Gladys Shelley

Composer of 300 songs, including the ballad 'How Did He Look?'

Gladys Shelley, lyricist and composer: born Lawrence, New York 15 December 1911; married Irving Rosenthal (died 1973); died New York 9 December 2003.

For more than 60 years, Gladys Shelley's plaintive "How Did He Look?" has been a favourite with New York night-club singers. The song is indelibly associated with the definitive cabaret performer Mabel Mercer, who put unforgettable pathos into its last line: "And did he ask about me?"

Also recorded by such singers as Eydie Gorme, Dakota Staton and Connie Francis, the ballad was sung by Vic Damone and Mel Tormé as "How Did She Look?" Male performers in some Manhattan clubs sing it without altering the title.

Born in Lawrence, New York, Gladys Shelley began writing poetry at an early age. Before graduating from the local high school, she had light verse published by Walter Winchell and other newspaper columnists. In the late 1930s, after studies at Columbia University and a brief period as an actress and dancer, she started writing lyrics. In 1940 she and the composer Abner Silver wrote "How Did He Look?" Their next collaboration was "There Shall Be No Night". Taken from the title of a then-current anti-Nazi play by Robert E. Sherwood, the song was recorded by the orchestras of Duke Ellington, Bob Chester and Dick Jurgens.

Shelley's 300-odd songs were written with many composers, including Morton Gould, Frank Black, and, in the late 1940s, Fred Astaire. Their song "Just Like Taking Candy From a Baby" was recorded by Astaire himself. Her only Broadway musical, The Duchess Misbehaves (1946) collapsed after five performances.

Shelley's husband Irving Rosenthal owned the Palisades Amusement Park on the New Jersey side of the Hudson river. In 1965 his wife provided both words and music for a jingle which advertised it on radio and television. Until the park closed in 1971, few people in the New York area could have been unaware of the catchy "Come On Over", which rhymed "Palisades Amusement Park" with "swings all day and after dark".

Dick Vosburgh

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