Pockriss, writer of ‘Itsy Bitsy’ bikini song, dies

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HARTFORD, CONN. (AP) - Paul Vance remembers calling his friend and fellow songwriter Lee Pockriss more than 50 years ago to share the lyrics of a song he had just written: “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

Lee, I said, I have an idea,” he recalled Friday. “He went crazy. By the time he got to my office he had 90 percent of the tune written.”

The song, which was recorded by 16-year-old teen idol Brian Hyland, surged to No. 1 on the Billboard charts in August 1960 and has been pop culture staple ever since.

Pockriss, who wrote other hit songs for an eager, youthful post-World War II generation, died in Connecticut this week after a long illness. He was 87.

His wife, Sonja Pockriss, confirmed his death on Friday. She said he died at home in Bridgewater on Tuesday.

“Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” _ about a shy young woman in a skimpy bathing suit _ has been used in such movies as “Sister Act 2” and “Revenge of the Nerds II” and was more recently revived in a yogurt commercial.

Pockriss, who also worked in musical theater, co-wrote several songs with Vance, including “Catch a Falling Star” in 1957.

Vance, 82, said Pockriss did an excellent job on their collaborations.

“He was a very talented composer, a great composer, the opposite of me,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. “He knew music inside out. I don’t know one note of music.”

Vance was erroneously reported as dead five years ago because of the death of an Ormond Beach, Fla., man who had falsely claimed to have written “Itsy Bitsy” under the name Paul Vance. The real Vance was able to prove that it was he, not Paul Van Valkenburgh, who had written the song.

Vance, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., said Pockriss also worked in musical theater and wrote the music for the 1963 Broadway show “Tovarich,” for which Vivien Leigh won the Tony Award for best actress in a musical.

Pockriss was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 20, 1924, his wife said.

He served as a cryptographer, writing in code to guide Army Air Force planes over the Pacific during World War II, she said. Pockriss studied musicology at New York University with the modernist composer Stefan Wolpe, she said.

Sonja Pockriss said her husband was versatile, broadening his formal education in music with an ability to improvise. That talent was in demand for live TV in the 1950s and `60s and helped him land gigs on top programs starring Jack Paar, Milton Berle and Martha Raye, she said.

“He ran from one studio to another,” his wife said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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