Loesser, Frank (Henry)

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Loesser, Frank (Henry)

Loesser, Frank (Henry), American songwriter; b. N.Y., June 29, 1910; d. there, July 28, 1969. Artistic growth was the chief characteristic of the career of Frank Loesser, whose restless imagination saw him continually expanding his range and challenging himself with different kinds of projects. Enormously productive, he wrote songs used in at least 80 feature films between 1935 and 1955, at first contributing only lyrics in collaboration with such composers as Burton Lane, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy McHugh, Louis Alter, Jule Styne, Joseph J. Lilley, and Arthur Schwartz. These efforts included such hits as “Says My Heart,”“I Don’t Want to Walk without You,” and “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle.” By the early 1940s he began to write both music and lyrics, resulting in such hits as “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!,” “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” and “On a Slow Boat to China.” Later in the decade he hit the Broadway stage with the successful show Where’s Charley? Guys and Dolls, another hit, was followed by the near-operatic The Most Happy Fella. His last show to reach Broadway, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, was the longest-running of his career.

Loesser’s parents were Henry and Julia Erlich Loesser; his father was a piano teacher and accompanist, his older half-brother Arthur a pianist, teacher, and music critic. Loesser showed an early interest in music and composition, though he was attracted to popular music and was largely self-taught. He attended the Coll. of the City of N.Y. briefly in his mid-teens, then spent the second half of the 1920s at a variety of occupations outside music. By the start of the 1930s he was writing song lyrics and vaudeville sketches, and he worked for a music publisher. In 1931 he had his first song published, “In Love with a Memory of You” (music by William Schuman), but he did not score a hit until several artists, notably Fats Waller and Emil Coleman and His Orch., recorded popular versions of “I Wish I Were Twins” (music by Joseph Meyer, lyrics also by Edgar DeLange) in the spring of 1934.

Loesser formed a songwriting partnership with composer Irving Actman, and they began performing their songs at the Back Drop nightclub. Some of the songs were featured in the short-lived Broadway revue The Illustrators’ Show in January 1936, which led to the team being signed to Universal Pictures; they left for Hollywood in the spring. In the fall, Loesser married singer Lynn Garland (real name Mary Alice Blankenbaker). They had two children; their daughter, Susan Loesser, later wrote her father’s biography. Loesser and Actman wrote songs for only a few films during their six-month tenure at Universal, after which Loesser freelanced during most of 1937, finally landing a deal at Paramount, where he remained under contract until 1949. His first Paramount film, Blossoms on Broadway, was released in December 1937.

Loesser came into his own as a lyricist for the movies in 1938. He contributed to eight feature films released during the year and scored six entries on the hit parade. College Swing, released in April, contained two hits, “How’d Ja Like to Love Me” (music by Burton Lane) and “I Fall in Love with You Every Day” (music by Manning Sherwin and Arthur Altman); both were recorded by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orch. “Says My Heart” (music by Lane), which topped the hit parade in June for Red Norvo and His Orch. with Mildred Bailey on vocals and became one of the biggest hits of the year, came from the film Cocoanut Grove.In August, Bing Crosby sang “Small Fry” (music by Hoagy Carmichael) in Sing, You Sinners, scoring a record hit with it in a duet with Johnny Mercer in October. That same month, Loesser and Carmichael’s independent song “Heart and Soul” entered the hit parade for the first of ten weeks in a recording by Larry Clinton and His Orch., and in November their “Two Sleepy People” from the film Thanks for the Memory began a 12- week run in the chart for Fats Waller.

