Obituary: Marshall Barer

MARSHALL BARER, who many of his legion of friends called "the best living lyricist and the worst living house guest", began his career as a lyricist and song writer in the late Forties while working as a very successful commercial artist in New York.

Born in Astoria, New York City, in 1923, he attended Cavanagh Art School there and then worked in advertising agencies as an artist and designer, but always wrote songs in his spare time.

He began by writing special material for supper club artistes like Celeste Holm and Dwight Fiske, then graduated to writing "pop" songs with Alec Wilder for such stars as Harry Belafonte, Sarah Vaughan and Nat "King" Cole. A children's opera, The Impossible Forest (also with Wilder), so impressed executives of Golden Records they hired him as staff lyricist, and in the course of his stay there he wrote well over 100 songs.

In 1951 he met Dean Fuller and they began collaborating on songs for the musical theatre, beginning with the revue Walk Tall in 1954. Six Barer- Fuller songs were featured in New Faces of 1956 and another four in Beatrice Lillie's Ziegfeld Follies of 1957. They also wrote special material for Bing Crosby and Sid Caesar. In 1959 Barer wrote the libretto and lyrics for the musical Once upon a Mattress, with music by Mary Rodgers (typically, Marshall referred to her as "you know, Dorothy's daughter"), a charmingly comical rendering of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale "The Princess and the Pea" that introduced the comedienne Carol Burnett to the Broadway stage.

Witty, sophisticated, romantic songs and show adaptations (many of them disappointingly never produced) poured from Barer's prolific pen - among them Dancing on the Air (an adaptation of Shaw's The Devil's Disciple) with Dean Fuller, a musical version of Around the World in Eighty Days with music by Michel Legrand that included a marvellous four-melody quartet built around the well-known song from the movie, and, with Hugh Martin, the charming 1962 musical A Little Night Music, in which Jeanette MacDonald was to return to Broadway and in which Liza Minnelli would have had her first featured part. Alas, MacDonald died and the show was never produced.

Barer went on to work with many other composers, including David Raksin, Duke Ellington, Linda Rodgers Malneck, David Ross, and William Roy. "The hills," he wryly noted, "are alive with the sound of unpublished music, mostly from unproduced musicals."

His "most heard" song has to be the "Mighty Mouse Theme (Here I Come to Save the Day)" for the famous cartoon, although two of his favourite artists, Michael Feinstein and Andrea Marcovicci, often feature less well- known Barer numbers like "On Such a Night as This" and "Wasn't It Romantic?" in their shows. Both often attended his legendary Sunday night soirees at Venice Beach for other singers and songwriters brave enough to eat his food and risk the razor edge of his tongue.

A unique song stylist, a wicked parodist (his take on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It's a Grand Night for Singing" has to be heard to be believed) and a superb storyteller, Barer began his own cabaret act in the 1970s, playing in clubs in Los Angeles and New York where he would interpret - he was a stickler for "just the right word" and "interpret" is certainly it - the lyrics of his own "What'll I Do (With All the Love I was Savin' for You)" "Shall We Join the Ladies (And Make One Great Big Mama)" "Too Young (For a Man My Age)" and "If I Knew Now (What I Knew Then)". To see him perform - again, just the right word - was a delight, and he delighted in performing.

Just as he had always said he would, he told songs and sang stories right up to the end. Eccentric, endearing, "Anglo-sexual, psycho-Semitic" (by his own description), impossibly gifted and largely unknown except to aficionados of "lost" musicals, he was, and will remain, a treasure.

Marshall Louis Barer, lyricist, librettist, singer, songwriter and director: born New York 19 February 1923; died Santa Fe, New Mexico 25 August 1998.

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