Dory Previn (October 22, 1925 – February 14, 2012) was an American lyricist, singer-songwriter and poet.
She was born 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, she was performing at local nightclubs by the age of 11.
After finishing high school, Dory went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, which she 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 . She appeared in the musical comedy Top Banana, with Phil Silvers, but was sacked; 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 musical department. Dory and Previn married in November 1959.
When Dory Previn’s contract expired after six months, MGM did not renew it. But by now she and her husband were collaborating on theme and title songs for films made by other studios. They were 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.
Dory Previn also worked with other songwriters. Her lyrics for John Williams’s theme song for Valley of the Dolls (1967) found much wider exposure when it became a hit for Dionne Warwick; and her collaboration with Fred Karlin on the song Come Saturday Morning, for The Sterile Cuckoo (1969), brought her a third Oscar nomination; it too became a bestselling single when recorded by The Sandpipers.
André Previn, meanwhile, was in demand internationally as a conductor; but because she suffered from a deep-seated phobia of air travel, she did not accompany him on his trips abroad. In 1969 he left her for the actress Mia Farrow, and the marriage was dissolved the following year. Dory was devastated.She suffered a breakdown, and on the recommendation of a psychiatrist began to write free verse, which she later set to music.
In the event, this sad episode was to make her career. Despite a chronic lack of self-confidence in her abilities as a songwriter, she was persuaded to submit a demo to the recording company Mediarts, which invited her to make an album. The result was On My Way to Where, released in 1970. The songs addressed themes such as her relationship with her father and her loathing for the rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. Dory Previn followed up with Mythical Kings and Iguanas, which was even more successful, and Reflections in a Mud Puddle (both 1971).
Among Dory Previn’s other albums were Live at Carnegie Hall; Dory Previn; and We’re Children of Coincidence and Harpo Marx. A compilation, The Art of Dory Previn, was released in 2008.
In 1976 she published an autobiography, Midnight Baby. She last appeared in concert in 1988, in Dublin and at the Donmar Warehouse in London. In 1997 she collaborated with her former husband on The Magic Number, a piece performed by the New York Philharmonic.
For many years Dory Previn underwent psychoanalysis (which she described as “a beautiful odyssey”), and she also found solace in a Gestalt therapy group. Previn died, aged 86, on February 14, 2012, at her farm in Southfield, Massachusetts, where she lived with her husband, Joby Baker. (Info mainly edited from the Telegraph)