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Totally Frank

A new website celebrates the life and work of Frank Loesser, one of Broadway's greatest composer-lyricists. logo

Frank Loesser in a 1950s Life magazine pictorial
"We've felt for some time that it's an unfortunate condition that the public doesn't know the name Frank Loesser as well as they should or as well as they know some of his contemporaries," Joseph Weiss, general manager of Frank Loesser Enterprises. "When people talk about the top five or six Broadway theater composers, his name often is left out, and I think that has a lot more to do with the fact that he hasn't been heavily promoted than with how people feel about the quality of his work."

The obvious solution to this problem, in this age of the internet, is a brand-new website dedicated to the brilliant gentleman who crafted both the music and lyrics for such shows as Guys & Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Where's Charley? before his death in 1969. Launched in January, is an excellent, long overdue repository of information on all things Loesser.

There can be little argument that Frank Loesser was one of Broadway's greats--especially given that he was equally skillful as a composer and lyricist, deserving of a place in the pantheon right up there in the vicinity of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Stephen Sondheim. Though the worth of each of Loesser's shows is beyond question, the fact that he was not as prolific as the above-named giants may be partly responsible for his relative lack of fame. "Also," Joseph Weiss points out, "when Loesser was alive, he was running a very successful publishing company, so a large part of his function was to promote other writers. He could have spent more time promoting himself, but that wasn't his sole concern. And he spread himself around a good deal, working as a producer and in other areas. He certainly had a lot going on in his career."

Each of Loesser's shows has its rabid fans; as for me, I'm partial to Happy Fella. But Guys & Dolls is generally considered to be the man's crowning achievement, a show beloved even by people who don't generally care for musicals. "I don't know anybody who doesn't like Guys & Dolls," says Weiss. "You can't even say that about the other top three or four shows that are performed the most or are supposed to be the world's favorites. In my experience, Guys & Dolls, has the highest percentage of approval, no matter who you speak too. It's just a gem."

Weiss also has a fond place in his heart for one of Loesser's lesser-known properties, Where's Charley? The show was a hit in its original Broadway production with Ray Bolger in 1948 but has not been frequently revived. "One thing that has not worked in its favor is that the film version [also starring Bolger] disappeared pretty quickly," says Weiss. "There was a highly unusual circumstance in that Warner Brothers only had a 10-year license on the film. It did have some TV distribution, but I believe the last time it was shown on a New York television station was in the '70s. If the movie had been out there all these years, far more people would know what a cute piece it is and it would be produced more often."

It's worth noting that Encores! included "Once in Love With Amy" from the show in its Broadway Bash in November, which can probably be taken as a sign that Where's Charley? is under strong consideration for inclusion in the series. While fans look forward to that event--and, perhaps, to a new film version of Guys & Dolls?--they can revel in Weiss says that Loesser's widow, Jo Sullivan, was closely involved with the creation of the site and has had final approval over its contents in order to assure that this supremely talented gentleman is finally given his due.

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