Tom Adair             (1913-1988)
Writer and Lyricist
An Oscar-nominated songwriter who penned lyrics for several popular standards of the forties, Tom and his wife Frances Jeffords wrote songs and teleplays for The Mickey Mouse Club, Zorro, Disneyland, and several Disney film features. His later career concentrated on script writing for television comedies, but he also returned to Disney for The New Mickey Mouse Club.
Born Thomas Montgomery Adair on June 15, 1913, at Newton, Kansas, he was the only child of William Adair and Madge Cochran. His father owned a clothing store in Newton, but around 1923 sold up and moved the family to Los Angeles. Tom Adair attended Los Angeles Junior College (now LA City College) during the early 1930's. He then worked for eight years as a clerk on the complaints desk at the local power company, while writing poetry and lyrics at night. He sold some light poetry to the Saturday Evening Post in 1938, but couldn't find music to suit his lyrics.
At a Hollywood nightclub in late 1940 he met Matt Dennis, a composer and performer. Dennis was impressed with Adair's lyrics for Will You Be Mine, and set it to music. Within the next week the duo wrote Let's Get Away From It All, Everything Happens to Me, and The Night We Called It a Day, with Adair dictating lyrics over the phone to Dennis, in-between taking complaint calls at work. Singer Jo Stafford recommended them to Tommy Dorsey, who hired the duo in 1941 as staff composer-arrangers for his New York music publishing company. Their songs became hits, and were recorded by Dorsey's young vocalist, Frank Sinatra.
When Matt Dennis left for the Army Air Corps in 1942, Adair began working with other composers. He wrote a number of patriotic popular songs with Army Sergeant Dick Uhl for war bond sales, and the lyrics for In the Blue of the Evening to music by Alfonso d'Artega. It spent eighteen weeks on the Hit Parade for 1943, reaching number two on the charts.
Adair next hooked up with composer Gordon Jenkins, who would be a lifelong friend. Starting in June 1944, Adair joined Jenkins in writing a complete score every week for the Auto-Lite radio show, which featured singer Dick Haymes. This was a major production effort, with a big band, chorus, and live audience. Jenkins and Adair were tagged as the new "Gilbert and Sullivan" for the seeming ease with which they churned out material for that show's four-year run.
Adair wrote radio scripts for Duffy's Tavern during 1948-49, then again worked with Gordon Jenkins, this time on Broadway. They did the music and lyrics for Along Fifth Avenue, a musical revue starring Jackie Gleason and Nancy Walker, that ran from January to June 1949. After the show closed, Adair returned to Los Angeles, where he married Frances Jeffords, who hailed from Orangeburg, South Carolina. The following year she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, while Tom Adair began writing for television shows. He wrote for This Is Your Life in 1952, then joined The Jack Carson Show in 1954-55. Along with composer Leith Stevens, Tom was nominated for an Academy Award, for the title song of a weak Doris Day picture called Julie (1956).
Adair first started working for Disney in the fall of 1954. He was likely recruited by Erdman "Ed" Penner, with whom he had co-written a song. Tom's employment may have been occasional at first, as he has few Disney credits until 1956. His main task was to write words for George Bruns' score for Sleeping Beauty. Very few of the songs required lyrics, and the film wouldn't be released for another five years, so Tom also helped write some episodes of Disneyland.
Despite Adair's background, he was neither a musician, nor at that time, a composer, having always before worked with a partner who was both. When the Mickey Mouse Club started production, Tom wasn't assigned to it full-time. He was credited with only a few songs from the first season, collaborating mainly with Jimmie Dodd.
For the second season, writing tasks were taken away from the show's producers and given to professional writers. Tom and his colleagues wrote lyrics and dialogue for skits, building the storyline around two or more songs. This was considerably different from the first season, where show storylines were written first, then had songs added to them, with each musical number being a standalone affair. Tom and the other writers were also responsible for writing short commercials that the Mouseketeers would perform to sell various products.
