Buddy Pepper, a composer and lyricist whose songs include the evergreen “Vaya Con Dios,” recorded by more than 500 artists around the world, died Sunday at his Sherman Oaks home of what his longtime collaborator, Frank M. Chapman, said was heart failure. Pepper, born Jack R. Starkey, was 70.
With Chapman and such other songwriters as Inez James, Pepper wrote title and feature compositions for Donald O’Connor’s films, among them “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Follow the Boys,” “Chip Off the Old Block” and “This Is the Life.” His music also was featured in “The Hucksters,” and one of the songs from that film--"Don’t Tell Me"--was performed by Ava Gardner.
He wrote the title music for “Pillow Talk,” “Portrait in Black” and scored the motion picture “Mr. Big.”
Pepper made his professional debut as a singing pianist and actor when he was 5, and at age 11 was a featured piano soloist with the Steedman Symphony Orchestra in Louisville, Ky.
He won a Major Bowes Original Amateur (radio) Hour contest in the mid-1930s and then entered vaudeville. For two years he was featured in the Broadway and Hollywood musical revue “Meet the People,” appearing as the younger brother of actor Jack Pepper and in the process acquiring the name Little Buddy Pepper.
As a teen-ager, he acted in the films “Men of Boys Town,” “Seventeen,” “Small Town Deb” and “The Reluctant Dragon.”
Survivors include two cousins.