Frank Loesser

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Frank Loesser
Birth name Frank Henry Loesser
Born (1910-06-29)June 29, 1910
New York City, New York, USA
Died July 28, 1969(1969-07-28) (aged 59)
New York City, New York, USA
Genres Musical theatre
Occupation(s) Composer, lyricist, screenwriter
Years active 1936–1969

Frank Henry Loesser (/ˈlɛsər/;[1] June 29, 1910 – July 28, 1969) was an American songwriter who wrote the lyrics and music to the Broadway hits Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, among others. He won separate Tony Awards for the music and lyrics in both shows, as well as sharing the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the latter. He also wrote numerous songs for films and Tin Pan Alley, many of which have become standards, and was nominated for five Academy Awards for best song, winning once, for "Baby, It's Cold Outside".

Early years[edit]

Loesser was born in New York City to Henry Loesser, a pianist,[2] and Julia Ehrlich.[3][4] He grew up in a house on West 107th Street in Manhattan. His father had moved to America to avoid Prussian military service and working in his family's banking business. He came to America and married Berthe (Ehrlich), and had a son in 1884, Arthur Loesser. in 1888, Berthe's sister Julia arrived in America. Julia and Henry soon fell in love and Julia really loved Arthur, but Berthe sent her to Washington D.C. Sadly, Berthe died in childbirth, and Julia moved back in and married Henry in 1907. Their first child, Grace, was born in December of that year.[5] His parents both prized high intellect and culture and thus Loesser was taught musically in the vein of European composers.[4] But although Henry was a full-time piano teacher, he never taught his son. In a 1914 letter to Frank's older half-brother Arthur Loesser, Henry wrote that the 14-year old Frank could play by ear "any tune he's heard and can spend an enormous amount of time at the piano."[6] (Frank Loesser would later collaborate with musical secretaries to ensure that his written scores—he was self-taught—reflected the music as he conceived it.[7])

Loesser did not like his father's posh taste of music and resisted when he wrote his own music and took up the harmonica. He was expelled from Townsend Harris High School, and from there went to City College of New York (even though he had no high school diploma).[5] He was expelled from the CCNY in 1925 after one year for failing every subject except English and gym.[4]

After his father died suddenly in 1926, Loesser went into the work force to earn money for his family.[8] He held various jobs like restaurant reviewer, process server, sold classified ads for the New York Herald Tribune, drew political cartoons for The Tuckahoe Record, sketch writer for Keith Vaudeville Circuit, a knit-goods editor for Women’s Wear Daily, a press representative for a small movie company, and city editor for a short-lived newspaper in New Rochelle, New York called New Rochelle News.[4][5]

Writing career[edit]

After his many various jobs, he decided that he wanted to write in Tin Pan Alley and signed several contracts with music publishers before his contracts were eventually terminated. His first song credit is listed as "In Love with the Memory of You", with music by William Schuman, published in 1931.[8]

Loesser's early lyrics included two hit songs of 1934, "Junk Man" and "I Wish I Were Twins" (both with music by Joe Meyer, and the latter with co-lyric credit to Eddie DeLange). However, they apparently did not help his reputation, and in later years, he never mentioned them.

In the mid-1930s he would sing for his suppers at The Back Drop, a night spot on east 52nd Street along with composer Irving Actman, but during the day he worked on the staff of Leo Feist Inc. writing lyrics to Joseph Brandfon's music at $100 a week. After a year, Feist had not published any of them. He fared only slightly better collaborating with the future classical composer William Schuman, selling one song, that would flop, to Feist. Loesser described his early days of learning the songwriting craft as having "a rendezvous with failure." But while he dabbled in other trades, he inevitably returned to the music business.[4][9]

The Back Drop turned out to have some substantial connections. Due to his work there he was able to secure his first Broadway musical, The Illustrator’s Show, a 1936 revue written with Back Drop collaborator Irving Actman, lasted only four nights. The year before, while performing at the Back Drop, he met an aspiring singer, Lynn Garland (born Mary Alice Blankenbaker). He proposed in a September 1936 letter that included funds for a railroad ticket to Los Angeles where Loesser's contract to Universal Pictures had just ended. The couple married in a judge's office.[10] Loesser was subsequently offered a contract by Paramount Pictures. His first song credit with Paramount was "Moon of Manakoora" written with Alfred Newman for Dorothy Lamour in the film The Hurricane.[4] He wrote the lyrics for many songs during this period, including "Two Sleepy People", "Heart and Soul" and "I Hear Music." He also worked with many famous composers such as Newman, Arthur Schwartz, Burton Lane,[11] Hoagy Carmichael, Friedrich Hollaender, and Joseph J. Lilley.[4]