The revised writing process for the second season bypassed the usual Disney Studio method. Though part of the Story Department, the MMC writers generally worked in pairs, or even solo, to create a show, rather than go through the committee process typical with a Disney story. There wasn't time for group revision when producing an hour-long daily program, and anyway, Walt Disney's attention was usually focused elsewhere. In this respect, the MMC in its later seasons was like other television variety shows, having its own dedicated writing staff.
Tom Adair paired up with Sid Miller to write about half the material for the second season, most of the rest being handled by Larry Orenstein and Ray Brenner. Adair and Miller were an unlikely team, perhaps the most difficult of the many working partnerships Tom had in his career. Adair was dapper, always sociable, if somewhat quiet in public, and had a dry wit. Miller was casual in dress, often abrupt or even abrasive in speech, and was still very much a performer at heart. But both were consummate professionals in their work, and Miller had the composition skills to complement Tom's words.
With the program being reduced to a half-hour for the third season, Orenstein and Brenner left the studio and Adair became the show's principal writer. He handled nearly all the third season Mouseketeer storylines and lyrics, with Buddy Baker, Marvin Ash, and Franklyn Marks as his composers. He also worked on songs for the serials Annette and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty. His wife Frances helped write How Will I Know My Love and a few other songs, though she wasn't part of the Disney staff.
Images of a Disney Studio telephone directory from April 1957, circulated around the internet, contain a cryptic penciled note next to Tom Adair's name: "Shut Up and Drink". By all accounts, Tom was a witty, likeable guy, with a wry sense of humor. He was the antithesis of most writers, a guy who did his best working with a colleague, rather than independently. He wasn't a performer, had no need for public adulation, but he did enjoy the bonding that resulted from teamwork under pressure. He was incredibly productive himself, writing songs, storylines, and spiels for commercials at a pace few others could maintain.
During The Mickey Mouse Club's third season, Adair wrote songs for Zorro with Buddy Baker. He was also assigned, again with Buddy Baker and Sid Miller, to develop songs for the first Disney live-action musical film, The Rainbow Road to Oz. Three of those songs were performed by the Mouseketeers on an episode of Disneyland, broadcast September 30, 1957, but the project was shelved five months later.
Over the years Tom seems to have picked up enough music theory from his many associates to try handling some composing chores, first for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, then Hazel and The Ann Sothern Show. While working on the latter he met writer James B. Allardice, with whom he formed his newest partnership. They were strictly a sitcom writing team, doing scripts for fifteen different television series, including My Three Sons, I Dream of Jeanie, Gomer Pyle, The Munsters and F Troop. Allardice was plainly the dominant member of the team, for with his sudden death in February 1966, Tom virtually ceased doing teleplays.
One of Tom's last major projects was an NBC cartoon special, called Babar Comes to America (1971). Tom teamed up with an old pal from radio days named John Scott Trotter to write the songs for this special. After their children grew to adults, Tom and Frances Adair enjoyed traveling around the world, often with Gordon Jenkins and his wife. They had plenty of time, for Tom's career had slowed considerably by the mid 1970's. Changing musical styles passed him by, many of the men he had worked with and befriended were retired or dead, and he found it difficult to bond with the younger guys taking their place.
Then too, the lyrics that once came so easily were now floating away. Frances was "helping" write his material more frequently as Tom's interest in it waned. She is credited on nearly everything Tom wrote from 1972 onwards, the majority of it being minor song work for Disney, steered their way by Buddy Baker. They wrote a dozen songs for a children's album released by Disney, some musical numbers for The New Mickey Mouse Club, and some songs released only on the record version of Mickey's Christmas Carol.
When Gordon Jenkins died in 1984, the Adairs moved to Hawaii, in the hope new surroundings might lift Tom's spirits. But Tom slipped into the long night of Alzheimer's, Frances listening patiently as he recounted imaginary conversations with departed friends. Finally he lapsed into silence, all the words having now fled. He died May 24, 1988, in Honolulu. Frances returned to the mainland, to live at Dana Point, in Orange County, California, where she died on October 27, 2003.