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January 20: The Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Songwriter

January 20, 2013

Lee Julian Pockriss, who wrote the melodies for three hit songs — "Catch a Falling Star" (Perry Como, 1957), "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" (Brian Hyland, 1960), and "Johnny Angel" (Shelley Fabares, 1962) — was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1924. Pockriss served as an air force cryptographer during World War II and studied music and musicology at Brooklyn College and NYU. Pockriss also wrote lots of Broadway music and several songs for Sesame Street, but his bikini song (with lyrics by Paul Vance, who also wrote the lyrics for "Catch a Falling Star") was his money-machine. The song's popularity helped the bikini (invented in France in 1946 and named for the Bikini Atoll, where early tests of nuclear weapons took place) make its way from the French Riviera to the beaches of America — where it actually evolved into a more modest and wearable two-piece design. Pockriss died at 87 in 2011.

"Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket,/never let it fade away . . ." —Paul Vance