Who's Who in Musicals: E
by John Kenrick
b. April 8, 1928? (New York City) - d. Sept. 11, 2004 (NYC)
For four decades, Ebb collaborated exclusively with composer John Kander on musicals notable for their often startling originality, each score having a unique sound and style. Superb musical dramatists, they were among the last theatre composers whose songs could stand on their own while being fully integrated into the shows they were written for. Their first Broadway show was Flora The Red Menace (1964), a moderate success that helped launch the career of Liza Minnelli, who would be closely linked with many of Kander and Ebb's hit songs. The moderate success of Flora led to the triumph of Cabaret (1966), a landmark musical drama that featured Joel Grey as the leering Emcee. It received eight Tony Awards, including honors for Best Composer and Lyricist (the Best Score category did not exist that year), as well as Best Musical. The original production racked up 1,166 performances, and enjoyed successful runs in London and elsewhere.
Kander and Ebb's Broadway scores include The Happy Time (1968), Zorba (1968), The Act (1978), Chicago (1975), Woman of the Year (1981), The Rink (1984), the Tony-winning Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and Steel Pier (1997). They also created original scores for the films Funny Lady (1975) and New York, New York (1977). Their songs were showcased in the popular off-Broadway revue And The World Goes 'Round.
Kander & Ebb worked on musical versions of The Visit and The Skin of Our Teeth. The 1997 revival of Chicago is the longest running revival in Broadway history, and the 1998 revival of Cabaret outran its original production. In 2003, the film version of Kander and Ebb's Chicago (2002) became the first musical in thirty five years to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. After years of illness, Ebb died of heart failure in 2004, with sources placing his age at anywhere from 71 to 76. His remains were interred at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Since Ebb's death, two more Kander & Ebb projects have reached Broadway; the mystery musical Curtains (2007) and the short-lived minstrel inspired Scottsboro Boys (2010).
(b. Rollins Edens)
Pianist, arranger, producer
b. Nov. 9, 1905 (Hillsboro, TX) - d. July 13, 1970 (Hollywood, CA)
Although he had the looks of a star, this gifted musician did all his work behind the scenes. When Ethel Merman's pianist fell ill and withdrew from Girl Crazy (1932), Edens stepped in. Merman was so impressed that she hired him as pianist/arranger for her nightclub act, and brought him out to Hollywood to assist her on several films. When Merman returned to Broadway, Edens remained behind. He was hired by MGM producer Arthur Freed to act as his musical supervisor and associate producer to the now legendary "Freed Unit." Together, they worked on some of the finest musicals films ever made. The long list includes Babes in Arms, Easter Parade, Royal Wedding, An American in Paris, Singin' in the Rain, and The Bandwagon.
Many have suggested that Edens often had a greater role in making these films than Freed, a fascinating possibility that is now almost impossible to prove or disprove. There is no question that Edens was one of the most gifted musicians in show business, and it is clear both he and Freed played key roles in developing some of the greatest musical films and talents of all time. At a time when homosexuality was seen as a fatal flaw in Hollywood, Edens managed to keep his a secret. After his marriage to Martha LaPrelle ended in divorce, the almost constant presence of gifted friend and co-worker, Kay Thompson, deflected lavender rumors.
Edens was musical mentor to Judy Garland and had an uncredited hand in almost all of her musical films. Because of his exclusive MGM contract, Edens could not take screen credit for Garland's memorable "Born In A Trunk" sequence in the Warner Brothers production of A Star Is Born (1954). His long career at MGM culminated in his acting as the credited producer for the all-star Deep In My Heart (1954). When MGM cut back on musical production and disposed of its creative staff, Edens continued to work at other studios, producing Funny Face (1957) and Jumbo (1962). In the 1960s, he composed special night club material for Garland and Merman. His final screen assignment was as associate producer of Hello Dolly! (1969), directed by fellow MGM alumni Gene Kelly. Edens coached dramatic actress Katherine Hepburn for her musical stage debut in Coco (1969). A longtime chain smoker, he died of lung cancer at age 64.
