Who Writes The Songs?: Good Question–Lots of People Including Frank De Vol, Jay Livingston, and Ray Evans.

At this time of year, we tend to watch a lot of football bowl games. Most of the attention centers on the coaches, the quarterbacks, and a handful of other star players like running backs, wide receivers, and occasionally kickers. While these positions influence the games, there is an entire team behind them which determines whether they get a win or a loss. This year I will be trying to look at some of the behind-the-scenes players in the television industry.

Today we look at three composers who often influenced shows, even though many viewers never heard of the song writers.

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Frank Denny De Vol was born in West Virginia in 1911. His family moved to Canton, Ohio where he grew up. His mother owned a sewing shop, and his father was in charge of the pit orchestra at a local movie theater. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1929 and started at Miami of Ohio University but quit after six weeks. His parents were hoping he would pursue his law degree, but he was set on a career in music.

This wasn’t surprising because he had become a member of the musicians’ union at age 14. He worked for his father at the theater and played the saxophone and violin.

Once he left college, he joined Emerson Gill’s orchestra and traveled around Ohio. Later he became a musician with Horace Heidt’s band, and Horace let him try his hand at arranging. He would then travel with Alvino Rey’s band which led to a long-life friendship with the King Family.

During his career as a traveling musician he married his wife, Grayce McGinty in 1935. The couple’s 54-year-long marriage would produce two daughters.

During the 1940s, he would write arrangements for many of the country’s top performers including Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, and Sarah Vaughn. His version of “Nature Boy” for Nat King Cole went to number 1 in 1948.

In 1943 he moved to California and started his own band. He appeared on the radio on KHJ and accompanied many stars including Jack Carson.

 

In the 1950s, he moved into movie composing and worked on more than 50 film scores including What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, The Glass Bottom Boat, The Dirty Dozen, and several Herbie movies. He received Academy Award nominations for his work on Pillow Talk (1959), Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), Cat Ballou (1965), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).

 

During the 1950s, his orchestra also was frequently seen at the Hollywood Palladium as “Music of the Century.”

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It seems natural that De Vol would ease into television work as well. He composed the jingle for Screen Gems’ “Dancing Sticks,” which appeared on all television series produced by Columbia Pictures.

 

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Photo: pinterest.com

Frank became the musical director on Edgar Bergen’s game show Do You Trust Your Wife? His orchestra was featured on a variety of musical shows including The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney.

 

 

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Today De Vol might be best known for his work as a composer for television series. He wrote the music for My Three Sons, Family Affair, The Brady Bunch, and The Smith Family. My Three Sons theme song was a hit single in 1961 by Lawrence Welk, more musically complex than many sitcom themes of the time. He would continue his work for My Three Sons for all 380 episodes.

 

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Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of The Brady Bunch, first turned to George Wyle to create the Brady theme. Wyle and Schwartz had composed the theme for Gilligan’s Island. With Wyle already committed to The Andy Williams Show, he approached De Vol. De Vol would provide music for 117 episodes of the original show, as well as music for The Brady Girls Get Married, The Brady Brides, The Bradys, and A Very Brady Sequel.

Frank was credited as composer for 37 movies and television series and listed as part of the music department for 87 total.

 

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Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Not only was he musical composer for these shows, but you can see him acting in many of the shows he worked on as well. His first acting appearances were on Betty White’s Show, Life with Elizabeth where he played a variety of roles.

 

 

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He then appeared on several television series including State Trooper, My Favorite Martian, The Farmer’s Daughter, Gidget, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Bonanza, Petticoat Junction, Get Smart, That Girl, and I Dream of Jeannie (37 different shows in all).

While composing on My Three Sons, he would actually portray a bandleader on the show and a father on The Brady Bunch.

 

 

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Many people will remember him as the dour-faced band leader Happy Kyne on Fernwood Tonight and America 2-Night, shows starring Martin Mull in the late 1970s.

 

One of my favorite roles of his was the head of the boys’ camp on the original Parent Trap.

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His last acting role would be on Charles in Charge, the Scott Baio comedy from 1990.

When he was in his 80s, Frank was still active with the Big Band Academy of America. About this time, he married Helen O’Connell who had been a big band singer and actress. (His first wife passed away in 1989.)

