April 8, 1928|
Manhattan, NY, U.S.
|Died||September 11, 2004
New York, NY, U.S.
|Genres||Musical theatre, film, television|
|Associated acts||Kander and Ebb|
Fred Ebb (April 8, 1928 – September 11, 2004) was an American musical theatre lyricist who had many successful collaborations with composer John Kander. The Kander and Ebb team frequently wrote for such performers as Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera.
Ebb was born in Manhattan to a Jewish family, the son of Anna Evelyn (née Gritz) and Harry Ebb. He had two sisters, Norma and Estelle. He worked during the early 1950s bronzing baby shoes, as a trucker's assistant, and was also employed in a department store credit office and at a hosiery company. He graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and also earned his Master’s Degree in English from Columbia University.
One of his early collaborators was Phil Springer, and a song they wrote together ("I Never Loved Him Anyhow") was recorded by Carmen McRae in 1956. Another song Ebb wrote with Springer was "Heartbroken" (1953), which was recorded by Judy Garland, the mother of his future protégée, Liza Minnelli. Other Springer-Ebb tunes include "Moonlight Gambler" and "Nevertheless I Never Lost the Blues". "Don't Forget", which he wrote with Norman Leyden, was recorded by singer Eddy Arnold in 1954.
On his first theatrical writing job, he co-wrote the lyrics for the musical revue Baker's Dozen in 1951. He wrote songs with Norman Martin for the revue Put It in Writing (1962). He also worked with composer Paul Klein from the early 1950s onward, contributing songs to the cabaret revue Isn't America Fun (1959) and the Broadway revue From A to Z (1960), directed by Christopher Hewett. With Klein, Ebb wrote his first book musical, Morning Sun. Originally, Bob Fosse was attached as director. Fosse eventually withdrew from the project, and the show was unsuccessful.
Kander and Ebb
Music publisher Tommy Valando introduced Ebb to Kander in 1962. After a few songs such as "My Coloring Book," Kander and Ebb wrote a stage musical, Golden Gate, that was never produced. However, the quality of the score convinced producer Harold Prince to hire them for their first professional production, the George Abbott-directed musical Flora the Red Menace, based on Lester Atwell's novel Love is Just Around the Corner. Although it won star Liza Minnelli a Tony Award, the show closed quickly.
Their second collaboration, Cabaret, was considerably more successful, running for nearly three years. Directed by Prince and based on the John Van Druten play I Am a Camera (which, in turn, was based on the writing of Christopher Isherwood), the musical starred Jill Haworth as Sally Bowles, Bert Convy as Clifford Bradshaw, Lotte Lenya as Fraulein Schneider and Joel Grey as the emcee. It won eight of the 11 Tony Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Musical and Best Score. Adapted into a film by Bob Fosse, it won eight Academy Awards, though not Best Picture. It was revived twice, first in 1987 with Grey reprising his role and again in 1998 in a long-running revival, originally starring Alan Cumming as the emcee and Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles.
Their next few works were less successful: The Happy Time, directed by Gower Champion and starring Robert Goulet, ran for less than a year. Zorba, directed by Prince, also ran less than a year, though it was more successful in its 1983 revival; and 70, Girls, 70, which was originally intended as an off-Broadway production, closed after 35 performances.
In 1972, he wrote the television special, Liza with a Z. In 1974, Kander, Ebb and Fosse, contributed to Liza (concert), a concert for Minnelli on Broadway. In 1975, the team wrote the score to Funny Lady, the sequel to Funny Girl. Chicago (1975) had mixed reviews but ran for more than two years. Starring Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach and Gwen Verdon in her last Broadway role, it suffered from a cynical attitude, which contrasted with the record-breaking popularity of A Chorus Line. Though rumors of a film production directed again by Fosse were heard, the show did not seriously re-surface until 1996, when it was revived as part of the Encores! series. A huge hit, the minimalist production transferred to Broadway and as of 2011[update] is still running after more than 6,000 performances. A film version was eventually produced (in 2002) and won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Ebb himself wrote the book for Shirley MacLaine’s Broadway solo revue in 1976. The following year, Kander and Ebb worked with Minnelli and Martin Scorsese twice: first, in the film New York, New York, which had them write what is perhaps their best-known song, the title track; and, again in The Act, a musical about a fictional nightclub act. It ran for under ten months. After contributing a song to Phyllis Newman’s one-woman musical, The Madwoman of Central Park West, the team wrote Woman of the Year, which starred Lauren Bacall and won the team their second Tony Award for Best Score.
