Alan Jay Lerner

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Alan Jay Lerner
Alan Jay Lerner.jpg
Lerner, c. 1975
Background information
Born(1918-08-31)August 31, 1918
New York City, New York
DiedJune 14, 1986(1986-06-14) (aged 67)
New York City, New York
Genres Musical theatre, popular
Occupations Lyricist, librettist
Years active19421986

Alan Jay Lerner (August 31, 1918 June 14, 1986) was an American lyricist and librettist. In collaboration with Frederick Loewe, and later Burton Lane, he created some of the world's most popular and enduring works of musical theatre both for the stage and on film. He won three Tony Awards and three Academy Awards, among other honors.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

A lyricist or lyrist is a person who writes lyrics—words for songs—as opposed to a composer, who writes the song's music which may include but not limited to the melody, harmony, arrangement and accompaniment.

Frederick Loewe Austrian-American composer

Frederick Loewe, was an Austrian-American composer. He collaborated with lyricist Alan Jay Lerner on a series of Broadway musicals, including My Fair Lady and Camelot, both of which were made into films.


Early life and education

Born in New York City, he was the son of Edith Adelson Lerner and Joseph Jay Lerner, whose brother, Samuel Alexander Lerner, was founder and owner of the Lerner Stores, a chain of dress shops. One of Lerner's cousins was the radio comedian and television game show panelist Henry Morgan. Lerner was educated at Bedales School in England, The Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford, Connecticut, (where he wrote "The Choate Marching Song") and Harvard. He attended both Camp Androscoggin and Camp Greylock. [1] At both Choate and Harvard, Lerner was a classmate of John F. Kennedy's; at Choate they had worked together on the yearbook staff. [2] Like Cole Porter at Yale and Richard Rodgers at Columbia, his career in musical theater began with his collegiate contributions, in Lerner's case to the annual Harvard Hasty Pudding musicals. [3] During the summers of 1936 and 1937, Lerner studied music composition at Juilliard. While attending Harvard, he lost his sight in his left eye due to an accident in the boxing ring. In 1957, Lerner and Leonard Bernstein, another of Lerner's college classmates, collaborated on "Lonely Men of Harvard," a tongue-in-cheek salute to their alma mater.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Bedales School is a co-educational, boarding and day independent school in the village of Steep, near the market town of Petersfield in Hampshire, England. It was founded in 1893 by John Haden Badley in reaction to the limitations of conventional Victorian schools. Bedales is one of the most expensive public schools in the UK. For the school year 2015/2016, boarders' fees were £11,799 per term, a similar figure to that charged by Harrow (£11,095) or Eton (£11,090).

Choate Rosemary Hall a private, college-preparatory, coeducational, boarding school

Choate Rosemary Hall is a private, co-educational, college-preparatory boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, United States. It took its present name and began a co-educational system with the merger in 1971 of two single-sex schools; The Choate School and Rosemary Hall. At the merger, the Wallingford campus was enlarged with a complex of modernist buildings on its eastern edge to accommodate the students from Rosemary Hall.


Due to his eye injury, Lerner could not serve in World War II. Instead he wrote radio scripts, including Your Hit Parade , until he was introduced to Austrian composer Frederick Loewe, who needed a partner, in 1942 at the Lamb's Club. While at the Lamb's, he also met Lorenz Hart, with whom he would also collaborate. [4]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Radio Technology of using radio waves to carry information

Radio is the technology of signaling or communicating using radio waves. Radio waves are electromagnetic waves of frequency between 30 hertz (Hz) and 300 gigahertz (GHz). They are generated by an electronic device called a transmitter connected to an antenna which radiates the waves, and received by a radio receiver connected to another antenna. Radio is very widely used in modern technology, in radio communication, radar, radio navigation, remote control, remote sensing and other applications. In radio communication, used in radio and television broadcasting, cell phones, two-way radios, wireless networking and satellite communication among numerous other uses, radio waves are used to carry information across space from a transmitter to a receiver, by modulating the radio signal in the transmitter. In radar, used to locate and track objects like aircraft, ships, spacecraft and missiles, a beam of radio waves emitted by a radar transmitter reflects off the target object, and the reflected waves reveal the object's location. In radio navigation systems such as GPS and VOR, a mobile receiver receives radio signals from navigational radio beacons whose position is known, and by precisely measuring the arrival time of the radio waves the receiver can calculate its position on Earth. In wireless radio remote control devices like drones, garage door openers, and keyless entry systems, radio signals transmitted from a controller device control the actions of a remote device.

