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Jerry Adler, Harmonica Virtuoso, Dies at 91

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Jerry Adler, a harmonica virtuoso whose pure, open sound can be heard on the soundtracks to Shane, High Noon, Mary Poppins and other films, but who labored in the shadow of his more famous harmonica-playing older brother, Larry, died on March 13 in Ellenton, Fla. He was 91 and lived in Sarasota.

Mr. Adler got off to a flying start in the music business after winning a talent contest at a local theater at 13. It was the same contest, sponsored by The Baltimore Evening Sun, that Larry had won five years earlier, in 1927, and Jerry performed the same piece, Beethoven's Minuet in G.

I was a very skinny, scrawny kid who couldn't make it at all with the girls, he told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 1997. So I did this as a defense. And it worked.

First prize was the chance to perform with the theaters headliner, Red Skelton, for a week. A few years later, looking for work in Manhattan, Jerry talked his way into an audition with Paul Whiteman and soon began appearing with his orchestra at the Palace.

Unlike Larry, who devoted himself to classical music, Jerry stuck with popular tunes. He was highly sought after as a soloist in films from the 1940s through the 1960s. His credits include the soundtracks for Shane, High Noon, The Alamo, You Cant Take It With You, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady.

When stars needed to pick up the instrument for a film role, he showed them how to fake it with conviction, secure in the knowledge that he would be recording the notes offstage. He tutored Jimmy Stewart in Pot o Gold (1941) and Van Johnson in The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947). In the 1953 Kirk Douglas film The Juggler, he appeared on screen taking a solo in a campfire scene.

Hilliard Gerald Adler was born on Oct. 30, 1918, in Baltimore. After establishing a solo career, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was assigned to an entertainment unit in Santa Ana, Calif., which cast him in Winged Victory, Moss Harts star-packed Broadway morale-booster about pilots in training. He also appeared in the film version, directed by George Cukor, which was released in 1944.

Eager to go overseas, Mr. Adler volunteered for a small entertainment unit called the Winged Pigeons, which toured most of the Pacific islands immediately after, and in some cases during, their liberation by American forces.

In 1947 he married Sylvia Gandel, who died in 1990. His second wife, Jean Ruppa, died in 2009. In addition to his son, Michael, of Germantown, Md., he is survived by a daughter, Susan Lantis of Capitola, Calif. Larry, his brother, died in 2001.

Beginning in the 1950s, Mr. Adler found steady work performing on cruise ships, which provided a good living for decades. In the 1980s, when the cruise ships became too onerous, he began performing on the Florida condo circuit. He often appeared with pops orchestras, usually performing the music of George Gershwin.

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