Frank Loesser never studied music formally; his father was a distinguished German-born teacher of classical piano and his older brother, Arthur, a renowned concert pianist and music critic. He refused to study classical music, being interested in pop music, so he taught himself the harmonica then the piano. He attended Speyer and Townsend Harris Hall High Schools, then dropped out of City College in 1926 at age 16. His first jobs were as a process server, office boy, and city editor of a New Rochelle newspaper.
Loesser's first published lyric was "In Love With the Memory of You" (1931) with music by William Schuman, who later became president of the Juilliard School of Music. He sang and played piano in nightclubs and began writing lyrics to music by Irving Actman. They contributed five songs to a 1936 flop Broadway show, THE ILLUSTRATORS' SHOW, which ran only five performances. This exposure was enough to land him a contract, first with Universal, then Paramount, where he wrote his first film song, "The Moon of Manakoona" with Alfred Newman, for the Dorothy Lamour film THE HURRICANE (1937).
In 1937, he returned to Hollywood, this time to Paramount where he stayed for four years. He would go on to write lyrics for songs in over 60 films, including DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1948), THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943) and LET'S DANCE (1950).
Loesser worked with many other composers during this time, including Jule Styne, Arthur Schwartz, Jimmy McHugh, and Hoagy Carmichael.
During World War II, Loesser was assigned to Special Services, providing lyrics for camp shows with such composers as Harold Rome and Alex North. It was here he began his composing career in 1942 with the war-time hit, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition". In 1946, he again became a civilian.
Loesser may have been the only person to arrive in Hollywood as a lyricist and to leave as a composer. He once had an unprecedented three songs on the HIt Parade at one time: Heart and Soul, Small Fry and Two Sleepy People.
Among his most famous songs are:
Loesser wrote 5 Broadway musicals:
and a show that was headed to Broadway in 1965, PLEASURES AND PALACES, but which closed out of town, a famous flop directed by Bob Fosse.
WHERE'S CHARLEY was a George Abbott adaptation of the comedy CHARLEY'S AUNT; it was Ray Bolger's greatest stage success and included two hit Loesser songs:
GUYS AND DOLLS won seven Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Musical. It was made into a film by MGM in 1955 starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. It was revived on Broadway several times, most recently in 1992 when it won the Tony for Best Revival.
If you have Real Audio, click below for 30-second excerpts from the original cast album of GUYS AND DOLLS:
Loesser also wrote the book for THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. It ran for two years on Broadway and was the first show recorded in its entirety by Columbia Records. A London run followed in 1960. It was revived on Broadway in 1992 and added to the New York City Opera's repertory. It included such songs as:
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING won seven Tony awards including Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize. It was made into a film in 1967 with Rudy Vallee and Robert Morse from the original Broadway cast and was revived on Broadway in 1996 with Matthew Broderick in the lead.
If you have Real Audio, click below for 30-second excerpts from the original cast album of HOW TO SUCCEED:
His last screen musical was HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN (1952) starring Danny Kaye . Among the songs he wrote for this are:
A Songwriters' Hall of Fame member, Loesser reportedly slept only four hours a night, which may account for his prodigious output. In the late 1940s he formed his own music publishing company and was instrumental in furthering the careers of three successful theatrical songwriters, Richard Adler, Jerry Ross and Meredith Wilson. In addition, Frank Music Corp. published the music for WAIT A MINIM! while Frank Productions produced the Broadway version of this South African revue.
LOESSER had four children, a son and three daughters. He was 59 when he died on July 26, 1969, of lung cancer. Several CDs of his work are available, including
His daughter Susan has written a biography published in 1993 called A MOST REMARKABLE FELLA.
Facts for this webpage have been gleaned from THE FRANK LOESSER SONGBOOK published by Frank Music Corp. 1994.