Songwriter and composer Lee Pockriss, whose varied career involved composing for Broadway literary adaptations, Perry Como, bubblegum novelty singers and “Sesame Street,” died in Bridgewater, Conn., on Monday, Nov. 14. He was 87.
While Pockriss’ most iconic composition may be the 1960 No. 1 hit “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Tiny Polka Dot Bikini,” which he co-wrote with Paul Vance, he was also responsible for era standards “Johnny Angel” and “Catch a Falling Star.” Working with a number of songwriting partners and lyricists, Pockriss was nonetheless best known for his collaborations with Vance.
Born in Brooklyn, Pockriss studied musicology at NYU before serving as an Air Force cryptologist during WWII. He began composing for television in the 1950s, primarily for NBC’s “U.S. Steel Hour,” and subsequently met Brill Building songwriter Vance. The two notched their first major hit with Como’s “Catch a Falling Star” in 1957, going on to collaborate on a number of other hits, including Brian Hyland’s “Bikini” and “Four Little Heels (The Clickety Clack Song),” Clint Holmes’ “Playground of My Mind” as well as “Stagecoach to Cheyenne” for the 1966 remake of the John Ford Western “Stagecoach.”
Pockriss’ first venture into legit theater came in collaboration with lyricist Anne Croswell for 1960’s “Ernest in Love,” followed by 1963’s Broadway hit “Tovarich,” which provided lead Vivian Leigh with a Tony. In 1969, Pockriss adapted Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” with lyricists Carolyn Lee and Hugh Wheeler — the resulting tuner, “Gatsby,” was never fully staged, though it was given a concert performance in New York earlier this year.
In 1968, Pockriss composed the score for MGM’s Martin Sheen starrer “The Subject Was Roses.” In the ’70s Pockriss returned to TV composition, penning tunes for “Sesame Street” (Kermit the Frog’s “My Polliwog Ways” in particular).
Pockriss is survived by his wife Sonja and a brother.