Recalling Cahn’s way with words

Times Staff Writer

He was writing songs of love, but not for Tita.

“I asked him once why he never wrote a song for me,” the vivacious Tita Cahn said Monday at the Center Theatre Group’s benefit tribute to her late husband, lyricist Sammy Cahn. “He said, ‘I couldn’t do that! We’re personal. This is what I do for a living!’ ”

Nominated for 26 Oscars and winner of four -- for “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way,” “High Hopes,” “Call Me Irresponsible” -- Cahn “exemplified 20th century American music,” theater group artistic director Gordon Davidson told the hundreds of music lovers gathered at the Mark Taper Forum for the annual Salon at the Taper. “Tonight is a tribute to Sammy and Tita -- Tita, we couldn’t have done this without you,” Davidson added, the spotlight shining on Cahn as she sat in an audience sprinkled with pals such as event co-chairs Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton and his wife, attorney Rikki Klieman, Kirk Douglas (his Cahn favorite? “Love and Marriage”) and salon founder Nancy Olson Livingston.

Also on the scene: producer-director Irwin Winkler, whose new film, “De-lovely,” a stylish take on the life of Cole Porter, will open here in June. “Only last week, at a party, Tita gave me a picture of Cole Porter autographed for Sammy Cahn, saying how great he thought Sammy was,” Winkler said.


“Sammy was special to me,” Salon host Michael Feinstein told guests as he, along with Jack Jones, Barry Manilow and Gogi Grant, among others, prepared to serenade them with classics such as “The Tender Trap,” “Come Fly With Me” and “It’s Magic.” “And he was as talented as he was generous ... a lyricist who said ‘a word is only as good as the note it sits under,’ ” Feinstein observed.

In a surprise appearance, Oscar winner Robert De Niro introduced a film clip of a giddy Douglas and Burt Lancaster at the 1958 Academy Awards singing the Cahn parody, “It’s Great Not to Be Nominated.”

The evening marked Bratton and Klieman’s L.A. debut as event co-chairs. After she introduced her husband onstage as “the chief,” Bratton joked that he allowed Klieman to call him “Bill -- at home.” “Only if he calls me boss!” she shot back.

The Center Theatre Group invited the couple, who came to Los Angeles from New York in 2002, to chair the event, Klieman said before the show.


“We want to contribute to this community as partners, or as my husband says, ‘pahhhtnahs,’ ” Klieman quipped, imitating Bratton’s Boston accent. “We hope our co-chairmanship is perceived as our really putting our feet into the concrete of Los Angeles.”