DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross.
A revival of the 1950 Tony-winning musical "Guys and Dolls" has just opened on Broadway. We are concluding our salute to its composer, Frank Loesser, by revisiting Terry's 2006 interview with his widow, Jo Sullivan Loesser. She starred in Loesser's 1956 production of "The Most Happy Fella" and became his second wife. Jo Sullivan Loesser told Terry what it was like to live with such a creative, driven husband.
Ms. JO SULLIVAN LOESSER (Widow): He was a handful. He used to go to bed at 12:00 at night and - around 12:00 - and get up at 4:00 in the morning. And from 4:00 in the morning till 8:00 in the morning he would write, and on a silent piano, thankfully. That's because a telephone couldn't bother him. He could write and compose and be completely clear about that. He would also get in the car, and you would drive him around, and he would write in the car because the telephone couldn't get to him too at the same time.
So then in the morning, when I would get up, 7:30, whatever he would be having a Martini, and I would be having a cup of coffee, because he'd been up for four hours. So he was having lunch and I was having breakfast. It was a kind of a funny arrangement.
GROSS: Frank Loesser was a kind of interesting singer himself. He recorded some demos that were a few years ago put together on CD. And I really love that recording. So I thought we could pause here and listen to one of them. I thought we'd hear him singing something he wrote for "Guys and Dolls" - "I'll Know." But before we here it, what did you think of these demos and did you have any of his demos when you were preparing to perform in "Most Happy Fella"?
Ms. LOESSER: No, we did not. We did not. But I put that, we put that album together to make sure that he sang. I thought he sang terrific. I mean, let's face it, he didn't have a very beautiful voice. But he certainly knew how to put a lyric over. You could see how important the lyrics were to him. And I think it shows on this album. I think its great fun to listen to.
GROSS: Me too. Let's hear it. This is Frank Loesser singing one of his songs from "Guys and Dolls" - "I'll Know".
(Soundbite of recording)
Mr. FRANK LOESSER (Composer): (Singing) I'll know when my love comes along, I'll know then and there, I'll know at the sight of her face how I care, how I care, how I care and I'll stop and I'll stare, and I'll know.
GROSS: That's Frank Loesser on an album of demo records that was put together called "An Evening with Frank Loesser." My guest is his widow, singer Jo Sullivan Loesser. We heard Frank Loesser singing one of his songs. What was his attitude towards singers and musicians who took liberties with either his lyrics or the music? And I'm talking about on their own records. I'm not talking about when they were appearing in a production of one of his shows.
Ms. LOESSER: I don't think he cared when they were on a record. I know that he used to say to me, oh, let him do that, that song is so famous it doesn't make any difference. That would happen often. But if you did decide that you were going to do something and change the way you sang or whatever, his rhythm or whatever he wrote in a show, then there was a lot of trouble. And in "How to Succeed" he had such a fight with Rudy Valli. You know, Rudy Valli had been singing for many, many years and said, Listen, I don't need anybody to tell me how to sing a song. Well, Frank said, Well, you're going to sing my song this way.
They almost came to blows. But the fact was that Frank quit the show. Which I - when he came home I said to him, I think you've gone a little far this time, Frank, for God sakes. But he quit the show and they had to beg him and cajole him to come back, and of course he did. And then when they were recording, when they made the movie of "Guys and Dolls," Frank Sinatra would not sing the song the way Frank wanted him to. And Frank wrote him a great song called "Adelaide," and Sinatra and he never spoke after that. They had such a fight that they never spoke after that movie.
GROSS: What exactly was the fight about?
Ms. LOESSER: Because Sinatra would not sing Frank's songs the way he wanted him to.
GROSS: Melodically or lyrically?
Ms. LOESSER: He was a crooner more than that, and Frank didn't like it, didn't think it suited the part.
Ms. LOESSER: And I think he was right.
GROSS: So who won in the movie of "Guys and Dolls"? Was it Sinatra or Frank Loesser?
Ms. LOESSER: I think that Sinatra sang it the way he wanted to.
GROSS: Now, your husband, Frank Loesser, died at - what was he, 59?
Ms. LOESSER: 59 years old, yes.
GROSS: Of lung cancer, after you were married about 10 years.
Ms. LOESSER: Yes, we were.
GROSS: And he left to you - what, his publishing company? Which was publishing rights to all of his songs?
Ms. LOESSER: Yes, yes, he left to me his publishing company. He was a superb businessman. And he built himself up a little empire and he left me a company that leased shows to all the schools and stock and everything, and his publishing company, and in that publishing company he had many young composers that he had helped and sponsored their careers; and one is Richard Adler and - who wrote "Pajama Game" with Jerry Ross, and Meredith Wilson, Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, and Charlie Strauss. And all of these young men he helped. And I really admired that a great deal. Frank was always - Frank's model for composers was improve the breed.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LOESSER: And he tried too.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LOESSER: And I wish people would do that today. I wish somebody would really help all these wonderful young composers that are coming up and give them money so they can write and they can work. So I wish somebody would do that.
GROSS: So what were some of the difficult decisions you had to make about rights to his songs and rights to his musicals?
Ms. LOESSER: Well, I remember that he told me - first of all, we never allowed anyone to sing "Adlai's Lament" on television. And Frank told me that don't let them sing the big songs too much. Save them for big moments because they'll ruin it. So I keep "Luck Be a Lady" - every week two or three times somebody calls and wants to do "Luck Be a Lady," and I don't let them do it. Very, very seldom do I.
GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.
Ms. LOESSER: And thank you so much for asking me. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
BIANCULLI: Jo Sullivan Loessar, speaking with Terry Gross in 2006. Coming up, a salute to playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote, who died earlier this week.
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