Dory Previn, October 22, 1925 - February 14 2012
Dorothy Veronica Langan at Rahway, New Jersey, on October 22 1925, the daughter of an Irish Catholic labourer, she once said: ‘I was raised with fear of God, guilt over Jesus and terror of the Devil,’ adding that when she went to confession as a child, if she could not think of any sins to confess she would make some up.
Her father was unstable, and is said once to have held the family at gunpoint having boarded up their home. He also loved music and forced his daughter to take singing and dancing lessons. Though his talents were little to boast about (Dory later claimed: ‘He played the harmonica, the Jew’s harp and the clarinet, and he was awful on all three’), she was performing at local nightclubs by the age of 11.
Perfect background, really, for providing a potential lyricist and performer with a rich seam of experience to mine in later life. And mine it, Dory Previn did. Anything and everything found its way into her songs – her first communion (Esther’s First Communion), sibling rivalry (Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?), a marriage betrayed (Beware Young Girls).
She showed a determination to be in show business early. After finishing high school, Dory went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, but had to leave after only a year because she was unable to pay her way. Instead, she worked as a chorus girl around the clubs in Manhattan , . appearing in the musical comedy Top Banana, with Phil Silvers. She was sacked from that gig; with time on her hands , she tried writing short stories and lyrics for songs.
In the mid-1950s she was back singing on the club circuit, performing popular songs to which she had added her own verses. When in 1959 examples of her lyrics reached Arthur Freed, the producer of An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, he hired her as a junior writer at MGM.
Her first brief was to write the lyrics for The Subterraneans (1960), a picture based on the novel by Jack Kerouac. The film was about San Francisco’s beat colony, and featured a number of jazz composers, among them André Previn, who was also head of MGM’s music department. Dory and Previn married in November 1959.
She and her husband began collaborating on theme and title songs for films, and nominated for Academy Awards for their songs A Faraway Part of Town, from the film Pepe (1960), and Second Chance, from Two For the Seesaw (1962). Her lyrics also accompanied Previn’s songs for Irma La Douce (1963), Goodbye Charlie (1964) and Inside Daisy Clover (1966), among other movies.
But in 1969, André Previn left her for the actress Mia Farrow; Dory was devastated: ‘I thought if I didn’t find something to live for soon I would die.’ She suffered a breakdown, and on the recommendation of a psychiatrist began to write free verse, which she later set to music.
And that was the beginning of her second act as a singer/songwriter. On My Way to Where, released in 1970, addressed themes such as her relationship with her father and her reactions for the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. Another of the songs, Beware of Young Girls (‘Beware of young girls who come to your door / Wistful and pale, twenty and four’), expressed her bitterness at losing her husband to Mia Farrow.
“[All the songs] were based on true experiences,” Dory Previn said later. “The music I write for films is not. These songs were for me. I know myself better than anyone else, so it helped me. It was self-revelation.” Although one critic described the album as ‘Freud with music’, it received widespread praise in pop music circles, Stereo Review hailing it as one of the best of the year.
Esther’s First Communion by Dory Previn http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHTmrXM-LiE