BEFORE the young hero's father drops his garden hose and falls to the ground with a stroke, all seems idyllic in Lumberton, USA. In the opening frame of David Lynch's audacious Blue Velvet (1986), we see the bluest of skies, the greenest of grass, the reddest of roses, the yellowest of tulips and the whitest of picket fences, while the soundtrack throbs with the blandest of title-songs. To its composer Bernie Wayne, 'Blue Velvet' was more than an annuity; it was the high-point of a career during which he wrote for such diverse artists as Elvis Presley (for the film Viva Las Vegas, 1964) and the Bowery Boys (Blues Busters).
In the 1940s Wayne began a songwriting partnership with the lyricist Ben Raleigh. In 1945 they hitched their wagon to the toothy comedienne Cass Daley, who belted out Wayne/ Raleigh numbers in two Paramount musicals, Duffy's Tavern and Out of This World. In 1946 they wrote 'Laughing on the Outside (Crying on the Inside)'. It was introduced by the syrupy Sammy Kaye orchestra, complete with cornball laughing/crying saxophones. Dinah Shore's torchy Columbia recording made the song famous, but Wayne's melody was so derivative that more than 20 composers (most of them amateurs) prosecuted plagiarism suits.
Bernie Wayne songs seem to have the knack of turning up in cult films. In 1949 'Laughing on the Outside' was used in the celebrated low-budget thriller Gun Crazy. Made 18 years before Bonnie and Clyde and clearly influencing it, Gun Crazy is the story of Bart Tare (John Dall), an orphan obsessed with guns but repelled by the idea of killing. He is lured into a series of armed robberies by Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a trigger-happy femme fatale. Madly in love with her but distressed about the people she killed during their last heist, Bart takes her dancing. The dance-band vocalist sings 'Laughing on the Outside', neatly summing up Bart's conflicting emotions.
In 1951 came 'Blue Velvet'. Written in collaboration with Lee Morris, a writer of television commercial jingles and nightclub revues, the ballad was recorded by Anthony Dominick Benedetto shortly after he became Tony Bennett. In 1963 it was revived by Bobby Vinton, with Burt Bacharach arranging and conducting. A million-seller, the record was No 1 in the United States for three weeks. The following year Kenneth Anger used it on the soundtrack of Scorpio Rising, his much-banned avant-garde study of homosexual motorcycle gangs. In 1986 Lynch wrote and directed the equally controversial Blue Velvet. Sung by Vinton off screen and by Isabella Rossellini on screen, the song took off yet again.
Not that 'Blue Velvet' was Bernie Wayne's only musical annuity; he also composed 'There She Is', the theme song of the annual Miss America contest.