Who's Who in Musicals: F
by John Kenrick
(b. Samuel Feinberg)
b. June 17, 1902 (New York City) - d. Dec. 6, 1989 (Los Angeles, CA)
After getting his start as a vaudeville singer and pianist, Fain began a prolific songwriting career. He teamed with lyricist Irving Kahal to turn out such pop hits as "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella." They contributed songs to a number of early Hollywood musicals, including "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me," introduced by Maurice Chevalier in The Big Pond (1930). They contributed songs to several 1930s Broadway productions, including the perennial favorite "I'll Be Seeing You," introduced by Tamara in the ill-fated Right This Way (1938). Following Kahal's death in 1942, Fain collaborated with various lyricists, including E.Y "Yip" Harburgh, Paul Francis Webster and Mitchell Parrish. His film songs included "Secret Love," introduced by Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953) and the title tune for Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955). He composed scores for a string of tuneful but unsuccessful Broadway musicals, including the satirical Flahooley (1951) and the inept Something More (1964). Fain worked on film scores in his later years.
(b. Alice Jeanne Leppert)
b. May 5, 1915 (New York City) - d. May 9, 1998 (Rancho Mirage, CA)
Raised in New York City's infamous Hell's Kitchen, this attractive, throaty-voiced blond was dancing in the chorus of George White's 1931 Scandals when she caught the eye of popular vocalist Rudy Vallee. She toured and recorded with Vallee's band, and her appearance with them in the 1934 film version of the Scandals launched her on a stellar screen career. Over the next ten years, 20th Century Fox starred Faye in dozens of films, including 26 musicals. Her hits included In Old Chicago (1938), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), Rose of Washington Square (1939), Lillian Russell (1940) and That Night in Rio (1941). Faye's co-stars included Don Ameche, Tyrone Power and John Payne. She introduced many hit songs, but is best remembered for singing the Academy Award winning wartime hit "You'll Never Know" in Hello, Frisco, Hello (1944).
After an unsuccessful marriage to singer Tony Martin, Faye found the love of her life with her second husband, bandleader and radio comedian Phil Harris. At the height of Faye's popularity in 1945, she unhesitatingly retired from the screen after disputes with idiotic Fox studio executives. She co-starred with Harris on a popular radio series from 1946 to 1954, made frequent TV appearances, and returned to the musical screen for a disappointing remake of State Fair (1962). She won personal raves in the unsuccessful Broadway revival of Good News (1974) and made a final screen appearance in the syrupy Magic of Lassie (1978). Never forgotten by her millions of fans, Faye received affectionate public tributes until her death due to stomach cancer at age 83.
b. Oct 23, 1892 (New York City) - d. Mar 16, 1961 (Los Angeles, CA)
One of the first important choreographers in American show business, Felix was dancing in vaudeville by age 15. He made his Broadway debut in ensemble of The Mimic World (1908), but it was not until eighteen years later that made his first real impact as a director and choreographer or in the parlance of that time, dance director. After staging Hello Lola (1926), he helmed three memorable hits Vincent Youmans' nautical musical Hit the Deck (1927), the long-running operetta Rosalie (1928), and the wild Eddie Cantor vehicle Whoopee (1928). Felix created the dances for such early screen musicals as Sunny Side Up (1929) and Just Imagine (1930), then returned to Broadway to choreograph the Ed Wynn vehicle Simple Simon (1930) and the modest hit Strike Me Pink (1933).
Felix worked closely with directors and authors, designing his dance routines to be a functional part of the story telling process. He was demanding for the Broadway production Peggy Ann (1926), he found only four acceptable dancers from an audition pool of over 400. Felix shifted to fulltime film work from 1933 onwards. After Kid Millions (1934) and The Girl Friend (1935), he made his professional mark staging the Oscar-winning "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" sequence in MGM's The Great Ziegfeld (1936). He choreographed over two dozen more films, including Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Cover Girl (1944), The Dolly Sister (1945) and The I Don't Care Girl (1953).
b. Dec. 4, 1916 (Woking, UK) - d. Sept. 28, 2003 (London, UK)
Through the 1940s and 50s, Fielding promoted British pop concert tours, moving into theater by producing a London stage version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Cinderella (1958), which featured pop star Tommy Steele. After importing the American hits The Music Man (1961) and Sail Away (1962), he produced the long-running Half a Sixpence (1963), again starring Steele. Fielding's blockbuster Charlie Girl (1965) ran on the West End for five years, making him one of the most important figures in British theatre.
