Songwriter Paul Vance, who earned pop culture immortality with the 1960 smash about a bashful bather, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” has died. He was 68.
The New Milford-raised Vance, whose real name was Paul Van Valkenburgh, died Sept. 6 at his home in Ormond Beach, Fla., said his wife of 32 years, Rose Leroux. He had been battling lung cancer for two years.
Vance and songwriting partner Lee Pockriss also co-wrote “Catch a Falling Star,” a No. 1 hit for Perry Como in 1958.
But they had their biggest success with the song about the girl with a brand new bikini who “was afraid to come out of the locker, she was a nervous as she could be. ... Now she’s afraid to come out of the water, and the poor little girl’s turning blue.”
Recorded by 16-year-old teen idol Brian Hyland and a group of girlish backup singers, “Itsy Bitsy ...’ surged to No. 1 on the Billboard charts in August 1960.
In an Associated Press interview that same month, Vance said the idea came while he and Pockriss were working on a demonstration record (“Petticoat Fly,” which went nowhere.) He told Pockriss that his wife was thinking of getting a bikini but didn’t have the nerve to wear it. The resulting song was written in 25 minutes and recorded within a week, he said.
The song has been used in such films as “Sister Act 2” and “Revenge of the Nerds II” and was more recently revived in a yogurt commercial.
“When he was young, he sold all the rights to the songs because he was young and foolish and now, ’Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ is becoming popular again,” his widow said.
His songs were as lighthearted as his personality, she said.
“He was a fun person,” Leroux said. “He always joked, teased a lot. He was a good man.”
In addition to his musical compositions, Leroux said, her husband was a Navy veteran in the Korean War and later in life spent time as a painting contractor.
In the 1960 interview, Vance said his then-wife hadn’t bought a bikini, even after the song became a hit. “She still doesn’t have the nerve, so she compromised by making a bikini for our 2-year-old daughter, Paula. It’s itsy, bitsy, teenie weenie and has, believe it or not, yellow polka dots.”