September 20, 1911 – October 27, 1999
Profile by Mark Langlois
Composer Frank De Vol is famous for writing the music for the television theme songs of The Brady Bunch, My Three Sons and Family Affair. De Vol also played “Happy Kyne” the band leader and part-time dentist on TV’s Fernwood 2-Nite and America 2-Night in the 1970s. His film and television scores received 5 Oscar and 5 Emmy nominations. He was one of the busiest composers of the 1950s and 1960s and his “Music by De Vol” screen credit has became synonymous with classic TV reruns. De Vol’s compositions became ingrained in the psyche of generations of TV viewers with its ability to convey a certain mood for scenes (ie: happy playtime in a park, serious heart-to-heart talks, or an upbeat plot resolution). De Vol was the mastermind behind that tearjerker music played on Family Affair whenever the orphaned trio were repeatedly tormented with fears of being shipped back to Indiana or to boarding school. For kicks, sit your kids down with a DVD of Family Affair season 1 and Disney’s Bambi and fill them with abandonment anxiety. If you were a bored TV addicted kid (like myself) you may have invented lyrics to De Vol’s familiar sitcom music as you watched. For example, whenever De Vol’s majestic 10 notes play over images of bustling Manhattan on Family Affair, try singing out: “It’s Uncle Bill now ! He’s coming home now !”
De Vol’s other incidental “Brady classics” include the swirling day-dreamy tune used to depict Marcia Brady’s teen crushes, that memorable “hommina hommina” cue that played for Alice’s klutzy mishaps, and those frenetic xylophone notes that accompanied the dog and cat wedding day chase.
Trivia: The Brady Bunch‘s 1st season theme song was sung by The Peppermint Trolley Company, a Redwood California band formed in 1967. The group changed their name by the mid-1970s (go figure). De Vol explained his own flashy (last-name-only) name change in a 1993 interview: “Well, originally it was ‘Music by Frank De Vol’. Then I became the head of the Artists & Repertoire section of Columbia Records (replacing Mitch Miller). Mitch told me, ‘Your name is rather stagy, why don’t you leave (Frank) off and say ‘Music by De Vol?’ So I did.” De Vol grew up in Canton, Ohio. His parents wanted him to be a lawyer but he chose a musical career and worked for his father in the pit orchestra at the local vaudeville/movie theatre. He later worked in radio, and in the 1950s, De Vol’s orchestra played frequently at the Hollywood Palladium featuring the song stylings of his girl singer: “juicy” Jaye P. Morgan (of later Gong Show fame).
He also arranged music for singers Nat King Cole (“Nature Boy”), Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Doris Day (“Que Sera Sera”), Dinah Shore, and The Supremes (“The Happening”). De Vol scored several light comedies including Pillow Talk and The Glass Bottomed Boat and composed the memorable music of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? one of the 16 films he scored for director Robert Aldrich. We can thank De Vol for Bette Davis‘ classic warbling (screeching) of his lyrics: “I’ve written a letter to Daddy, his address is heaven above…Instead of a stamp I put kisses, the postman said, “That’s best to do.”
De Vol was also a recording artist and released over a dozen albums of easy listening music, including the trippy LP Bacchanale!, a suite of compositions by Albert Harris centered on the theme of the gods of Greek mythology. (see LP pic) Despite scoring 47 films and seven TV series, De Vol also acted in over 50 comedy roles in his spare moments. Look for him as a camp counselor at the wrong end of a punch bowl in Hayley Mills’ (and Hayley Mills!) The Parent Trap and as “Sammy the Songwriter” on The Jeffersons. He shared this methodical work style with a reporter in 1965, saying: “I make a chart. If I’m scoring a picture and I’ve got to write 85 minutes of music and I’ve got only 15 days to do it, that means I’ve got to produce five to six minutes of music a day. This way I don’t dawdle along.”A long-time Toluca Lake resident, De Vol moved to this San Juan Capistrano house in his later years.
De Vol’s work ethic to “never turn anything down” is certainly apparent when you see that his final film compositions were for the epics Herbie Goes Bananas (1981) and The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch (1982).
In his later years, he took speaking engagements where he detailed his humorous/inspiring career anecdotes. He was married for 54 years to dancer Grayce McGinty and had two daughters. A couple years after Grayce’s death, he married his former colleague/singer Helen O’Connell for what would be her final two years (in which they performed on cruise ships together) until her death from cancer in 1993. On Wednesday, October 27th 1999, Frank De Vol died at age 88 of congestive heart failure at a nursing facility near his daughter’s home in Lafayette, California. A memorial service was held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Hollywood Hills where he was buried.
A musical tribute to De Vol (with his daughters in attendance) was held July 2009 at his hometown’s Palace Theater (Canton, Ohio) – where his musical career began.