Unlike most commercial producers, Fielding invariably used his own money rather than appealing to investors. This entitled him to full creative control and all potential profits as well as all the financial risk. Fielding scored with the successful London version of Sweet Charity (1967) starring Juliet Prowse, Mame (1969) starring Ginger Rogers, a long-running revival of Show Boat (1971), and Barnum (1981) starring Michael Crawford. Fielding's stage adaptations of the MGM classics Gone With the Wind and Singing in the Rain fared poorly with critics but did well at the box office. Unfortunately, he lost millions on Ziegfeld (1988), Someone Like You (a 1990 Civil War musical starring Petula Clark), and the disappointing London run of Mack and Mabel (1995). In 1998, he suffered the first in a series of strokes that ended his career. He died in 2003 at age 86.
b. July 15, 1905 (Allenhurst, NJ) - d. March 28, 1974 (New York City)
The youngest child of vaudeville and Broadway legend Lew Fields was named after the heroine of The Wizard of Oz, the biggest hit on Broadway at the time of her birth (which some sources place in 1905, but her birth certificate verifies '04). Her brother Herb would become major librettist, brother Joe a successful author of stage and screen comedies, and Dorothy (whose fame proved the most lasting) became the most successful female lyricist in 20th Century show business. After her father discouraged a performing career, she concentrated on lyric writing, teaming first with Tin Pan Alley veteran Jimmy McHugh to compose songs for Harlem's legendary Cotton Club. They next wrote the score for Broadway's Blackbirds of 1928, which included "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "Doin' the New Low Down." Lew Leslie's International Revue (1930) failed, but it's McHugh-Fields score boasted two major hits: "Exactly Like You" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." The duo moved to Hollywood in the early 1930s, where they turned out such hits as "Cuban Love Song" before gradually choosing to work with new collaborators. Some sources suggest there was a romantic element to their partnership, but this is impossible to verify.
Although most of the shows and films Ms. Fields contributed to in the 1930s and 40s are forgotten, many of her lyrics remain standards, including "I'm In the Mood for Love" and "Don't Blame Me" (music by McHugh), as well as "Lovely to Look At" and "The Way You Look Tonight" (music by Jerome Kern). She had a knack for writing lyrics that flowed as effortlessly as normal conversation. As a rule, Dorothy and a collaborator would agree on the title and general content of a song, then the composer would create a melody to which she would fashion the words. Ms. Fields film scores included Hooray for Love (1935) and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers classic Swing Time (1936), which featured the Fields-Kern hits "Pick Yourself Up," "A Fine Romance" and the Academy Award winning "The Way You Look Tonight." Her last original film musical was The Farmer Takes a Wife (1954), music by Harold Arlen.
In the late 1930s, Dorothy Fields returned to New York, where she established herself as a top rank Broadway librettist, teaming with brother Herb to pen the books for such hits as Let's Face It (1941), Something for the Boys (1943) and Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1946). As a lyricist, she teamed with composer Sigmund Romberg to create the score for Up in Central Park (1945), and composer Arthur Schwartz for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1953) and By the Beautiful Sea (1954). Dorothy collaborated with composer Albert Hague on Redhead (1959), a vehicle for actress Gwen Verdon that won the Tonys for Best Musical and Best Authors (the 1959 equivalent of "Best Book" -- an award Dorothy shared with Herb, who died while working on Redhead). Dorothy's ability to adapt to rock rhythms and contemporary themes made her the envy of lyricists a fraction of her age. In her final years, she collaborated with composer Cy Coleman on two Broadway hits, Sweet Charity (1966) and Seesaw (1973). After attending auditions for the road company of Seesaw, she died of a sudden heart attack at age 69. Five years after her death, her lyrics were featured in the long running revue Sugar Babies (1979). For more, read Pick Yourself Up: Dorothy Fields and the American Musical by Charlotte Greenspan (NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010).
b. July 26, 1897 (New York City) - d. March 24, 1958 (New York City)
Son of Lew and older brother of Dorothy, Herb Fields made his mark as librettist for the early musicals of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, including The Garrick Gaities (1925), A Connecticut Yankee (1927) and Present Arms (1928). He and sister Dorothy then began a fifteen year string of musical comedies with songwriter Cole Porter, providing the witty libretti for Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929), The New Yorkers (1930), DuBarry Was a Lady (1939), Let's Face It (1941) and Something for the Boys (1943). Herb & Dorothy's biggest joint hit was the book for Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1947). They enjoyed continued success collaborating on Arms and the Girl (1950) and By the Beautiful Sea (1954). Herb died while collaborating with his sister Dorothy on the Tony-winning Gwen Verdon vehicle Redhead (1959).
