Robert Wright, 90, a Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist whose songwriting collaboration with George "Chet" Forrest included the hit Broadway musicals "Song of Norway," "Kismet" and "Grand Hotel," died July 27 at his home in Miami. No cause of death was reported.
Mr. Wright and Forrest were Florida high school students in the late 1920s when they met. The first song they wrote together was the school song "Hail to Miami High." During their more than 70-year collaboration, they wrote the lyrics and music to more than 2,000 compositions for 16 produced stage musicals, 18 stage revues, 58 motion pictures and numerous cabaret acts.
They received Tonys for the score of "Kismet," the hit 1953 Broadway musical based on themes of 19th-century Russian composer Aleksandr Borodin. The show included such songs as "Stranger in Paradise" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads."
Their other Broadway credits included "Song of Norway," the 1944 hit musical based on the music of Edvard Grieg; "Magdalena" (1948), with music adapted from Heitor Villa-Lobos; "Gypsy Lady" (1946), with music adapted from Victor Herbert; "Anya" (1965), with music adapted from Sergei Rachmaninoff; "Kean" (1961); and "Timbuktu!" (1978).
Mr. Wright and Forrest, along with Maury Yeston, received Tony nominations for best music and lyrics for the team's final musical on Broadway, "Grand Hotel," which opened in 1989 and won five Tonys, including best director for Tommy Tune, who also choreographed the show.
While under contract to MGM in the late 1930s and early '40s, Mr. Wright and Forrest won three Oscar nominations for best song -- for "Always and Always" from "Mannequin" (1937), "It's a Blue World" from "Music in My Heart" (1940) and "Pennies for Peppino" from "Flying With Music" (1942).
Among the pair's other songs are "The Donkey Serenade," "Strange Music," "Willow, Willow, Willow," "Sweet Danger," "Sands of Time" and "Night of My Nights."
In a 1989 interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Wright said: "Writing original music is 10 or 20 times easier than the things for which we are best known. The first thing you have to do as an adapter is learn everything a composer ever wrote. Then you have to assemble and assimilate the music. And finally, think the way he did."
Robert Craig Wright was born Sept. 25, 1914, in Daytona Beach, Fla. He studied piano as a child and became a working musician early in life.
"I had won an amateur contest playing the Rachmaninoff Prelude in C-Sharp Minor when I was 9 and went into vaudeville," he told the Associated Press. "I found out very young that there was money in music, so I never touched the piano unless I was paid."
His work included playing piano in a silent-movie theater and leading his own orchestra while in high school, where he met Forrest, who was a year younger, when Forrest came in to audition for the Glee Club.
In 1933, Mr. Wright played piano for Helen Morgan, Leonard Rose and fan dancer Sally Rand. A year later, he and Forrest launched an eight-month cabaret tour across the country that ended in Hollywood, where they landed an audition at MGM.
Signed to write original music and lyrics, Mr. Wright and Forrest remained at the studio seven years. With Walter Donaldson as composer, they wrote lyrics for songs in such films as "Sinner Take All" (1936), "After the Thin Man" (1936) and "Saratoga" (1937).
In 1937, they received their first major assignment: to create a new score by reusing musical themes in the public domain, for the film version of the Sigmund Romberg musical "Maytime," starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.
The same year, Mr. Wright and Forrest adapted a Rudolf Friml piano piece called "Chansonette." It became "The Donkey Serenade," a smash hit sung by Allan Jones in "The Firefly."
"Maytime" and "The Firefly" set a precedent of having Mr. Wright and Forrest adapt other people's music.
In 1942, when MGM wanted the partners to rewrite Rodgers and Hart's hit musical "I Married an Angel," they were outraged at being asked to rewrite the work of Broadway legends. They did it, but then quit the studio.
Before leaving MGM, they wrote the small musical revue "Thank You, Columbus," which had a short run in Los Angeles.
"Once you write anything for the stage and you put it in front of an audience and you hear them react, then the movies become very dreary and dull," Mr. Wright said.
Moving to New York to write for cabaret and radio, they created special material for such performers as Jimmy Durante, Sophie Tucker, Joe E. Lewis and Carmen Miranda.
For producer Edwin Lester, Mr. Wright and Forrest wrote "Song of Norway" for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. The musical, based on the life of Grieg using the Norwegian composer's melodies, opened in Los Angeles in summer 1944. That fall, it moved to Broadway, where it ran for two years.
In 1995, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers presented the team with the Richard Rodgers/ASCAP Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to the American Musical Theater.
Survivors include a brother of Gloversville, N.Y.