Who was Frank Loesser, and how did he contribute to the arts in America?
Frank Loesser (1910-1969), was from a musically-inclined German-American family who diverged from his elders’ emphasis on classical music in favor of more popular compositions often inspired by the lower echelons of society. As a lyricist, he strongly favored writing for stories that reflected those who existed on the fringes of American society and who succeeded through guile and manipulation. Loesser’s most recognized lyrics for musical comedy theater are found in “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” The former, based upon the short stories of New York journalist Damon Runyon about fictional underworld figures, and the latter, about an ambitious young employee of a large corporation who methodically rises from the depths to the top of that company, encountering all manner of office intrigue and Machiavellian machinations along the way, were very different in their approach to humanity, but both reflected Loesser’s interest in the comedic potential found in everyday struggles to succeed. The distinction between Loesser’s lyrics for the two musicals was described well by author Larry Stempel in his 2010 history of Broadway musical theater, Showtime. Contrasting Loesser’s lyrics for “How to Succeed” with those for “Guys and Dolls,” Stempel wrote:
“Songs were intrinsic to the show’s (“How to Succeed”) satirical agenda. So instead of garnering sympathy for the characters who sang them in the manner of “Guys and Dolls,” they served as transparent attempts to hid their characters’ faults.”
The cynicism prevalent throughout “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” was, as Stempel noted, passed on to Loesser’s successors, including Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s songs for “The Pajama Game” and “Damn Yankees,” both of which depicted mankind in less-than-flattering terms.
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