The man who co-wrote the song “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” had the unsettling experience this week of reading his own obituary — the result of an impostor who went through life claiming to be the author of the 1960s smash hit.
On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported on the death of a 68-year-old man named Paul Van Valkenburgh of Ormond Beach, Fla., who claimed to have written the song under the name Paul Vance. The story cited the man’s wife as the source for that claim.
But the music industry’s real Paul Vance, a 76-year-old man from Coral Springs, Fla., is alive and well, and says the other Paul Vance appears to have made the whole thing up.
The Paul Vance who wrote the songs — and provided proof with royalty payments he is still receiving for the hit — said he has been inundated with calls from people who think he died. An owner of racehorses, Vance said two of his horses were scratched from races Wednesday because people thought he had died.
“Do you know what it’s like to have grandchildren calling you and say, ‘Grandpa, you’re still alive?”’ he said in a telephone interview from Coral Springs. “This is not a game. I am who I am and I’m proud of who I am. But these phones don’t stop with people calling thinking I’m dead.”
Rose Leroux, the widow of the man who died, said she was surprised by the disclosure, and “kind of devastated.” She said she had no reason to doubt that her husband — who apparently had some sort of music career when he was younger — was the writer of the famous tune.
She said her husband told her that he never got any royalties because he sold the rights when he was young, around 19. She said that by the time they met almost 40 years ago, he was making his living as a salesman. He later became a painting contractor.
“If this other man says he did it then my husband’s a liar, or he’s a liar,” Leroux said.
The living Paul Vance estimated he has made several million dollars from 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.
The song — about a bashful 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.
“It’s a money machine,” Vance said.
Vance said his first hit was “Catch a Falling Star,” recorded by Perry Como, and he went on to write numerous million-sellers for Como, Johnny Mathis and others.
To prove he is the real songwriter, Vance provided royalty statements showing dozens of payments for the tune sent to his address in Westbury, N.Y., where he lived before moving to Florida. Jim Steinblatt, an official with the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers, confirmed that royalty checks for the song were being mailed to Vance in Westbury.
Steinblatt also said he knows Vance personally and had visited him at his Westbury home last year. He said he had never heard of the man who died and took credit for composing the song.
Vance said he has no animosity toward the impostor or his wife.
Vance’s songwriting partner, Lee Pockriss, who shares credit on “Itsy Bitsy ...’, lives in Bridgewater, Conn., and is recovering from a stroke. His wife, Sonya, said her husband’s writing partner is the living Paul Vance, and she had never heard of the Paul Vance from Ormond Beach.
Leroux said she wished the other Paul Vance had never spoken up.
“It’s such a long time ago. To have it come out now, I’m kind of devastated,” she said. “If this man is getting the royalties why wouldn’t he be happy? The more you stir this up the more you’ll smell. Paul can’t hurt him now — he’s dead. And we’re not going after him for the royalties.”