Frank Loesser 1910-1969 was the composer/lyricist who wrote Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Most Happy Fella, garnering Tony Awards for the first two, the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy for the recording of the second, and multiple nominations for the third. Writing innumerable songs for the hit parade and film, he won The Academy Award in 1949 for “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Susan Loesser tells us her father disdained awards – but kept them.
Loesser apparently got little support from a strict mother and constant criticism from his half-brother. His father, a classical piano teacher, never taught his son. Frank played by ear. Acceptance was a lifetime issue. As a boy, he was “a troublemaker…I think he went in the direction he did partly as rebellion,” Susan tells us. Though Loesser had to go to work when his father died, the young man turned as soon as possible to Tin Pan Alley where he got paid $100 a week for all the songs he could come up with. At this point he was just writing lyrics.
Offered work in Hollywood, his weekly salary rose to $200, but the author retained no rights to over 100 songs written for films. Here he worked with a number of lyricists including Burton Lane, “I Hear Music,” Friedrich Hollander, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have,” and Hoagy Carmichael, “Heart and Soul” and “Two Sleepy People.” Granat’s graceful, soft-shoe rendition of the last swings like a southern hammock.
Susan remembers her father’s peculiar work habits as sleeping three to four hours, rising at 5 a.m, doing a little writing, having a martini at 11 a.m., doing a little writing, perhaps taking a nap, and going out at night. Our host performs a lilting “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (written with Jule Styne), feeding us the lyrics. There are always sing-along opportunities at a Granat event. “I’ll be taking this group on the road,” he quips.
Loesser apparently lived by two professional rules: Loud is Good and I write the song, don’t change it. This caused quite an altercation on the set of Guys and Dolls when the author tried to instruct Sinatra how to phrase his work.
World War II Songs included “They’re Either Too Yong or Too Old” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” With the latter, Loesser began writing his own music. The period also produced “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” which Granat renders wistful and wounded with eloquent retards. “His lyrics have a sense of the way people really talk,” our host comments. David Lahm’s piano accompaniment is lovely.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” was set in a film during Spring. Susan tells us her father hated its always being performed during the holidays with no awareness/appreciation of original intention. Raised in a Los Angeles home filled with celebrities, “Until we moved to New York, I thought when you grew up you became famous.”
Now a commonly used colloquial, “Slow Boat to China” was a big success for the writer. Granat sings, we join.”Sing Out!” he encourages. The terrific, contrapuntal duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” was created to give Mr. and Mrs. Loesser party material to perform together. When Loesser sold “their song” his wife was very upset.
“Where’s Charlie? , the author’s first Broadway show, featured Ray Bolger “in full female regalia.” Granat (and co.) performs a charming “Once In Love with Amy.” One night Bolger forgot the lyrics. In the audience, producer Cy Feuer’s young son rose and supplied what was missing. Someone suggested the crowd sing along and it became a tradition, wildly popularizing the number. A cottony “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” follows. Small sighs are emitted among us.
“My mother, Lynn, co-produced The Most Happy Fella and was very involved in casting. She went looking for Rosabella, found Jo Sullivan, and said to my father, go hear her sing. You’ll love her. And he did.” Sullivan became both the show’s lead and Loesser’s second wife.
“Somebody Somewhere” (…wants me and needs me…) is stirring and resonant. Susan Loesser seems to look inward briefly before turning to Granat with a small smile. This number particularly touches her. The show was especially important to Loesser because his brother praised it. Everyone seems to know the lyrics to the jaunty “Standing On the Corner.”
The issue with How To Success In Business… was Rudy Vallee who felt he was too big a star to take direction. “I’ve spent a lifetime introducing songs my way…” Vallee so provoked Loesser that the writer quit and stormed off. “It took Feuer five telegrams to get him back,” Susan relates. Loesser wrote that his producer should have hit the egotistical film actor. The last telegram read: Come back! I’ll hit him. Granat cheerily percolates with “I Believe In You.”
Loesser’s last efforts were unsuccessful. Changing musical tastes in the 60s and 70s made him feel both lost and betrayed by Broadway. He set up the licensing organization Music Theater International and mentored upcoming talent. The author died of lung cancer at the young age of 59 leaving a legacy that remains robust today.
Another enjoyable and informative afternoon event with Harvey Granat.
Photos of Frank Loesser Used by Permission of Frank Loesser Enterprises
Opening photo: Harvey Granat, Susan Loesser, David Lahm courtesy of the event
Songs & Stories With Harvey Granat- On Frank Loesser
Special Guest, Loesser’s Daughter and Biographer, Susan Loesser
92 Street Y
92nd Street at Lexington Avenue
NEXT: On Jule Styne with Special Guest Rex Reed – November 10
On Burt Bacharach with Special Guest Will Friedwald – December 8