Richard Adler: Composer best known for the hits ‘The Pajama Game’ and ‘Damn Yankees’

 

Richard Adler co-wrote the scores for two of the 20th century's biggest musical hits, The Pajama Game (1954) and Damn Yankees (1955). Both ran for over a thousand performances, won Tony Awards as best musical, and yielded several song standards.

 "Hey, There", from The Pajama Game, was a No 1 hit for Rosemary Clooney, and the show's other songs included "Hernando's Hideaway" and "Steam Heat", while Damn Yankees' score featured "Whatever Lola Wants" and "(You Gotta Have) Heart". Adler and Ross had written a hit, "Rags to Riches", for Tony Bennett, but Ross died of chronic lung disease at the age of 29, shortly after Damn Yankees opened on Broadway, and Adler never had such commercial success again.

Born in New York in 1921, Adler was the son of a concert pianist, Clarence Adler. He served in the US Naval Reserve during the Second World War, then worked as a copy writer while writing lyrics and poems. A collaboration with one of his father's pupils, Phil Springer, produced a minor hit, "Teasin'" (recorded by the Beverly Sisters), which brought Adler to the attention of Frank Loesser, composer of Guys and Dolls.

He introduced Adler to a new partner, Jerry Ross, and the pair became his protégés. He soon had them writing material for such stars as Jimmy Durante, Eddie Fisher and Joel Grey. In 1953 the team had their first hit with Tony Bennett's recording of "Rags to Riches". The producer-director John Murray Anderson then asked them to write songs for his new revue starring Harry Belafonte and Hermione Gingold, John Murray Anderson's Almanac. It had a moderate run and resulted in their being asked to write four sample numbers for a proposed Broadway musical based on Richard Bissell's humorous book, Seven and a Half Cents, a project that had been turned down by several composers dubious about a story involving union activities in a factory.

Adler and Ross wrote four numbers which secured the assignment. With a cast headed by John Raitt, Eddie Foy Jr and Janis Paige (with whom Adler had a brief romance), The Pajama Game received favourable reviews; one of its three producers, Harold Prince, later confessed that the meagre advance bookings would have allowed for only three performances had the reaction been bad. The show became unique in having two of its songs, "Hey, There" and "Hernando's Hideaway", in first and second positions on the hit parade for several months.

Adler and Ross had another big success with Damn Yankees, based on Douglas Wallop's novel about an elderly baseball fan who sells his soul to the devil so he can lead his favourite team to victory. Six months later Adler was devastated when Ross, his best friend as well as his collaborator, died after having a lung removed due to bronchiectasis.

In 1957 Adler returned to work when Warners asked him to be music advisor on the film of The Pajama Game. It was directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, who the following year filmed Damn Yankees. Doris Day told Adler she was looking for a novelty song, and he wrote a lyric, "Everybody Loves a Lover", that with music by Bob Allen became a No l for Day.

Having become friendly with Somerset Maugham during a European holiday, Adler returned to musical theatre with a musical version of Of Human Bondage; the critic Kenneth Tynan advised him to meet Sally Ann Howes, whom he recommended for the starring role. According to Adler, it was love at first sight, and he married Howes on 1 January 1958, the same day as his divorce from his first wife. Of Human Bondage was never produced, but later Adler proved he could write both words and music on his own with two television scores – Little Women, and The Gift of the Magi, starring Howes and Gordon MacRae.

Adler read a newspaper account of an African tribal chief who had attended Oxford, earning an MD, but on his father's death had been called back to assume leadership of his village, and the article chronicled his fight to wrest the will of his people away from their witch doctor. Adler felt that if a romantic element were added, with the woman being white, it would make a powerful musical. Kwamina went into production in 1961 with Howes starring. Adler discovered that his wife was having an affair with her leading man, Terry Carter, but the marriage endured for several more years, and Adler always spoke warmly of Howes' affectionate handling of his two sons from a previous marriage. Kwamina's run in New York was brief, and Howes had to deal with the public's outrage at seeing a white woman make love to a black man: "They said they were going to kill me ... I even received used toilet paper in the mail."

Later in 1961 Adler signed a contract to write a jingle for Newport cigarette commercials on television. Performed by the fine group, The Hi-Los, It proved so popular that it ran for 11 years. Adler did several more, and was labelled "King of the Jingles" by Newsweek.

In 1962 he was asked to stage a gala at Madison Square Garden to celebrate John F Kennedy's 45th birthday, and he put together a remarkable combination of talents including Jack Benny, Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Callas, Danny Kaye, Henry Fonda, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee and Jimmy Durante, but the most memorable moment was when Marilyn Monroe appeared (Adler's idea) to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr President". Adler did not realise that she had walked off the set of a film to attend, and that she had been fired as a result. He was later listed on a wire service as one of six people putatively responsible for her possible suicide.

In 1973 an inter-racial version of The Pajama Game was a failure – Adler blamed the undisciplined performance of Cab Calloway as Foy. In 1976 he produced Rex, a short-lived musical about Henry VIII starring the unpredictable Nicol Williamson. He wrote several symphonic suites and ballets in later years. Damn Yankees was revived to acclaim in 1995 and The Pajama Game was given a hit revival in 2006 starring Harry Connick Jr.

Richard Adler, composer: born New York 3 August 1921; married firstly Marion Hart, secondly Sally Ann Howes, thirdly Ritchey Banker, fourthly Mary St George, fifthly Susan Ivory; one son, and one son deceased, one daughter; died Southampton, New York 21 June 2012.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Life and Style
i100

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - HR Officer - Employment Law - East London - £25000

£25000 per annum + 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: *** HR Advisor - HR Office...

ENGLISH TEACHER, FULL TIME SUPPLY ROLE, DOVER SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: TEACHER OF ENGLISH NEEDED for lo...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified and unquali...

PE TEACHER, FULL TIME SUPPLY VACANCY, FOLKESTONE SCHOOL

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: The Job We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week