The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Silver Bells

Words & Music by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, 1950

From the movie "The Lemon Drop Kid", performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader

London-born Leslie Townes Hope (1903 - 2003), better known as Bob Hope, has done far more than his share to entertain Americans via radio, television, movies, and war-zone shows. Among his numerous achievements was the introduction of the Christmas ballad "Silver Bells" in the 1951 holiday movie, The Lemon Drop Kid. In duet with actress Marilyn Maxwell, Hope brought this graceful, sentimental piece about Christmas in the city to the attention of millions of movie-goers.

Only a generation or so later, "Silver Bells" has become a familiar standard, perhaps even a classic, of the Christmas season. Assembled by two talented popular artists, lyricist Ray Evans (1915 - ) and musician Jay Livingston (1915 - 2001), "Silver Bells" combines a contemporary urban setting with old-fashioned emotional responses. This skillful blend is the essence of the song's continued prosperity.

Ray, from New York State, and Jay, from Pennsylvania, also collaborated on numerous other successful compositions, including three Academy Award winners. "Silver Bells" did not win any kind of award, but if there were an honors category for popular Christmas songs, the silver-toned piece from the movie with the funny name would probably capture one of the highest places in the competition.

William L. Simon, ed., Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

"It's practically the only song about Christmas in a big city, with department store lights, window displays, shoppers and all the rest, said Ray Evans, describing the Song he and Jay Livingston wrote in 1950. At the time the two were under contract to Paramount and were assigned to write a Christmas song for The Lemon Drop Kid, starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. They were a bit daunted by the task, because there were so many Christmas standards. So, as Evans put it, "We set our attention on the 'bell’ side of Christmas and to Christmas in the city--in contrast to 'White Christmas' and other standards, with lots of snow and country and small-town images." The result was a holiday classic, especially after Bing Crosby and Carol Richards recorded it 1951.

The Lemon Drop Kid (Comedy, 1951) Racetrack tout owes big money to a gangster and must pay up — or else. Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell sing "Silver Bells." The film co-starred Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, and William Frawley. Interestingly, the 1951 version was a remake; the only actor to be billed in both versions was William Frawley -- better known to us as Fred Mertz of "I Love Lucy" fame.

Raymond B. Evans

b. 1915, Salamanca, New York

Overview.
The last of the great Hollywood songwriters was the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Livingston was the composer, yet both men wrote lyrics. Both men were born in 1915, and both attended the University of Pennsylvania. While there, Livingston formed a band, and Evans played reed instruments in the band. (See composer Jay Livingston entry, above, for more information.)

Among Lyricist Evans' best work (all with Livingston music):

Ray Evans is a member of the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.

Source: COMPOSERS - LYRICISTS DATABASE, http://www.nfo.net/.CAL/tl4.html [Accessed 20 October, 2001]

Jay Livingston

b. March 28, 1915, McDonald, Pennsylvania, d. October 17, 2001, Los Angeles, California

As a child, he studied piano with Harry Archer in Pittsburgh, PA. Later, while attending the University of Pennsylvania, he studied composition and orchestration with Harl McDonald. While still a student, be organized a dance band that played for various school functions, and that also played on globe girdling cruise ships. One of his fellow students, Ray B. Evans, was also in the band. Livingston and Evans proved to be a team, with Evans becoming the lyricist.

Lane graduated in 1937, and then to New York, where he spent the next six years, during which time, he and Evans had a Tin Pan Alley hit song with "G'bye Now". In 1939, he scored the motion picture 'The Cat and the Canary'. In 1940, Lane and Evans wrote some songs that were interpolated into the Olsen and Johnson Broadway show 'Son's O' Fun'.

During WW2, Livingston served in the U.S. Army. In 1944, Livingston and composer Ray Evans, went to Hollywood where they signed a Paramount Pictures contract. They were destined to write songs for more than a hundred different films, over a ten year span.

After 1955, Livingston and Evans free-lanced for many different Hollywood studios. During this time, they now only contributed individual songs, but also wrote complete scores, including the score for 'The Lemon Drop Kid' with Bob Hope; 'My Friend Irma', and others.

