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Lew Spence, 87, composer who wrote songs for Sinatra

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times / January 22, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Lew Spence, a songwriter who composed the Grammy-nominated Frank Sinatra song "Nice 'n' Easy" and "That Face," a standard recorded by Fred Astaire, died Jan 9 at his home. He was 87.

A onetime singer-pianist, Mr. Spence began turning his songwriting hobby into a career in the late 1940s when he was nearly 30.

He worked with a number of lyricists, including Alan and Marilyn Bergman. At 60, Mr. Spence began writing lyrics to some of his songs, and he continued songwriting until his death.

Among his best-known works are "Half as Lovely [Twice as True]," "If I Had Three Wishes," "Love Looks So Well on You," and "So Long My Love."

In addition to Sinatra and Astaire, other artists who sang Mr. Spence's songs included Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Bobby Short, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, Billy Eckstine and Dinah Shore.

"I think he was an excellent songwriter, and his work had a lot of charm," said Hugh Martin, a theater and film composer best known for his songs in the 1944 MGM musical "Meet Me in St. Louis."

Martin, who had gotten to know Mr. Spence in recent years, said his favorite Spence song was "What's Your Name (And Will You Marry Me?)"

"It's just delightful, and he was a delightful person," Martin said.

Marilyn Bergman said Friday that Mr. Spence "was a very talented songwriter. He should have had a bigger career than he did."

Collaborating with the Bergmans, Mr. Spence most notably cowrote "Nice 'n' Easy," which was nominated for three Grammys in 1960 - for record, album and song of the year. And with Alan Bergman, he wrote "That Face."

Singer-pianist Michael Feinstein said "That Face," which Astaire sang on his multi-Emmy Award-winning 1958 NBC special "An Evening With Fred Astaire," has become "one of a small group of songs from that era that has become a standard."

"He was a very talented man who was a real melodic craftsman," Feinstein said of Mr. Spence.

Like Marilyn Bergman, Feinstein believes Mr. Spence "deserved more success than he ultimately attained."

"He was very gentle and kind and perhaps didn't have the killer instinct needed to really get out there and flog his songs," Feinstein said. "He was always gently offering his songs to singers."

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