Ray Evans, Broadway Lyricist Who Wrote "Mona Lisa," Is Dead at 92

Obituaries   Ray Evans, Broadway Lyricist Who Wrote "Mona Lisa," Is Dead at 92
Ray Evans, the Broadway and Hollywood lyricist whose many memorable tunes included "Buttons and Bows," "Mona Lisa," "Silver Bells" and "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," died of an apparent heart attack at UCLA Medical Center on Feb. 15, the L.A. Times reported. He was 92.

With songwriting partner Jay Livingston, his former classmate at the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Evans — born Feb. 4, 1915, in Salamanca, NY, near Buffalo — wrote two Broadway musicals and songs for numerous Hollywood movies. They teamed up in the late 1930s, first working on cruise ships, and had an early hit on Broadway when their song "G'Bye Now" was placed in the popular Olsen and Johnson Broadway revue Hellzapoppin'.

They signed up with Paramount Studios in 1945. It was while at Paramount that they wrote their most lasting songs, beginning with "Buttons and Bows," an alliterative ditty first sung by Bob Hope while hanging out the back of a covered wagon in "The Paleface" (1948). Two years later, they penned "Mona Lisa," an unusual, faux-Italian ballad about a lover's need to understand an unknowable lady. It went on to become a classic so familiar that almost anyone could be called upon to sing its opening bars:

Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have named you.
You're so like the lady with the mystic smile

Originally written for the little-remembered 1950 Alan Ladd movie "Captain Carey, U.S.A.," the song was first titled "Prima Donna," but was renamed at the urging of Mr. Evans' wife, Wyn, the L.A. Times reported. "Mona Lisa" would have faded into obscurity if Mr. Evans and Mr. Livingston hadn't felt strongly about the number and auditioned the song for Nat King Cole. Cole recorded it, and it became the crooner's most famous hit. Ironically, it was released as the "B" side of another Cole tune, "The Greatest Inventor of Them All."

The partnership delivered an enduring Christmas classic in 1951 when they composed the song "Silver Bells" for the Bob Hope-Marilyn Maxwell comedy "The Lemon Drop Kid." This time Mr. Livingston's wife, Lynne, objected to the original title, which was "Tinkle Bells." Hope first sang the song, and like many an Evans song, the insistent lyric (about "City sidewalks/Busy sidewalks" and "Children laughing/People passing") instantly delved into the listener's memory. The duo hit upon another iconic melody when they wrote "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" for Doris Day to sing in the 1956 Hitchcock film "The Man Who Knew Too Much." The winsomely existential tune became known worldwide and was thereafter Day's signature song. Mr. Evans and Mr. Livingston won Oscars for "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," "Mona Lisa" and "Buttons and Bows." The were also nominated for Oscars for "The Cat and the Canary" from "Why Girls Leave Home" (1945); "Tammy," sung by Debbie Reynolds in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957); "Almost in Your Arms" from "Houseboat" (1958), and "Dear Heart" from the movie of the same name (1964).

Shortly after writing "Whatever Will Be, Will Be," the composing team debuted on Broadway with their first musical, 1958's Oh, Captain!, the comic tale of a wily English sea captain, played by Tony Randall, who lives a double life. The lyrics were marked by Mr. Evans' penchant for syncopated storytelling and lightly comic philosophy. It was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Musical and ran 192 performances.

The two returned to Broadway three years later with the less successful Let It Ride, a musical version of the gambling comedy Three Men on a Horse. As with Oh, Captain!, Mr. Evans contributed to both the music and the lyrics. The show closed after 68 performances.

They wrote special material for a number of artists, including Cyd Charisse, Mitzi Gaynor and Betty Hutton, for whom they composed the 1954 television special "Satins and Spurs."

The team also wrote the hard-to-forget theme songs to the television shows "Bonanza" and "Mr. Ed."

Mr. Livingston died in 2001 at age 86. His and Mr. Evans' partnership had lasted 60 years. In an interview, discussing his collaboration, Mr. Evans said, "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.'"

Mr. Evans' wife died in 2003. He is survived by his sister, Doris Feinberg.

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