b. June 29, 1901 (Providence, RI) - d. March 6, 1967 (Miami Beach, FL)
This handsome blonde baritone studied singing in Europe and played minor roles at the Metropolitan Opera before appearances on radio brought him to the attention of Hollywood. MGM co-starred him with soprano Jeanette MacDonald in Naughty Marrietta (1935), where their rendition of "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life" proved a sensation. The new duo eventually co-starred in eight screen musicals. In the popular Rose Marie (1936) and its "Indian Love Call" ("When I'm calling you-oo-oo-oo") provided the now classic image of Nelson as a stalwart Canadian Mountie wooing the ravishing Jeanette. While both Eddy and MacDonald had musical and dramatic limitations, their chemistry somehow made operatic emotions believable on screen.
For all their on-screen passion, the two stars were just friends in real life they socialized occasionally, and each sang at the other's wedding. Suggestions that they had an off-screen affair have been dismissed by most responsible sources. Their string of MGM hits included Maytime (1936), Sweethearts (1938) and The New Moon (1940). Eddy worked on numerous films with other co-stars. In Rosalie (1937), Eddy introduced Cole Porter's "In the Still of the Night," and sand the soaring title tune to dancer Eleanor Powell. His also starred in The Chocolate Soldier (1941), Phantom of the Opera (1943) and Knickerbocker Holiday (1944). After Northwest Outpost (1947) verified that Hollywood operetta was losing popularity, Eddy remained busy in radio, television and nightclubs for the next twenty years. He collapsed during a 1967 concert due to a cerebral hemorrhage and died soon afterward.
b. Oct. 14, 1855 (Clee, UK) - d. Oct. 4, 1915 (London, UK)
This prolific producer was the driving force behind the development of the first British musical comedies -- a full decade after Harrigan and Hart initiated the form in the US. After serving as a manager for Richard D'Oyly Carte, Edwardes went to work for producer John Hollingshead (1827-1904), taking over the Gaiety Theatre when Hollingshead retired in 1885. Over the next thirty years, Edwardes produced seventy-plus London productions that packed both The Gaiety and Daly's.
Edwardes' most memorable hits included a series of "poor maiden loves aristocrat and wins him against all odds" shows, usually with the word "Girl" in the title -- including The Shop Girl (1894), The Geisha (1896), A Country Girl (1902), Our Miss Gibbs (1909), The Quaker Girl (1910) and The Girl From Utah (1913). Most of these shows were directed by J.A.E. Malone, and many had scores by composers Sidney Jones and Lionel Monckton. Edwardes introduced many stars, most notably the popular ing'nue Gertie Millar.
Edwardes brought a series of continental operettas to the London stage, including popular productions of The Merry Widow (1907), The Dollar Princess (1909) and The Count of Luxembourg (1911). When Edwardes' hit The Girl From Utah was adapted for Broadway in 1914, it provided the showcase for Jerome Kern's groundbreaking hit song "They Didn't Believe Me." Caught in Germany at the start of World War I, he was imprisoned for several months, and his health was seriously compromised. Forced into seclusion for the final months of his life, Edwardes died at age 62. Although he left substantial debts, they were posthumously paid off by the ongoing profits from his theatrical properties.
(b. May Belle Elsas)
b. June 15, 1897 (New York City) - Jan. 30, 2003 (London, UK)
As a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company from 1918-1922, Ellis sang with the great tenor Enrico Caruso before switching to a career on the popular stage. After appearing in several dramatic productions, she played the title role in the original Broadway production of Rudolph Friml's hit operetta Rose Marie (1924). With co-star Dennis King, she introduced the memorable "Indian Love Call" ("When I'm calling you-oo-oo-oo"). After winning raves in the West End version of Jerome Kern's Music In the Air (1933), Ellis relocated to London. Her good looks and superb vocal technique made her a lasting favorite with British audiences. She co-starred with songwriter-actor Ivor Novello in three of his biggest musical hits Glamorous Night (1933), The Dancing Years (1939) and Arc de Triomphe (1943). Ellis introduced such Novello favorites as "Waltz of My Heart," "My Dearest Dear" and "I Can Give You the Starlight." She spent was a volunteer ambulance driver during World War II. In the years that followed, Ellis appeared mainly in non-musical plays, including Terrance Rattigan's drama The Browning Version. After starring in Noel Coward's short-lived musical After the Ball (1954), she devoted her later years to straight dramatic work on stage and screen. In 1995, she played her final role on the Granada/PBS TV series Sherlock Holmes. At the time of her death, sources varied as to her age, which was later confirmed as 105.
b. Oct. 29, 1904 (Hampstead, UK) - d. June 19, 1996 (London, UK)
A classically trained pianist, Ellis developed a passion for popular music and was writing songs for London revues by the 1920s. Active through the 1960s, he eventually composed 28 musicals, working with a variety of lyricists and occasionally providing the words himself. His biggest hits were Mr. Cinders (1929), Under Your Hat (1938) and Bless the Bride (1947). Despite his jaunty melodies, these shows were considered too British for export to Broadway. Consequently, such charming Ellis songs as "Spread a Little Happiness," "This Is My Lovely Day" and "The Wind in the Willows" are little known outside of England.
(b. William Julian Dalton)
Female impersonator, actor, vaudevillian
b. May 14, 1883? (Newton, MA) - d. Mar. 7, 1941 (New York City)
The most famous female impersonator in 20th Century show business, Eltinge combined an uncanny ability to imitate feminine mannerisms with superlative taste in costumes. Two years after starring in the Broadway production Mr. Wix of Wickam (1904), he launched a successful vaudeville career. Eltinge took occasional breaks from vaudeville to star in Broadway musicals and silent films. In 1912, Eltinge became the only female impersonator ever to have a Broadway theater named after him it is now the facade and lobby of the AMC multiplex cinema on 42nd Street. But Eltinge saw his fame melt away as vaudeville collapsed and Depression-era audiences became hostile towards cross-dressing performers. He fell ill while appearing at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe in Manhattan, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage ten days later. Although Eltinge never married and lived a scandal free life, opinions on his sexual preferences remain divided.
Erlanger, Abraham Lincoln
b. May 4, 1860 (Buffalo, NY) - d. Mar. 7, 1930 (New York City)
One of the most hated men in 20th Century show business, Erlanger and partner Marc Klaw put together a nationwide empire of legitimate theaters and vaudeville houses. In 1896, they formed the Theatrical Syndicate, which gave them monopolistic control of the bookings for almost every theater in the USA. Over the next sixteen years, they set the rates and handled access to more than 700 houses. Their shameless greed made them countless enemies. On the up side, Erlanger built some of Broadway's finest theaters, including The New Amsterdam and The St. James (originally called The Erlanger). He also financed dozens of important productions, including George M. Cohan's Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway (1906) and the early editions of producer Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies.
Erlanger reserved his most creative efforts for two pursuits business and cruelty. He made and destroyed careers with impunity, and was quoted as saying, "I never trust a man I can't buy." Even the formidable Ziegfeld was reluctant to cross swords with him. Erlanger's heartlessness opened the way to his own destruction. When theater owner Sam Shubert died in a train wreck, Erlanger refused to abide by any legal agreements "with a dead man." Sam's outraged brothers Lee and Jacob swore vengeance, and over the next few decades battled the Syndicate into virtual extinction. Even more ruthless than Erlanger, they turned the former tyrant into a minor power. However, he continued actively producing until his death at age 69 -- an event that inspired celebration rather than mourning.
b. July 3, 1881 (Sydney, Australia) - d. Oct. 12, 1951 (Hollywood, CA)
This sad-faced, nimble comic got his start as a comedian in burlesque and vaudeville. He became a Broadway favorite starring in six early editions of the Ziegfeld Follies, directing the 1915 & 1916 installments. His most memorable stage performance was as Connie in Ziegfeld's production of Sally (1920), co-starring with Marilyn Miller. When sound came to Hollywood, Errol was one of many Broadway stars who headed out West and one of the few early arrivals who stayed. His odd looks led to dozens of character roles, most notably a series of 1930s comedies with Lupe Velez. He appeared in numerous dramas and comedies. His 24 screen musicals include Paramount on Parade (1930), Make a Wish (1937), Higher and Higher (1943) and Footlight Varieties (1951) the last completed just weeks before his death at age 70.