Thursday, November 20, 2014


When one reads about the great American songwriters, you always read about Irving Berlin or Cole Porter. There are many songwriters who wrote unforgettable songs who are not remembered as much. One such songwriter is the great Frank Loesser. Loessor was born on June 29, 1910 in New York City. 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.  His parents both prized high intellect and culture and thus Loesser was taught musically in the vein of European composers. He was taught piano early by both his father and his older half-brother Arthur Loesser. 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). He was expelled from the CCNY in 1925 after one year for failing every subject except English and gym. 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. 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. After signing a six-month contract with Universal Pictures, in 1936 he moved to Hollywood with his new wife. After his contract was up, he was offered another 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. He stayed in Hollywood until World War II when he enlisted into the Air Force. 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. 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. It would become Loessor's greatest work. Guys and Dolls became a hit and earned Loesser two Tony Awards. Bob Fosse called Guys and Dolls "the greatest American musical of all time." 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.

After working on the film 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". He wrote the book, music and lyrics for his next two musicals, The Most Happy Fella (1956) and Greenwillow (1960).

 In 1956, 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.

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. 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."

Loesser, an avid smoker, died of lung cancer at age 59 in New York City on July 28, 1969. He was survived by his second wife and four children.You may not recognize Frank Loesser by his name like other songwriters, but Loessor wrote some wonderful songs. From World War II songs like "I Don't Want To Walk Without You" to Broadway hits of the 1950s and 1960s, Loesser wrote many of the tunes the country sung and hummmed back then and still do...

1 comment:

  1. A very nice post on Loesser, who may have made his mark on stage more than in the movies. Still, he had a great career and wrote some wonderful songs.