Helen passed away in 1993, and Frank died from congestive heart failure in 1999.

 

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Photo: pinterest.com

Like so many of these stars of the classic television era, he was a multi-talented guy. He could sing, he could play instruments, he could compose, he could arrange, and he could act. Sadly, when he does his job right, the music is so attuned to the shows that we almost don’t realize it’s there but try listening to a show with no background noise. Thank you Frank De Vol for not becoming an attorney.

 

We also take a look at a song-writing team of the golden age, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

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Livingston was born in McDonald, Pennsylvania in 1915. After studying piano with Harry Archer in Pittsburgh, he attended the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in journalism but also studying composition and orchestration.

Ray Evans was born in Salamanca, New York the same year. He also ended up at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a degree in Economics.

Livingston organized a dance band at the University that played on campus as well as at local nightclubs and even cruise ships during their summer breaks.  One of those band mates was Ray Evans. Evans and Livingston became a partnership and they wrote some of the most iconic songs from film and television.

 

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Photo: filmmusicsociety.org

After their graduation in 1937, the duo moved to New York City to work in Tin Pan Alley. They wrote for Broadway productions, including special material for Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson.

 

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Livingston joined the Army when World War II began while Evans went to work for an aircraft company. When Jay came back home in 1945, he and Evans decided to try their luck in Hollywood. They received a contract from Paramount Pictures, and the team would stay with the company for a decade. Their first film was To Each His Own, starring Olivia DeHaviland, and they were nominated for an Academy Award.

During this time at Paramount, Livingston married Lynne Gordon. It must have been a happy marriage because they were married until 1991 when she passed away.

The exact same year, Evans married Wyn Ritchie. They were married until her death in 2003.

In 1947 the team began writing for Bob Hope for his personal appearances. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, they would write many tunes that became jukebox favorites and popular songs. In Warren Craig’s book The Greatest Songwriters of Hollywood, he called them “the last of the great songwriters in Hollywood.”

 

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The year 1948 brought them their first Oscar win for “Buttons and Bows,” from Bob Hope’s western comedy, The Paleface. The jukebox version was recorded by Dinah Shore.

 

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In 1950, they scored their second Academy Award for “Mona Lisa,” written for the movie Captain Carey, USA but made famous by Nat King Cole.

 

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Evans and Livingston would appear in Sunset Boulevard this same year at the New Year’s Eve party scene.

 

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We can all smile and thing of Livingston and Evans each Christmas when we hear “Silver Bells.” The song, originally titled “Tinkle Bells” was written for The Lemon Drop Kid in 1951, also starring Bob Hope. Thankfully, they decided “tinkle” had other connotations and “Silver Bells” it became. (Some sources credits Jay’s wife Lynne with the name change.)

When their Paramount contract ended in 1955, they became free lancers and wrote both individual songs and complete scores for a variety of movies. They would receive ten additional Oscar nominations during their career.

 

Doris Day had a huge hit in 1956 with “Que Sera, Sera” from The Man Who Knew Too Much with Jimmy Stewart and that hit would win them a third Oscar. The song would also become Doris’s theme song for her television show in 1968.

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In 1957 they began writing the music for the Tammy movies that would be a staple of that era, beginning with Tammy and the Bachelor.

Jay and Ray would return to Broadway in 1958. They were nominated for a Tony for Oh, Captain! They also wrote songs for Let It Ride in 1961, a musical comedy adaptation of Three Men On a Horse, and Sugar Babies in 1979.

 

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Photo: tidal.com

Though most of their work was in the film industry, the team is probably best known for their television compositions. In 1959, they were asked by Desi Arnaz to write a song for a Western show being developed. The show, thought likely to last a year, didn’t have money for a weekly salary, but he allowed them to keep the rights to the song. Luckily for them, that show, Bonanza, made them millions, and would be on television until 1973.

In 1960 they composed the theme song for The Bugs Bunny Show, “This is it.”

 

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In 1961, Mister Ed debuted. Livingston and Evans not only wrote the well-known song, but Livingston is the one singing the line “I am Mister Ed.”

After Lynne’s passing, Jay would marry Shirley Mitchell in 1992.

Livingston and Evans were presented with a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame in 1995.

In 2001, at the age of 86, Jay Livingston died from pnuemonia. Ray Evans lived until 2007 when he passed away from heart failure.

