Lennie Hayton, Leonard George “Lennie” Hayton (14 February 1908 – 24 April 1971) was an American Jewish composer, conductor and arranger. His trademark was the wearing of a captain’s hat, which he always wore at a rakish angle. He was initially a pianist in jazz groups led by Frankie Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti and others. He also played with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Lennie Hayton composed “Apple Blossoms” with Joe Venuti, Frankie Trumbauer, and Eddie Lang. His other compositions included “Flying Fingers”, “The Stage is Set”, “Mood Hollywood” with Jimmy Dorsey, and “Midnight Mood”. Hayton also co-arranged the Hoagy Carmichael composition “Stardust” with Artie Shaw, for Shaw’s recording of it in 1940, for Bluebird records.
He became musical director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1940 and guided it through its prime years as forerunner of the movie musical. Up until his retirement from the post in 1953, he racked up four Academy Award nominations: for the Judy Garland musicals The Harvey Girls (1946) and The Pirate (1948).
Lennie Hayton won the Academy Award for music for On the Town in 1950. Lennie Hayton also arranged the music for Singin’ in the Rain in 1952. Hayton notched up two more nominations—one in 1968 for the unsuccessful Julie Andrews musical Star! and his last the following year for the Barbra Streisand vehicle Hello, Dolly!, which brought him his second and final Oscar. In 1970, Hayton arranged Frank Sinatra’s first attempt at the George Harrison composition Something. However, Sinatra later began using a Nelson Riddle arrangement of the song in concert performances and in 1979 he put the Riddle version on record.
Lennie Hayton’s first marriage was to Helen Maude Gifford. Helen Maude Gifford, also named Bubs Gelderman, died in 1943. Lennie Hayton met Lena Horne when both were under contract to MGM. Hayton married Lena Horne in December 1947 in Paris. Throughout the marriage, Lennie Hayton also acted as Horne’s music director. Facing the stresses and pressures of an interracial relationship, which was still relatively rare in that time period, their marriage lasted until his death at 63 from a heart attack in 1971.
Lennie Hayton and Horne had a tumultous marriage. She later admitted in a 1980 Ebony interview she had married Hayton to advance her career, and cross the “color-line” in show business, but had learned to love him very much. Unfortunately Horne and Hayton were separated for most of the sixties. Always a heavy drinker and smoker, Hayton died of heart problems while separated from Horne, in Palm Springs, California in 1971.