A leading songwriter for the stage, films and Tin Pan Alley from the 30s through to the 60s. Initially, he only wrote lyrics, but later in his career he provided both words and music, and sometimes co-produced through his Frank Productions. Born into a musical family (his father was a music teacher, and his brother a music critic and pianist), Loesser rejected a formal musical education, and trained himself. During the Depression years of the early 30s, following a brief spell at City College, New York, Loesser worked in a variety of jobs including city editor for a local newspaper, jewellery salesman and waiter. His first published song, written with William Schuman in 1931, was 'In Love With A Memory Of You'. Loesser also wrote for vaudeville performers and played piano in nightclubs around New York's 52nd Street.
In 1936, he contributed some lyrics to The Illustrators Show, with music by Irving Actman, including 'Bang-The Bell Rang!' and 'If You Didn't Love Me', but the show closed after only five Broadway performances. In 1937, Loesser went to Hollywood and spent the next few years writing lyrics for movies such as Cocoanut Grove ('Says My Heart'), College Swing ('Moments Like This' and 'How' dja Like To Love Me"'), Sing You Sinners (Bing Crosby singing 'Small Fry'), Thanks For The Memory (Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing 'Two Sleepy People'), The Hurricane (Dorothy Lamour singing 'Moon Of Manakoora'), Man About Town ('Fidgety Joe' and 'Strange Enchantment'), Some Like It Hot (1939 film starring Hope and Ross singing 'The Lady's In Love With You'), Destry Rides Again (Marlene Dietrich with a memorable version of 'See What The Boys In The Back Room Will Have'), Dancing On A Dime ('I Hear Music'), Las Vegas Nights ('Dolores'), Kiss The Boys Goodbye ('I'll Never Let A Day Pass By', 'Sand In My Shoes' and the title song), Sweater Girl ('I Don't Want To Walk Without You' and 'I Said No'), Forest Rangers ('Jingle, Jangle, Jingle'), Happy-Go-Lucky ('Let's Get Lost' and "Murder' She Says'), Seven Days Leave ('Can't Get Out Of This Mood') and Thank Your Lucky Stars ('They're Either Too Young Or Too Old', sung by Bette Davis, and featuring one of Loesser's most amusing lyrics, including the couplet: 'I either get a fossil, or an adolescent pup/I either have to hold him off, or have to hold him up!'). These songs were written in collaboration with composers Burton Lane, Hoagy Carmichael, Alfred Newman, Matty Malneck, Frederick Hollander, Louis Alter, Victor Schertzinger, Jule Styne, Joseph Lilley, Jimmy McHugh and Arthur Schwartz.
The first song for which Loesser wrote both music and lyrics is said to be 'Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition', and when he left Hollywood for military service during World War II he added some more service songs to his catalogue, including 'First Class Private Mary Brown', 'The Ballad Of Roger Young', 'What Do You Do In The Infantry"' and 'Salute To The Army Service Forces'. He also continued to write for films such as Christmas Holiday (1944, 'Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year') and The Perils Of Pauline (1947), the biopic of silent-movie queen Pearl White, with Loesser's songs 'Poppa Don't Preach To Me' and 'I Wish I Didn't Love You So', the latter of which was nominated for an Academy Award. Loesser finally received his Oscar in 1949 for 'Baby It's Cold Outside', from the Esther Williams/Red Skelton movie Neptune's Daughter. In 1948, Loesser wrote 'On A Slow Boat To China', which became a hit for several US artists including Kay Kyser, Freddy Martin, Eddy Howard and Benny Goodman. In the same year he again turned his attention to the Broadway stage, writing the score for a musical adaptation of Brandon Thomas' classic English farce, Charley's Aunt. Where's Charley", starring Ray Bolger, included the songs 'My Darling, My Darling', 'Once In Love With Amy', 'New Ashmoleon Marching Society And Student Conservatory Band' and 'Make A Miracle'. The show ran for a creditable 792 performances.
Far more successful, two years later, was Guys And Dolls, a musical setting of a Damon Runyon fable, starring Robert Alda, Vivian Blaine, Sam Levene, Isabel Bigley and Stubby Kaye. It ran for 1,200 performances, and is generally considered to be Loesser's masterpiece. As with Where's Charley", he was now writing both music and lyrics, and the show is such a legend that it is worth listing the principal songs: 'Fugue For Tinhorns', 'The Oldest Established', 'I'll Know', 'A Bushel And A Peck', 'Adelaide's Lament', 'Guys And Dolls', 'If I Were A Bell', 'My Time Of Day', 'I've Never Been In Love Before', 'Take Back Your Mink', 'More I Cannot Wish You', 'Luck Be A Lady', 'Sue Me', 'Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat' and 'Marry The Man Today'. The original cast album is still available in the 90s, and among the other associated issues was an all-black cast album, released on Motown Records, and Guys And Dolls: The Kirby Stone Four. A film adaptation of Guys And Dolls was released in 1955, starring Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine. The movie version left out some of the original songs, and Loesser replaced them with 'A Woman In Love' and 'Adelaide'. In 1952, Where's Charley" was released as a film version, and the same year saw a movie of Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye in the title role, and featuring a Loesser score that included 'Wonderful Copenhagen', 'No Two People', 'Anywhere I Wander', 'Inchworm' and 'Thumbelina'.
Loesser's next Broadway project was The Most Happy Fella, for which he also wrote the libretto. The show was adapted from the original story They Knew What They Wanted, by Sidney Howard, which told the tale of an elderly Italian wine grower living in California, who falls in love at first sight with a waitress. Loesser created what has been called 'one of the most ambitiously operatic works ever written for the Broadway musical theatre'. Arias such as 'Rosabella' and 'My Heart Is So Full Of You' contrast with more familiar Broadway fare such as 'Standing On the Corner', 'Big D' and 'Happy To Make Your Acquaintance'. The show ran for 676 performances, far more than Loesser's 1960 production of the folksy Greenwillow, which closed after less than three months. It starred Anthony Perkins in his first musical, and contained a religious hymn, the baptism of a cow, and wistful ballads such as 'Faraway Boy' and 'Walking Away Whistling', along with 'Never Will I Marry' and 'Summertime Love', both sung by Perkins. A three-album set was issued, containing the complete score. In terms of number of performances (1,417), Loesser's last Broadway show, which opened in 1961, was his most successful. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying was a satire on big business that starred Robert Morse as the aspiring executive J. Pierpont Finch, and Rudy Vallee as his stuffy boss, J.B. Biggley. The songs, which, most critics agreed, fitted the plot neatly, included 'The Company Way', 'A Secretary Is Not A Toy', 'Grand Old Ivy', 'Been A Long Day', 'I Believe In You' and 'Brotherhood Of Man'. The show became one of the select band of American musicals to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize; a film version was released in 1967.
Loesser died of lung cancer on 28 July 1969, with a pack of cigarettes by his side. A lifelong smoker, with a contentious, volatile temperament, he is regarded as one of the most original, innovative men of the musical theatre. In the early 90s The Most Happy Fella, Guys And Dolls and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, were all revived on Broadway, and Loesser's second wife, Jo Sullivan, and one of his daughters, Emily Loesser, appeared in a provincial production of Where's Charley" In 1993, the two women also featured on the album An Evening With Frank Loesser, singing medleys of songs from his shows. In the same year a fascinating album comprising demo recordings by Loesser himself was released.
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