The papers of Hollywood lyricist Ray Evans

Rehearsing songs from the movie “Fancy Pants.” From left to right: Jay Livingston (at the piano), Ray Evans, Annette Warren, Lucille Ball and Bob Welch. From the Ray Evans papers, Ms. Coll. 860.

The Ray Evans papers document the life and career of Hollywood lyricist and Penn alum Ray Evans. Graduating from Penn in 1936, Evans went on to form the song-writing team of Livingston & Evans, with fellow Penn alum, Jay Livingston. The duo is remembered today for hits such as “Buttons and bows,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Que sera, sera,” the three songs for which they won Oscars. While the collection here at Penn does not include the famous gold statuettes, there is much more in the collection than just a few famous tunes. The substantial collection contains correspondence, sheet music, lyrics, scripts, press clippings, sound recordings, photographs, programs, awards, memorabilia, and art work.

Among the Livingston & Evans anecdotes which have been repeated numerous times is the fact that another hit tune of theirs, “Silver bells,” was originally titled “Tinkle bells.” That is, until Jay’s wife Lynne told them that the word “tinkle” had another meaning besides “a light, clear ringing sound.” But digging a little deeper into the collection we find that those were not the only words to be changed. Indeed, the song, which the duo came to call “the annuity” for all the royalties it brought in, started its life with very different lyrics. Compare:

Tinkle Bells

Three hundred and sixty-four days a year
Like any jerk, you snort and sneer
But one day with pride, there’s a glow inside
Every time you hear

Tinkle bells (tweet, tweet), tinkle bells (tweet, tweet)
It’s Christmas on a city street
With all the cells tinkling, and pink paper crinkling
You’re friendly to everyone you meet

The traffic lights glow Christmas red and green
Sidewalks so old are bright and clean
The cops on the beat, the kids on the street
Act like friends between

Tinkle bells (tweet, tweet), tinkle bells (tweet, tweet)
The city finds it has a heart
The drug stores are dressed up, the clerks give their rest up
On Christmas the city pleasures start

Silver Bells

City sidewalks busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you’ll hear

Silver bells silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring a ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day

Strings of street lights, even stop lights blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids rush, this is Santa’s big scene
And above all this bustle you’ll hear

Silver bells, silver bells
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day

One is tempted to think these two versions of the song could not possibly have come from the same pen — the first composed by a mediocre hack and the second by a polished pro. But there are two themes which come out strongly from studying the Ray Evans papers. First, that the creative process is so often a collaborative one, involving the suggestions and contributions of very many people along the way. And second, that it is highly iterative and involves both numerous failures and great perseverance.

One of Ray Evans’s scrapbooks of newspaper clippings. From the Ray Evans papers, Ms. Coll. 860.

Another illustration of the collaborative nature of the business can be seen in the song “To each his own,” written in 1946, for the movie by the same name. This was Livingston & Evans first hit under Paramount Pictures, but it could not be nominated for an Oscar as it was never used in the actual movie! Instead it served as advertisement for the movie, and found itself on the Billboard charts three different times in 1946 and was recorded over 50 times (each of which can be found in the collection). The great efforts involved in using a hit song to promote a movie — in just one city — are nicely encapsulated in the text of a newspaper clipping from 1946:

To Each His Own

Radio and newspaper coverage was extensively used to exploit the engagement of “To Each His Own” at the Denham theatre in Denver. The campaign was arranged by advertising manager Bill Fitzgerald.

A special feature story with art was planted in the magazine section of the Post on the Sunday before opening. Ten advance readers, two of which had art, were planted in both newspapers. Underlines [of] theatre ads were used two weeks in advance.

Starting 10 days in advance spot announcement were had over stations KZL, KMYR, KFEL, KOA and KVOD. The song, “To Each His Own,” was plugged on live programs of all five radio stations, including several nationally broadcast programs. Majestic recordings of the song were presented to all radio stations for use on recorded programs.

Orchestra leaders, organists, and pianists at radio stations, night clubs and amusement parks were given orchestrations or sheet music. They cooperated by plugging the song frequently and crediting the picture. A special tieup was made with Eddie Howard and Orchestra, playing at Elitch’s Amusement Park, to mention the picture and playdate nightly on his broadcasts over KMYR.

Title sheets of the song were placed on all music counters and cards were located at all record counters. 5,000 heralds were distributed in the theatre lobby beginning three weeks in advance. Cards with “To Each His Own” drink promotion copy were planted in 100 cocktail lounges, bars and night clubs. Title and playdate were imprinted on the menus of 25 Denver restaurants. Bumper strips were used on 125 taxi cabs.

Livingston & Evans continued to produce songs throughout their career. But Ray Evans also went on to collaborate with other composers, especially in his later years. One of the collection’s strengths lies in its cache of unpublished and non-commercial recordings. It includes studio recordings, radio airchecks, concert and event recordings, interviews, and renditions of commercial songs well before they were ready to be published. In 2002, cabaret singer Michael Feinstein recorded an album of Livingston & Evans tunes called A Livingston & Evans Songbook. But Feinstein also collaborated with Ray Evans, writing the music for several new songs for which Evans composed the lyrics. Within the collection of unpublished and non-commercial recordings are multiple versions of these songs, recorded on home-made CDs and sent to Ray Evans through the mail. Here we find the beginnings of a new song, simply called “Melody for Ray,” as well as titled songs that have yet to appear on a commercial recording, such as “My brother, the blues” and “Surrender.”

Home-made CDs from Michael Feinstein to Ray Evans. From the Ray Evans papers, Ms. Coll. 860.

Home-made CDs from Michael Feinstein to Ray Evans. From the Ray Evans papers, Ms. Coll. 860.

In the coming months, in order to promote the Ray Evans papers we will be constructing a website which will offer a look inside the collection by way of his war-time diary. The 1939-1945 diary of Ray Evans provides compelling insight into the struggles of a young man trying to make it as a song lyricist in New York and Hollywood. Included are descriptions of the music-making process, dozens of songs from the piano and pen of Livingston & Evans, and numerous mentions of other big names in the music and movie business (such as Ray’s reference to “Angela ‘something’ who is in ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Dorian Gray'”). Please stay tuned!

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