The singer-songwriter for music greats like Frank Sinatra passes away at the age of 79

By David Hajdu
Updated January 29, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

Legacy: Sammy Cahn

He was Sinatra’s Cyrano — the funny-looking little man who wrote the cockily sentimental words that rolled out of the Chairman’s mouth like smoke from a cigarette. ”Come Fly With Me,” ”My Kind of Town,” ”High Hopes,” ”Teach Me Tonight,” ”The Second Time Around,” and dozens of catchy hits of the ’50s and early ’60s were all cowritten by the bard of Vegas, Sammy Cahn, who died of congestive heart failure at age 79 on Jan. 15.

If you’ve never heard of Cahn, don’t blame him. A vainglorious self- promoter, he not only wrote an autobiography, I Should Care, but starred in a 1974 Broadway revue about himself, Words and Music, and recorded a collection of his own songs, crooned in a sweetly naive, atonal yelp.

Born on New York’s Lower East Side, he was always a professional, never an aesthete. ”I don’t need to be inspired. I just have to be hired,” said Cahn, who bragged that he wrote the words to ”Three Coins in the Fountain” in one hour flat. At his best, in such Academy Award-winning film songs as ”All the Way” and ”Call Me Irresponsible,” and in such perennials as ”Love and Marriage” and ”I’ll Walk Alone,” he sought the simple, naturalistic eloquence of Irving Berlin rather than the multidimensional irony of Cole Porter.

Working most often with composers Jimmy Van Heusen, Jule Styne, and Saul Chaplin, Cahn crafted roughly 700 songs in all — delivered with the speedy efficiency of a pro working in a bygone time, when songwriting was a steady job and the customers were relatively easy to please.