Composer of Broadway musicals
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Date Posted: Friday, September 20, 04:13:53pm
Jule Styne, who was not born in this country but became one of the most prolific contributors to its singular offering to the arts--the Broadway musical--died Tuesday in New York City.
Styne, who won an Oscar and a Tony, had at his death composed more than 1,500 tunes, many from such widely heralded shows as “Gypsy,” “Funny Girl” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” He was 88.
He had been hospitalized for the last six weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital, said his publicist, Shirley Herz.
Styne’s was a late contribution to the elevation of Tin Pan Alley from a tawdry New York district into a national melodic highway. As a result, his music generally reflected the sophistication of the later 20th Century and a topicality that was absent from the turn-of-the-century tunes of earlier composers.
Many have written that Styne’s glowing melodies were overshadowed by the glitter of those who performed them--Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, Mary Martin and others.
Styne never expressed concern about those statements, saying often that “without the rendition there is no song.”
He also created music for Judy Holliday in “Bells Are Ringing"; Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker in “Do Re Mi"; Silvers and Nanette Fabray in “High Button Shoes"; Bert Lahr and Dolores Gray in “Two on the Aisle"; Carol Burnett in “Fade Out-Fade In"; Robert Morse in “Sugar"; and Martin, for whom he wrote several songs for “Peter Pan.”
“He gave me the divine gift of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ and anyone who ever worked with him would say Jule Styne is a star’s best friend,” said Channing, who starred in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
Styne once recalled that songwriter Vincent Youmans told him to keep songs “simple but harmonically attractive.”
“Those are the two most marvelous words anybody ever told me,” he said. “When you hear just a melody played, you won’t remember it if it hasn’t got a harmonic structure.”
He pursued that advice not only on Broadway stages but in films and through recordings of his music that sold in the millions.
Nearly 50 of his tunes were at the top of the Hit Parade during the World War II era and later.
Among them were “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You, Baby,” “Make Someone Happy,” “I’ll Walk Alone,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “It’s Magic,” “The Party’s Over,” “I Still Get Jealous” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
His “People” in 1964 and “It Seems to Me I’ve Heard That Song Before” in 1942 contributed greatly to the respective careers of Streisand and a young crooner named Frank Sinatra.
Sinatra once gave Styne a gold bracelet engraved with the words “To Jule Who Knew Me When.”
Other Styne hits that Sinatra popularized included “Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night in the Week,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.”
Styne’s life itself had all the trappings of a theatrical production.
He was born to Ukrainian-Jewish parents in London’s East End.
At age 5 or 7 (depending on the source) his wealthy uncle took him to see Sir Harry Lauder, the Scots balladeer.
Young Julius Kerwin Stein (he later changed the spelling of the last name and the pronunciation of the first to “Julie”) was enthralled and leaped on stage to sing a tune with Sir Harry. The entertainer was so impressed that he insisted that the boy be given piano lessons. Shortly after the Steins immigrated to Chicago, his uncle found them a home with room for a piano. By age 9 the boy was being touted as a prodigy and playing with the Chicago and Detroit symphonies.
He studied harmony and composition and wanted to become a classical pianist. But a teacher convinced him that his hands would never be large enough or strong enough.
He turned to popular music and met another Stein, this one named Jules, who was booking bands into various clubs while studying medicine.
That Stein turned Julius Stein into Jule Styne and got him a job as a pianist with a beginning clarinetist named Benny Goodman. It was the same Jules Stein who would later found with Lew Wasserman the entertainment giant MCA Inc.
With a new name and a latent enthusiasm for popular songs, Styne left Goodman and moved to the Metropole Hotel in Chicago, where he accompanied Helen Morgan, Ruth Etting, Fanny Brice and Al Jolson. Styne said years later that one of his biggest fans was a man who liked to be called “Mr. Brown” but who in fact was Al Capone.
In 1926 Styne wrote his first hit, “Sunday,” which was quickly popularized by Jolson. By 1932 the young composer had organized his own band. He moved to New York City as a vocal coach, and that job led to a studio contract with 20th Century Fox, where his singing students included Shirley Temple and Alice Faye.
He moved to Republic, writing songs for Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. There he met lyricist Sammy Cahn. and the team produced “It Seems to Me I’ve Heard That Song Before,” “Kiss Me Once, Kiss Me Twice,” “There Goes That Song Again” and many more jukebox favorites.
In addition to Cahn, Styne worked with such writers as Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Styne’s Academy Award was for “Three Coins in the Fountain,” the title song of the 1954 film, and his Tony was for “Hallelujah, Baby!” in 1968.
“People” was a 1968 smash for Streisand at a period when few non-rock songs could get air time.
Styne has been credited with discovering Streisand and persuading the producers of “Funny Girl” to cast her as Fanny Brice.
He had caught her act in Greenwich Village, he said, and “I decided I wanted her, but no one else did. They didn’t like the way she looked, but she made a sound I never heard before,” he told an interviewer.
Last year, Styne’s musical “The Red Shoes,” based on the movie about a ballerina who sacrifices everything for her art, closed after five performances. After all of his successes, a flop proved to be his final Broadway offering.
Styne had become a citizen in 1916 and his honors included one of the nation’s highest, the Kennedy Center award.
But perhaps his most treasured honor came in 1958 when this tribute was read into the Congressional Record:
“The lives of Americans throughout our land as well as the lives of people throughout the corners of the world have been enriched by the artistry and genius of Jule Styne. As an American, he has brought great credit to his country. . . .
“His accomplishments have been great--the position he holds in the hearts and minds of his fellow Americans is just as great.”
Survivors include his wife, Margaret, two sons, a daughter, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Friday in New York City.
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