<i>Your Hit Parade</i> American radio and television music program

Your Hit Parade is an American radio and television music program that was broadcast from 1935 to 1953 on radio, and seen from 1950 to 1959 on television. It was sponsored by American Tobacco's Lucky Strike cigarettes. During this 24-year run, the show had 19 orchestra leaders and 52 singers or groups. Many listeners and viewers casually referred to the show with the incorrect title The Hit Parade.

Lerner and Loewe's first collaboration was a musical adaptation of Barry Conners's farce The Patsy called Life of the Party for a Detroit stock company. The lyrics were mostly written by Earle Crooker, but he had left the project, with the score needing vast improvement. It enjoyed a nine-week run and encouraged the duo to join forces with Arthur Pierson for What's Up? , which opened on Broadway in 1943. It ran for 63 performances and was followed two years later by The Day Before Spring . [5]

Lerner and Loewe refers to the partnership between lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe. Spanning three decades from 1942 to 1960 and again from 1970 to 1972, the pair are known for being behind the creation of critical on stage successes such as; My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, and Camelot along with the musical film Gigi.

Detroit Largest city in Michigan

Detroit is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan, the largest American city on the United States–Canada border, and the seat of Wayne County. The municipality of Detroit had a 2017 estimated population of 673,104, making it the 23rd-most populous city in the United States. The metropolitan area, known as Metro Detroit, is home to 4.3 million people, making it the second-largest in the Midwest after the Chicago metropolitan area. Regarded as a major cultural center, Detroit is known for its contributions to music and as a repository for art, architecture and design.

Their first hit was Brigadoon (1947), a romantic fantasy set in a mystical Scottish village, directed by Robert Lewis. It was followed in 1951 by the Gold Rush story Paint Your Wagon . While the show ran for nearly a year and included songs that later became pop standards, it was less successful than Lerner's previous work. He later said of Paint Your Wagon, it was "a success but not a hit." [6]

California Gold Rush gold rush from 1848 until 1855 in California

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) was a gold rush that began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of gold into the money supply reinvigorated the American economy, and the sudden population increase allowed California to go rapidly to statehood, in the Compromise of 1850. The Gold Rush had severe effects on Native Californians and resulted in a precipitous native population decline from disease, genocide and starvation. By the time it ended, California had gone from a thinly populated ex-Mexican territory, to having one of its first two U.S. Senators, John C. Frémont, selected to be the first presidential nominee for the new Republican Party, in 1856.

<i>Paint Your Wagon</i> (musical) musical

Paint Your Wagon is a Broadway musical comedy, with book and lyrics by Alan J. Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story centers on a miner and his daughter and follows the lives and loves of the people in a mining camp in Gold Rush-era California. Popular songs from the show included "Wand'rin' Star", "I Talk to the Trees" and "They Call the Wind Maria".

Lerner worked with Kurt Weill on the stage musical Love Life (1948) and Burton Lane on the movie musical Royal Wedding (1951). In that same year Lerner also wrote the Oscar-winning original screenplay for An American in Paris , produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli. This was the same team who would later join with Lerner and Loewe to create Gigi .

Kurt Weill German composer

Kurt Julian Weill was a German composer, active from the 1920s in his native country, and in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. With Brecht, he developed productions such as his best-known work The Threepenny Opera, which included the ballad "Mack the Knife". Weill held the ideal of writing music that served a socially useful purpose. He also wrote several works for the concert hall. He became a United States citizen on August 27, 1943.

Love Life is a musical written by Kurt Weill (music) and Alan Jay Lerner. It opened at the 46th Street Theatre on Broadway on October 7, 1948, and closed on May 14, 1949, after having played 252 performances. The original production starred Ray Middleton and Nanette Fabray, was directed by Elia Kazan, and choreographed by Michael Kidd.

Burton Lane American composer and lyricist

Burton Levy professionally known as Burton Lane, was an American composer and lyricist primarily known for his theatre and film scores. His most popular and successful works include Finian's Rainbow in 1947 and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever 1965.

