Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
Lyricist and librettist Oscar Hammerstein may have been the crowned king of the Broadway written word in the mid 20th century. But if there were one man who could rival him for the top spot, it would be Alan Jay Lerner. Lerner, along with composers Frederick Loewe and Burton Lane, helped write some of the best Broadway musicals from the 1940s and 50s, including My Fair Lady and Brigadoon. This hour, we’ll [celebrate Lerner’s centennial] and hear his songs like “On The Street Where You Live,” “Almost Like Being In Love,” and “Too Late Now,” sung by Tony Bennett, Shirley Horn, Frank Sinatra and more.
It’s The Songs Of Alan Jay Lerner, coming up next on Afterglow
I Could Have Danced All Night
Two versions of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Frederick Lowe and Alan Jay Lerner’s 1956 smash hit musical My Fair Lady. First, we heard a traditional jazz version from 1963 by Ella Fitzgerald and arranger Marty Paich, from her album Ella Sings Broadway. And just now, a cha-cha version from Peggy Lee, from her 1960 album Latin Ala Lee.
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re [celebrating the centennial of[ [exploring the songs of] lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, who helped write such Broadway musicals as My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Gigi.
Alan Jay Lerner was born in 1918 to a wealthy family in New York. His father was a bon vivant New Yorker, and took his son to dozens of Broadway shows growing up, which incited Alan’s love for the theater.
Lerner was being groomed for an education abroad in France and Italy, but when he was caught smoking a cigarette in grade school, he had to settle on a stateside education at Harvard instead. (Oh, the life of a rich New Yorker in the 20th century). While at Harvard, he hobnobbed with folks like John F. Kennedy and Leonard Bernstein, graduating in 1940, and entering life as a theatre composer.
He joined the Lambs Club, a prominent social club for actors in New York, and that’s where he met some of his mentors like Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, and Richard Rodgers, who encouraged him to become a lyricist. He knocked around for a few years writing radio shows and satirical reviews when in 1942, he met the elder Austrian-born composer Frederick Loewe, who invited Lerner to collaborate with him as a writing partner.
Lerner and Loewe’s first three musicals—The Life Of The Party, What’s Up?, and The Day Before Spring—were all flops. But finally in 1947, the two created a hit about a mythical Scottish town that appears once every century called Brigadoon. Brigadoon ran for over 500 performances on Broadway, and provided such standards as “Almost Like Being In Love.” Here’s that song now. This is Jo Stafford in 1947 with “Almost Like Being In Love,” on Afterglow.
Almost Like Being In Love
Jo Stafford with Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “Almost Like Being In Love,” from their hit musical Brigadoon. Stafford was one of a mess of singers who performed that in 1947, just when the musical premiered, along with Frank Sinatra, Mildred Bailey, and Mary Martin.
After Alan Jay Lerner put his name on the map with Brigadoon, he became quite in demand as a lyricist on Broadway. His next collaboration came the following year with establish veteran Kurt Weill and the show Love Life. The show was one of the first “concept musicals,” and Lerner wrote both the book and the lyrics. It was all about a married couple who does not age, trying to keep their love strong against the changing times over hundreds of years.
Here’s one of the songs from that musical performed by the underrated singer Kay Starr. This is “Here I’ll Stay,” on Afterglow.
Here I’ll Stay
Alan Jay Lerner and Kurt Weill’s song “Here I’ll Stay,” performed by singer Kay Starr. That comes from the 1948 musical Love Life written by Lerner.
By 1949, Alan Jay Lerner’s reputation around the industry was sizable, so he was brought to Hollywood to work for MGM as both a lyricist and screenwriter. His first assignment was to come up with a vehicle for Fred Astaire. The result was a screenplay for a musical comedy Royal Wedding. The 1951 film was about a fictional brother-sister performing duo (not unlike Fred and his sister Adele) who bring their show to London for an upcoming royal nuptials. Lerner also wrote the lyrics to the songs, with original music by composer Burton Lane.
We’ll hear a few of those songs now, beginning with a version sung by Jane Monheit in 2004. This is the Lerner and Lane song “Too Late Now,” on Afterglow.
Too Late Now
You’re All The World To Me
Two songs from the 1951 Fred Astaire MGM film musical Royal Wedding, written by Alan Jay Lerner and composer Burton Lane. We just heard Tony Bennett from his 1993 Fred Astaire tribute album Steppin’ Out with “You’re All The World To Me.” Before that, Jane Monheit from her 2004 album Taking A Chance on Love with “Too Late Now.”
Alan Jay Lerner spent some more time in Hollywood in the early 1950s as a screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay for the Gene Kelly film An American In Paris, based on songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Then in 1951, Lerner headed back to New York to write another music with Frederick Loewe. Their follow-up to their hit Brigadoon was the California gold rush musical Paint Your Wagon. It was a minor hit on Broadway, and a major flop when it made it to Hollywood in the late 1960s, but Paint Your Wagon did strike gold with a few good western songs, including “Wand’rin’ Star” <clip?> and this next tune.
