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Richard Adler, Broadway Composer And Lyricist, Dies

Jun 22, 2012
Originally published on June 22, 2012 6:11 pm

One half of a great American songwriting team has died. Richard Adler died in Southampton, N.Y, yesterday at the age of 90. Adler and his songwriting partner, Jerry Ross, were composers and lyricists who got their start with a No. 1 hit in 1953, "Rags to Riches," sung by Tony Bennett.

From a single that sold over a million copies, Adler and Ross went on to write one of Broadway's best-loved musicals. Adler told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1990 that when they were working on The Pajama Game, he got the idea for one of its biggest songs in an unorthodox way.

"I went to the bathroom one day, and when I got in there I decided, 'I'm not leaving till I've written a song,' " he said. "Then all of a sudden the radiator started clanging and hissing, and I got the idea for steam heat."

The two next took on a musical about baseball, a sport Adler did not even enjoy. The result? Damn Yankees. Just a few months after it opened in 1955, Jerry Ross died unexpectedly. He was only 29.

Adler says he was devastated. But he rallied, wrote commercial jingles, and in 1962 was hired to plan the most famous presidential birthday party ever. President John F. Kennedy told Adler that hiring Marilyn Monroe was a great idea.

But Adler will always be best remembered for the handful of great musicals he wrote with Ross and songs like "Whatever Lola Wants," "Hernando's Hideaway" and "Hey There," about yearning for someone who seems unattainable

The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees are revived regularly on Broadway and all over the world. It's almost like they'll live forever.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One-half of a great American songwriting team has died. Richard Adler died yesterday at the age of 90. Adler and his longtime songwriting partner, Jerry Ross, were both composers and lyricists. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, they got their start with this 1953 hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAGS TO RICHES")

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: From the single that sold over a million copies, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross went on to write one of Broadway's best-loved musicals. Adler told WHYY's FRESH AIR in 1990, when they were working on "The Pajama Game," he got the idea for one of its biggest songs in an unorthodox way.

RICHARD ADLER: I went to the bathroom one day and, when I got in there, I decided I'm not leaving this room until I've written a song. There are certain things you can't write about in a bathroom. Then, all of a sudden, the radiator started clanging and hissing and I got the idea for "Steam Heat."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEAM HEAT")

ULABY: Next, the two took on a musical about baseball, a sport Adler did not even enjoy. The result, "Damn Yankees."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAMN YANKEES")

ULABY: Just a few months after "Damn Yankees" opened in 1955, Jerry Ross died unexpectedly. He was only 29.

ADLER: I was devastated and I'm still devastated by it.

ULABY: That's Adler in 1990. Still, he rallied, wrote commercial jingles and, in 1962, he was hired to plan the most famous presidential birthday party ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")

ULABY: President John F. Kennedy told Adler that hiring Marilyn Monroe was a great idea, but Richard Adler will always be best remembered for the handful of great musicals he wrote with Jerry Ross and their songs, including "Whatever Lola Wants," "Hernandez Hideaway" and this song about yearning for someone who seems unattainable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY THERE")

ULABY: "The Pajama Game" and "Damn Yankees" are revived regularly on Broadway and all over the world. It's almost as if they'll live forever.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.