Richard Adler, the composer-lyricist whose credits include 1950s hit musicals “Damn Yankees” and “The Pajama Game,” died Thursday at his home in Southampton, N.Y. He was 90.
Adler penned a string of familiar songs that include “You Gotta Have Heart,” “Hey, There,” ”Hernando’s Hideaway,” “Whatever Lola Wants,” “Steam Heat” and “Everybody Loves a Lover.” He also produced presidential entertainment evenings under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, including the 1962 perf that immortalized Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
The scores to “Pajama Game” (1954) and “Damn Yankees” (1955), both co-written with Jerry Ross, rep Adler’s most familiar Broadway legacy. Both tuners won the top musical Tony and also notched the award for score for Adler and Ross. Titles yielded an array of standards, some of which turned up on Broadway again in 1999 Tony winner “Fosse,” a dance revue of the work of Bob Fosse, who choreographed the original productions under director George Abbott.
“Pajama Game,” a romantic comedy set against labor unrest at a pajama factory, and the devil-meets-baseball tale “Yankees” were also adapted into Warner Bros. features, both co-directed by Abbott and Stanley Donen.
In a 2006 interview with the Associated Press, Adler recounted how the song “Hernando’s Hideaway” began from “The Pajama Game.” The show’s authors, Abbott and Richard Bissell, needed a tune for the second act, and Abbott approached Adler.
“He said, ‘Write a song that can be performed in a dimly lit, smoke-filled nightclub with a lot of fervent-looking people. Oh, and make it Latin,'” Adler said. “It was a piece of cake for me.”
What emerged was a frothy Latin tango with the lyrics: “I know a dark secluded place/A place where no one knows your face/A glass of wine a fast embrace/It’s called Hernando’s Hideaway… Ole!”
The song went on to have a successful life outside the theater, hitting the top of the pop charts and later being recorded by Archie Blyer, band leader Billy May and even Ella Fitzgerald.
In addition to his musical theater projects, Adler’s work encompassed symphonies including “Wilderness Suite,” a commission from the Dept. of the Interior, and “The Lady Remembers,” commissioned for the Statue of Liberty’s centennial, as well as ballets including “Eight by Adler” for the Chicago Ballet.
Born in New York City in 1921, he attended the U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduating in 1943 he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during WWII.
He first teamed with Ross for 1953 revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.” Their successful partnership was cut short when Ross died in 1955. Adler went on to produce Broadway plays including “The Sin of Pat Muldoon” in 1957 and “Rex” in 1976, and in 1961 he wrote the musical “Kwamina,” which earned him a Tony nom.
Adler is survived by his wife, Susan A. Ivory; three children; and three grandchildren.
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)