In 1956, Lerner and Loewe unveiled My Fair Lady . By this time, too, Lerner and Burton Lane were already working on a musical about Li'l Abner. Gabriel Pascal owned the rights to Pygmalion, which had been unsuccessful with other composers who tried to adapt it into a musical. Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz first tried, and then Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II attempted, but gave up and Hammerstein told Lerner, "Pygmalion had no subplot". Lerner and Loewe's adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion retained his social commentary and added appropriate songs for the characters of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, played originally by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. It set box-office records in New York and London. When brought to the screen in 1964, the movie version won eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Rex Harrison.

Lerner and Loewe's run of success continued with their next project, a film adaptation of stories from Colette, the Academy Award-winning film musical Gigi , starring Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier. The film won all of its nine Oscar nominations, a record at that time, and a special Oscar for co-star Maurice Chevalier.

The Lerner-Loewe partnership cracked under the stress of producing the Arthurian Camelot in 1960, with Loewe resisting Lerner's desire to direct as well as write when original director Moss Hart suffered a heart attack in the last few months of rehearsals and died shortly after the show's premiere. Lerner was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers while Loewe continued to have heart troubles. Camelot was a hit nonetheless, and immediately following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his widow told reporter Theodore H. White that JFK's administration reminded her of the "one brief shining moment" of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot. As of the early 21st century, Camelot was still invoked to describe the idealism, romance, and tragedy of the Kennedy years. [7]

Loewe retired to Palm Springs, California, while Lerner went through a series of musicals—some successful, some not—with such composers as André Previn ( Coco ), John Barry ( Lolita, My Love ), Leonard Bernstein ( 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ), Burton Lane ( Carmelina ) and Charles Strouse ( Dance a Little Closer , based on the film, Idiot's Delight , nicknamed Close A Little Faster by Broadway humorists because it closed on opening night). Most biographers[ who? ] blame Lerner's professional decline on the lack of a strong director with whom Lerner could collaborate, as Neil Simon did with Mike Nichols or Stephen Sondheim with Harold Prince (Moss Hart, who had directed My Fair Lady, died shortly after Camelot opened). In 1965 Lerner collaborated again with Burton Lane on the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever , which was adapted for film in 1970. At this time, Lerner was hired by film producer Arthur P. Jacobs to write a treatment for an upcoming film project, Doctor Dolittle , but Lerner abrogated his contract after several non-productive months of non-communicative procrastination and was replaced with Leslie Bricusse. [8] Lerner was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971.

In 1973, Lerner coaxed Loewe out of retirement to augment the Gigi score for a musical stage adaptation. The following year they collaborated on a musical film version of The Little Prince , based on the classic children's tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This film was a critical and box office failure, but it has gained a modern following.[ citation needed ]

Lerner's autobiography, The Street Where I Live (1978), was an account of three of his and Loewe's successful collaborations, My Fair Lady, Gigi, and Camelot, along with personal information. In the last year of his life, he published The Musical Theatre: A Celebration, a well-reviewed history of the theatre, with personal anecdotes and humor. The Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote: "There are several reasons why this book makes a fine introduction to musical theater. One is that Lerner knows exactly what was new, and when and why....In "The Musical Theatre," one is privy to the judgment of a man... who expresses his opinions in a forthright, warm and personal manner." [9] A book of Lerner's lyrics entitled A Hymn To Him, edited by a British writer Benny Green, was published in 1987.

At the time of Lerner's death, he had been working with Gerard Kenny and Kristi Kane in London on a musical version of the film My Man Godfrey . He had also received an urgent call from Andrew Lloyd Webber, asking him to write the lyrics to The Phantom of the Opera . He wrote "Masquerade", but he then informed Webber that he wanted to leave the project because he was losing his memory (due to an undiagnosed brain tumor) and Charles Hart replaced him. [10] [11] He had turned down an invitation to write the English-language lyrics for the musical version of Les Misérables . [12]

After Lerner's death, Paul Blake made a musical revue based on Lerner's lyrics and life entitled Almost Like Being In Love, which featured music by Frederick Loewe, Burton Lane, André Previn, Charles Strouse, and Kurt Weill. [13] [14] The show ran for 10 days at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.[ citation needed ]


