Buddy Pepper, who acted in radio, vaudeville and films and later became a Hollywood composer and an accompanist for Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich, died Feb. 7 of heart failure at his home in Sherman Oaks. He was 70.
One of his most popular songs, “Vaya con Dios,” penned with collaborator Inez James, has been recorded in more than 500 versions.
In addition to Garland and Dietrich, Pepper was an arranger and conductor for such stars as Jane Russell, Gordon MacRae, Lisa Kirk, Margaret Whiting, Jack Smith and Ginny Simms.
Pepper was born Jack R. Starkey in La Grange, Ky., on April 21, 1922, and debuted on the radio as pianist, singer and actor at age 5. He won a Major Bowes Amateur Hour national radio contest at age 13 and went into vaudeville.
He was dubbed “Little Buddy” Pepper while playing the younger brother of actor Jack Pepper as a singer and dancer in the Broadway-Hollywood musical comedy revue.
He appeared in the films “Seventeen,” with Jackie Cooper; “The Reluctant Dragon,” with Robert Benchley; “Golden Hoofs” and “Small Town Deb,” with Jane Withers; and “Men of Boystown,” with Spencer Tracy.
After service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Pepper was a composer and lyricist for Universal Studios, contributing songs for such movies as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,””Top Man,””This Is the Life” and “The Hucksters.”
Pepper’s film title songs included “Pillow Talk” for the Rock Hudson-Doris Day picture and “Portrait in Black,” which starred Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn.
His song credits included “Don’t Tell Me,””Nobody but You,””What Good Would It Do?””Ol’ Saint Nicholas,””Sorry” and “Now You’ve Gone and Hurt My Southern Pride.”
Survived by two cousins.
A memorial service is scheduled Feb. 29 at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills.