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Ray Evans, 92; half of award-winning, prolific songwriting duo that created `Mona Lisa,' `Silver Bells,' `Tammy'

February 17, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Ray Evans, whose long collaboration with songwriting partner Jay Livingston produced a string of hits that included the Oscar-winning "Buttons and Bows," "Mona Lisa" and "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," has died. He was 92.

Evans, who teamed with Livingston in the late 1930s, died Thursday evening at UCLA Medical Center of an apparent heart attack, Frederick Nicholas, Evans' lawyer and the trustee of his estate, said Friday.

Considered among Hollywood's greatest songwriters, Livingston and Evans wrote songs for dozens of movies, most of them at Paramount, where they were under contract from 1945 to 1955.

With Livingston providing the melodies and Evans writing the lyrics, the team turned out 26 songs that reportedly sold more than 1 million copies each.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Ray Evans obituary: The obituary of songwriter Ray Evans that appeared in Saturday's California section contained an Evans quote from a 1993 Buffalo News interview that said in 1951 Capitol Records initially resisted releasing its recording of "Mona Lisa." In fact, Capitol released "Mona Lisa" in 1950.

"Ray Evans, along with his late partner, Jay Livingston, gave us some of the most enduring songs in the Great American Songbook," lyricist Alan Bergman told The Times on Friday. "We will miss him but know that his songs will live on."

In addition to their three Oscar winners, Livingston and Evans earned Academy Award nominations for "The Cat and the Canary," from "Why Girls Leave Home" (1945); "Tammy," sung by Debbie Reynolds in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957); "Almost in Your Arms," from "Houseboat" (1958); and "Dear Heart," from the movie of the same name (1964).

"Dear Heart," with lyrics credited to Livingston and Evans and music by Henry Mancini, became a big hit for Andy Williams.

"I just loved the record I made of 'Dear Heart,' " Williams told The Times on Friday. "Livingston and Evans were really part of the generation of songwriters that I loved, and I sang a lot of their songs over the years. I wasn't as close to them like I was to Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, but I certainly recognized their talent and how good they were at their craft of putting out great songs."

Among Livingston and Evans' songs, which have reportedly sold a total of nearly 500 million copies, is the Christmas standard "Silver Bells." Introduced in the 1951 Bob Hope-Marilyn Maxwell comedy "The Lemon Drop Kid," "Silver Bells" is said to have been recorded by nearly 150 artists and have sold more than 160 million copies.

The duo also wrote the memorable themes for the television series "Bonanza" and "Mr. Ed."

"Ray had a great ear for language, for the vernacular, which is something he had in common with many of the great lyricists," singer-pianist Michael Feinstein, who in 2002 released an album devoted to the Evans and Livingston songbook, told The Times a few years ago.

"He was able to distill a mood or a feeling into a song without it sounding cliched," Feinstein said. "He did not consider himself a sophisticated writer, but he knew how to express the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the common man in an eloquent way."

The son of a second-hand paper, string and burlap dealer, Evans was born in Salamanca, N.Y., south of Buffalo, on Feb. 4, 1915.

After graduating from high school, where he played clarinet in the band and was valedictorian, Evans earned a degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

While at the university, he met Livingston, a journalism major from Pennsylvania who had studied piano as a child. Evans joined Livingston's band, which performed at college dances and parties, and during school vacations they played together in cruise ship bands.

After graduating in 1937, Evans and Livingston continued to work on cruise ships before moving to New York City, where they began their songwriting collaboration.

They had their first success in 1941, when their song "G'Bye Now" was incorporated into John "Ole" Olsen and Chic Johnson's zany Broadway revue "Hellzapoppin' " and landed on "Your Hit Parade."

In 1944, the two songwriters came to Hollywood, where they had a hit with Betty Hutton's recording of "Stuff Like That There."

They earned their first Oscar nomination with "The Cat and the Canary."

Under contract to Paramount, the pair wrote one of the biggest hits of 1946: the title song for the Olivia de Havilland movie "To Each His Own," the basic framework of which began with Evans' phrase "two lips must insist on two more to be kissed."

For one week in 1946, five versions of "To Each His Own" were on Billboard's Top 10 list, with recordings by Eddy Howard (No. 1), Tony Martin, Freddy Martin, the Modernaires and the Ink Spots.

Livingston and Evans picked up their first Oscar for the bouncy "Buttons and Bows," which was introduced by Bob Hope in the 1948 comedy western "The Paleface" and recorded by Dinah Shore, among others.

While at Paramount, the songwriters even made a cameo appearance playing themselves in Billy Wilder's 1950 classic "Sunset Boulevard."

Although they were born only six weeks apart, Livingston and Evans were "not the least bit alike," Evans told The Times in 1985.

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