Ben Lanzarone, ‘Happy Days’ and ‘The Love Boat’ Composer, Dies at 85

Rexa Vella

Ben Lanzarone, ‘Happy Days’ and ‘The Love Boat’ Composer, Dies at 85

Composer Ben Lanzarone, whose work was featured in television shows such as “Happy Days,” “The Love Boat” and “Dynasty,” died of lung cancer in Los Angeles on Feb. 16. He was 85.

Lanzarone received ASCAP’s “Most Performed Composer Award” for his work composing television scores. He wrote for episodes of “The Tracy Ullman Show,” “The Jay Leno Comedy Hour” and” Mr. Belvedere.” In association with Aaron Spelling and Doug Cramer, he composed many scores for “Dynasty,” “The Love Boat,” “Vegas,” “Matt Houston,” “The Colbys” and “Hotel.” In addition, he wrote the music for numerous episodes of “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley” and “Mork and Mindy.”

Also an arranger, musical director and pianist, Lanzarone became a force in popular music when he began associating with Bob Crewe and Charles Fox. Lanzarone’s album “In Classic Form” came as a result of their collaboration, showing off his talent as a classical and jazz pianist. He then arranged more of Crewe’s productions, which included recordings for Bobby Darin, Vikki Carr and The Bob Crewe Generation. He became the arranger for a range of artists and projects, such as Peter Nero, Vicki Sue Robinson and the disco group The Brothers, as well as the soundtrack of the motion picture “Grease.”

While maintaining his career as a studio pianist, Lanzarone arranged and composed several jingles, which appeared on well over a thousand commercials, records and soundtracks. This led to his selection to the NARAS Board of Governors.

As a musical director and pianist, Lanzarone toured with artists such as Frank Sinatra, Art Garfunkel, Mary Travers, Anthony Newley, Petula Clark, Lainie Kazan and Mason Williams. He was the musical director of the Broadway original production of “Grease” and the arranger for Broadway productions of “Via Galactica” and “Truckload.” He served as musical director and arranger for the off-Broadway show “How to Steal an Election” and the Los Angeles Shakespeare Festival’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

A graduate of New York City’s High School of Music and Art and a double Masters Degree graduate from the Manhattan School of Music, Lanzarone started his career as a classical pianist and traveled the country as soloist with the Longines Symphonette. He made his solo debut at Carnegie Recital Hall.

During his 46-year marriage to actress and singer Ilene Graff, the two had a professional relationship that panned stage, screen, live concerts and recordings — and resulted in a Grammy nomination for their album “Baby’s Broadway Lullabies.” The couple also taught the popular workshop “Making the Song Your Own” to help singers find the joy in music and performance. With their daughter, Broadway veteran Nikka Graff Lanzarone, they put on cabaret concerts in New York City and Los Angeles.

Lanzarone participated in many charitable organizations such as The Variety Club, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and The Entertainment Community Fund. 

He is survived by his wife Graff, his daughter Graff Lanzarone, brothers Frank and Peter Lanzarone, brothers-in-law Richard and Todd Graff, nieces and nephews and several friends.

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