Henry Frank Loesser
BORN: June 29, 1910, New York, NY
DIED: March 28, 1969, New York, NY
A respected Broadway name due to his Guys and Dolls and How to
Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a composer who wrote half
a dozen wartime songs including "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,"
a Hollywood lyric-writer for several 1940s films -- it appears that Frank
Loesser had several careers packed into his one life. Born into a musical
family in New York City in 1910, Loesser refused formal training, however,
deciding instead to learn by himself while at the piano. Never serious about
a show-business career, he dropped out of college to work at a series of
jobs including office boy, reporter, inspector, advertising salesman and
part-time vaudevillian. After selling one song to a fellow performer, he
earned a job as a lyric-writer in Tin Pan Alley, and first published in 1931.
Though Fats Waller recorded another of his early-'30s compositions,
"I Wish I Were Twins," Loesser was unsuccessful and had to augment his income
by singing at a 52nd St. nightspot.
In 1936, Frank Loesser decided that he could make his fortune in Hollywood;
after signing a contract with Universal, he was released less than a year
later, but found success soon after with "The Moon of Manakoora," sung by
Dorothy Lamour in 1937's The Hurricane. Several moderate film hits
followed during the late '30s and early '40s ("I Fall in Love with You Every
Day," "The Boys in the Back Room," "Kiss the Boys Goodbye"), all composed
with a variety of musical collaborators.
Loesser's transition into true popular success came in 1942, just after
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Writing a song around an overheard comment
and composing a few notes of music to aid in the lyrical flow, Loesser came
up with "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." After being published in
1942, the song sold several million copies (including copies of sheet music)
during the war years, with hit versions recorded by Kay Kyser and Merry
Macs. Loesser later joined the military, and continued to to compose more
service-related songs, including "First Class Mary Brown," "The WAC Hymn,"
"What Do You Do in the Infantry?" and "Salute to the Army Air Force."
At the end of World War II, Loesser continued to write in Hollywood (earning
an Academy award in 1949 for "Baby It's Cold Outside" from Neptune's Daughter),
but he also returned to Broadway, composing the score to 1948's Where's
Charley? as a dry run for his biggest success, 1950's Guys and Dolls.
The musical ran for over 1,200 performances, was continually revived on and
off-Broadway, and became a feature film in 1955 starring Frank Sinatra and
Marlon Brando. The Most Happy Fella followed in 1956, and was the
first for which Loesser composed the libretto as well as the score. It was
a moderate success, as was 1960's Greenwillow. Loesser's second triumphant
production came in 1961, when How to Succeed in Business Without Really
Trying captured a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony, and Drama Critics Circle award
for best musical of the season. Loesser's last production (Pleasures and
Palaces) was a failure, but the 1967 film version of How to Succeed
in Business was enough to make most forget. Frank Loesser died of cancer
in 1969. ~ John Bush, All Music Guide
American composer Frank Loesser is more closely associated with Broadway
thanks to his classic quartet Where's Charley (1948), Guys and
Dolls (1950), Most Happy Fella (1956) and How to Succeed in
Business without Really Trying (1961). From 1938 through 1949, however,
Loesser toiled almost exclusively in Hollywood, farming out his services
to studios both big and small. Since Loesser was one of those rare birds
who wrote both music and lyrics, he came in handy in the B-picture field,
where a solo composer was a lot more attractive financially than a team.
On more prestigious projects, however, Loesser did work in collaboration:
With Alfred Newman, he wrote "Moon of Manakoora" for Goldwyn's The Hurricane
(1939), while he was teamed with Frederick Hollander for such Destry Rides
Again (1939) ditties as "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have."
Largely unknown by name until the 1942 hit "Praise the Lord and Pass the
Ammunition," Loesser became increasingly famous during his years at Paramount
Pictures on the strength of such songs as "I Don't Want to Walk Without You,
Baby," and "Jingle Jangle Jingle." 1949 was a particularly felicitous year
for Loesser: He not only won the Academy Award for "Baby It's Cold Outside"
(from MGM's Neptune's Daughter) but also made his screen acting debut
as a gangster in the Betty Hutton vehicle Red, Hot and Blue
(1949). After composing such tunes as "Copenhagen," "Thumbelina" and "Inchworm"
for Goldwyn's Hans Christian Andersen (1952), Loesser directed his
energies almost exclusively to the Broadway stage (with a few sidetrips into
TV commercial jingles). Frank Loesser's last direct-to-screen work consisted
of three new songs for the 1955 film version of Guys and Dolls. ~
Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide