Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 13, 2018


THE MUSICAL WORLDS OF LERNER AND LOEWE. Gene Lees. University of Nebraska Press; 2005.

Lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe combined their talents to come up with such memorable shows and films as Paint Your Wagon, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Gigi, which was written for the screen before becoming a Broadway show many years later. Lerner also did the screenplays for An American in Paris and Royal Wedding (he also contributed lyrics to Burton Lane's music), in addition to his screenplays for the often mediocre film versions of the Broadway shows. Lerner's other collaborators included the aforementioned Lane [On a Clear Day You Can See Forever] and Charles Strouse, resulting in Dance a Little Closer, which, unfortunately, opened and closed on the same night. If you're expecting a dry recitation of the credits of the two gentlemen, you'll be pleasantly surprised. because this book is a dishy, intensely readable, even suspenseful look at the work and often messy private lives of these two musical giants. Loewe had only one marriage and divorce, but after his retirement spent his days with a variety of young women, while Lerner was married and divorced over and over again. Lerner became one of the patients of a Dr. Feelgood who gave him injections that negatively affected his health, work and thought processes. Such composers as Richard Rodgers  had to throw up their hands waiting impatiently for Lerner to deliver material, although Lerner managed to complete one work with Leonard Bernstein, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Frederick "Fritz" Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner
The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe goes behind the scenes, often in great detail, exposing the struggles to get Rex Harrison to deliver -- which he eventually did -- for My Fair Lady, the battles over Camelot, and the disastrous making of the godawful film version of Paint Your Wagon, among other highlights. Lerner's eight marriages are scrutinized, including his union to the only ex-wife he hated and wouldn't even name in his memoirs, Micheline, and his apparently very happy marriage to the much-younger and talented Liz Robertson, who starred in the ill-fated Dance a Little Closer and was with him until his death. (While Lees provides backstage info on that production, I do wish he had spent more time discussing the inclusion of the gay male couple who want to get married -- decades before marriage equality -- making Dance a Little Closer ahead of its time in that regard at least. This situation gets no less than three different song numbers, but Lees dismisses the "homosexual airline employees who want to get married" -- along with all of the other characters it must be noted --  as being unlikable.)  Lees makes the point that Lerner, being born into a wealthy family, had no true understanding of people from the lower classes. He also correctly surmises that, sadly, the days of Lerner and Loewe (the latter with his rich Viennese-influenced scores) are over, with Broadway now given over to pop and rock musicals and Disney movie adaptations, more's the pity. Some of  Lees' opinions can be surprising, especially when he states that Paint Your Wagon has only one memorable song, "They Call the Wind Mariah," (ignoring "Wand'rin Star" and others, although, oddly he does mention the beautiful "Another Autumn" later on in the book).

Verdict: A must-read for Broadway, music, and film fans. ***1/2. 


angelman66 said...

I will look for this one! Looks like a good read!

William said...

It's actually a page-turner, which you wouldn't think!