One of his notable songs from this tenure was from the film Destry Rides Again (1939), for which he wrote the lyrics to "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have", with music by Hollaender and sung by Marlene Dietrich. He also wrote I Don't Want to Walk Without You with Jules Styne which was published in 1941 and included in the 1942 film Sweater Girl and sung by Betty Jane Rhodes.[4] Irving Berlin was a huge fan of the song, and played it once for Loesser numerous times over and over again telling him why he believed it was the greatest song that he wish he wrote.[12]

He stayed in Hollywood until World War II, when he joined the Army Air Force.[2]

World War II era[edit]

During World War II, he was in the Army Air Force, and continued to write lyrics for films and single songs.[2] Loesser wrote the popular war song "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" (1942) inspired by words spoken by navy chaplain William Maguire. Loesser usually wrote songs to a "dummy" tune, meaning the music was just a stand-in until more suitable music could be composed. After the positive reaction to Loesser writing both music and lyrics to the song, it encouraged him to write both his own music and lyrics.[4] Loesser wrote other songs at the request of the armed forces including "What Do You Do in the Infantry?" and "The Ballad of Rodger Young" (1943), among others.[2] He also wrote "They’re Either Too Young or Too Old" for the 1943 film Thank Your Lucky Stars.[4]

In 1944, Loesser worked as the lyricist on a little-known musical intended to be performed by and for US soldiers abroad, titled Hi Yank!, the music for which was composed by Alex North. Hi Yank! was produced by the U.S. Army Office of Special Services as a "blueprint special" to boost the morale of soldiers located where USO shows could not visit. The "blueprint" was a book containing a musical script with instructions for staging the show, using materials locally available to deployed soldiers. A document located at the US Army Centre for Military History states, "A touring company has been formed in Italy to tour a production of Hi, Yank!".[13]

This unique Hi Yank! show, without stars or a conventional theater run, was generally forgotten until 2008, when the PBS History Detectives TV show researched the case of a long-saved radio transcription disc.[14] The disc has two songs and a promotional announcement for the show's Fort Dix premiere in August 1944, when the disc was broadcast there.[15]

Career[edit]

Guys and Dolls, Libretto and Vocal book, printed by Music Theatre International, 1978.

In 1948, Broadway producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin asked Loesser to write both music and lyrics to George Abbott's book for an adaptation of the Brandon Thomas play Charley's Aunt. That musical, Where's Charley? (1948), starred Ray Bolger, and ran for a successful 792 performances, with a film version being released in 1952.

In 1948, he sold the rights to a song he wrote in 1944 and performed informally at parties with his then wife Lynn Garland to MGM. The studio included in the 1949 movie Neptune's Daughter, and the song, Baby, It's Cold Outside became a huge hit. Garland was mad at Loesser for selling what she considered "their song" to MGM.[16] He ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the song.

His next musical, Guys and Dolls (1950), based on the stories of Damon Runyon, was again produced by Feuer and Martin. Guys and Dolls became a hit and earned Loesser two Tony Awards.[17] Bob Fosse called Guys and Dolls "the greatest American musical of all time."[4] A film version was released in 1955, and starred Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra, and Vivian Blaine.

In 1950, Loesser started his own publishing company Frank Music Corporation. It was created to control and publish his work but eventually supported other writers such as Richard Adler, Jerry Ross, and Meredith Willson.[8]

After working on Neptune's Daughter, he wished to write more than one song for a film. His wish was granted in 1952 when he wrote the music and lyrics for the film Hans Christian Andersen. The movie had notable songs such as "Wonderful Copenhagen", "Anywhere I Wander", "Thumbelina", and "Inchworm".[8]

He wrote the book, music and lyrics for his next two musicals, The Most Happy Fella (1956) and Greenwillow (1960). Around the beginning of 1957, Lynn and Loesser got divorced, and Loesser then began a relationship with Jo Sullivan, who had a leading role in Fella. He wrote the music and lyrics for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), which ran for 1,417 performances and won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and for which he received two more Tonys.

The last musical of his that was produced, Pleasures and Palaces (1965), closed during out-of-town tryouts. At the time of his death he was working on Señor Discretion Himself, for which he was writing the book, music and lyrics.

Later life and death[edit]

Another unproduced musical, Señor Discretion Himself, premiered after his death. He started working on a musical version of the Budd Schulberg short story Señor Discretion Himself in 1966, but stopped working on it after 2 years. A version was presented in 1985 at the New York Musical Theatre Works. With the support of Jo Loesser, a completed version was presented at the Arena Stage, Washington, DC, in 2004, reworked by the group Culture Clash and director Charles Randolph-Wright.[18]

When he was asked why he did not write more shows, he responded by saying, "I don’t write slowly, it’s just that I throw out fast." The New York Times confirmed his hard working habits and wrote that Loesser "was consumed by nervous energy and as a result slept only four hours a night, spending the rest of the time working."[4]

Loesser, an avid smoker, died of lung cancer at age 59 in New York City.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Lynn Garland and Frank Loesser divorced around the beginning of 1957, after 21 years of marriage.[20] They had two children together: John Loesser, who works in theatre administration,[21] and Susan Loesser, an author who wrote her father's biography A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life: A Portrait by His Daughter (1993, 2000, ISBN 0634009273).

