Ebb, Fred 1933 (?)-
EBB, Fred 1933 (?)-
PERSONAL: Born April 8, 1933 (birth year also cited as 1932, 1935, and 1936), in New York, NY; son of Harry and Anna (Gritz) Ebb. Education: Attended New York University; Columbia University, M.A., 1957. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting musical show albums.
ADDRESSES: Agent—International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.
CAREER: Lyricist and librettist. Worked previously as a trucker's helper for a hosiery company, worked in credit authorization, and as a baby-shoe bronzer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Emmy Awards from National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1973, for Liza with a Z, and 1975, for Gypsy in My Soul; Academy Awards (Oscars) from American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1974, for Norman Rockwell, and 1976, for "How Lucky Can You Get" from Funny Lady; Chicago received Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award from League of New York Theatres and Producers for book and lyrics, was a nominee for the Antoinette Perry Award for book of a musical, Grammy Award from National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for the album, and Golden Globe Award from Hollywood Foreign Press Association, all 1976; (with John Kander) Hammerstein Award from the York Theater Company, 2000; (with John Kander), Academy Award for best music, song, 2003, for "I Move On," from Chicago.
Flora, the Red Menace, first produced on Broadway at Alvin Theatre, May, 1965; revival with new songs produced in New York, NY, at Vineyard Theater, December, 1987.
Cabaret (also see below; score by John Kander; produced on Broadway at Broadhurst Theatre, November 20, 1966), Random House (New York, NY), 1967.
The Happy Time, produced on Broadway at Imperial Theatre, January 18, 1968.
Zorba (score by John Kander; produced on Broadway at Imperial Theatre, November 17, 1968), Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
(And author of book) 70, Girls, 70, produced on Broadway at Broadhurst Theatre, April 15, 1971.
(And librettist, with Bob Fosse) Chicago (also see below), produced, 1975.
In Person, produced in Chicago, IL, July 4, 1977; produced as The Act in New York, NY, October, 1977.
Woman of the Year, score by John Kander, produced on Broadway at Palace Theatre, March 29, 1981.
The Rink, produced on Broadway at Martin Beck Theatre, February 9, 1983.
(Lyricist) Cabaret, Allied Artists, 1972.
Norman Rockwell, produced, 1974.
(Lyricist) Funny Lady, Columbia, 1975.
(Lyricist) Lucky Lady, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1975.
(Lyricist) A Matter of Time, American International Pictures, 1976.
(Lyricist) New York, New York, United Artists, 1977.
(Lyricist) Diamonds (score), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1986.
(Lyricist) And the World Goes 'Round: The Songs ofKander and Ebb, Fiddleback Music/Tommy Valando, 1991.
(Lyricist) The Happy Time: Original Cast Recording (sound recording), RCA Victor, 1992.
(Lyricist) The Kiss of the Spider Woman (libretto), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1997.
(Lyricist) Steel Pier, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1998.
(Lyricist) The Complete Cabaret Collection: VocalSelections (vocal score, author's edition, revised), Carlin America/Hal Leonard (Milwaukee, WI), 1999.
(Lyricist) Chicago, Miramax, 2002.
Liza, produced June, 1970.
Liza with a Z, produced, 1972.
Ole Blue Eyes Is Back, produced, 1974.
Gypsy in My Soul, produced, 1976.
Baryshnikov on Broadway, produced, 1980.
(With John Kander and Greg Lawrence) ColoredLights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration, and All That Jazz, Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2003.
Writer for the television series That Was the Week That Was; lyricist for Off-Broadway musical Morning Sun; writer and director, Liza in Concert at Carnegie Hall, produced in New York, September, 1979.