 

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Photo: rayevans.com

It’s fun to see a friendship and partnership span six decades and be so successful. Although they were born in the same year in the same area of the country and married the same year and their marriages would last decades until the death of a spouse, the two men were very different. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1985, Evans said “I’m nuts about sports, play baseball and tennis every weekend. Jay couldn’t care less. He’s restrained and quiet. I’m more outward going. Jay is a marvelous musician. I have a tin ear. But our tastes are similar, and we both like good music and song.” The duo had 26 songs that sold more than a million records and their total record sales has exceeded 400 million dollars.

Michael Feinstein released an album in 2002 devoted to the team. He said, “they had a strong work ethic and they wrote a lot of plays that have wonderful and sophisticated songs that are quite different from movie songs.”

Like Frank De Vol, most viewers today have probably never heard of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, although they recognize much of their work. It’s good to look behind the scenes of and dig deeper into the television industry to learn more about all the pioneers who made the era so great.

 

Mister Ed:

In the 1960s we had some crazy sitcom situations: a wife who was a witch, a genie who was found in a bottle, a dead mother who inhabited a car, and the Munsters who tried to adjust to a normal human world.  One show that was not that incredible was Mister Ed. If someone said they were writing a show about a talking horse, it should sound a bit far-fetched, but when you watched the show, it all seemed quite plausible. Let’s take a look at what made Mister Ed a fairly well-written and enjoyable series.

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Mister Ed was developed by Arthur Lubin, a producer and director. Lubin had worked on the Francis the talking mule movies. He wanted to make a similar show for television. He was unable to gain the rights to Francis, but then he heard about children’s author Walter R. Brooks. Brooks had a series of short stories about a talking horse. His stories were published by Bantam, but since he passed away in 1958, he was never able to see the television show his work inspired.

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The pilot was financed by George Burns and filmed at his McCadden Studio. It was titled “Wilbur Pope and Mister Ed.” Scott McKay played Wilbur Pope, Sandra White played his wife, and Mr. Ed was played by a chestnut gelding that was temperamental and difficult to work with.

 

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Lubin was not able to sell the show to one of the major networks, so he financed it as a syndication sitcom. The cast was switched up a bit. Bamboo Harvester, a golden Palamino, was brought in as Ed and his voice was kept secret at the time but was Rocky Lane, an older Western star.

Allan Young came on board as the now named Wilbur Post, and Connie Hines played his wife Carol. Young was actually a blonde but in the black and white version, his hair blended into the horse’s, so Connie Hines’ hairdresser would dye Young’s hair brunette. Originally Lubin discussed naming it The Alan Young Show, but Alan did not want to do that in case it bombed. He did, however, buy into the show, which resulted in his earning a lot of money later.

Ed’s singing voice was provided by Sheldon Allman. However, the line “I am Mister Ed” at the end of the theme song was done by the song’s composer, Jay Livingston.

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote the theme song. An instrumental version was used for the first seven episodes, and then lyrics were added. The lyrics are:

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.

And no one can talk to a horse, of course.

That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed.

Go right to the source and ask the horse.

He’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.

He’s always on a steady course.

Talk to Mister Ed.

People yakkity-yak a streak and waste your time of day,

But Mister Ed will never speak unless he has something to say.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.

And this one’ll talk ’til his voice is hoarse.

You never heard of a talking horse?

Well listen to this: I am Mister Ed.

 

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The first 26 episodes were so popular, CBS picked it up. It aired on CBS from October 1961 until February 1966. During the sixth season, CBS moved the show from the prime time schedule and broadcast it on later on Sunday afternoon. There are 143 episodes in all, and they were all filmed in black and white.

 

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Photo: Hooniverse.com

Lubin got Studebaker Packard Corporation to sponsor the show in syndication which it continued to sponsor once CBS picked it up. The Posts own a 1962 Lark convertible. Studebaker’s sales plummeted in the early 1960s, and production stopped in 1963. From then on, Ford provided the cars seen on the show.

Ed also had a double named Pumpkin, a quarterhorse, which was his stunt double. Later Pumpkin was featured in a pudding commercial and went on to appear in another Filmways Presentation show, Green Acres.

The Posts live in Los Angeles. Wilbur was an architect.