Lerner often struggled with writing his lyrics. He was uncharacteristically able to complete "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady in one 24-hour period. He usually spent months on each song and was constantly rewriting them. Lerner was said[ by whom? ] to have insecurity about his talent. He would sometimes write songs with someone in mind, for instance, "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" from My Fair Lady was written with Rex Harrison in mind to complement his very limited vocal range.[ clarification needed ]

Lerner said of writing:

You have to keep in mind that there is no such thing as realism or naturalism in the theater. That is a myth. If there was realism in the theater, there would never be a third act. Nothing ends that way. A man's life is made up of thousands and thousands of little pieces. In writing fiction, you select 20 or 30 of them. In a musical, you select even fewer than that.

First, we decide where a song is needed in a play. Second, what is it going to be about? Third, we discuss the mood of the song. Fourth, I give (Loewe) a title. Then he writes the music to the title and the general feeling of the song is established. After he's written the melody, then I write the lyrics.

In a 1979 interview on NPR's All Things Considered , Lerner went into some depth about his lyrics for My Fair Lady . Professor Henry Higgins sings, "Look at her, a prisoner of the gutters / Condemned by every syllable she utters / By right she should be taken out and hung / For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue." Lerner said he knew the lyric used incorrect grammar for the sake of a rhyme. He was later approached about it by another lyricist:

I thought, oh well, maybe nobody will notice it, but not at all. Two nights after it opened, I ran into Noël Coward in a restaurant, and he walked over and he said, "Dear boy, it is hanged, not hung." I said, "Oh, Noel, I know it, I know it! You know, shut up!" So, and there's another, "Than to ever let a woman in my life." It should be, "as to ever let a woman in my life," but it just didn't sing well.

Dramatists Guild

Alan Jay Lerner was an advocate for writers' rights in theatre. He was a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. In 1960, he was elected as the twelfth president of the non-profit organization. He continued to serve as the Guild's president until 1964.

Personal life

For nearly twenty years, Lerner was addicted to amphetamine; during the 1960s he was a patient of Max Jacobson, known as "Dr. Feelgood", who administered injections of "vitamins with enzymes" that were in fact laced with amphetamine. Lerner's addiction is believed to have been the result of Jacobson's practice. [15] [16]

Marriages and children

Lerner married eight times: Ruth Boyd (19401947), singer Marion Bell (19471949), actress Nancy Olson (19501957), lawyer Micheline Muselli Pozzo di Borgo (19571965), editor Karen Gundersen (19661974), Sandra Payne (19741976), Nina Bushkin (19771981) and Liz Robertson (19811986 [his death]). Four of his eight wives – Olson, Payne, Bushkin, and Robertson – were actresses. [2] His seventh wife, Nina Bushkin, whom he married on May 30, 1977, was the director of development at Mannes College of Music and the daughter of composer and musician Joey Bushkin. [17] After their divorce in 1981, Lerner was ordered to pay her a settlement of $50,000. [18] Lerner wrote in his autobiography (as quoted by The New York Times): "All I can say is that if I had no flair for marriage, I also had no flair for bachelorhood." [19] One of his ex-wives reportedly said, "Marriage is Alan's way of saying goodbye."[ citation needed ]

Lerner had four children: three daughters, Susan (by Boyd), Liza and Jennifer (by Olson); and one son, screenwriter and journalist Michael Alan Lerner (by di Borgo).

Lerner's memorial plaque in St Paul's Church in London Alan J Lerner Plaque London 2016.jpg
Lerner's memorial plaque in St Paul's Church in London

Lerner's multiple divorces cost him much of his wealth, but he was primarily responsible for his own financial ups and downs and was apparently less than truthful about his financial fecklessness. [20] One persistent fiction, widely publicized, was that his divorce settlement from Micheline Muselli Pozzo di Borgo (his fourth wife) cost him an estimated $1 million in 1965. This was a gross distortion of the truth. [21] Lerner's pattern of financial mismanagement continued until his death from cancer in 1986, when he reportedly owed the US Internal Revenue Service over US$1,000,000 in back taxes and was unable to pay for his final medical expenses. [22]


On June 14, 1986, Lerner died of lung cancer in Manhattan at the age of 67. At the time of his death he was married to actress Liz Robertson, who was 36 years his junior. [19] He lived in Center Island, New York. [23] He has a memorial plaque in St Paul's Church, the Actors' Church in Covent Garden in London.

Awards and honors

Academy Award
Golden Globes [26]
Tony Award [27]
New York Drama Critics Circle [27]
Johnny Mercer Award [28]




Source: TCM [30]

See also


  1. "The Executive Life; And No One Mentions The Many Mosquitoes" The New York Times , June 14, 1992
  2. 1 2 "Alan Jay Lerner: Biography" Turner Classic Movies, accessed August 1, 2009
  3. Green, p.238
  4. Viertel, Jack (March 15, 2015). "Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel explains how the Lerner and Lowe musical Paint Your Wagon is a fascinating anomaly from the songwriting team best known for My Fair Lady and Camelot". Playbill . Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  5. Green, p. 239
  6. Zink, Jack (October 12, 1986). "Folk Musical 'Wagon' Claims Quite A History Lerner And Loewe's 'Paint Your Wagon' Has Had Three Transformations In Its Lifetime. And Now What Is Considered The Best Version Is Being Presented At The Royal Palm Dinner Theatre In Boca Raton". Sun-Sentinel . Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  7. Koehler, Robert (December 23, 1992). "Stage Review: Retunn to 'Camelot ' -- Sans Inspiration". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  8. Harris, Mark (February 14, 2008). Pictures at a Revolution. Penguin Press. pp. 77–78. ISBN   978-1101202852.
  9. Curcio, Vincent. " 'The Musical Theatre: A CELEBRATION' by Alan Jay Lerner (McGraw-Hill: $24.95; 280 pp., illustrated)" Los Angeles Times, November 30, 1986
  10. Furia, Philip (2002). American Song Lyricists, 1920-1960 . Detroit: Gale. pp. 322–335. ISBN   978-0-7876-6009-3.
  11. Citron, Stephen (September 13, 2001). Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber . Oxford University Press US. p. 330. ISBN   978-0195357271.
  12. Behr, Edward (January 1, 1993). The Complete Book of Les Misérables. Arcade Publishing. p. 62. ISBN   978-1559701563 . Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  13. "Almost Like Being In Love: A Musical Revue". Playbill. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
  14. "Theater Week". 3 (21). That New Magazine, Inc. 1990. p. 8.
  15. Bryk, William (September 20, 2005). "Dr. Feelgood". The New York Sun .
  16. Rasmussen, Nicolas (March 1, 2008). On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine. New York City: New York University Press. p. 169. ISBN   978-0814776278.
  17. "Note on People", The New York Times, June 10, 1977, p. 19
  18. Lees, Gene (2005). The musical worlds of Lerner and Loewe . U of Nebraska Press. p. 309. ISBN   978-0803280403.
  19. 1 2 Freedman, Samuel (June 15, 1986). "Alan Jay Lerner, the Lyricist and Playwright, Is Dead at 67" . The New York Times. p. 1.
  20. Brown, Gordon W.; Myers, Scott (February 22, 2012). Administration of wills, trusts, and estates. Cengage Learning. p. 358. ISBN   978-1285401034.
  21. "Mrs. Lerner in Las Vegas Preparing to Ask Divorce" . The New York Times. September 1, 1965. p. 28.
  22. "Alan Jay Lerner Sued By U.S. for $1.4 Million" . The New York Times. Associated Press. February 20, 1986.
  23. "Centre Island". Long Island Exchange. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  24. "Theater Hall of Fame Enshrines 51 Artists". New York Times. November 19, 1979. Retrieved February 7, 2019.
  25. "Honors, 1985", retrieved July 13, 2019
  26. "Alan Jay Lerner", retrieved July 13, 2019
  27. 1 2 "Alan Jay Lerner Broadway", retrieved July 13, 2019
  28. "1985 Awards Ceremony", retrieved July 13, 2019
  29. Nemy, Enid (March 19, 1985). "`My Man Godfrey` Bound For Broadway". Chicago Tribune . Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  30. "Alan Jay Lerner Filmography", retrieved July 13, 2019

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Further reading