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173 - Miss Chicken Little (1953)
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July 01, 2014 12:00 AM PDT
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A Cantata for The Theatre

Text by William Engvick, Music by Alec Wilder

Miss Chicken Little was broadcast on CBS' Omnibus television program on December 27, 1953

Jo Sullivan as Miss Chicken Little, with Charlotte Rae and Jim Hawthorne

Recording is from a live soundstage air check acetate disc

At 7:29 the missing line is, "It was just an acorn," sung by one of the hens

The late, great wordsmith of this remarkable production, William Clark Engvick, was born on July 1, 1914, 100 years ago today. Happy birthday, Bill!

Obituary: William Engvick, Lyricist for Musicals and Popular Songs, Dies at 98

William Engvick, witty and eloquent writer of musicals from the Golden Age of Television, and lyrics for such popular songs as The Song from Moulin Rouge (Where is Your Heart), Moon and Sand and While We’re Young, died September 4, 2012 in Oakland, California following a brief illness. He was 98.

Engvick, known largely for his many collaborations with eclectic composer Alec Wilder, contributed lyrics to musical versions of Pinocchio and Hansel and Gretel, which aired nationally on NBC Television in the late 1950s, and featured music by Wilder. Some of the top Broadway talent of the day starred in these live productions, including Barbara Cook, Mickey Rooney, Fran Allison, Red Buttons and Stubby Kaye. Met opera star Rise Stevens sang Hansel and Gretel’s Evening Song (Soft Through the Woodland), a typically tender and heartfelt Engvick creation.

As a writer during the peak of the American Popular Song era, Engvick’s mellifluous words filled the mouths of many of the leading singers of the day, from Peggy Lee and Mel Torme to Marlene Dietrich and Johnnie Ray. In 1965, Frank Sinatra recorded Wilder and Engvick’s I See It Now, an autobiographical song with a memorable first stanza that helped put the lyricist’s hometown of Oakland on the map: “That year in Oakland High / When I was 17 / The grass from there to San Jose / Was high and cool and green / I see it now.”

“It was just something that I wanted to write about myself, a true memory piece. The grass really was high and cool and green,” recalled Engvick, who thought Sinatra was attracted to the “touch of seriousness” about the song, and by the line “‘loves have come and gone,’ because that’s precisely what happened to him.”

Called upon frequently by Mitch Miller, head of A&R at Columbia Records and Engvick’s friend and neighbor in Stony Point, New York, Engvick penned such popular tunes as Kiss and Run, Bonnie Blue Gal, Follow Me, All Yours, I’ll Remember Today and Make It Soon. In the last years before rock’n’roll began to dominate the musical landscape, he tirelessly churned out material for many Columbia artists, including Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Don Cherry, Liberace and Jo Stafford.

Engvick’s greatest commercial success came with The Song from Moulin Rouge (Where is Your Heart), an English rewrite of a French song introduced by Zsa Zsa Gabor in the award-winning John Huston film Moulin Rouge. Percy Faith’s recording of it, with Felicia Sanders singing Engvick's lyric, bewitched the radio airwaves throughout the summer of 1953, holding the Number One spot on the Billboard charts for 10 weeks straight. The song inspired sales of over one million copies of sheet music, and has been performed and recorded by hundreds of artists.

Many of Engvick’s assignments were, in fact, to write English words for tunes that had gained popularity in Europe sung in a foreign tongue. Engvick's version usually ended up telling a very different story from the original. “I never learned a foreign language, and didn’t want to know what the original words meant,” said Engvick. “I always started from scratch.” Among the titles he rewrote was Anna, from the movie of the same name, which had been a hit Spanish record for actress Silvana Mangano. The irresistible song about a girl who desires to dance the Bayon hit piano racks across America as a song about a heartbreaker named Anna who’s “got to be kissed.”

