Roger Edens (November 9, 1905 – July 13, 1970) was a Hollywood composer, arranger and associate producer, and is considered one of the major creative figures in Arthur Freed's musical film production unit at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the "golden era of Hollywood".
Early career and work with Judy Garland
Edens was born in Hillsboro, Texas. His parents were of Scots-Irish ancestry. He worked as a piano accompanist for ballroom dancers before going to work as a musical conductor on Broadway. He went to Hollywood in 1932 along with his protégée Ethel Merman, writing and arranging her material for her films at Paramount. In 1935, he joined MGM as a musical supervisor and occasional composer and arranger, notably of music for Judy Garland. He also appeared on screen opposite Eleanor Powell in a cameo in Broadway Melody of 1936.
Arthur Freed, producer of musicals at MGM, was impressed by Edens and soon made him integral to his production team, which was rapidly growing and featured many of the greatest talents, recruited by Freed himself. Freed built a cabinet around himself, and in the early 1940s made Edens associate producer. The unit made dozens of popular and extremely successful musical films in the 1940s and into the 1950s, including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Easter Parade (1948), On the Town (1949), Show Boat (1951), An American in Paris (1951), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and The Band Wagon (1953).
Edens eventually separated from the MGM unit in the mid-1950s when the musical film's days of glory were coming to an end. He had his own office and worked on such projects as Funny Face (1957) with Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, and Kay Thompson at Paramount.
Edens is considered to be an important creative musical figure from the end of the 1930s until the beginning of the 1960s. His career at MGM allowed him to work with the top musical performers including Judy Garland, of whom he was the original trainer and overseer and a lifelong friend. He wrote special material for Garland, including the famous "Dear Mr Gable - You Made Me Love You" (1937), "Our Love Affair" (1940) for Strike up the Band - which received an Oscar nomination for best song of that year - and the music for the "Born in a Trunk" sequence in A Star Is Born (1954). Edens was responsible for writing "It's a Great Day for the Irish" to showcase Garland's powerhouse voice in 1940; she sang it in the film Little Nellie Kelly (1940). This became one of Garland's biggest hits and an Irish-American anthem played by military and marching bands every St. Patrick's Day the world over. He continued to compose, score, and arrange MGM musicals throughout the 1940s. He also produced a number of films after the mid-1950s and wrote special material for Garland's Palace Theatre debut in 1951 and for her London Palladium concerts the same year.
Edens and Kay Thompson had the same birthday (November 9). From 1942 through 1957 they gave joint birthday parties during which each presented a surprise production number using special material which featured their friends— Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, Dorothy Dandridge, Maureen O'Hara, Ray Bolger, Ann Sothern, Phil Silvers, Danny Kaye, Charles Walters, Cole Porter, Hugh Martin, and Ralph Blane among others—each never telling the other while rehearsing what the other was planning to present.
It was Edens, along with producer Arthur Freed, who was the real guiding force behind M-G-M's 1951 screen version of Show Boat. Edens headed the search for the right singer-actor to play Joe, the key supporting character who sings "Ol' Man River", and he discovered William Warfield after reading a rave review of his performance in a New York song recital. Edens also supervised cuts to the film after it was felt by the producer and director that the original cut was too slow.
Before moving to California, Edens had been married to Martha LaPrelle, but they spent much time apart and eventually divorced. By the time he knew Judy Garland, he was living as a gay man. In the latter part of his life, Edens was in long-term relationship with screenwriter and playwright Leonard Gershe. (Leonard Gershe denied he and Edens were ever lovers though he admitted many people assumed they were. Gershe said, "We weren't lovers because I didn't have enough closet space.") Edens died of cancer in Los Angeles, California on July 13, 1970.
Awards and honors
- Academy Award for Best Score (nominated) 1939: Babes in Arms (film) (w. Georgie Stoll)
- Academy Award for Best Score (nominated) 1940: Strike Up the Band (w. Georgie Stoll)
- Academy Award for Best Song (nominated) 1940: "Our Love Affair" from Strike Up the Band - Music & Lyrics
- Academy Award for Best Score (nominated) 1942: For Me and My Gal (film) (w. Georgie Stoll)
- Academy Award for Best Song (nominated) 1947: "Pass That Peace Pipe" from Good News - Music & Lyrics (w. Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin)
- Academy Award for Best Score (Won) 1948: Easter Parade (w. Johnny Green)
- Academy Award for Best Score (Won) 1949: On the Town (w. Lennie Hayton)
- Academy Award for Best Score (Won) 1950: Annie Get Your Gun (w. Adolph Deutsch)
(8 nominations, 3 Awards)
- Luft, Lorna (1999). Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir. Simon and Schuster. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-671-01900-6.
- Leonard Gershe received sole credit due to a contractual issue. Personal letter from Gershe to Jim Johnson Archived 2009-01-20 at the Wayback Machine
- Mann, William J. (2001). Behind the screen: how gays and lesbians shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969. Viking. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-670-03017-0.