‘Camelot’ And ‘My Fair Lady’ Composer Frederick Loewe Dies At 86
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Composer Frederick Loewe, who teamed with lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to enchant audiences with classic musicals like ″Gigi,″ ″Camelot,″ ″My Fair Lady″ and ″Brigadoon,″ has died at age 86.
The surviving member of one of the most successful collaborations in American musical history died on Valentine’s Day of heart failure, said his guardian and friend, John Morris.
Lerner and Loewe produced such songs as ″Almost Like Being in Love,″ ″I Could Have Danced All Night,″ ″On the Street Where You Live,″ ″I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face″ and ″If Ever I Would Leave You.″
Loewe, known as Fritz, died Sunday at 1:51 p.m. at Desert Hospital, said a nursing supervisor. The composer was hospitalized Wednesday with chest pains.
″He was a fantastic man, an eccentric and an adventurer,″ said actor- dancer Gene Kelly, who appeared in the movie version of ″Brigadoon.″
″I was lucky to do ‘Brigadoon’ because it was a singer’s picture,″ said Kelly. ″But Frederick helped make it a dancer’s picture with my small Irish tenor called upon to sing all those wonderful songs.″
When Lerner died in 1986, Loewe said: ″It won’t be long before we’ll be writing together again. I just hope they have a decent piano up there.″
″Fritz was a great friend and a great man,″ Morris said.
A public funeral was likely, he said, adding that comedian Red Skelton has written ″a most beautiful eulogy.″
Lerner and Loewe’s partnership began with a one-night flop in Detroit in 1942. They parted bitterly after ″Camelot,″ their last Broadway hit, in 1960. After a 1973 reunion for the Broadway production of ″Gigi,″ originally written in 1958 as a movie, they remained friends.
At a gala in their honor in 1979, Lerner said of his partner: ″A collaboration as intense as ours inescapably had to be complex. But I loved him more than I understood and misunderstood him, and I know he loved me more than he understood or misunderstood me.″
Loewe was born June 10, 1901, to a distinguished musical family in Vienna, Austria.
The boy began piano lessons at age 5 and composition at age 7. At 13 he became the youngest pianist to appear as soloist with the Berlin Symphony. Loewe was 15 when he published ″Katrina,″ a song that sold 2 million copies on sheet music in Europe.
Loewe came to the United States in 1924 with hopes for a career as a piano soloist. After his debut recital at Town Hall in New York was ignored, he played piano in clubs and movie houses and even worked as a busboy.
Later he wandered the country prospecting for gold, herding cattle, delivering mail on horseback and teaching riding at a New Hampshire resort. As a bantamweight boxer in Brooklyn, he won eight of nine professional bouts.
In 1931, Loewe married Ernestine Zerline, whom he divorced after 26 years together with no children.
After more songwriting attempts, he accepted an offer from a stock company in Detroit to adapt a farce, ″The Patsy,″ and invited Lerner to do the lyrics.
That first collaboration, retitled ″Life of the Party,″ ran one performance, and the stock company collapsed.
Lerner’s fascination with the Scottish writer Sir James Barrie led to the team’s first hit show, ″Brigadoon,″ and their first hit song, ″Almost Like Being in Love,″ in 1947.
″Brigadoon″ ran 581 performances, was made into a film in 1954, was revived in 1980 and was part of the New York City Opera’s repertory in 1986.
Loewe and Lerner went their separate ways for a time, but reunited in 1951 to produce ″Paint Your Wagon.″
Next came ″My Fair Lady,″ a musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s ″Pygmalion.″ With a cast including Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, the show began a record-setting, 2,717-performance run on March 15, 1956 and won Loewe the first of two Tony Awards.
″I Could Have Danced All Night″ and ″On the Street Where You Live″ were two immediate hits. Lerner and Loewe reportedly needed just 10 minutes to write another memorable song, ″The Rain in Spain.″
Including the 1964 film adaptation, which won several Academy Awards including best picture, ″My Fair Lady″ has been estimated to have earned $800 million.
Meanwhile, the team produced a film musical, ″Gigi,″ based on a novella by Colette. Produced in 1958, it was the first film to win nine Academy Awards, including an Oscar to Loewe as co-writer of the title song.
Loewe suffered a major heart attack at the time the film opened, delaying work on the next project, ″Camelot.″
That show was marred by illness and discord. Director Moss Hart suffered a heart attack and had to withdraw, Lerner suffered from bleeding ulcers and marital problems, and the relationship between Lerner and Loewe deteriorated. When the show was completed, Lerner later recalled, they parted without so much as a handshake.
Critics were hard on ″Camelot″ when it arrived on Dec. 1, 1960, but it was greatly loved by President John F. Kennedy, and his short-lived administration was later dubbed Camelot by admirers who cited the lyrics’ reference to ″one brief and shining moment.″
Loewe had no survivors.