Obituary: Mort Greene

Dick Vosburgh
Thursday 21 January 1993 01:02

Mort Greene, lyricist, writer, television producer, born Cleveland Ohio 3 October 1912, died Rancho Mirage California 28 December 1992.

CAN YOU imagine a lyricist sitting down to write a song called 'Tulsa'? Or 'The Velvet Touch'? Or 'Call Out the Marines'? Mort Greene had to; they were all written for films that needed title tunes.

Greene arrived in Hollywood in 1931, and was soon writing the words for every kind of movie song, principally for RKO. In 1942 alone, he and his composer Harry Revel wrote songs for eight films: Republic's Moonlight Masquerade, Paramount's Beyond the Blue Horizon, and RKO's The Big Street, Here We Go Again, Call Out The Marines, Four Jacks and a Jill, Sing Your Worries Away and The Mayor of 44th Street. For the last-named they wrote 'When There's a Breeze on Lake Louise', which was nominated for an Academy Award - but stood no chance with Irving Berlin's 'White Christmas' in the running.

No song of Greene's ever became a standard, but his bow had a remunerative second string: he could write gags. When his RKO contract ended in the late 1940s, he concentrated on comedy writing, and was soon employed on The Big Show, NBC Radio's stylish, last-ditch attempt to entice Americans away from the one- eyed monster television. Although The Big Show co-starred Tallulah Bankhead and Fred Allen, with such guest stars as Ethel Merman, Groucho Marx and Rex Harrison, the dialogue exchange that lingers in the memory involved the show's musical director Meredith Willson and George Sanders.

Willson: Gosh, Mr Sanders, there seems to be no end to your versatility] You're a movie actor, a stage actor, you sing, you play the piano, you compose, you write novels . . . How do you do all those things?

Sanders: Superbly.

In 1952, Greene too succumbed to the one-eyed monster and produced Bob Cummings's first television sitcom, My Hero. He then wrote briefly for a 29-year-old comedian named Johnny Carson, and helped to make The Perry Como Show into one of the top variety programmes of the 1950s. In 1956 Greene and his fellow Como writers were nominated for an Emmy Award - but stood no chance with Bilko in the running.

Greene also had a long television association with Red Skelton, contributed to the 1977 revival of Laugh-In, wrote and produced night-club acts and worked as associate producer on two films for 20th Century-Fox. He leaves a companion, Louise Cornell, two daughters, and a name for integrity. According to Johnny Carson's biographer Laurence Leamer, Carson owed his first television series to a long-time friend, Bill Brennan. When Brennan was fired as Executive Producer, Carson apparently showed such indifference that Greene, incensed at this disloyalty, told his star: 'You can take your show and shove it]'

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