1958 saw Livingston and Evans first full Broadway score for 'Oh Captain'. This was a stage adaptation of the successful film, starring Alec Guinness, 'The Captain's Paradise'.

In 1959, Livingston and Evans scrored a Television musical 'No Man Can Tame Me".

In 1961, Livingston an Evans scored the Broadway musical 'Let It Ride!' This was a musical comedy adaptation of the George Abbott and Cecil Holm play, 'Three Men On A Horse'. George Gobel starred as the Greeting Card Poet. Sam Levene returned to Broadway to play the part of Patsy, the Horseplayer, the same role he played in the original Broadway play.

Jay was elected to the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.

Jay Livingston Dies At 86

Los Angeles – Oscar-winning composer and lyricist Jay Livingston, whose collaborations with Ray Evans led to such hits as "Silver Bells, "Que Sera, Sera" and "Mona Lisa," died Wednesday, October 17, 2001. He was 86.

Livingston, whose song-wring partnership with Evans spanned 64 years, died of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, family spokesman Frank Liberman said.

Often called the last of the great songwriters Livingston and Evans had seven Academy Award nominations and won three. They won in 1948 for "Buttons and Bows" in the film "The Paleface," in 1950 for the Nat King Cole classic "Mona Lisa" in "Captain Carey, USA," and in 1956 for the Doris Day hit "Que Sera, Sera" in "The Man Who Knew Too Much."

They wrote the television theme songs for "Bonanza" and "Mr. Ed," and were honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for "the most performed music for film and TV for 1996." They were also installed in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Livingston and Evans have had twenty-six songs that have sold over a million records or more, and the total record sale of their songs has exceeded 400 million.

Silver Bells was their annuity, however. It has sold 160 million records since they first were assigned to write it for Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in 1950 for the Paramount picture "The Lemon-Drop Kid". The picture takes place in New York at Christmas, and the studio wanted a Christmas song. Jay and Ray balked. "It's impossible to write a hit Christmas song", they said. "Every year everybody sings the same old Christmas songs, and new ones never make it". Also, they were uneasy because they had an option coming up in their contract, and they hadn't had a hit for awhile. But, as usual, the studio was insistent.

So, with great reluctance, they wrote a song called "Tinkle Bell", about the Santa Clauses and the Salvation Army workers who stand on New York street corners tinkling their bells. But when Jay told his wife, Lynne, that they had written a song called "Tinkle Bell", she asked him, incredulously, "Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word "tinkle" means to most people"? She went on to explain its association with a very specific bodily function.

They put aside "Tinkle Bell" and started to write a new song. But they liked the music and melody of "Tinkle Bell", so they just changed "Tinkle" to "Silver", and the money's been pouring in ever since. To give the song added dimension, they wrote the verse and chorus so that they could be sung at the same time, and even added a lyric counterpoint to the chorus.

Bing Crosby made the first record, using all these musical tricks. Jay and Ray think this helped the song get started, besides the fact that it was about the city, while most Christmas songs were about home and hearth. They also purposely put it in three-quarter time, in contrast with most other Christmas songs around. The Bing Crosby recording, Evans said, "gave it some stature."

"He was outgoing and great fun and he just loved to play the piano, he had two in his living room," Liberman said. "He used to sing and play all the time, all his own stuff. He'd have parties and all the hot people from the music business would come."

Evans told Reuters: "We had a wonderful relationship. He was a very talented man and I felt very lucky to be his partner. We had a very rewarding career. I feel like half a person now. A relationship like this is very unique. We never wrote apart."

Evans said both men always took credit for every song they produced. "We decided two heads were better than one, we didn't take individual credit."

Livingston met Evans when both men were students at the University of Pennsylvania in 1937. Livingston was a journalism major and Evans studied banking. Their partnership began when they played together at fraternity dances in a band called "The Continentals."

The band also worked cruises during their breaks from school. "Life on the ships was so exciting and so glamorous; we were living like millionaires," Evans said. "One day on our last cruise we were coming up the Hudson River and I said to Jay, 'Let's stay in New York and write songs.' Eight years later it paid off." Livingston wrote most of the music and Evans penned most of the lyrics.

