Although she was an Oscar-nominated songwriter, Dory Previn was better known for ballads that spoke to wounded souls. A gifted lyricist, she mined her traumatic childhood and later mental illness to write confessional songs that found an audience — and helped her heal.
In one song, "Beware of Young Girls," she expressed her outrage over being left in the late 1960s by her husband and songwriting partner, Andre Previn, for actress Mia Farrow:
Too often they crave to cry
At a wedding and dance on a grave
Soon after her marriage broke up, Dory Previn had a breakdown. Institutionalized for several months, she "started writing, to get some order out of chaos," she later said. She emerged with a sheaf of lyrics that marked the start of her solo singing-songwriting career.
Previn died Tuesday at her home in Southfield, Mass., according to her husband, Joby Baker. She was 86.
While a junior lyricist at MGM, she met Andre Previn and they collaborated throughout the 1960s. They received Academy Award nominations for "Faraway Part of Town," sung by Judy Garland in "Pepe," and for "Second Chance" from "Two for the Seesaw."
As their marriage unraveled, the couple did some of their most popular work writing songs for 1967's "Valley of the Dolls," a soundtrack that spent six months on the charts.
Her final Oscar nomination came for "Come Saturday Morning," a melancholy number co-written with composer Fred Karlin for "The Sterile Cuckoo," a 1969 film with Liza Minnelli.
By then, Dory Previn was largely through with Hollywood, although she won an Emmy in 1983 for co-writing music for the television movie "Two of a Kind" starring George Burns and Robby Benson.
During her hospital stay, she had written candidly of her abusive father and observed what it was like to have a nervous breakdown. When the searingly personal songs were hard to sell, Previn recorded "On My Way to Where," the first of six albums she released in the 1970s.
The "amazingly revealing song collection has brought her out of the shadows — the shadow of her husband as well as the shadows of her mind," The Times review said when the album was released.
A follow-up album, "Mythical Kings and Iguanas," sold well, and another, "Reflections in a Mud Puddle," made it onto critics' "best of" lists in 1972.
"What I've tried to do," Previn said in 1971 in Time magazine, "is bring the madness out in the open. Keep it under wraps, and it erupts into wars and violence."
She was born Dorothy Langan on Oct. 22, 1925, in New Jersey and grew up in Woodbridge, N.J. Her father, Michael Langan, was a raging depressive who refused to acknowledge his paternity.
When Dory was about 10, he barricaded her, along with her mother and infant sister, in the family's dining room for more than four months. In the song "I Ain't His Child," Previn asks:
Anybody I might
Dory Previn dies at 86; Oscar-nominated songwriter
Gifted lyricist Dory Previn found success in Hollywood with then-husband Andre Previn, then mined the pain of their breakup to launch a solo career as a balladeer of angst.
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