Engvick’s various musical collaborators included such luminaries as Cole Porter – their It’s Just Like the Good Old Days was written for Porter’s Broadway-bound musical comedy Mexican Hayride, but went unused – Les Paul, Mark Laub, Roy Kral, Bob Thompson and Edith Piaf, but Engvick said his most satisfying work had always been with Wilder.

Engvick and Wilder first met in 1939 when an agent brought Engvick’s revue Ladies and Gents to the attention of the singular composer, who declared it to be “fresh air” and quickly came up with melodies to match the captivating words. A prolific writing team was born. Over the next three decades, Wilder and Engvick wrote musicals, operas and dozens of songs, at least two of which, Moon and Sand and While We’re Young, written in the early ‘40s with Morty Palitz, remain ubiquitous jazz standards to this day.

Other well-known Engvick and Wilder songs include The Lady Sings the Blues, I Like It Here, The April Age, Who Can I Turn To? and Crazy in the Heart. Wilder, who praised Engvick as a master of the “singing line,” maintained that the writer James Thurber “became obsessed with While We’re Young and claimed it was one of the finest pieces of English writing he had ever heard.”

Although Ladies and Gents was never produced – it came tantalizingly close to a Broadway run – Engvick and Wilder did manage to stage small-scale productions of their operas The Long Way and Miss Chicken Little. The latter, a hilarious take on the classic tale of mass hysteria, was picked up by the prestigious CBS Omnibus television program, which broadcast it in December 1953 with Jo Sullivan Loesser in the title role. Engvick also wrote lyrics for Omnibus’ American premiere of Sleeping Beauty in the Woods, with music by Ottorino Respighi. Together Engvick and Wilder contributed songs to a 1955 off-Broadway production of Once Over Lightly starring Zero Mostel.

At one point Engvick and Wilder were summoned to Hollywood to write songs for the film Daddy Long Legs, but after several months of work a regime change caused the material, which Wilder characterized as being “the very best set of songs we ever wrote,” to be shelved. One of the duo’s most far-reaching and beloved collaborations was on Lullabies and Night Songs, an entrancing book of children’s songs lavishly illustrated by Maurice Sendak and published on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s. Engvick edited the book and provided lyrics to several songs.

In 1990, Jackie and Roy dedicated their CD An Alec Wilder Collection to Engvick, calling him “a terrific, intuitive man with a kind heart, gentle soul and the gift of being able to fashion meaningful, poetic lyrics to lovely, though sometimes difficult, melodies.” Engvick cited Remember, My Child, written with Wilder for Jackie, as his favorite of the many songs he composed.

The only child of Clarence and Sadie Engvick, William Clark Engvick was born in Oakland, California on July 1, 1914. Growing up in the shadow of the construction of the huge, elegant Grand Lake Theatre, which he attended on opening day, proved to be a major influence on Bill's career path. He frequently attended performances by such favorite local, soon-to-be-national acts as Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights, and quickly developed a strong interest in music and theater. As a teen he created meticulously-detailed, scale models of the stages and prosceniums of all of Oakland's large theatres.

While a student at UC Berkeley, Bill achieved some noteriety with his madcap revue In Your Hat, for which he wore many hats, including writer, director, actor, piano player and composer of music. Later in life, moving back-and-forth between Oakland and New York, Engvick always kept one foot in the theater, his first love, writing skits, directing and acting in local productions by the Gaslight Troupers and Straw Hat Revue in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the late 1940s, Engvick briefly tried his hand at radio dramas, penning scripts for CBS’ The Whistler and Silver Theatre.

More recently, Engvick wrote songs with longtime friend and Broadway actor Gordon Connell, of Hello Dolly, Big River, and Julius Monk revue fame, and authored lyrics for several new songs based on melodies sourced from Wilder’s film music and ground-breaking Octets.