Here’s Sam Cooke with Lerner and Loewe’s “They Call The Wind Maria,” on Afterglow
They Call The Wind Maria
Sam Cooke in 1961 from his album Swing Low with “They Call The Wind Maria,” from the Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane musical Paint Your Wagon.
Coming up after a break, we’ll hear more music by lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe, including their biggest hit musical My Fair Lady. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the music of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, one of the most important Broadway songwriters from the mid twentieth century.
After scoring hits with musicals like Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon, Alan Jay Lerner and his frequent writing partner composer Frederick Loewe teamed up yet again in 1956 for what would prove to be their biggest musical yet.
The idea to turn George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion into a musical actually came from a Hollywood producer named Gabriel Pascal. Pascal approached almost every songwriter in the business, but it was Lerner and Loewe who jumped on the idea. Lerner started working on the show in 1952, delayed by copyright troubles from the Shaw estate and by some writers block. Some songs from the new musical took Lerner weeks to complete, while others took less than an hour.
The result was the musical My Fair Lady, which opened on Broadway in 1956, and starred a young Julie Andrews as the unpolished flower girl Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as the mannered Henry Higgins. It was a smash hit, running for almost seven years and packed with memorable songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” and “Get Me To The Church On Time.”
Here are several songs from that show now, beginning with Mel Torme with “On The Street Where You Live,” on Afterglow.
On The Street Where You Live
Get Me To The Church On Time
I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face
Music from the award-winning musical My Fair Lady by composer Frederick Loewe and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner. We just heard Tony Bennett and Count Basie in 1959 with “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face.” Before that, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie in 1966 with “Get Me To The Church On Time.” That’s from the live album Sinatra At The Sands. And starting that set, Mel Torme with the Marty Paich Dek-tette with “On The Street Where You Live.” That’s from his marvelous 1960 album Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley.
Lerner and Loewe’s follow-up to My Fair Lady was another adaptation of the basic Pygmalion myth: wealthy man grooms an unsophisticated woman and eventually falls in love with her. Instead of using George Bernard Shaw as source material, Lerner and Loewe used French author Colette and her novella Gigi. Their musical Gigi was written first for the screen rather than the stage, and starred Leslie Caron in the title role and veteran French actor Maurice Chevalier. It was a massive hit, earning nine Academy Awards, including one for Lerner for his screenplay.
Here’s a song from that film musical now, as performed a few years later by Bing Crosby. This is Lerner and Loewe’s “Thank Heaven For Little Girls,” on Afterglow.
Gigi - Thank Heaven for Little Girls
Bing Crosby live on his radio program in 1960 with the Buddy Cole Trio. That was “Thank Heaven For Little Girls,” from the 1958 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe film musical Gigi.
After their impressive string of hits from Brigadoon to My Fair Lady to Gigi, Lerner and Loewe had one more success up their sleeve. It was Camelot, a stage adaptation of the King Arthur myth that became inextricably linked to the brand new Kennedy administration (Lerner and JFK were classmates at Harvard, too). Camelot opened to mixed reviews in 1960, despite its all-star cast of Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and newcomer Robert Goulet. Camelot would also prove to be the last of the important Lerner and Loewe collaborations—the two famously butted heads for 18 years, and unceremoniously went separate ways in the 1960s.
Here’s one of the most popular songs from Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, sung by perhaps an unlikely performer. This is Aretha Franklin in 1963 with “If Ever I Would Leave You,” on Afterglow.
“If Ever I Would Leave You” from the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot. That was Aretha Franklin in 1963 when she was still on the Columbia label, years away from becoming an R&B icon.
Alan Jay Lerner’s last big success came in 1965, teaming up again with Burton Lane for the musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. The musical was a moderate success, but the subsequent film starring Barbra Streisand in 1970 was a much bigger hit. After On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Lerner continued to work, although not nearly as successfully. He wrote the 1969 musical Coco about Coco Chanel with composer Andre Previn. He and Frederick Loewe buried the hatchet and wrote the songs for the 1974 film adaptation of the children’s book The Little Prince. He even worked with Leonard Bernstein in 1976 on a musical called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
None of these shows would reach the heights of his success with Burton Lane and Frederick Loewe in the 1950s and 60s, however.
To close off this tribute to Alan Jay Lerner, I’ll play two songs from the 1965 Lerner and Lane musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.
I’ll start with a singer and pianist who got even better with age, Ms. Shirley Horn. Here’s Shirley Horn from her 1991 album You Won’t Forget Me with the Lerner and Lane song “Come Back To Me,” on Afterglow
Come Back To Me
On A Clear Day
Two songs from the Alan Jay Lerner and Burton 1965 musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. We just heard Johnny Hartman with the title track, and before that, singer and pianist Shirley Horn with “Come Back To Me.”
Thanks for tuning into this tribute to Alan Jay Lerner on Afterglow.
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow