Mark Steyn’s admiration of the work of Frank Loesser is manifest throughout his 2000 musical history Broadway Babies Say Goodnight: Musicals Then & Now. Mark opens his Wall Street Journal review of a new study of Loesser with a distincty Steynian post-9/11 tribute to Loesser:
Frank Loesser isn’t as famous a songwriter as Irving Berlin or Cole Porter, but, unlike them, he’s apparently responsible for this whole clash-of- civilizations thing. A few decades back, a young middle-class Egyptian spending some time in the U.S. had the misfortune to be invited to a dance one weekend and was horrified at what he witnessed:
“The room convulsed with the feverish music from the gramophone. Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips . . .”
Where was this den of debauchery? Studio 54 in the 1970s? Haight-Ashbury in the summer of love? No, the throbbing pulsating sewer of sin was Greeley, Colo., in 1949. As it happens, Greeley, Colo., in 1949 was a dry town. The dance was a church social. And the feverish music was “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser and sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban in the film “Neptune’s Daughter.” Revolted by the experience, Sayyid Qutb decided that America (and modernity in general) was an abomination, returned to Egypt, became the leading intellectual muscle in the Muslim Brotherhood, and set off a chain that led from Qutb to Zawahiri to bin Laden to the Hindu Kush to the Balkans to 9/11.
I’m a reasonable chap, and I’d be willing to meet the Islamists halfway on a lot of the peripheral stuff like burqas for women, nuking the Zionists, beheading the sodomites and whatnot. But you’ll have to pry “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from my cold dead hands and my dancing naked legs. A world without Frank Loesser and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” would be very cold indeed.
Click here for a video clip of the song from “Neptune’s Daughter,” click here for a clip of the magnificent Ray Charles/Betty Carter version of the song.
Mark also mentions “Loesser’s marvelously inspired opening to ‘Guys and Dolls’ — the ‘Fugue for Tinhorns.'” Mark observes that it “has a trio of gamblers each boasting that he’s ‘got the horse right here.’ In a way, it’s a brilliant musicalization of the source material — a ‘Broadway fugue’ is the perfect musical equivalent of the stylized vernacular Damon Runyon used in the stories that inspired the musical.” The clip of the “Fugue” below is from the film version of this greatest of American musicals. We saw a production of “Guys and Dolls” at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven a few years back and found it to be a show that still brings the house down.
Mark expresses regard for the new Loesser study, but it sounds like a somewhat academic affair. For those seeking a good introduction to Loesser, I strongly recommend A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life, the 1993 biography by Loesser’s daughter Susan.
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