Jay Livingston, three-time Oscar-winning songwriter who with partner Ray Evans penned some of Hollywood’s most enduring movie songs, died of pneumonia Wednesday Oct. 17 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A. He was 86.
Livingston and Evans shared Oscars for “Buttons and Bows,” from 1948’s “The Paleface”; “Mona Lisa,” from 1950’s “Captain Carey, USA,” which became a top hit for Nat “King” Cole; and “Que Sera, Sera,” from 1956’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which became Doris Day’s theme song.
The writing duo also received four other best song nominations starting in 1945 with “The Cat and the Canary” from “Why Girls Leave Home”; “Tammy,” a No. 1 hit for Debbie Reynolds in 1957 from the film “Tammy and the Bachelor”; “Almost in Your Arms” from 1958’s “Houseboat”; and the lyrics for Henry Mancini’s “Dear Heart” in 1964.
One of their biggest hits was the holiday favorite “Silver Bells,” written for Bob Hope in 1951’s “The Lemon Drop Kid.” It was one of a dozen Hope films that featured Livingston & Evans tunes.
Twenty-six of their songs have sold more than a million copies, and many instantly entered the pop culture as standards.
Livingston was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of McDonald. He and Evans met in the mid-1930s while both were attending the U. of Pennsylvania, and they struck up a personal and musical friendship. With Livingston on piano and Evans on saxophone and clarinet, they joined a band on a series of Cunard Line cruises during Easter and summer vacations.
Graduating in 1937, they tried their hand at songwriting in New York., with their first big break “G’bye Now,” a song in Olsen & Johnson’s famed Broadway revue “Hellzapoppin” that became a top-10 hit for Horace Heidt’s orchestra.
They moved in 1944 to Hollywood, where Johnny Mercer began singing their tunes on his radio show, and they landed a contract with Paramount in 1945.
Their 10-year stint at Par included the title song for 1946’s “To Each His Own,” which generated multiple hit records for Eddy Howard, the Ink Spots, Freddy Martin and Tony Martin; and the lyrics for Victor Young’s melody of “Golden Earrings,” a 1947 film that spawned a hit record for Peggy Lee.
Livingston and Evans met with mixed success on Broadway, with the 1958 musical “Oh, Captain,” which ran 192 performances and starred Tony Randall; and the 1961 “Let It Ride,” a George Gobel starrer that closed after 68 performances. They also wrote a song for the 1980 revue “Sugar Babies” starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller.
Their television themes are worldwide favorites: “Bonanza,” written in 1959 for the long-running Western, and “Mister Ed,” in 1961 for the talking-horse sitcom. Livingston’s voice in the latter — designed to be a temporary track for early screenings of the pilot — was never replaced.
They also themed “To Rome With Love” in 1969 and wrote the score for TV’s first major musical, “Satins and Spurs” with Betty Hutton in 1954.
Livingston and Evans wrote special material for Hope’s road shows and TV specials starting in 1947.
In recent years they performed a two-man show, “And Then I Wrote.” They received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.
Their last project together was “Michael Feinstein Sings the Livingston and Evans Song Book,” to be released by Concord Records next year.
Livingston’s first wife, Lynne Gordon, died in 1991. He is survived by his second wife, former actress Shirley Mitchell; a daughter; a granddaughter; three great-grandchildren; brother Alan Livingston, former NBC and Capitol Records exec; and partner Evans.
Services will be private, but a public memorial service will be announced shortly.