Livingston & Evans, 1949-1950
Livingston & Evans: The Last Of The Great Songwriters From The Golden-Age Of Hollywood
Coming off their first Academy Award winning song in 1948, “Buttons and Bows”, you can imagine how this catapulted Livingston & Evans stature as the go to songsmiths at Paramount Pictures. As busy as the boys were prior to this, their career went into hyper-drive after.
In 1948 Jay & Ray were assigned to write 13 songs on behalf of 7 Paramount films. Besides THE PALEFACE, Livingston & Evans were assigned to write songs for: THE BIG CLOCK (starring Ray Milland & Charles Laughton), ISN’T IT ROMANTIC (starring Pearl Bailey and Veronica Lake), DREAM GIRL (starring Betty Hutton), MY OWN TRUE LOVE (starring Melvyn Douglas), and two Alan Ladd films, BEYOND GLORY and WHISPERING SMITH.
In 1949 Jay & Ray were assigned to write 12 songs on behalf of 8 Paramount films: DEAR WIFE, and STREETS OF LAREDO (both starring William Holden), SORROWFUL JONES (starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball), THE GREAT LOVER (starring Bob Hope and Rhonda Fleming), SONG OF SURRENDER (starring Claude Rains), THE HEIRESS, (starring Olivia DeHaviland and Montgomery Clift), MY FRIEND IRMA (starring Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis), and SAMSON & DELILAH (starring Victor Mature & Hedy Lamarr).
1950 brought 10 Livingston & Evans song assignments on behalf of 7 Paramount films: COPPER CANYON (starring Ray Milland & Hedy Lamarr), PAID IN FULL (starring Lizabeth Scott & Robert Cummings), FANCY PANTS (starring Bob Hope & Lucille Ball), MY FRIEND IRMA GOES WEST (starring Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis), THE FURIES (starring Walter Huston & Barbara Stanwyck), THE REDHEAD AND THE COWBOY (starring Rhonda Fleming & Edmund O’Brien), and a seemingly inconsequential Alan Ladd film assignment that presented Livingston & Evans with many twists and turns that ultimately would garner the boys their second Academy Award for BEST SONG of the year!
Director, Mitchell Leisen, called on Jay & Ray to write a song for his new Alan Ladd WWII era film titled O.S.S. that could be used in a scene in which the local Italian partisan resistance could be warned when the Nazi’s were coming into their small village. Leisen requested Jay & Ray to write a song that could be played by a street accordion player that would be the tip-off so the resistance could hide their radio equipment before the Nazi’s arrived. At first Jay, the music writer of the Livingston & Evans team, suggested a very dramatic melody. However, Leisen thought a sinister sounding melody could also tip off the Nazi’s and preferred something less dramatic. Unfortunately, as Jay explained afterwards, coming up with something for such an inconsequential scene in the film ended up becoming more of a challenge than he expected.
However, a few days later while on his way to work, as Jay sat at the steering wheel of his car at a stop sign in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, a melody came into his head. Jay said as he sat at the stop light this beautiful melody appeared out of the blue. After arriving at Paramount a few minutes later, Jay hurriedly made his way to his office piano to write down the melody. As Ray questioned Jay what he was doing, Jay said, “don’t say a word”. Ray knew when Jay was onto something and left him alone until ready. When Jay had completed the melody and played it, Ray asked, “what is this?”
Jay explained that, rather than try and write something obviously sinister as a warning signal, that he thought it might be interesting to use a beautiful melody for the accordion player to play as a warning. Jay called director Leisen and explained his idea, then played him his new melody. Leisen liked the idea and agreed to use it as the warning music in the scene. Even though all that was needed for the purpose of the scene in the film was music, the Paramount suits subsequently decided because the film title O.S.S. was too obscure that the film would now be called AFTER MIDNIGHT and therefore it would be necessary for Livingston & Evans to write words to their beautiful new melody and turn it into a marketing tool as a theme song as well as having it played by the street musician in the film. A few days later, while at Ray’s house, Ray’s wife Wyn walked in when Jay was playing “After Midnight” and suggested that because the scene from the film took place in Italy a more appropriate title and lyric for this beautiful melody should be “Mona Lisa”. Even though Jay & Ray liked this idea they explained that this was an assignment from the suits at Paramount and therefore they must do as ordered and leave it as “After Midnight”. However, on a lark, because they both liked the idea so much, Jay & Ray decided to go ahead and write a “Mona Lisa” lyric for themselves. They re-wrote the lyric on top of the same melody that became “Mona Lisa”, a love song likening the singer’s lover to the famous Leonardo daVinci painting Mona Lisa.
A few days after Jay & Ray had gone into the recording studio at Paramount and recorded the music for the film, Jay opened Variety magazine and read where the new Alan Ladd film that originally was titled O.S.S. and then had been changed to AFTER MIDNIGHT had once again been re-titled, this time to CAPTAIN CAREY U.S.A. Jay immediately called the director and the suits at Paramount to say because the title of the film was now CAPTAIN CAREY U.S.A. and a title theme as such would be impossible, could they please use their new song “Mona Lisa” instead of “After Midnight”?
The suits said, for financial reasons, it would be impossible to go back into the studio to do another recording. Jay then explained to the suits that the day of the recording session Livingston & Evans had the Paramount Studio orchestra record both versions of their songs, “After Midnight” and “Mona Lisa”. Therefore, it was already recorded. The suits relinquished and after numerous acts of fate, and persistence, “Mona Lisa” became Livingston & Evans second Academy Award winning song. “Mona Lisa” also became one of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s signature songs, and has become a timeless classic standard recorded by numerous artists over the years besides being included in numerous films.
Another Livingston & Evans love-themed ballad that also contains a beautiful melody is “I Waited So Long”. This song assignment was originally written by Livingston & Evans on behalf of Universal Pictures for the film ISTANBUL. ISTANBUL starred Errol Flynn, and Nat ‘King’ Cole. At the last moment it was cut from the film, however, Universal Pictures ended up including it in another of their films titled THE BIG BEAT.
Nat “King” Cole / Mona Lisa
At this writing “Mona Lisa” is published by Sony/ATV Harmony
Nat “King” Cole / I Waited So Long
“I Waited So Long” is published by Jay Livingston Music, Inc., and Wixen Music Publishing on behalf of St. Angelo Music