SIDELIGHTS: For over three decades, lyricist Fred Ebb and composer John Kander have been creating some of Broadway's most famous musicals, including Cabaret, Zorba, and Woman of the Year. Ebb is particularly proud of Chicago, because he collaborated on the book of the popular play that became one of the most successful films of 2002 with the late Bob Fosse. Yet the team's success on stage, in movies and on television underscores the irony that their names are not as famous as those of such contemporaries as Stephen Sondheim or the late Michael Bennett. The relative anonymity, however, suits them fine. As Kander told Larry Kart in a Chicago Tribune interview with the partners, "Neither one of us lives what you might call a show business life. We work in the theater and we love that, but the things we find personally entertaining have nothing to do with that world."
"For me," Ebb said in the same interview, "a show consists of moments, and what you do is write those moments. You try to remain aware of the form of the piece, and then you just go. . . . I think that if you can walk away from a show and be proud of it, if you feel that you've satisfied your own intentions, then theoretically at least you have had a success. But I have to admit that's a very hard feeling to hang onto if they're taking the marquee down."
Ebb's childhood was an unlikely preparation for his later career, because there was little music played in the household. He fell in love with theater after he saw Al Jolson perform on Broadway in a musical. His inclinations in this direction were somewhat discouraged, however, when his family fell upon hard times. When Ebb was fourteen years old, his father, Harry, died. After his death, it was discovered that the senior Ebb's best friend had been embezzling from the family's dry goods business for years. Ebb and his mother were left practically penniless. He still managed to graduate as the valedictorian of his class at DeWitt Clinton High School, but when he informed his mother that he wanted to become a writer, she convinced him to enroll at New York University and study accounting.
While in college, however, Ebb changed his major to English and eventually obtained a master's degree in that subject from Columbia University. He worked his way through school with a string of odd jobs, including serving as a trucker's helper for a hosiery company, authorizing credit in a department store, and bronzing baby shoes. After finishing his degree, he traveled west, hoping to sell some short stories he had penned to Hollywood. He met with little success, and returned to New York with the burgeoning desire to become a songwriter.
A trumpet-playing friend of Ebb's introduced him to Phil Springer, with whom he subsequently created some popular tunes, including "Santa Baby." Over the next several years, Ebb wrote for nightclub acts, revues, and for the satirical television show That Was the Week That Was. In the early 1960s, music publisher Tommy Valando introduced him to pianist and choreographer Kander. Both had suffered recent failures—Ebb had provided lyrics for a soon-forgotten Off-Broadway musical called Midnight Sun. There was an instant rapport between the two men, and they composed their first song together, "Perfect Strangers," on the spot. Kander told People magazine: "A musician is supposed to improvise, but it's almost unheard-of for a lyricist. Yet Fred can improvise in rhyme and meter the way I can at the keyboard."
By 1965, the pair had come to the attention of famed Broadway director and producer Harold Prince. He asked them to write the songs for the Broadway musical Flora the Red Menace. Flora, a satire on bohemians, was set in 1930s Greenwich Village and marked the Broadway debut of seventeen-year-old Liza Minnelli, who would become Ebb's friend and frequent muse. The play opened to fairly tepid reviews and closed after eighty-seven performances, but it netted Minnelli a Tony award for outstanding actress. The day after Flora opened, Prince met with Kander and Ebb to make plans for their next project, Cabaret, a musical adaptation of John van Druten's play IAma Camera, which in turn was based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories.
Cabaret, the work that made Kander and Ebb famous, opened in November, 1966, and was a major critical and box office success. Cabaret is the story of an American performer living in Berlin between the two world wars and reflects the anti-Semitism and growing political tumult of those times. Cabaret had a Broadway run of 1,166 performances and captured the Tony Award as the season's best musical. The original cast recording won a Grammy Award and the 1972 film adaptation won eight Academy Awards. From this triumph, Kander and Ebb went on to work steadily together in the years that followed, collaborating on the musicals The Happy Time, Zorba, 70 Girls 70, The Act, and Woman of the Year.