Active well into his 90s, Engvick famously advised that “if you can’t write a million-dollar song, write a million songs at a dollar a try.”

by Rob Geller

172 - The Lowland Sea (1963)
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February 16, 2014 08:57 PM PST
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Libretto by Arnold Sundgaard, Music by Alec Wilder

Written in 1952

Performed May 16 & 17, 1963 in Dolton, Illinois at the Thornridge High School Spring Musicale

Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of John Pearce

Betty Smith as Dorie Davis, Paul Maddux as Johhny Dee

"The Lowland Sea was written as a remembering of the sea and sea songs - of dunes, of harbors, of voyaging, of loneliness, of waiting. It is hoped that it will seem familiar to anyone who has walked (or wanted to walk) the streets of Nantucket, or has waited for the evening mail boat at Ocracoke. Some of it was suggested by drawings and prints of ships like the Witch of the Waves out of Salem. Part of it comes from a nursery song, Bobby Shaftoe, which has been given a new musical setting for this occasion. The words for The Cuckoo are very old, but the music is new."

Happy Birthday Alec Wilder, who should have been 107 years old today!

171 - Highlights of the 28th Annual Friends of Alec Wilder Concert Part 2 (2013)
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December 29, 2013 11:20 AM PST
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All music and words by Alec Wilder unless otherwise indicated

Octets introduced by Mike McGinnis and played by the Four Bags

Such a Tender Night
Dance Man Buys a Farm
Little Girl Grows Up
Jack, This is My Husband

The Four Bags are Brian Drye trombone, Jacob Garchik accordion, Sean Moran guitar and Mike McGinnis clarinet

Popular songs by Hilary Kole piano and vocal with Gene Bertoncini guitar

While We're Young with Morty Palitz, words by Bill Engvick
Blackberry Winter words by Loonis McGlohon
The Lady Sings the Blues words by Engvick
Moon and Sand with Palitz words by Engvick
Such a Lonely Girl Am I
A Child is Born music by Thad Jones
I'll Be Around

Thanks to David Litofsky for the recording of Part 2

Pictured is the cover of Philip Lambert's outstanding book on the music of Alec Wilder, published in 2013 by University of Illinois Press. Buy a copy or two!

170 - Highlights of the 28th Annual Friends of Alec Wilder Concert Part 1 (2013)
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October 19, 2013 10:17 AM PDT
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New York City April 14, 2013

Honorary Host and piano Aaron Gandy

All music by Alec Wilder and words by William Engvick, except as noted

Mimosa and Me
Song from Moulin Rouge (Where is Your Heart), music by Georges Auric
I See It Now
So Long to All That, from the unproduced musical Chance of a Ghost
'Tain't a Fit Night Out
The Long Way
Walking Home in Spring
It's a Fine Day for Walkin' Country Style

Singers include Juliette Trafton, Dewey Caddell, Merrill Grant, Chris Ware and Aaron Gandy, Dennis Michael Keefe upright bass

Vocalise #1 (1971), Small Suite (1960), Answer to a Poem (1979), Air for Flute (1945)

Paul Lustig Dunkel, flute, Barbara Lee, piano

169 - Engvick on Wilder (2001)
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February 20, 2013 11:58 PM PST
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Bill Engvick delivered this speech at the annual Alec Wilder Concert in New York on April 22, 2001

While We're Young performed by Melinda Dillon from the soundtrack to Staying Together, a Hemdale film, 1989

Pictured are Engvick and Wilder in Stony Point, NY, March 1952
Photo by Fran Miller

Happy Birthday Alec Wilder, who was born 106 years ago on February 16

Be sure to attend the 28th Annual Friends of Alec Wilder Concert on April 14, 2013 at 120 W. 69th Street, New York, at 3 p.m. Among those performing will be Hilary Kole, Aaron Gandy and the Four Bags. A Tribute to William Engvick is planned. See you there!

