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Alan Jay Lerner born August 31, 1918, in New York, NY; died June 14, 1986; son of Joseph and Edith Lerner; married Ruth Boyd, 1940 (divorced 1947); married Marion Bell, 1947 (divorced 1950); married Nancy Olson, 1950 (divorced 1957); married Micheline Muselli Posso de Borgo, 1957 (divorced 1965); married Karen Gundersen, 1966 (divorced 1974); married Sandra Payne, (divorced 1977); married Nina Bushkin, 1977 (divorced 1980); married Liz Robertson, 1981; children: (first marriage) Susan, (third marriage) Jennifer, Lisa, (fourth marriage) Michael. Harvard University, B.S., 1940; studied at Juilliard School of Music. Frederick Loewe born June 10, 1901, in Vienna, Austria; immigrated to U.S., 1924; died February 14, 1988; son of Edmund and Rose Loewe; married Ernestine Zwerline, 1931 (divorced).
The songs of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe are some of the most popular and financially successful ever written. In the short-lived world of Broadway musicals, where shows can close before the end of their first performance, the songwriting team's My Fair Lady is not far short of an amazing phenomenon. After the musical opened in 1956, it ran for six years straight. While it cost more to produce than any show had up until that point, it made more money than any other had. Nearly 40 years later, the show still enjoys revivals.
Frederick Loewe seemed destined to write stage musicals. His father, Edmund Loewe, was one of Germany's favorite operetta stars. Fritz, as Frederick was called most of his life, began studying the piano at an early age and almost immediately began to create tunes and songs. He started performing publicly on piano when he was 13, and when he was 15, he published his first song, "Katrina," which sold two million copies.
After Loewe immigrated to the United States in 1924, he spent seven years traveling the country working at a variety of jobs to earn meal money; he played piano, boxed, and taught horseback riding throughout the midwestern and western states.
In 1931 Loewe arrived in New York City and wound up playing piano in the orchestra pits of Broadway musicals. He also began to write songs, a few of which were included in staged musical revues. In 1938 Loewe met Earle T. Crooker and with him collaborated on two musicals, Salute to Spring and Great Lady, neither of which was much of a success. While looking for a lyricist for another project in 1942, Loewe stumbled by chance into Alan Lerner at New York's Lambs Club.
Lerner was born more for business than show business, but he fell in love with the theater at an early age. His wealthy father, Joseph Lerner, who owned a chain of clothing stores, took his son to Broadway shows, exposing young Alan to all of the great songs and musicals of giants such as Rodgers and Hart, Kern and Hammerstein, and Cole Porter. Alan started piano lessons as a child and began to write songs as a teenager; he studied music at the Juilliard School of Music during the sumers of 1936 and 1937. While he was attending Harvard University, he contributed songs to the Hasty Pudding Club shows of 1938 and 1939. For two years after he graduated from college, he worked as an advertising copywriter and a radio script writer.
In his autobiography, The Street Where I Live, Lerner described how he met Fritz Loewe: "One day late in August of 1942, I was having lunch in the grill [of the Lambs Club] when a short, well built, tightly strung man with a large head and hands and immensely dark circles under his eyes strode to a few feet from my table and stopped short. His destination was the men's room and he had gone the wrong way. He turned to get back on the right road and suddenly saw me. I knew who he was ... a talented, struggling composer.... He came to my table and sat down. 'You're Lerner, aren't you?' he asked. I could not deny it. 'You write Lyrics, don't you?' he continued. 'I try,' I replied. 'Well,' he said, 'would you like to write with me?' I immediately said, 'Yes.' And we went to work."
Lerner and Loewe's first attempts were not very successful. Life of the Party, which they wrote in 12 days to meet a deadline, never made it to Broadway and neither did their second effort, What's Up. The Day Before Spring, their third work, actually made it on Broadway but closed early. The screen rights, however, were bought by Louis B. Meyer of MGM, and provided both of them with their first financial success. The pair kept working together and in 1946 began collaborating on Brigadoon. At first, they had problems finding producers; they sang through their score for some 58 separate prospective backers before finding enough money. The show opened in 1947 to rave reviews and garnered Lerner a Drama Critics Circle Award. Lerner and Loewe had less trouble finding backers for their next production, Paint Your Wagon, which opened in 1951.
For Lerner and Loewe, putting on a show was much more than simply writing melodies and lyrics for songs. They not only had to find backers, but also all of the other people to make a show work. When they decided to turn George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion into My Fair Lady, they put together more than the score. They hand picked the cast, director, choreographer, music director, and costume and stage designers, all before the writing was finished. After actor Rex Harrison agreed to play the male lead, Lerner and Loewe tailored the songs to fit his inexperienced singing voice; Loewe wrote quick tunes with lots of notes that were to be recited, rather than sung.
When rehearsals began, both Lerner and Loewe worked with the cast and staff, not only revising when necessary but also rehearsing the actors and consulting with the other directors constantly. With a budget of more than $400,000, My Fair Lady was the most expensive musical at that time. The most successful musical ever produced, it ran on Broadway for an unprecedented six years and won six Tony awards. The cast album of My Fair Lady became the best-selling album in the history of Columbia Records, an the best-selling cast album for any company.