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The Posts’ neighbors and friends were Roger and Kay Addison played by Larry Keating and Edna Skinner.  Keating died in the middle of the series, and Edna continued on the show. Later Wilbur’s former commanding officer, Col. Gordon Kirkwood (Leon Ames) and his wife Winnie (Florence MacMichael) moved into the Addisons’ home.

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Both the Addisons and the Kirkwoods think Wilbur is a bit nuts. They often hear him talking to himself and, to cover for Ed, he gets involved in a lot of awkward situations. Wilbur is also a bit accident prone.

Wilbur’s wife resented the time Wilbur liked to spend with his horse instead of her. Her father, Mr. Higgins (Jack Albertson), thought she should leave Wilbur and considered him a “kook.”

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Mr. Ed only talks to Wilbur. The only reason given for Ed refusing to talk to anyone else is that he thought Wilbur was the only person worth talking to. It worked because Ed was not treated as an unbelievable horse who could talk. He appeared as an equal character. Ed was also quite intelligent. He could read and play chess. He was able to use the phone to get information.  Bamboo Harvester really could answer the phone; he just could not have a conversation. He was also able to open the barn door. Ed would also pout at times when he didn’t get his way and threatened to run away a lot.

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Photo: itschess.blogspot

In an online article, “The World of Mr. Ed-What You Didn’t Know About the Talking Horse,” written by Ed Gross on April 24, 2018, he quoted Ben Starr who wrote 42 of the episodes. He explained that the reason the show worked was because he and producer Lou Derman “really knew how to do that show because we figured out how to make it work for kids and grownups. You had to take care of the grownups, and that was our secret.”

Mister Ed featured a lot of famous guest stars including Mae West, Clint Eastwood, George Burns, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Leo Durocher, Jon Provost, Sebastian Cabot, Donna Douglas, Irene Ryan, Alan Hale Jr., Neil Hamilton, William Bendix, Sharon Tate, and Jack LaLanne.

 

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Bamboo Harvester was trained by Les Hilton.  At a time when trainers could be considered somewhat cruel, Hilton was always respectful of his animals and never used force or abuse on them. Hilton had to be on the set whenever the horse was. To make Ed appear to be talking, Hilton originally used a nylon thread to open his mouth. Bamboo Harvester was quite smart though and learned to talk on cue whenever Hilton touched his hoof. A story made the rounds that Ed was made to talk by applying peanut butter to the horse’s mouth, but later Young admitted he made that up because it was more interesting than the real story.

 

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Bamboo Harvester appeared to be a professional. He usually only needed one take to complete his action. Hilton had to teach him to play a variety of sports including riding a skateboard. However, when he got tired of working for the day, he just walked off the set. He received twenty pounds of hay and a gallon of sweet tea daily.

Apparently Young and the horse became close. Young had a great respect for his co-star and after the show ended, he would make trips to see Bamboo Harvester in his retirement.

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I could not find a definite date of death for the horse. There are a lot of conflicting stories about it. Young claimed that the horse was in a stable in California where he lived on Hilton’s property. One version is that one day when Hilton was out of town, Bamboo Harvester was given a tranquilizer because he was having trouble getting up and he died hours later. Another story I read was that the horse was euthanized in 1970 in Oklahoma. He was reported to be suffering from arthritis and kidney problems.

One story I did confirm is that a horse did die in February of 1979 in Oklahoma, but it was not Bamboo Harvester, but a horse that posed for still pictures for the show which led to false reports of his being Mr Ed when he died.

Apparently, a reboot was planned for the Fox network in 2004, starring Sherman Hemsley as the voice of Mr. Ed, David Alan Basche as Wilbur, and Sherilyn Fenn as Carol. I could not find any information whether a pilot was ever filmed or not.

Another movie version was discussed in 2012 when Waterman Entertainment announced they were developing a new feature film based on the television show. Once again, I could not find any further information on the movie.

 

Mister Ed was popular during its run. A lot of collectible products were created in the 1960s including comic books and board games.

Mister Ed was not a show on my “must-watch” list, and I don’t watch a lot of the reruns. However, when I do catch one, I never feel like I wasted my time. The show worked and felt believable. Currently, it is not on either Me TV or Antenna TV, but it is available on DVD.