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Frank Loesser At 100: Celebrating A Broadway Legend

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Frank Loesser At 100: Celebrating A Broadway Legend

Frank Loesser At 100: Celebrating A Broadway Legend

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On Monday, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. is going to honor a man who helped invent and define the Broadway musical.

(Soundbite of song, Guys and Dolls)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky, you can bet that he's doing it for some doll. When you spot a...

SIMON: Frank Loesser, who wrote hard, smart musicals, including Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, had a career that lasted almost 40 years. He wrote more than 700 songs for stage and screen. Frank Loesser died in 1969. He would have been 100 years old this year.

There are events all over the country to recall, remember, cherish and highlight his work.

We're now joined by Jo Sullivan Loesser. Shes in our New York bureau, who was married to Frank Loesser.

Thanks very much for being with us, Jo.

Ms. JO SULLIVAN LOESSER (Widow of Frank Loesser): Well, its a great pleasure and thank you for asking me. I'm delighted to be here.

SIMON: How did you and Frank Loesser meet?

Ms. LOESSER: Well, I auditioned for the lead in Most Happy Fella. At that time I was in The Threepenny Opera, the one that was with Lotte Lenya and Bea Arthur, and they were looking for a soprano to sing the role of Rosabella in The Most Happy Fella. Now, I could sing it so I got the part. I auditioned -after auditioning for Mr. Loesser, I have to say, about 20 times.

SIMON: But how did getting the part lead to getting the part as Mrs. Loesser?

Ms. LOESSER: Well, mutual attraction - shall we put it in those terms?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LOESSER: I admired him very much and we just became closer and closer as the time went on. We both were married to other people and we both got a divorce and then we kept going together and Frank was kind of not figuring if he wanted to get married again, and I was thinking about it. But he didnt want me to sing or work anywhere. So finally I said, now, listen, Frank, I got to tell you something; we're going to have to get married and we're going to have to do it by May the 1st or I'm going to have to start working again because I need to do that. So we got married April 29th.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LOESSER: He held on as held off as long as he could, shall we say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah. You know, there's so much to talk - we could talk about, in reviewing Frank Loesser's career, I mean the same man would write one of my favorite songs of all time, "I Believe in You."

Ms. LOESSER: Oh yeah.

SIMON: From How to Succeed in Business," and then a very sentimental song, "Once In Love with Amy."


SIMON: And, of course, all the wonderful songs from "Guys and Dolls." May I tell you? I mean my favorite is "If I Were a Bell."

(Soundbite of song, "If I Were a Bell")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Well sir, all I can say, is if I were a bell I'd be ringing. From the moment we kissed tonight, that's the way I've just got to behave. Boy, if I were a lamp I'd light. And if I were a banner I'd wave.


Ms. LOESSER: That's wonderful. That really is a terrific song. They couldnt figure out what to do with it, exactly how to do it. And finally, when they decided that she should get just a little high and sing it, it worked perfectly. But, you know, you can't tell, Frank's songs, you never know that it's Frank wrote that, because each song he wrote is different than the others.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. LOESSER: I mean I dont take this away from anyone. I love Cole Porter but you know it's Cole Porter.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LOESSER: And I love Richard Rodgers but you know it's Richard Rodgers. But youre never quite sure if it's Frank Loesser. Because he wrote an English musical, which is "Where's Charley?" and then "Guys and Dolls," a Broadway musical, which is completely different, and then this big operatic piece, "Most Happy Fella," which you really had to sing your guts out, by the way. And he took five years to write that. And in that five years he wrote the score to "Hans Christian Andersen," which I think is one of his best scores.

(Soundbite of song, "The Ugly Ducking")

Mr. DANNY KAYE (Actor): (Singing) There once was an ugly duckling with feathers all stubby and brown. And the other birds in so many words said get out of town. Get out, get out, get out of town. And he went with a quack and a waddle and a quack in a flurry of eiderdown.

SIMON: And this is the same guy that wrote "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition."

Ms. LOESSER: That's right. And everybody forgets that he wrote "Heart and Soul." He wrote the lyrics to "Heart and Soul." Nobody knows that. I have to always tell everybody that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, I want to talk specifically about what's going to be performed at the Kennedy Center on Monday, because this is "Of Mice and Manhattan."


SIMON: And a very unusual premise for a show. Tell us about it.

Ms. LOESSER: One of the songs that Frank wrote was the story about a family of mice that live in the wall and they scream and yell and are having a fit because people have moved in the house.

(Soundbite of "Of Mice and Manhattan")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) We have people cried the mouse. We have people round the house. Just listen. Just listen and you'll hear. We have people round the place. Just imagine the disgrace. Just listen. Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Ms. LOESSER: So that's the start of it, and they have adventures all the way to try to find out where to go and live and what to do. And its a mother mouse and a little boy mouse and they meet a wise old owl, Frank wrote that, who lives at City Hall and knows everybody and helped everybody get elected.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I'm told we have a recording of you singing about the owl.

(Soundbite of recording)

Ms. LOESSER: (Singing) There's a wise old owl who's a wise old fowl on the top floor of City Hall. Oh his life is cream and peaches for the party writes his speeches and on Decoration Day he gives his all.

SIMON: So...

Ms. LOESSER: Yeah, that is the owl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: That's the Rahm Emanuel of his time, that owl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LOESSER: Yeah. He sure is. Its a very cute part in the show, by the way. He tells them what to do and tries to boss everybody, naturally. So these are all songs that Frank wrote and nobody knows them, and theyve never been in anything.

SIMON: Oh boy.

Ms. LOESSER: And I kept saying, weve got to do something about this. This has got to be a show, naturally.

SIMON: We're, by the way, speaking with Jo Sullivan Loesser, a Broadway leading lady and founder of Frank Loesser Enterprises, manages her husband's catalog of work.

Ms. LOESSER: May I mention, by the way, that we're going to do a revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"?

SIMON: That's great news.

Ms. LOESSER: With the gentleman, Mr. Harry Potter.

SIMON: With...

Ms. LOESSER: Daniel Radcliff.

SIMON: Daniel Radcliff is going to...


SIMON: going to play J. Pierpont? Really?

Ms. LOESSER: Yes, he is. He came to New York about a month ago and we did a reading, because he wanted to show me he could sing. And guess what?

SIMON: He can sing?

Ms. LOESSER: He really can. He sings terrific.

SIMON: Oh my...

Ms. LOESSER: He's enchanting.

SIMON: So I mean, can I talk - since I do love that song, "I Believe in You," can I ask you a question about it?


SIMON: Because, of course, a lot of people have heard that song and they think of it as a love song. And, of course, the context in which it's sung in the show is totally different. This is a man singing into the mirror, right?

Ms. LOESSER: Oh yeah. Uh-huh.

(Soundbite of song, "I Believe in You")

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) You have the cool clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth. Yet there's that upturned chin and the grin of impetuous youth.

SIMON: So how did that song come about? Do you have any idea?

Ms. LOESSER: Well, I know that Frank had trouble because had he written one really love song in this musical, it would've been wrong because it is a joke and everything is a takeoff on big business, so its got to stay in that realm. So he wrote "I Believe in You," but to take the curse off, shall we say curse, of the fact that it could be a love song, he has J. Pierpont Finch sing it to himself in the mirror and its really funny.

(Soundbite of song, "I Believe in You")

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Yet there's the bold, brave, spring of the tiger that quickens your walk. (Growls) Oh, I believe in you.

SIMON: Do you still sing his songs?

Ms. LOESSER: Yes, I do. I do. I dont sing a lot because enough is enough. But I'm going to sing Monday. I'm going to sing "Spring Will be a Little Late This Year." And then I'm going to sing with my daughter.

SIMON: Jo Loesser, founder of Frank Loesser Enterprises. She starred in Broadway musicals, including "The Most Happy Fella," "Guys and Dolls," both written by Frank Loesser. They were married. His work is being honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on Monday and around the country all this year.

Thanks so much, Jo.

Ms. LOESSER: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of song, "Brotherhood of Man")

Mr. ROBERT MORSE (Actor): (Singing) There is a brotherhood of man, a benevolent brotherhood of man. A noble tie that binds all human hearts and minds, into one brotherhood of man.

Your lifelong membership is free. Keep a givin each brother all you can. Oh aren't you proud to be in that fraternity? The great big brotherhood of...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. That's Robert Morse. I'm Scott Simon.

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