William Roy, Songwriter and Pianist Who Collaborated With Julie Wilson, Dead at 75

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04 Sep 2003

William Roy.
William Roy.
William Roy, the songwriter, conductor and pianist known as a trusted accompanist to cabaret star Julie Wilson, died Sept. 2 in West Palm Beach, FL, of respiratory failure following a series of small strokes, according to friends and colleagues.

Mr. Roy, known to pals as Billy Roy, was 75 years old and had moved to Florida in 1996. As a songwriter, he penned the score to the Broadway musical Maggie, starring Keith Andes, Betty Paul and James Broderick, in 1953, and contributed songs to the revue, New Faces of 1962.

His work was heard in nightclubs in New York City, including Julius Monk's revues at the famed Upstairs at the Downstairs in the 1950s. "The Four Seasons at the Seagram" was among the songs Mr. Roy wrote (with lyricist Louis Botto, a longtime Playbill editor). The song was a satire of a man who attended the Four Seasons restaurant and fell into the pool there, only to be extracted the following spring. Typical of other topical songs by the duo was "After Burton, Who?" (about Liz Taylor).

He thrived in the era when writers could seemingly launch a career by having their songs in a nightclub show. Mr. Roy wrote with many collaborators over the years, and penned several musicals that played outside of New York.

Mr. Roy's nimble work as a musician is heard on Julie Wilson's many "songbook" recordings — songs of Cy Coleman, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill and others — on the DRG Records label. Since 1970, he was a respected pianist and trusted collaborator of chanteuse Wilson.



In New York, he wrote lyrics and music for The Penny Friend, Off-Broadway, featuring Bernadette Peters. For seven years he was writer, arranger and musical director for every Julius Monk revue at The Upstairs at the Downstairs, and at Plaza 9 in the Plaza Hotel. For two years he worked again with Bernadette Peters as writer, arranger and conductor for her nightclub act, playing venues such as Las Vegas' Riviera and MGM Grand.

He has been musical director for and, in some instances, performing partner with, Rosemary Clooney, Dorothy Dandridge, Dolores Gray, Celeste Holm, Lisa Kirk, Linda Lavin, Mary McCarty, Mabel Mercer, Portia Nelson, Ginger Rogers, Sylvia Syms, Margaret Whiting and Julie Wilson, each of whom have sung his songs, along with Chris Conner, Blossom Dearie, Carol Lawrence and Bobby Short, resulting in his having appeared on every major television network variety show telecast in the United States between 1959 and 1980.

As a composer and lyricist, his latest work was for a production of the musical Moving On, which toured Ft. Lauderdale and San Francisco.

Mr. Roy was born in Detroit. At the age of three he began singing on a weekly children's radio program. When old enough to read he became a regular on "The Lone Ranger" and "The Green Hornet," which at that time were both broadcast from Detroit. Billed as Billy Roy, at age 12 he began work in Hollywood, and for the next six years he played featured roles in 20 films including "The Corn Is Green" with Bette Davis, "Passage To Marseilles" with Humphrey Bogart, "The Cross Of Lorraine" with Gene Kelly and Jean Pierre Aumont, and It Happened In Brooklyn" with Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson and Jimmy Durante.

The Hollywood years also brought hundreds of radio appearances, according to his bio. Lux Radio Theatre productions included "Meet Me In Saint Louis" with Judy Garland, "Intermezzo" with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten, "The Major and the Minor" with Ginger Rogers, "Sing You Sinners" with Bing Crosby, and "Cynthia with Elizabeth Taylor.

During this time Mr. Roy also studied composition with Edward Kilenyi, George Gershwin's first harmony teacher. He initially composed a number of art songs, which were published by Schirmer, and sung in concerts and radio appearances by Gladys Swarthout, Nan Merriman and John Charles Thomas.

Later appearances as an actor include "Love, Sidney" with Tony Randall, the featured role of Andrew in the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of A Backers Audition, directed by Martin Charnin, and the leading role of Buddy in Gunmetal Blues, at The Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center. Recently, he played Zoot in The Asolo State Theatre's 1940's Radio Hour in Sarasota.