Most of us who grew up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s experienced Frank De Vol (1911-1999) backwards, first as a funny and highly recognizable bit player in movies and on television, then later, if ever, we learn that that same guy was also a highly respected, Oscar nominated Hollywood music guy, a bandleader/composer/arranger who scored 50 films and wrote the theme music for TV shows like The Brady Bunch, Family Affair, and My Three Sons. People who’d grown up decades earlier would have observed the evolution in real time and recognized his witty casting in later shows.
De Vol was the son of the leader of the local pit band at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio. (Despite its name, it didn’t present grand opera. More often than not, small town American “opera houses” of the 19th and early 20th centures were multi-purpose venues that presented traveling theatre troupes, vaudeville acts, lectures, and silent movies). De Vol started out playing violin in his dad’s band as a teenager, and was already composing music by that time. In young adulthood he played in the big bands of Horace Heidt and Alvino Rey. In the ’40s he formed his own band which played on local radio in L.A. and began his recording career as an arranger.
Look! He worked with Tony Bennett! And juicy Jaye P. Morgan!
It was in his capacity as a well-known music guy that De Vol began appearing on television in the 1950s. He was a panelist on Stump the Stars and led the bands on The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Betty White Show. Yes, Johnny-Come-Lately Betty White fans, Betty had her own variety show two decades before The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She also had a sit-com Life with Elizabeth in 1955, and this is where De Vol began playing bit parts.
In movies his most fruitful professional relationship was with Robert Aldrich, scoring almost all of his movies from World for Ransom (1954) to All the Marbles…(1981). This includes his campy original songs for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1961) and Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964): “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”, the Baby Jane theme song, not used in the movie but recorded by Bette Davis and performed by her on television, and the Sweet Charlotte theme song, which was a hit for Patti Page. He also scored numerous Doris Day movies, including Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), The Thrill of it All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), The Ballad of Josie (1967), and Caprice (1967). In a similar vein were the comedies (many with frequent Day costars) Boys Night Out (1962), The Wheeler Dealers (1963), For Love or Money (1963), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), and Good Neighbor Sam (1964).
De Vol scored The Parent Trap (1961) and also had a small role in the film. Other credits includes McLintock (1963), Cat Ballou (1965), The Happening (1967), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967), and a couple of the Herbie, the “Love Bug” movies for Walt Disney.
Meantime De Vol exercised his acting bug in about three dozen screen roles. He was a regular on the short-lived sit-com I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster (1962-63) with John Astin and Marty Ingels. He guest starred on shows like Get Smart, Gidget, That Girl, Petticoat Junction, My World and Welcome to It, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Jeffersons, as well as shows he wrote music for such as The Brady Bunch and My Three Sons. He had parts in The Big Mouth (1967) with Jerry Lewis, and the bio-pic W.C. Fields and Me (1976). A very high profile gig on Fernwood Tonight (1977) and America 2-Night (1978) allowed him both to be the bandleader and play the bandleader.
Other TV shows he scored included the sit-com To Rome With Love (1969-71) with John Forsythe and Kay Medford and Sherwood Schwartz’s Dusty’s Trail (1973-74). Some of his last work was on several episodes of The Fall Guy (1982-85).
For more on show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.