After graduation, Evans worked as an accountant; Livingston played piano, making $18 a week as a stand-by pianist for NBC Radio. That meant he filled in the silence over the airwaves with music when boxer Joe Lewis knocked out an opponent in the first round, for instance, or President Roosevelt made a shorter-than-expected speech.

Evans and Livingston wrote songs in their spare time, and their first hit, G'Bye Now, came in 1941. Another of their early projects was on the film Private Snuffy Smith in 1942.

After several years producing songs for Ole Olsen of the comedy team Olsen and Johnson, the duo moved in 1944 to California to devote themselves to full-time writing. They were awarded a contract with the Paramount music department in 1945.

"We were different personalities but we got along very well as a team. Most of our successes came from movies because we had a script to work from. We'd try to get a song title first and then we'd figure out a reason for a song, a situation, etc., and then we'd dummy some lyrics. If Jay liked the lines I'd written he'd sit at the piano and start to compose. If he didn't like the lyrics he'd start from scratch," Evans said.

Their first bit hit came in 1946 when writing the title song for a film called "To Each His Own," Evans said. "I wrote a whole page of lyrics. He took one line, threw the rest out and started to compose. 'Two lips must insist on two more to be kissed.' He threw out all the other lyrics I had written," Evans said. The sheet music sold more than a million copies.

At one point, five of the top-selling records in the Billboard chart were versions of the song by different artists, Evans said. "That kept us working at Paramount for 10 more years."

Evans credited Livingston with the idea for their Oscar-winning hit "Que Sera Sera." "Jay... had seen a movie where a family used it as their motto. He said, 'Gee, that would be a nice title for a song.'," Evans said.

The duo wrote songs for 12 Bob Hope films, including Here Comes the Girls plus songs for Hope leading ladies Dorothy Lamour, Marilyn Maxwell, Lucille Ball, Hedy Lamarr, Jane Russell and Rosemary Clooney. They also went on to work on other many other scores including My Friend Irma starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Some of their most popular songs had rather dubious beginnings: The Oscar-winning Mona Lisa, for instance, started out as 'Prima Donna,' according to Evans. "That sounded so banal and uninteresting. Luckily, my wife was [familiar with] the art world. She said, 'Why don't you call it Mona Lisa instead? Make it a metaphor or allegory about a woman who is very mysterious to her lovers.'" Evans says it remains his favorite.

Livingston's favorite was Never Let Me Go, which has been recorded by "all the great jazz singers. It has great harmonies. All our songs have very simple chords. That's why they're hits."

The duo continued writing through the millennium and are credited with creating the songs from "Godfather: Part III" in 1990. Their last project was "Michael Feinstein Sings the Livingston and Evans Song Book," set for release early in 2002.

In their later years, the pair performed benefits including a benefit for the American Heart Association took place Oscars Night, at the Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the first Oscars ceremony. "We write special things every once in awhile, but in the rock and roll and rap world, we ain't it," says Evans, who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif. "We haven't done anything significant for twenty years." He loathes current popular music. "If George Gershwin were alive today, he'd be on the corner with a tin cup, because an art form [of songwriting] has disappeared... It's a sad commentary on our society. We were the last of a golden age when songs made sense."

In a 1995 interview Livingston said he was at a loss to explain how his partnership with Evans endured 64 years. "It works, that's all. I talked to my business manager once, years ago, and said I'd like to spread out and write with other people. He said, 'When something works, don't mess with it.'"

Livingston, who lived in Bel-Air, Calif., received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Young Musicians Foundation for the work he's done for the organization. Salamanca, New York -- Evans's hometown -- renamed a renovated performing arts theater after him in 1995.

Livingston was born March 28, 1915, in the Pittsburgh suburb of McDonald. Livingston was married to Lynne Gordon in 1947. Following her death he married actress Shirley Mitchell, who survives him. A daughter, granddaughter, three great grandchildren and a brother also survive him.

Sources:

 

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.