Bob Merrill Biography
For much of the 1950s Bob Merrill was one of the most successful songwriters, with a string of novelty hits such as "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?", “(If I Knew You Were Comin’ Id‘ve) Baked a Cake”, “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania”, “Mambo Italiano”, “Honeycomb” and “Make Yourself Comfortable”. Longing to write more profound songs, Bob turned his efforts toward the musical theatre. By the late fifties, he had written music and lyrics for Broadway’s “New Girl In Town”, followed by “Take Me Along”, “Carnival”, “Henry, Sweet Henry” and eventually “Funny Girl” featuring the hit songs “People” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade”, as sung by Barbra Streisand. Though he could not read a word of music, nor play any musical instrument, he would bang out his tunes on a child’s toy xylophone, bought for $1.98 at the local dime store.
While Bob Merrill's songwriting credits speak for themselves, his talents were diverse including successful endeavors in screenplay writing, acting and teaching.
Born in Atlantic City in 1921, he did most of his growing up in the Philadelphia area, graduating from high school there. Following his discharge from the Army at the end of World War II, he went to Hollywood and got a job as a writer at CBS Radio while also finding work as an actor, appearing in The Story of GI Joe and in his own words, "a dozen B films and westerns."
Merrill soon realized he had better be on the other side of the camera, and took a job as a dialogue director with Columbia Pictures in Hollywood where he stayed for seven years.
While working on a film for the company he met a woman named Dorothy Shay, a popular performer and singer known as the "Park Avenue Hillbilly," for whom he wrote several songs. These later proved a popular part of her million-seller album and encouraged Bob to explore writing songs as a career. He quit his job at Columbia Pictures and moved to New York, becoming one of the starving songwriters haunting the Brill Building.
One of his earliest songs was the novelty song “If I’d Known You Were Comin’, I’d ’Ve Baked a Cake,” which was recorded by Eileen Barton. This success was followed by other successes including “Honeycomb,” recorded by Jimmie Rodgers; “How Much Is That Doggie In the Window,” recorded by Patti Page; “Love Makes the World Go ’Round,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Pittsburgh Pennsylvania,” “Mambo Italiano” and “Make Yourself Comfortable.”
1961 produced the Merrill-Styne score for the smash Broadway hit Funny Girl. The show included one of the great stage standards “People (Who Need People)” and “Don’t Rain on my Parade”.
Merrill enjoyed a number of other Broadway successes as well. These included Take Me Along, with Jackie Gleason and Walter Pidgeon; Carnival with Anna Marie Alberghetti; New Girl in Town with Gwen Verdon and Thelma Ritter; and Sugar with Cyril Ritchard and Bobby Morse.
Merrill finally tired of the Broadway grind and turned to writing screenplays. His first film credit for screenplay writing was the 1975 film Mahogany, starring Diana Ross. In close succession came the biography of WC Fields entitled WC Fields and Me, a Universal release with Rod Steiger; in the early 1980’s Carol Burnett starred in his comedy Chu Chu and the Philly Flash; and Portrait of a Showgirl, starring Rita Moreno, Leslie Ann Warren and Tony Curtis was the CBS movie of the week.
Merrill also created for television several Christmas specials including The Wonderful Christmas of Red Riding Hood, with Liza Minnelli and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, with an all-star cast.
Suffering from depression and ill health, Bob Merrill took his own life on February 17, 1998 in Los Angeles, California.