Jack Lawrence dies at 96; songwriter did lyrics for 'Tenderly' and 'Beyond the Sea'
By By Dennis McLellan
Mar 18, 2009 | 12:00 AM
Jack Lawrence, a songwriter who wrote the lyrics for hits such as "All or Nothing at All," "Tenderly" and "Beyond the Sea," has died. He was 96.
Lawrence, who fractured his pelvic bone in a fall in his Redding, Conn., home Friday, died of complications Sunday at Danbury Hospital, said Richard D. Lawrence, Lawrence's longtime partner whom he adopted.
In a songwriting career that began in the early 1930s, Lawrence had his songs recorded by artists such as Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett.
Among his songs, written in collaboration, are "Sunrise Serenade," which was recorded by Glenn Miller; and "Yes, My Darling Daughter," a hit for Dinah Shore.
Singer-pianist Michael Feinstein, a friend, said Lawrence had lots of hits through the years but comparatively few became standards.
"A standard is a song that lives through the ages," Feinstein told The Times on Tuesday. "Like many songwriters, a lot of his hits at the time have not endured past the era in which they were popular."
But, Feinstein said, "various other songs were ones that became a veritable theme song" for the performer, and their status as standards was assured.
"Tenderly," he said, became Rosemary Clooney's theme song.
"All or Nothing at All," he said, "was one of Frank Sinatra's early hits that survived because of Sinatra's love of the song and his revising of it and re-recording it through the years."
And "Beyond the Sea" will always be connected with Bobby Darin.
"It was a French song for which an English lyric was created with no success," Feinstein said. "Then Jack wrote a new English lyric, which was successful with an anthemic sort of lyric that matched the majesty of the tune.
"But when Bobby Darin found the song and swung it, it became an instant classic, and people only perform it a la Bobby Darin."
Although Lawrence was primarily a lyricist, he also had great success writing music and lyrics, said Feinstein, who wrote the foreword to Lawrence's 2004 memoir, "They All Sang My Songs."
Lawrence's song "Linda," which he wrote for his lawyer's young daughter, Linda Eastman -- she later married Paul McCartney -- was a big hit for Buddy Clark. And "If I Didn't Care" established the success of the Ink Spots.
The son of Russian immigrants, Lawrence was born in Brooklyn on April 7, 1912. He was a self-taught pianist and began writing songs at age 10.
But after he graduated from high school, his parents urged him to enroll in the First Institute of Podiatry.
He did and graduated in 1933, about the same time his first song, the hit "Play Fiddle Play," written with Arthur Altman and Emery Deutsch, was published.
Lawrence, who served in the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine during World War II, continued writing songs throughout the war.
His songwriting took him to Hollywood -- he shared a best song Oscar nomination with Richard Myers for "Hold My Hand" in the 1954 comedy "Susan Slept Here" -- and Broadway, for which he wrote music and lyrics for a number of productions, including the 1964-65 musical comedy "I Had a Ball."
In the '80s, Lawrence was both a Broadway producer and owner of the Jack Lawrence and the Audrey Wood theaters.
He was co-producer of off-Broadway's long-running "Other People's Money" and on Broadway with "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music" and "Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean."
Lawrence was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975.
"He was very secure in his place in the songwriting order," Feinstein said. "He knew that he was not the best-known, but he also had the confidence of having had great success through the decades."