168 - I See It Now (1972)
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January 15, 2013 11:44 PM PST
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Words by Bill Engvick, Music by Alec Wilder

Performed by Mabel Mercer with Buddy Barnes, piano

From An Evening with Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short, broadcast on PBS Television December 1972

Thank you Mark Walter

See also wilderworld 68

167 - In the Morning (1946)
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December 18, 2012 11:56 PM PST
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Words by William Engvick (pictured), Music and Orchestration by Alec Wilder

Performed by Eileen Farrell with Mitch Miller conducting the CBS Symphony, August 29, 1946

My love took wings and flew away
In the morning
In the morning
Said "I'll be back on Saturday
In the morning"
He wore his suit with wings of gold
In the morning
In the morning
And three big coats for up there it's cold
In the morning
He made a joke like he always did
In the morning
In the morning
He kissed me and said "So long kid!"
In the morning
He took the stick and off he went
In the morning
In the morning
Looked as if he were heaven bent
In the morning
I thought I never saw the sky
In the morning
In the morning
Look so far and blue and high
In the morning

I went back to the house on Dover Street
In the morning
In the morning
And thoughts of him came sad and sweet:
Wore his suit with wings of gold
Three big coats, up there it's cold
Made a joke like he always did
Kissed me and said "So long kid!"
Took the stick and off he went
Looked as if he were heaven bent

Saturday I woke at five
In the morning
In the morning
Felt more dead than I felt alive
In the morning
I went down to the field where nothing grows
In the morning
In the morning
And people were saying "She already knows"
In the morning

I can never lift my eyes again
To see those Saturday skies again
In the morning
In the morning

Written in 1942

Rest in peace my dear friend Bill Engvick, who lived to see 98 years worth of mornings

166 - Highlights of the 27th Annual Concert Part 2 (2012)
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September 08, 2012 11:22 PM PDT
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Sonata No. 3 for Bassoon and Piano in Five Movements, played by Carl Rath, bassoon and Jeongwon Ham, piano

I Like It Here words by Bill Engvick, The Sounds Around the House words by Johnny Mercer, Photographs words by Fran Landesman, The Winter of My Discontent, Moon and Sand words by Engvick, Where Is the One? music by Eddie Finckel words by Alec Wilder, I See It Now words by Engvick, Blackberry Winter with Loonis McGlohon, Summer Is a-Comin' In words by Marshall Barer, I'll Be Around performed by Eric Comstock, vocals and piano, Barbara Fasano, vocals, Gene Bertoncini, guitar and Joe Wilder, trumpet

Pictured: Mr. and Mrs. Joe Wilder at the Concert

165 - Highlights from the 27th Annual Concert Part 1 (2012)
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September 06, 2012 01:14 AM PDT
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New York City April 15, 2012

All words and music by Alec Wilder unless otherwise indicated

Bob Levy introduces Honorary Guest Host Joe Wilder

If Someday Comes Ever Again words by Johnny Mercer, Ellen and Lovers and Losers words by Bill Engvick, arranged by Roger Wesby and performed by The Salvatones

Suite for Piano I Movement 3, Suite for Piano III Movement 3, Hardy Suite Movements 1 and 3, Suite for Piano II Movement 1, Un Deuxieme Essai Movements 1 and 6, Suite for Piano IV Movements 1 and 4, Sonata Fantasy Movements 2 and 4, performed by John Noel Roberts, piano (pictured)

Recording and photos by David Litofsky - Thanks!

164 - Highlights from the 26th Annual Concert Part 2 (2011)
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May 15, 2011 11:12 AM PDT
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All music by Alec Wilder except as indicated

Love Among the Young, Walk Pretty, Night Talk, Blue Fool, It's a Fine Day for Walking Country Style - John Carlson trumpet, John Dirac guitar, Douglas Yates bass clarinet

Photographs (words by Fran Landesman), Whistle Stop (music by Hugh Martin, developed by Alec Wilder), While We're Young (words by William Engvick, music by Alec Wilder and Morty Palitz), I'll Be Around (words and music by Alec Wilder) - Kathleen Landis vocal and piano, Bob Levy trumpet and MC (pictured)

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