In 1939, Loesser had songs in 15 motion pictures. Some Like It Hot, released in May, brought him a hit in “The Lady’s in Love with You” (music by Burton Lane), which was recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orch. and spent nine weeks in the hit parade, while Man about Town, released in June, featured “Strange Enchantment” (music by Frederick Hollander), sung by Dorothy Lamour, whose recording reached the hit parade that month. Loesser wrote songs for another 15 films released in 1940, resulting in the hit “Say It” (music by Jimmy McHugh) for Glenn Miller, which was in the April release Buck Benny Rides Again.He had songs in 11 films released during 1941, among them the Oscar-nominated “Dolores” (music by Louis Alter) from the March release Las Vegas Nights, in which it was performed by Tommy Dorsey and His Orch. featuring Frank Sinatra on vocals; it was given Top Ten recordings by both Dorsey and Bing Crosby He also provided the title song for the August release Kiss the Boys Goodbye (music by Victor Schertzinger), another hit for Dorsey.

The two hit songs featured in the July 1942 release Sweater Girl, on which Loesser collaborated with Jule Styne, both made the charts long before the film appeared: “I Said No!” peaked in the Top Ten for Alvino Rey and His Orch. in February, and “I Don’t Want to Walk without You” was a Top Ten hit for Harry James and His Orch. in March. Loesser’s next hit, “Jingle Jangle Jingle” (music by Joseph J. Lilley), also scored in advance of the film in which it was featured. The song reached #1 in July for Kay Kyser and His Orch., selling a million copies, then was used in The Forest Rangers in October. That month, Kyser scored a million-selling Top Ten hit with the war-themed “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!,” Loesser’s first notable song for which he wrote both music and lyrics. Collaborating with Jimmy McHugh on the songs for the film Seven Days’ Leave, released in December, he scored three minor hits, “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” which was recorded by Kyser, and “A Touch of Texas” and “I Get the Neck of the Chicken,” both recorded by Freddy Martin and His Orch.

Loesser joined the army in 1942. He spent World War II writing songs for radio broadcasts and service shows that were performed at bases in the U.S. and England. He still managed to work on the occasional movie, however, at least during the first year of his enlistment when he was stationed on the West Coast. Collaborating with Jimmy McHugh, he contributed to the March 1943 release Happy Go Lucky, including the Top Ten hits “’Murder,’ He Says” (for Dinah Shore) and “Let’s Get Lost” (for Kay Kyser) and the minor hits “The Fuddy Duddy Watchmaker” (for Kyser) and “Sing a Tropical Song” (for The Andrews Sisters). “In My Arms” (music by Ted Grouya) peaked in the Top Ten for Dick Haymes in August, then turned up in the film See Here, Private Hargrove in March 1944. The all-star film Thank Your Lucky Stars, released in the fall of 1943, found Loesser collaborating with Arthur Schwartz and scoring Top Ten hits with the Academy Award nominee “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” (for Jimmy Dorsey), and “The Dreamer” and “How Sweet You Are” (both for Kay Armen and the Balladiers).

Perry Como scored a minor hit in January 1944 with “Have I Stayed Away Too Long?,” for which Loesser wrote both music and lyrics; in March, Hildegarde had a minor hit with “Leave Us Face It (We’re in Love),” which Loesser and Abe Burrows wrote for the radio series Duffy’s Tavern.“Feudin’ and Fightin’,” a Burton Lane song featured in the Broadway revue Laffing Room Only (N.Y., Dec. 23,1944), to which Loesser contributed some lyrics, went on to become a Top Ten hit for Dorothy Shay in September 1947. But Loesser, now stationed in N.Y., spent most of 1944 and 1945 writing such service revues as About Face! (Camp Shanks, N.Y., May 26, 1944) and Hi, Yank! (Fort Dix, N.J., Aug. 7, 1944).

Back in Hollywood after his discharge in 1946, Loesser worked at MGM with Johnny Green on The Day Before Spring, which was not produced. In March, “Wave to Me, My Lady” (music and lyrics by Loesser and William Stein) reached the pop and country charts for Elton Britt, becoming a Top Ten country hit. Thereafter, Loesser rarely wrote with a musical collaborator. His first released film for which he wrote both music and lyrics was the box office hit The Perils of Pauline, which appeared in July 1947. Betty Hutton, who starred in the film, recorded one of the four Top Ten versions of “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” though the more popular records were by Vaughn Monroe and His Orch. and Dinah Shore; the song was nominated for an Academy Award. Also in July, “Bloop-Bleep,” an independent song by Loesser, was a minor hit for Alvino Rey. Variety Girl, released in October, was the second film with an all-Loesser score; from it, “Tallahassee” became a Top Ten hit for Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters.

Loesser was hired to write songs for the Broadway musical Where’s Charley?, which opened in the fall of 1948. It ran 792 performances and featured “My Darling, My Darling,” which became a #1 hit for Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae, and “Once in Love with Amy,” a hit for the show’s star, Ray Bolger. In November, Kay Kyser sold a million copies with the most popular of four Top Ten versions of Loesser’s “On a Slow Boat to China,” an independent song.

Returning to Hollywood, Loesser contributed a few songs to the box office hit Neptune’s Daughter, released in June 1949, among them “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (a duet of seduction he’d actually written years earlier as a piece to perform with his wife at parties), which was given Top Ten treatments by the teams of Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark, Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer, and Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, and won the Academy Award for Best Song. He also appeared in and wrote songs for the October 1949 release Red, Hot and Blue, including “(Where Are You) Now That I Need You,” which Doris Day and Frankie Laine each recorded for minor hits.

In 1950, Loesser wrote the lyrics for the independent song “Hoop-De-Doo” (music by Milton DeLugg), with which Perry Como topped the charts in June. He wrote a film score for the Fred Astaire-Betty Hutton vehicle Let’s Dance, then returned to Broadway for Guys and Dolls.Opening in November, the show ran 1,194 performances, one of the longest runs for a musical up to that time; it also won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The original cast album, which featured such favorites as “I’ll Know” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” hit #1 in March 1951, and the biggest hits to emerge from the score were “A Bushel and a Peck,” taken into the Top Ten by the team of Perry Como and Betty Hutton, and “If I Were a Bell,” with which Frankie Laine reached the charts.

A film version of Where’s Charley?, using most of Loesser’s score, was released in June 1952. In October the Four Aces had a chart revival of “Heart and Soul.” The box office hit Hans Christian Andersen, the last original movie musical for which Loesser wrote music, appeared in November. From the score, Julius LaRosa hit the Top Ten with “Anywhere I Wander” and the duo of Doris Day and Donald O’Connor charted with “No Two People,” while “Thumbelina” earned Loesser his fifth Academy Award nomination.

Loesser spent most of the period 1953–56 working on the ambitious musical The Most Happy Fella, for which he wrote the libretto as well as the music. But he also wrote a title song (not used in the film itself) to promote the October 1955 release The Trouble with Harry; it reached the charts in January 1956 for Alfi and Harry (actually comedian David Seville, whose real name was Ross Bagdasarin). And he added a few new songs to the film version of Guys and Dolls, a box office hit upon its release in November 1955, among them “A Woman in Love,” which the Four Aces took into the Top 40, and “Pet Me, Poppa,” a chart record for Rosemary Clooney. (Concurrent with the film’s distribution, Sammy Davis Jr.reached the charts with a revival of “I’ll Know.”)

The Most Happy Fella opened in the spring of 1956 and ran 676 performances. Prior to the opening, the Four Lads had recorded “Standing on the Corner,” which reached the Top Ten in May, and Peggy Lee had recorded “Joey, Joey, Joey,” also a chart record. Frankie Laine’s version of “Don’t Cry” reached the charts in July. The original cast album, an unprecedented triple-LP box set containing the complete score, spent the month of August in the charts. The show had been coproduced by Loesser’s wife, Lynn. On March 4,1957, the couple was divorced. On April 29, 1959, Loesser married Jo Sullivan, who had been the female lead in The Most Happy Fella.They remained married until his death, and had two daughters; Emily, the younger, became a singer.

Loesser was next heard from in March 1960, when Greenwillow opened. The musical was a flop, running only 97 performances. “Heart and Soul” enjoyed two Top 40 revivals in recordings by the Cleftones and Jan and Dean in the summer of 1961. Loesser returned to Broadway in October 1961 with the satirical How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, which ran 1,417 performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Best Play of the Year. The cast recording spent 11 months in the charts and won the Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Show Album. Loesser wrote the instrumental score for the film adaptation, which was released in March 1967 with a soundtrack album that charted for several weeks.

Loesser’s subsequent efforts did not succeed. Pleasures and Palaces (Detroit, March 11, 1965) closed before reaching Broadway, and he worked on but abandoned another musical later in 1960s. He died of lung cancer in 1969 at the age of 59. He has been remembered primarily for his four successful musicals. All were mounted by the N.Y.C. Light Opera during the spring and summer of 1966. Guys and Dolls has had two major Broadway revivals. The first (July 10, 1976) featured an all-black cast; the second (April 14, 1992) ran 1,144 performances—almost as long as the original—and generated a cast album that made the charts. The Most Happy Fella also has had two Broadway revivals, a full-scale version (Oct. 11, 1979) and a two-piano intimate production (Feb. 13, 1992) that ran 244 performances. The Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying opened March. 23, 1995, and ran 548 performances. A stage version of Hans Christian Andersen, titled Hans Andersen, was mounted in London in 1974.

There have been two revues devoted to Loesser’s work: Perfectly Frank, which ran on Broadway in 1980, and Together Again for the First Time (Feb. 27, 1989), featuring Jo Sullivan Loesser and Emily Loesser, which ran Off-Broadway. Barry Manilow reached the Top 40 with a revival of “I Don’t Want to Walk without You” in 1980, and Don Henley’s rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” featured in the film Leap of Faith, spent six months in the adult contemporary charts beginning in September 1993.


(only works for which Loesser was a credited, primary songwriter are listed): films:Poetic Gems (1935); Postal Inspector (1936); The Man I Marry (1936); Blossoms on Broadway (1937); College Swing (1938); Spawn of the North (1938); Zaza (1939); St. Louis Blues (1939); Man about Town (1939); Hawaiian Nights (1939); Destry Rides Again (1939); The Llano Kid (1940); Seventeen (1940); Buck Benny Rides Again (1940); Dancing on a Dime (1940); Youth Will Be Served (1940); Seven Sinners (1940); At Good Old Siwash (1940); A Night at Earl Carroll’s (1940); Las Vegas Nights (1941); Sis Hopkins (1941); Manpower (1941); Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1941); Aloma of the South Seas (1941); Glamour Boy (1941); Sailors on Leave (1941); Mr. Bug Goes to Town, aka Hoppity Goes to Town (1941); This Gun for Hire (1942); True to the Army (1942); Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942); Sweater Girl (1942); Priorities on Parade (1942); Seven Days’ Leave (1942); Happy Go Lucky (1943); Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943); The Perils of Pauline (1947); Variety Girl (1947); Neptune’s Daughter (1949); Red, Hot and Blue (1949); Let’s Dance (1950); Where’s Charley? (1952); Hans Christian Andersen (1952); Guys and Dolls (1955); How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1967). musicals/ revues (all dates refer to N.Y. openings unless otherwise indicated): The Illustrators’ Show (Jan. 22,1936); Where’s Charley? (Oct. 11, 1948); Guys and Dolls (Nov. 24, 1950); The Most Happy Fella (May 3,1956); Greenwillow (March 8,1960); How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (Oct. 14, 1961); Hans Andersen (London, Dec. 17, 1974); Perfectly Frank (Nov. 30, 1980).


F. L. Song Book (N.Y, 1972); S. Loesser, A Most Remarkable Fella: F. L. and the Guys and Dolls in His Life: A Portrait by His Daughter (N.Y., 1993).

—William Ruhlmann

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