He married his second wife Jo Sullivan (born Elizabeth Josephine Sullivan) on April 29, 1959.[22] Loesser was introduced to Jo by his first wife Lynn. Jo Sullivan had played a lead in The Most Happy Fella.[2] They had two children, Hannah and Emily. Emily is a performer who is married to Don Stephenson.[23] Hannah was an artist in oils, pastels and mixed media; she died of cancer in 2007.[24]

Notable songs[edit]

Performed by the West Point Cadet Glee Club, 1959.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Loesser was the lyricist of over 700 songs.[25]

War songs
Broadway musicals
Films and Tin Pan Alley

Awards and legacy[edit]

Loesser received Tony Awards for music and lyrics for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Guys and Dolls. He was nominated for the Tony Award for book, music and lyrics for The Most Happy Fella and as Best Composer for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Loesser was awarded a Grammy Award in 1961 for Best Original Cast Show Album for How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

Loesser is highly regarded as one of the most talented writers of his era. He is noted for writing witty lyrics and using clever musical devices. He also introduced a more complex artistic style that shaped the development of the Broadway musical. He was influential in challenging the standard compositional approached of Broadway, Loesser opened the door for later composers to further expand and develop the genre. He was noted for also using classical forms, such as imitative counterpoint (Fugue for Tinhorns in Guys and Dolls).[8]

He won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside". He was nominated four more times:

"Dolores" from Las Vegas Nights (1941)
"They're Either Too Young or Too Old" from Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
"I Wish I Didn't Love You So" from The Perils of Pauline (1947) (a hit that year for both Vaughn Monroe and the film's star, Betty Hutton)
"Thumbelina" (1953)

In 2006 the PBS documentary, Heart & Soul: The Life and Music of Frank Loesser was released.[26]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "inogolo - Pronunciation of Loesser". Retrieved 2012-06-16. LEH-sur 
  2. ^ a b c d e Frank Loesser biography, pbs.org, accessed December 5, 2008
  3. ^ Loesser, Susan (1993). A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life. New York: Donald I Fine, Inc. p. 1. ISBN 1-55611-364-1. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Cogdill 2010, p. 1
  5. ^ a b c Lasser, Michael (2002). "Francis Henry Loesser" American Song Lyricists, 1920-1960. Gale. ISBN 978-0-7876-6009-3. 
  6. ^ Loesser 1993, p. 8-10
  7. ^ Loesser 1993, p. 154-156
  8. ^ a b c d e Maiers 2009, pp. 1–3
  9. ^ Loesser 1993, p. 13-15
  10. ^ Loesser 1993, p. 24-25
  11. ^ http://www.mtishows.com/biography.asp?writerid=3286
  12. ^ Vallance, Tom (2012-01-30). "Betty Jane Rhodes: Actress and singer who charmed the US as a wartime sweetheart". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  13. ^ PBS History Detectives; "Blueprint Special", 2008, show transcript, PDF pbs.org
  14. ^ PBS History Detectives; "Blueprint Special" Aired: Season 6, Episode 10; 2008 pbs.org
  15. ^ Click on player at the bottom to listen to the recording of the Hi Yank soldier musical. (7m37s) pbs.org
  16. ^ Loesser, Susan (1993). A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life; A Portrait by His Daughter. Hal Leonard. pp. 8–10. ISBN 1-55611-364-1. 
  17. ^ Loesser biography, mtishows.com, accessed August 4, 2009
  18. ^ Riis, Thomas Laurence. Frank Loesser (2008), Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-11051-0, p,219-223
  19. ^ Krebs, Alvin, "Frank Loesser, Composer, Dead," The New York Times, July 29, 1969, p. 1
  20. ^ Frank Loesser biography tcm.com, accessed December 5, 2008
  21. ^ Genz, Michelle (April 17, 2014). "'How to Succeed' playright's son now lives in Castaway Cove". VeroNews.com. 
  22. ^ NPR Weekend Saturday Edition interview by Scott Simon with Jo Loesser on May 1, 2010) May 1, 2010
  23. ^ "Emily Loesser, Actress, Marries", The New York Times, May 5, 1991
  24. ^ Simonson, Robert (January 26, 2007). "Hannah Loesser, Daughter of Frank Loesser, Is Dead at 44". Playbill. 
  25. ^ Review of book "Frank Loesser", Thomas L. Riis, Dec 17, 2007, yalepress.yale.edu, accessed December 5, 2008
  26. ^ "Heart & Soul, The Life and Music of Frank Loesser" www.loessermovie.com, accessed 2013-01-11

References[edit]

  • Cogdill, John L. (2010). American National Biography. 
  • Maiers, Claire D. (2009). Musicians and Composers of the Twentieth Century. 

External links[edit]