The Rink (1984) teamed Kander and Ebb again with Minnelli and Rivera. The cast also included Jason Alexander and Rob Marshall. Following the closure of the show after six months, Kander and Ebb would not produce new material, save for a song in Hay Fever in 1985, for nine years. In 1991, the revue And The World Goes 'Round opened off-Broadway, which brought Karen Ziemba, Susan Stroman and Scott Ellis to the attention of the theatre community. The team’s musical adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman opened in 1993, starring Chita Rivera. Reunited with director Harold Prince, the show ran for more than two years and won them their third and last Tony Award for best score.
The team’s last original work to reach Broadway during Ebb's life opened in 1997. Steel Pier brought together Ziemba, Ellis and Stroman and though the show was nominated for 11 Tonys, it won none and closed after two months. It also featured Kristin Chenoweth. In 1997, Ebb reworked lyrics to Richard Rodgers' melody for the television production of Cinderella. Two decades earlier, Ebb refused the opportunity to write the musical Rex with Rodgers.
The team also had two works produced outside New York. Over & Over, an adaptation of the Thornton Wilder play The Skin of Our Teeth, was performed at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia in 1999 and has been revamped for a 2007 staging by the Westport Country Playhouse under the title All of Us. The Visit, starring Chita Rivera and John McMartin, was presented by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, as well as the Signature in Arlington (with George Hearn replacing McMartin).
Death and legacy
At the time of his death, Ebb was working on a new musical with Kander, Curtains: A Backstage Murder Mystery Musical Comedy. The project had already lost its book writer, Peter Stone, who died in 2003. The show's orchestrator, Michael Gibson, also died while the project was underway. Not coincidentally, the show is about a series of deaths during the production of a Broadway musical. Kander continued working on the project with a new librettist Rupert Holmes, writing new lyrics when necessary. The musical had its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles in July 2006, and ran on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre from March 2007 through June 2008.
At its 2007 ceremony, the Drama Desk honored Kander and (the late) Ebb with a special award for "42 years of excellence in advancing the art of the musical theater."
2010 saw the premiere, first off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre, and then on Broadway at the Lyceum, of The Scottsboro Boys, a musical with lyrics by Ebb, music by Kander, and book by David Thompson.
Marvin Hamlisch said of Kander and Ebb, "All I can remember is that working with Fred Ebb was a lot of fun. You know, John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote as a team. So, most of the songs that were written when we usually worked with Liza were written by them. However, when it came to doing arrangements and working on the act and putting things together, I loved working with Fred Ebb. We had the best time. He and I were really good friends. It was just delightful. He was a very, very smart man. And he was very funny. And he was very caustic. I think he probably wrote for her better than anyone in the world could have written for her. He just understood her so well."
- U.S. Census, April 1, 1930, State of New York, County of Bronx, enumeration district 188, p. 1-B.
- "Fred Ebb Biography" filmreference.com, accessed August 21, 2011
- McKinley, Jesse."Fred Ebb, 76, Lyricist Behind 'Cabaret' and Other Hits, Dies" The New York Times, September 13, 2004
- "Carmen McRae Discography" carmenmcraediscography.com, generated on August 22, 2006, accessed August 21, 2011. The song was registered for copyright and recorded by McRae under the title "Never Loved Him Anyhow".
- "Full Notes on Arnold's Top Records", Billboard, January 15, 1955, special Eddy Arnold section, p. 28.
- "‘Baker's Dozen’ to Open March 8", The New York Times, February 26, 1951, p. 32.
- A few of their songs from U.S. Copyright Catalog registrations: "Chummley the Camel" (1951), "Little Toy Song" (1951), "Live" (1951), "I Got Your Number" (1953), "Return to Sender" (1953), "Varsity, U.S.A" (1953), "Alone Again" (1954), "Lovin' Around" (1954).
- "Isn't American Fun?" (advertisement), The New York Times, April 5, 1959, p. X4.
- Green, Jesse."Kander Without Ebb? Start Spreading the News" The New York Times, August 27, 2006
- Cerasaro, Pat."InDepth InterView: Marvin Hamlisch" Broadwayworld.com, July 22, 2010
- Fred Ebb at the Internet Movie Database
- Fred Ebb at the Internet Broadway Database
- Fred Ebb at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Fred Ebb Foundation
- Fred Ebb in the Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Fred Ebb papers, 1927-2004, held by the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- New York Review of Books: Hilton Als' "Girls & Guns" (3/27/03)
- Fred Ebb at AllMusic