Roy C. Bennett, Part of Midcentury Songwriting Duo, Dies at 96

July 20, 2015

By BRUCE WEBER
July 13, 2015

Roy C. Bennett, who with his partner, Sid Tepper, wrote songs that were recorded by a wide roster of midcentury pop singers, including the titles “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “Kiss of Fire” and “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane,” died on July 2 in Queens. He was 96.

His son Neil confirmed the death, saying, when asked for the cause, that his father “just ran out of steam.”

Mr. Bennett and Mr. Tepper, who died in April, were friends and neighbors as children in Brooklyn before they became professional collaborators after World War II. They collaborated on both the words and the music for their songs, though Mr. Bennett, a self-taught pianist, was the sole musician of the two.

Working for much of their careers out of the Brill Building, a crowded nest of songwriting talent in Midtown Manhattan, they turned out catchy melodies and lyrics of easygoing cleverness.

“Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” which was written in the late 1940s and inspired by a fight Mr. Tepper had with his new wife, was their first hit and probably their biggest one, recorded by Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra and covered in decades following by a dozen or more well-known singers including Dean Martin, Wayne Newton, Pat Boone and Bobby Darin, as well as by The Count Basie Orchestra.

“Kiss of Fire,” a tune the two men adapted (under the pseudonyms Robert Allen and Lester Hill) from an Argentine tango in 1952 with lyrics about irresistible desire — “Give me your lips, the lips you only let me borrow/Love me tonight and let the devil take tomorrow” — was recorded by Louis Armstrong and Billy Eckstine, among others, including Connie Francis, who sang it in Spanish.

And “Naughty Lady,” a tongue-in-cheek portrait of a misbehaving young lady (who turns out to be a 9-day-old infant) has had an especially extended life, recorded in the 1950s by the Ames Brothers, among others, and in 2007 by the Roches on their album “Moonswept.” It was also recently heard on the television show “Dancing With the Stars.”

Mr. Bennett and Mr. Tepper wrote numerous songs for Elvis Presley’s films, including the title song of “G.I. Blues,” “Stay Away” from “Stay Away, Joe,” “Puppet on a String” from “Girl Happy” and ”The Lady Loves Me” from “Viva Las Vegas.” In his 2010 memoir, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones cited “Travelin’ Light,” a country song by Mr. Bennett and Mr. Tepper that was recorded by Cliff Richard, as a song he listened to as a teenager.

Mr. Bennett changed his name as an adult, picking its parts from the phone book. (The C doesn’t stand for anything, his son said: “He just liked the way it sounded.”) He was born Israel Brodsky, in Brooklyn, on Aug. 12, 1918. His parents, Jewish immigrants — he from Ukraine, she from Lithuania — who were not formally educated, earned money sewing.

Izzy, as he was known as a boy, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn and attended City College, though he dropped out before graduating. (He returned much later, earning a bachelor’s degree in his 40s as an example to his children.)

He served in the Army in intelligence services and as an entertainer in special services during World War II.

Mr. Bennett married Ruth Stone in 1948. She survives him, as do his twin sons, Neil and Keith, whose birth inspired the Bennett-Tepper song “Twenty Tiny Fingers,” which became a hit in Britain in 1955 for a group called the Stargazers.

Mr. Bennett’s other survivors include three grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. A daughter, Claire Bennett Moringiello, died in 1994.

Originally published by The New York Times