George Forrest, the songwriter who, with Robert Wright, penned lyrics and wrote music for Kismet, Grand Hotel, Song of Norway and other musicals, died in Florida Oct. 10 after suffering a massive stroke Oct. 8.
Wright, who survives, was Mr. Forrest's collaborator since the 1920s, when they were in high school together. They both played piano, and both wrote music and lyrics. The team was still active this year, refining a longtime project, a P.G. Wodehouse-Guy Bolton musical, Betting on Bertie, and developing another long-aborning project, a musical version of Eudora Welty's novella, "The Ponder Heart."
Born George Forrest Chichester Jr. in Brooklyn, he moved to Miami with his family when he was a boy. In his later years, Mr. Forrest, who went by the nickname Chet, split his time between New York and Florida.
The writers -- who would go on to give the world "Stranger in Paradise" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" from their greatest hit, Kismet (1953) -- met in 1929 at Miami High School, and began penning songs as teens ("Hail to Miami High," for starters). They wrote and performed for nightclubs and penned material for the famed Copacabana and for singer Jane Froman.
The pair auditioned for M-G-M in the mid-1930s and earned a contract, writing songs for "Maytime," for which they borrowed classical themes. Among their more famous songs are "The Donkey Serenade," which features their lyrics and a theme by Friml (which they adapted), and "Strange Music," inspired by the music of Edvard Grieg. They are best known for penning classically-tinged scores for Broadway's Song of Norway (a Grieg biography based on Grieg themes, 1944), Kismet (based on Borodin themes, 1953), Magdalena (written with Villa-Lobos, 1948) and an African-American version of Kismet called Timbuktu! (1978).
"People think they only adapted other people's scores, but that's not true," said Wright-Forrest artistic associate Walter Willison, who helps protect and promote the work of the pair. "Adapting a piece of classical music into a song means more than sticking a lyric on it." Willison told Playbill On-Line that although "they were very good at adapting other people's styles," their original output was also plentiful. Their songs were heard in camp revues, nightclubs, films and on stage. Most of the score of Grand Hotel (1989) was written by them, with some lyric augmentation by Maury Yeston.
Willison said the Wright and Forrest relationship represents the longest-running known songwriting collaboration in the history of American showbusiness.
A score not inspired by existing themes, At the Grand, based on the novel "Grand Hotel," was produced regionally and was eventually developed by director Tommy Tune into the Broadway musical, Grand Hotel. Composer-lyricist Yeston worte several songs for the score and tweaked their lyrics.
The pair also wrote Gypsy Lady (1946), Kean (about the stage actor, 1961) and Anya (a musical about Princess Anastasia, 1965).
"Let a Little Love In," a song from Wright and Forrest's "Ponder Heart" project, titled Whirlygig, had its recording premiere on the Wright Forrest concept CD, "A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream" (Original Cast Records), released in 1998.
York Theatre Company's Musicals in Mufti series had already booked a concert presentation of Kean, the musical biography of stage actor Edmund Kean, for January 2000. York is also considering a staging of Betting on Bertie.
There are no family survivors.A memorial service will be held 4 PM Oct. 16 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami Beach, FL.