Musical composer, lyricist Richard Adler dies at 90

Richard Adler, who won Tony Awards for co-writing snappy and infectious, songs for such hit Broadway musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, has died.
Stage composer and lyricist Richard Adler, seen in 2006, has died at the age of 90. Some of Adler's biggest songs include You Gotta Have Heart, Hernando's Hideaway, Whatever Lola Wants and Everybody Loves a Lover. (Tina Fineberg/Associated Press)

Composer and lyricist Richard Adler, who won Tony Awards for co-writing snappy and infectious, songs for such hit Broadway musicals as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees and who staged and produced U.S. President John F. Kennedy's birthday celebration featuring a breathy Marilyn Monroe, has died. He was 90.

Adler died Thursday at his home in Southampton, N.Y., his widow, Susan A. Ivory, said.

Some of Adler's biggest songs are You Gotta Have Heart, Hey, There, Hernando's Hideaway, Whatever Lola Wants, Steam Heat, Rags to Riches and Everybody Loves a Lover.

Adler staged and produced several shows for U.S. presidents, including the unforgettable 1962 extravaganza for Kennedy at Madison Square Garden where Monroe sang Happy Birthday.

Fruitful partnership with Jerry Ross

He and Jerry Ross wrote the music and lyrics to The Pajama Game, a light comedy about labor-management relations at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, which won the best musical Tony in 1955.

In a 2006 interview with The Associated Press, Adler recounted how the song Hernando's Hideaway began from "The Pajama Game." The show's authors, George Abbott and Richard Bissell, needed a tune for the second act, and Abbott approached Adler.

"He said, 'Write a song that can be performed in a dimly lit, smoke-filled nightclub with a lot of fervent-looking people. Oh, and make it Latin,"' Adler said. "It was a piece of cake for me."

What emerged was a frothy Latin tango with the lyrics: "I know a dark secluded place/A place where no one knows your face/A glass of wine a fast embrace/It's called Hernando's Hideaway... Ole!"

The song went on to have a successful life outside the theater, hitting the top of the pop charts and later being recorded by Archie Blyer, band leader Billy May and even Ella Fitzgerald.

Did Adler think it would be a hit? "No. I had no idea," he said.

Adler teamed up with Ross again for Damn Yankees, in which a rabid baseball fan sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a chance to lead his favorite team to American League pennant glory. It won the best musical Tony crown the next year.

The fruitful Ross-Adler union ended when Ross died of a lung ailment in 1955 at age 29. Adler went on to earn a Tony nomination for writing the lyrics and music for 1961's Kwamina.

Stage, symphonic and ballet composer

Adler was born in New York City in 1921 and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1943. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II.

He composed several symphonic works, including Wilderness Suite, which was commissioned by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and The Lady Remembers, to celebrate the Statue of Liberty's centennial. He also composed two ballets for the Chicago City Ballet: Eight by Adler in 1984 and Chicago.

Adler also produced works on Broadway, including the play The Sin of Pat Muldoon and the musical Rex. He is a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

Adler is survived by his wife; his children, Andrew Adler, Katherine Adler and Charles Shipman; and three grandchildren, Damien and Scarlett Adler and Lola Jane Shipman.