Born June 29, 1910 in New York, NY; died July 26, 1969 in New York, NY; married twice; second wife's name, Jo Sullivan.

When Broadway legend Frank Loesser died in 1969, he left behind a remarkable legacy: five musicals, including Guys and Dolls, and numerous hit songs sung by some of Hollywood's biggest stars in over 60 motion pictures. Loesser was as talented as he was prolific, many of his songs became standards in the repertoire of singers such as Frank Sinatra. Loesser won multiple Tony awards, an Oscar, and the Pulitzer Prize. The success he enjoyed during his lifetime has endured even after his death. In 1992, a full 23 years after Loesser's death, Guys and Dolls was revived on Broadway and won the Tony Award for Best Revival. A glowing review of that revival, in New York magazine, stated "The show has radiantly renewed the New York-Broadway love affair that used to be the symbol of the city's vitality."

Loesser grew up in New York surrounded by music. His father was a classical piano teacher and his uncle was both a respected pianist and a music critic. Loesser's burgeoning love of popular music was not well received by his family. By the time Loesser was in his early teens, he played both the harmonica and the piano. He was largely self-taught and was never to study the classical music loved by his father.

After high school, Loesser attended City College of New York. He abandoned his studies when the Depression hit, and for the next several years he held a variety jobs, among them, newspaper ad salesman and city editor for a New Rochelle, New York newspaper. It was during this stint as an editor that Loesser began writing sketches and radio scripts.

Loesser's first published song lyrics were "In Love With a Memory of You," which he co-wrote with the future president of Juilliard School of Music, the noted composer William Schuman. Loesser worked in vaudeville and was involved with the Ziegfield Follies of 1934, With Louis Hersher, Loesser wrote the lyrics and music for the film Poetic Gems in 1936. Around this time Loesser was doing a nightclub act, singing and playing the piano, in collaboration with the composer Irving Actman. The duo's contribution to The Illustrators' Show on Broadway in 1936 got the attention of Hollywood. This earned Loesser a contract with Universal Studios. Loesser made the move west and ultimately landed at Paramount.

In 1937, Loesser and Alfred Newman collaborated on the song "The Moon of Mankoora" for the picture Hurricane, That year he also worked on The Mysterious Crossing, Three Smart Girls and Turkey Dinner. In 1938 Loesser worked with Hoagy Carmichael, Burton Lane, and Manning Sherwin on the films College Swing, Men with Wings, and Thanks for the Memory. In 1939, Loesser did the Lawrence Welk theme song, "Bubbles In The Wine" with Bob Calame and worked on the movies Beau Geste, Destry Rides Again, Some Like It Hot, and St. Louis Blues.

When war broke out, Loesser found himself for the first time without a partner. Assigned to the Special Services division, Loesser was charged with providing lyrics for military troop shows. During his service, he worked with other composers and now began composing for himself. The result of his first solo effort was a hit, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" (1942), and the start of a long and successful career as both composer and writer. Loesser would soon enough be regarded as "more than just another pop tune writer from Hollywood."

Loesser continued to write for motion pictures, including Let's Dance, Neptune's Daughter, Red, Hot And Blue (Loesser made his only on-screen appearance here as the piano-playing gangster), Hans Christian Anderson, and My Son John. Additionally, in the late 1940s, he formed Frank Music Corp. through which he strove to identify and develop up-and-coming composers and lyricists. Jerry Ross, Richard Adler and Meredith Wilson, successful theater songwriters from the 1950s, are just three of the many talents whose careers were given a boost by Frank Music Corp.

Loesser's enormously successful career on Broadway commenced after the war when he was persuaded to create the music for Where's Charley? This musical, produced by Ernest Martin and Cy Feuer, opened on October 11, 1948, and was a smash. Two years later Loesser wrote the score for Guys and Dolls, a musical adaptation of Damon Runyan's fictional world of cardsharks, cheats, molls, and mobsters. Guys and Dolls opened on November 24, 1950 to critical acclaim. The musical cleaned up at the Tony Awards, winning the Best Musical, Best Score, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Choreographer and Best Book categories.

Loesser's next project was even more ambitious. He wrote both the score and the book for The Most Happy Fella. During the production, Frank had a sign made reading "Loud is Good" to remind the cast how he wanted the songs done. The play opened May 3, 1956 and ran for the next two years. Fella contained the hits "Standing on the Corner" and "Big D" and Columbia Records released a complete recording of the musical from start to finish. A first. It was during the run of The Most Happy Fella that Loesser fell in love with his leading lady, Jo Sullivan, who was to become his second wife.

Loesser was never content to repeat himself and his third Broadway endeavor was Greenwillow, a kind of "country music fable." Though it was nominated for several Tony Awards, it was not the success Loesser hoped it to be and it closed in 1960 after 95 shows. Greenwillow did, however, produce a hit some years later, when the song "Never Will I Marry" was covered by Barbra Streisand.

Undaunted by the disappointing reception to Greenwillow, Loesser undertook what was to be his next smash hit. On October 14, 1961, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying opened on Broadway. It was a huge success and ran for the next four years. The Pulitzer Prize-winning production included the hits "I Believe in You" and "Brotherhood of Man." The show also took seven Tonys, including Best Musical.

Singers were especially important to Loesser. He worked with some of the best on Broadway and in Hollywood. He was a perfectionist and had a precise idea of how his songs should be sung. He viewed the singers primarily as an "instrument through which he spoke to an audience". The strength of Loesser's opinions regarding how his music should be performed led to a falling out with Frank Sinatra, resulting in a lifelong grudge. Loesser's temper got the better of him on more than one occasion, leading to physical violence and, in one case, to leaving a show for a period. In the biography of her father, Susan Loesser has written "Singers had a strong effect on my father. He reviled them or he adored them or he married them." Both Loesser's wives were actress/singers.

A constant breakneck pace enabled Loesser to accomplish a phenomenal amount of superior and lasting work in his 59 years. It was a rare occasion that Loesser slept more than four hours at a time. The fruits of this labor are evident in the lasting quality of his work. In addition to the revival of Guys and Dolls, the nineties has seen a revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.

Frank Music Corp. is still in business and there have been recent releases of Loesser's music An Evening with Frank Loesser, a collection of demos from three of his Broadway shows, and Loesser by Loesser, a compilation of pieces sung by Jo Sullivan Loesser and family. Loesser's daughter Susan has published a biography of her father, A Most Remarkable Fella and as long as standards are played on the radio, Loesser's music will remain in the public consciousness.

by Kevin O'Sullivan

Frank Loesser's Career

Frank Loesser's Awards

Tony awards for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Choreographer, Best Book, 1950, for Guys and Dolls.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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