One of the duo's greatest successes, the hit musical Chicago, started out its performance history being overshadowed by 1975's other big hit musical, A Chorus Line. Since then, however, concert versions, revivals, and an immensely popular film version which took the Oscar for best song, among other honors, have increased Chicago's fame. The story, which Ebb fine-tuned with Fosse, has its roots in history—a journalist's report on the murder trials of seven Chicago women in 1926. The material made its way to the big screen in earlier versions. As Edward Dorall, describing a Singapore production of the musical in New Straits Times, put it, "the action takes place mainly in prison and in the courthouse, and the cast [consists of] . . . two main and five minor murderesses, their crook lawyer Billy Flynn, Roxie's husband Amos, the prison matron Mama, softhearted reporter Mary Sunshine, and a mixed chorus of singing, dancing pimps, whores, and reporters, who also play small individual roles." "The show's joy," noted Jess Cagle in Entertainment Weekly, "its giddy, edgy personality—is rooted in its own gleeful mean streak, evident in the jazzy tunes and devilishly clever lyrics that never sound dated." Jon Burlingame, reviewing the 2002 film version in Daily Variety, maintained that "Any theater buff will tell you that no movie of a Broadway musical has been done right since 1776 thirty years ago," but that Chicago somehow "manage[s] to dodge the jinx."
Another of Ebb's notable musical collaborations with Kander is Kiss of the Spider Woman. Taking the pair's tradition of making musicals from non-traditional subject matter to new heights, Kiss of the Spider Woman centers on "a Latin American homosexual named Molina, in jail for seducing a minor," according to James S. Torrens in America. Molina "relieves his worst hours in prison by replaying in fantasy the roles of the movie actress Aurora," the Spider Woman of the title. These fantasies, Torrens continued, are "the counterpoint . . . to a prison-cell story, the tense interaction of Luis Molina . . . with a Marxist conspirator, Valentin Arregui, . . . whom they throw in with him." Dick Lochte in Los Angeles Magazine, praised Spiderwoman's score as "constantly surprising and consistently satisfying." Calling Spider Woman "the most rousing and moving musical to reach the West End since Miss Saigon," William A. Henry III in Time gleefully noted that "this musical must be among the first to feature torture, mutilation and threats of anal rape and is surely the first to portray one character washing another after a bout of diarrhea." Yet Henry also concluded that Spider Woman "is as much as anything a musical about the magic of musicals."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 21, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
America, November 20, 1993, James S. Torrens, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman, p. 21.
American Theatre, February, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, "The Difference between Kander and Ebb," pp. 10-13.
Back Stage, April 5, 1991, Roy Sander, review of And the World Goes 'Round, p. 30; November 22, 1996, David Sheward, review of Chicago, p. 40; May 26, 2000, Mike Salinas, "York to Give Kander and Ebb Hammerstein Award," p. 2; November 17, 2000, Esther Tolkoff, "Composers and Lyricists," p. 34.
Chicago Tribune, February 12, 1984.
Daily Variety, January 6, 2003, Jon Burlingame, "Chicago Dodges Musical Jinx," p. A12.
Entertainment Weekly, June 20, 1997, Jess Cagle, review of Chicago, p. 32.
Los Angeles Magazine, July, 1993, Dick Lochte, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman, p. 93.
New Republic, January 6, 1997, Robert Brustein, review of Chicago, pp. 26-28.
New Straits Times, April 18, 2000, Edward Dorall, "An Exciting Trip to Chicago."
Newsweek, May 5, 1997, Jack Kroll, Maggie Malone, review of Steel Pier, pp. 70-73.
New York Times, December 31, 1987.
Time, November 30, 1992, William A. Henry III, review of Kiss of the Spider Woman, p. 77; November 25, 1996, Richard Zoglin, review of Chicago, p. 102.
Variety, September 27, 1999, Robert Hofler, "Chicago Authors Win Judgment," p. 157; December 13, 1999, Charles Isherwood, review of Minnelli on Minnelli, p. 118.*