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Obituaries

George Wyle, 87; 400 Songs Included 'Gilligan' Theme

May 04, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,

A tale of a fateful trip,

That started from this tropic port

Aboard this tiny ship.

-- "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island" by George Wyle and Sherwood Schwartz

*

George Wyle, the musical director for such singers as Andy Williams, Howard Keel and Doris Day and the songwriter of such classics as "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and the theme for "Gilligan's Island," has died. He was 87.

Wyle died Friday at the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Tarzana of leukemia, said his son, Jerry Weissman, of Playa del Rey.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
George Wyle -- In Sunday's California section, a headline on B1 referring to the George Wyle obituary called him the "Gilligan" lyricist. Wyle wrote the music for "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island," while Sherwood Schwartz is credited for the lyrics.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 08, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
George Wyle -- The obituary of songwriter George Wyle in Sunday's California section incorrectly stated that he wrote "Sidewalks of New York." Although Wyle adapted the classic for modern performances, it was written in 1894 by Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake.

Each Christmas, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," recorded by Williams and many other singers, becomes a staple of the airwaves. Wyle wrote music and lyrics for many other perennials.

But "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island," which he wrote with Sherwood Schwartz, the creator/producer of the quirky series about Gilligan's Isle, was probably the best-loved of Wyle's more than 400 songs.

Never mind that the Los Angeles Times panned the sitcom when it burst forth on CBS in 1964: " 'Gilligan's Island' is a television series that never should have reached the air this season, or any other season."

Or that the New York Times echoed: " 'Gilligan's Island' is quite possibly the most preposterous situation comedy of the season."

Fans loved it, and made it one of the most successful syndicated series in television history, with a spinoff cartoon series and reunion specials. Generations can sing from memory the ditty that Wyle and Schwartz wrote in a single sitting.

"America doesn't want great music themes," Wyle once said of the ballad introducing Gilligan, the skipper, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor and Mary Ann. "Just something it can remember."

In recent years, Wyle lent his talent to writing music and lyrics and to directing choirs for the Gold Coast Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks and especially for the children of Sherman Oaks' Dixie Canyon Elementary School, which his son attended.

Throughout the 1990s, Wyle volunteered to direct the school's glee club, which grew from 16 to 100 pupils. He asked only two things -- a piano and permission to teach music twice a week.

"Music is a learning process. It's a reading process. Everybody gets a book of words, and we learn. It teaches them to work with other people. It teaches kids to get out and sing," he told the Daily News of Los Angeles in 1998. "It keeps me young. They have no idea how old I am, and they don't care. I'm 'Mr. Wyle.' When I leave there, I feel like I've accomplished something."

Wyle's association with "Gilligan" cannot have hurt his cachet with the youngsters. In 1991, he helped Sue Robinson, mother of a Dixie pupil, create the school's stage show "Gilligan: The Dixie Episode." Wyle composed 17 new songs for the musical and was pianist for the pint-sized vocalists.

"What keeps me young is this group," he told The Times during a rehearsal a dozen years ago, as he sat down at the piano like a pied piper and struck the notes that begin "Do Re Mi" from "The Sound of Music." Pupils instantly started singing and converging around the piano.

Born Bernard Weissman in New York City, Wyle grew up playing piano and began his career at clubs in the Catskill Mountains. He performed with the pit orchestra in "Hellzapoppin," the Broadway hit musical of the late 1930s.

In 1946, he moved to Los Angeles to write the theme song and become musical conductor for the "Alan Young Radio Show." Producers insisted he change his name to something shorter and more manageable for the air -- George Wyle he became.

Wyle worked as musical director for individual singers including Keel, Day, Dennis Day and Nanette Fabray and segued into television variety programs as choral director for "The Dinah Shore Show," "The Jerry Lewis Show" and "The Andy Williams Show."

His longest association was with Williams, for whose show he later served as musical director.

Wyle also conducted the London Symphony for Williams' concert in Royal Albert Hall in the British capital.

Wyle was also musical director of TV shows for Flip Wilson and the Lennon Sisters, and handled the music for specials by magician David Copperfield, Carol Channing, John Davidson and Pat Boone and for the People's Choice Awards presentations.

Among the 405 works Wyle wrote, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, were "The Alphabet Song," "Andy's Bossa Nova" and "Sidewalks of New York."

Besides his son, the songwriter -- a widower -- is survived by his daughter, Judy Mandler of Cambria; a sister, Helen Lovitch of Sherman Oaks; a brother, George Weissman of New York City; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills.

Any memorial donations may be sent to the Help Youth Foundation, P.O. Box 571763, Tarzana, CA 91357.

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