Songwriter and Singer Dory Previn Shannon Dies at 86

Obituaries   Songwriter and Singer Dory Previn Shannon Dies at 86
 
Dory Previn Shannon, a lyricist, composer and singer who wrote songs for film soundtracks in the 1960s, often in collaboration with her then husband, Andre Previn, and later became a noted recording artist, died Feb. 14 at her home in Massachusetts. She was 86.

Dory Previn
Dory Previn

Mrs. Shannon's work in film received Academy Award nominations on three occasions: "Come Saturday Morning" (from "The Sterile Cuckoo" in 1969), written with Fred Karlin, and later a pop hit for the folk group The Sandpipers; "The Faraway Part Of Town" (from "Pepe," 1960), sung by Judy Garland; and "Second Chance" (from "Two for the Seesaw," 1962).

The latter two were written with Andre Previn. Dory Langdon met Previn at MGM, where Arthur Freed had hired her as a lyricist in the late '50s. The two began working together, and Andre played on her first album, "The Leprechauns Are Upon Me," in 1958. They married the next year. Other films the duo composed for included Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three," "Inside Daisy Clover" and "Valley of the Dolls," for which they wrote the score. The album spent six months on the charts, and Dionne Warwick scored a hit with the moody, trance-like theme song.

Alone, she composed for "Last Tango in Paris. For television, Previn Shannon won an Emmy Award in 1984 for "We'll Win This World" (from "Two of a Kind") with Jim Pasquale and an Emmy nomination in 1985 for "Home Here" (from "Two Marriage") with Bruce Broughton.

Her songs were recorded by the likes of Georgia Brown, Tony Bennett, Diahann Carroll, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Doris Day, Blossom Dearie, Eileen Farrell, Michael Feinstein, Sylvia McNair, Leontyne Price, Frank Sinatra, k.d. lang and Nancy Wilson.

Andre and Dory Previn's marriage began to deteriorate in very public fashion in the late '60s, when he turned to classical music and began touring widely as a conductor. Afraid of flying, Dory did not join him. In 1969, actress Mia Farrow became pregnant with Andre Previn's child. The Previns divorced the following year, and Dory suffered a mental breakdown. Following the divorce, Mrs. Shannon returned to her recording career, and began to sing her own songs. Her recording career began in 1970 with United Artists Records, for whom she made five albums, including "On My Way to Where" and "Mythical Kings and Iguanas." Her third album, "Reflections in a Mud Puddle," which contained a eulogy to her father, was voted one of the best albums of 1972 by Newsweek. Other albums included "Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign" (1973); "Live at Carnegie Hall" (1973); "Dory Previn" (1975); and "We're Children of Coincidence and Harpo Marx" (1976).

Her songs were often introspective and reflective, dwelling on insecurity and the passing nature of love. As such, they not only seemed to reflect the rocky nature of her own experiences, but were well in keeping with the inward-looking singer-songwriter movement of the early '70s. She chose unusual topics, writing songs about veterans parades, mythical kings, iguanas, Marlon Brando, the final flight of the Hindenburg and, in the biting "Beware of Young Girls," the duplicity of her erstwhile friend, Mia Farrow. The New York Times once remarked on her compositions' "almost complete avoidance of specific stylistic identity." Her unwillingness to fly again hampered her, making it difficult to promote her albums. As a result, she was never as widely famous as contemporaries such as Joni Mitchell. However, she developed a solid cult following; John Lennon once asked to meet her. By the end of the 1970s, she had ceased recording, and turned to writing books.

The songs on "Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign," about an actress who commits suicide by jumping off the "H" in the famous Hollywood sign, were for a musical revue that ran briefly in Los Angeles. Plans to bring the show to Broadway were abandoned after the revue received poor reviews.

Her works for the stage included a libretto for Mozart's opera "The Impresario" and "Schizo-Phren," a one-woman play with songs. In 1983, she wrote and appeared in a musical statement on nuclear war, "August 6, 1945," at the Mark Taper Forum, alongside Tyne Daly, Judd Hirsch, Thelma Houston and Bernadette Peters. Revues devoted to her songs include "Dory Previn—Lady With a Braid" at Manhattan Theater Club in 1977, and "Dory—A Musical Portrait" in Los Angeles in 1991.

Shannon was born Oct. 22, 1925, in Rahway, NJ, and given a strict Catholic upbringing. Her childhood was a turbulent one. Her father, who had served in World War I and been gassed, suffered from depression. At one point, he held the family hostage in their own home for several months. In 1965, Mrs. Shannon herself would suffer a nervous breakdown and was briefly institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital.

Following high school, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She dropped out after a year, and then toured as a chorus line dancer and singer, and started to write songs. A brief first marriage ended in divorce.

She is survived by her husband, Joby Baker.

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