enjoy Yourself" in 1950. He also used the phrase on his telephone answering machine. Woody Allen added the song to the soundtrack of his 1996 motion picture "Everybody Says I Love You," and viewers of the Olympics heard it again, accompanying a Mercedes-Benz commercial over the last two weeks of September.

The Brooklyn-born lyricist and composer often Americanized European melodies or sentiments. Usually, he had to start from scratch on the words, he said, because "the accents and meter are different."

But for the 1966 hit "What Now My Love," he simply translated the French title, creating a catchy phrase in English.

His theme for "Love Story," the 1970 tear-jerker starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal, came out of Sigman's frustration.

"I wrote a lyric, made a demo for the movie," he told Newsday three years ago. "Bob Evans, the producer, hated it. So I come home and sit down with Terry [his wife] and say, 'I don't know how to rewrite this. Where do I begin?' And that's how I wrote it."

His exquisite result pops up repeatedly, not only in recordings, but also in movies, including the goofy 1989 musical comedy "Earth Girls Are Easy," starring Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum.

Another Sigman song considered the perfect addition to many a motion picture represents perhaps the lyricist's most unusual collaborative effort.

"One day I got a call from Warner Bros. Music, telling me that Dawes had just died and left this tune to which he thought I should write a lyric," Sigman told Billboard in 1997.

Dawes was U.S. Vice President Charles G. Dawes, who served with President Calvin Coolidge, and the tune was a classical piece composed in 1912 called "A Melody in A Major."

"After hearing it, I thought its two-octave range made such an assignment difficult," Sigman said. "We took a few high notes out, and I wrote the words."

The resulting song was called "It's All In the Game" which became a hit recording in 1951 and again in 1958 for singer Tommy Edwards. On screen, it has resurged in "Diner" in 1982, "Losin' It" in 1983 and "October Sky" last year.

Other Sigman songs that have sounded as welcome to movie and concert goers as the old familiar phrases on which the lyrics were based include "Ebb Tide," which he originally wrote in 1953 to Robert Maxwell's instrumental melody; "Bongo, Bongo, Bongo (Civilization)," from Sigman's 1947 Broadway musical "Angel in the Wings;" and "Buona Sera," memorable in the movies "Big Night" and last year's "Mickey Blue Eyes."

Television, too, loved Sigman's work. When CBS brought "The Adventures of Robin Hood" to the small screen from 1955 to 1958, starring Richard Greene as the good bad guy of Sherwood Forest, it was Sigman who introduced him each week with, "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen; Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men. . . . " For those too young to remember, the group Deep Purple recently featured the ballad on an album.

And in 1955, Perry Como urged the nation to take Sigman's cozy advice, "Dream Along With Me (I'm on My Way to a Star)." The Como theme song has made the theatrical circuit in recent years in the tuneful "Forever Plaid."

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