Alan Jay Lerner

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September/October 2018
by Marilyn Lester

Alan Jay Lerner is most famously linked with composer Frederick Loewe, with whom he created some of the theater’s most iconic musicals. Alan Jay Lerner’s warm and literate lyrics reflected his origins in urbanity and education.
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He was born in Manhattan on August 31, 1918 to a wealthy family of retailers. His rarefied education included the Bedales School in England, Choate in Connecticut, and the Juilliard School of Music in NYC. He graduated from Harvard College, where he began his musical theater career writing for the Hasty Pudding shows.

Lerner, mentored by Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein, met Frederick Loewe at the Lambs Club in 1942. Yet, one of the greatest and most legendary collaborations on Broadway began with failure. The Life of the Party (1942), What’s Up? (1943), and The Day Before Spring (1945) were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until 1947 that the team struck gold with Brigadoon. Two hits followed: Paint Your Wagon (1951) and My Fair Lady (1956). The 1964 film version of the latter, with a screenplay by Lerner, won seven Oscars. Lerner also wrote the screenplay and lyrics in 1958 for the film musical Gigi (with music by Loewe), which won nine Oscars, including best screenplay and song. Camelot (1960) was their last collaboration.

Yet, Lerner had written with others beside Loewe.
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His 1951 screenplay for An American in Paris won an Oscar and, in that same year, he worked with Burton Lane for the movie musical Royal Wedding. Lerner’s most successful project after Loewe was with Lane in 1965 for On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, but their 1979 musical, Carmelina, was not a success. Other collaborators included Kurt Weill on Love Life (1948), André Previn on Coco (1969), and Leonard Bernstein on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976). Lerner briefly worked with Richard Rodgers after the death of Oscar Hammerstein, but it was not a match.

Alan Jay Lerner died of lung cancer in New York City on June 14, 1986, with his eighth wife, actress Liz Robertson, by his side.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Chuck Prentiss

    In the late 1960’s, I was working for a small theatrical law firm which represented Alan Jay Lerner. One of my assignments was to handle the contract negotiations with Paramount Pictures to create a movie version of “Clear Day”, in which Paramount intended to star Barbara Streisand. After months of intense negotiations, the movie contract was finally concluded, and signed by all the parties. As a celebration gift, I gave the Paramount attorney a copy of the Original Cast recording of the show (which starred the other Babs — Barbara Harris). The following day, the Paramount attorney came back to me and said: “If I knew the score was so bad, I never would have given in to you so easily on so many points.” I replied: “Young man, stick to practicing law. You have absolutely no musical judgment or taste.” Paramount went on to create an absolutely adorable movie.

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