Lerner and Loewe's next project was not for Broadway, but for the movies. Gigi, based on a book by the French author Colette, was first written as a film; only later, in 1974, did the pair bring it to stage. While the two would never again repeat the phenomenal success of My Fair Lady, Gigi was a hit that went on to win nine Academy awards. Their next work, Camelot, based on the Arthurian stories of T. H. White, opened shakily but then fared respectably.
After Camelot, Lerner and Loewe separated. Fritz Loewe retired to enjoy the money he had worked to so hard to earn, dividing his time between his house in Palm Springs, California, and the Mediterranean coast. He told the New York Times, "Too many people have gone in for this senseless chasing of rainbows. How many rainbows does one need?... [I am] having a wonderful time and writing a show is not fun. There is no reason for me to work now. I don't need the glory, I don't need money."
Alan Lerner, on the other hand, kept working. With composer Burton Lane he wrote On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965) and Carmelina (1979), with Andre Previn he wrote Coco (1969), with Leonard Bernstein, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976), and with Charles Strouse, Dance a Little Closer (1983). With the exception of On a Clear Day, which won a Grammy Award and was later made into a motion picture, none of the works achieved a considerable measure of success. In the early 1970s Loewe came out of retirement to write a few new songs for a stage production of Gigi and a complete score for the film version of The Little Prince, neither of which gained much popularity.
Although it is impossible to say exactly what it was, something special imbued the collaboration between Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. After Fritz met Alan, he would work with no other lyricist. Lerner tried but was never able to attain the same level of success with other composers that he achieved with Loewe. If they had written nothing else, My Fair Lady, which will probably live on in revivals indefinitely, would be achievement enough for both of their lives. As Gene Lees wrote in Inventing Champagne: The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe: "Ah, the songs! What a legacy to leave."
by Robin Armstrong
Lerner and Loewe's Career
Loewe worked variously as a pianist, boxer, and horseback riding instructor; played piano for Broadway musicals, beginning in 1931; collaborated with Earle T. Crooker on musicals Salute to Spring and Great Lady, late 1930s; Lerner contributed songs to Hasty Pudding Club shows, 1938 and 1939; worked as an advertising copywriter and radio script writer. Lerner and Loewe collaborated on first musical, Life of the Party, 1942; wrote first musical to make it on Broadway, The Day Before Spring, 1945; wrote My Fair Lady, 1956. Lerner later worked with other composers on several musicals, late 1960s-1980s. Loewe wrote new songs for stage production of Gigi and film score for The Little Prince, early 1970s.
Lerner and Loewe's Awards
Lerner, New York Drama Critic's Circle Award, 1947, for Brigadoon; Academy Award for best screenplay, 1951, for An American in Paris; New York Drama Critic's Circle Award, Donaldson Award, and Tony Award, all 1956, all for My Fair Lady; Academy Award for best screenplay and Screenwriters Guild Award, both 1958, both for Gigi; Grammy Award, 1965, for "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"; Loewe, Hollander Medal, Berlin, Germany, 1923; Tony Award, 1957, for My Fair Lady; Academy Award for best song, 1958, for a song from Gigi; Tony Award, 1974, for Gigi; together, inducted into Songwriter's Hall of Fame, 1971; Kennedy Center Honors, 1986.
- Selected scores Stage What's Up, 1943.
- The Day Before Spring, 145.
- Brigadoon, 1946.
- Paint Your Wagon, 1951.
- My Fair Lady, 1956.
- Camelot, 1960.
- Gigi, 1973.
- Film Gigi, 1958.
- My Fair Lady, 1964.
- Camelot, 1968.
- Paint Your Wagon, 1969.
- Scores by Alan Lerner (With Burton Lane) On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, 1965.
- (With Andre Previn) Coco, 1969.
- (With Leonard Bernstein) 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 1976.
- (With Charles Strouse) Dance A Little Closer, 1983.
- Film scores by Frederick Loewe The Little Prince, 1974.
- Ewen, David, Great Men Of American Popular Song, Prentice-Hall, 1970.
- Lees, Gene, Inventing Champagne: The Worlds of Lerner and Loewe, St.
- Martin's, 1990.
- Lerner, Alan Jay, A Hymn to Him: Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, edited by Benny Green, Pavilion Books, 1987.
- Lerner, Alan Jay, The Musical Theater: A Celebration, McGraw Hill, 1986.
- Lerner, Alan Jay, The Street Where I Live, W. W. Norton, 1978.
- The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie, Macmillan, 1986.
- Periodicals New York Times, October 1, 1964; July 9, 1993; January 9, 1994.
- New Yorker, January 17, 1994.
- Newsweek, June 23, 1986; December 20, 1993.
- Time, July 21, 1986; January 10, 1994.
- Variety, February 17, 1988.
Lerner and Loewe Lyrics
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