(b. Moses Schoenfeld)
Actor, producer, director
b. Jan. 1, 1867 (Poland) - d. July 20, 1941 (Beverly Hills, CA)
Fields met Joe Weber when they were both schoolboys on Manhattan's impoverished Lower East Side. They formed a comedy act, developing a series of ethnic routines while touring the variety circuits. In time, they perfected the characters 'Myer' (the tall Fields) and 'Mike' (the diminutive Weber), bewhiskered German immigrants with broad accents, bristling whiskers and garish clothes. Meyer invariably tried to swindle Mike out of his money, always leading to a knockabout battle. Weber and Fields became vaudeville's definitive "Dutch" act (a corruption of the German word "deutsch.") Weber once said that "all the public wanted to see was Fields knock the hell out of me." Combining topical humor with slapstick physical battles, they became one of the all-time top vaudeville acts, inspiring numerous imitators.
Weber and Fields expanded their act into a series of full length musical burlesques that spoofed hit shows and current events. They also produced musical comedy extravaganzas, co-starring some of the greatest musical stars of the day including DeWolf Hopper, Lillian Russell and Faye Templeton. Whirl-i-gig (1899), Hoity-Toity (1901) and Hokey-Pokey (1912) combined the usual Weber and Fields silliness and slapstick physical comedy with lavish production values.
After ending his partnership with Weber in 1904, Fields became a prolific producer, bringing more than 40 musicals to Broadway. His most memorable hits were six Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart shows with libretti by his son Herbert, including Peggy-Ann (1926) and A Connecticut Yankee (1929). Lew saw his daughter Dorothy distinguish herself as the top female lyricist of her time. Weber and Fields re-united to headline the opening night of New York's Radio City Music Hall in 1932, and again four years later for a short-lived Federal Theater project. They appeared as themselves in several film musicals, including The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) and Lillian Russell (1940). A heavy smoker, Fields succumbed to pneumonia at age 74, with his daughter Dorothy and Joe Weber in attendance. For more, see the delightful book From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theater (Fields, Armond & L. Marc Fields, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993). You may also enjoy reading a Weber & Fields vaudeville skit.
b. Sept. 18, 1960 (Pittsburgh, PA)
Encouraged in his teen years by conductor Lehman Engel to pursue a career composing for the stage, Flaherty met lyricist/composer Lynn Ahrens at the BMI musical theater workshop in 1982. After developing several projects, they followed the short lived but hilarious Off-Broadway musical farce Lucky Stiff (1988) with the acclaimed Caribbean fantasy Once On This Island (1990), which moved to Broadway, ran for over a year, and won the Olivier for Best West End musical in 1994.
After a disappointing reception for My Favorite Year (1992), Ahrens and Flaherty spent several years working on the epic stage version of Ragtime (1998). One of the finest stage scores ever written, it brought the duo their first Tony for Best Score. He and Ahrens provided the charming score for the animated Anastasia (1997), and for Broadway's ill-fated Seussical (2000). Flaherty also composed incidental music for Neil Simon's Proposals (1997). Ahrens & Flaherty's A Man of No Importance (2002) and The Glorious Ones (2007) were both well-received but only had brief off-Broadway runs. Among the few songwriters who still understand how to use songs as dramatic tools, Ahrens and Flaherty remain two of the brightest talents in the musical theater.
Director, choreographer, dancer, singer
b. June 23, 1927 (Chicago, IL) - d. Sept,. 23, 1987 (Washington, DC)
Fosse got his start in vaudeville as one of the dancing Riff Brothers, later polishing his skills as a ballroom dancer in nightclubs. He won attention understudying the lead in a revival of Pal Joey (1952), and was featured in several MGM films including Kiss Me Kate (1953) sharing a sizzling dance duet with Carol Haney and My Sister Eileen (1955). His ended a brief marriage with dancer Mary Ann Niles to marry musical comedienne Joan McCracken. Fosse returned to the stage as choreographer for director George Abbott, winning acclaim for his work on The Pajama Game (1956) and Damn Yankees (1957). His dances throbbed with sexuality, bringing a powerful edge to these popular musicals. When he and Abbott clashed over a whorehouse ballet in New Girl in Town (1957), Fosse resolved to work as both director and choreographer on all his future projects.
Many of Fosse's hits were built around his third wife and longtime collaborator, the dazzling Gwen Verdon. (He divorced McCracken shortly before his marriage to Verdon in 1960.) Verdon was the prototypical "Fosse dancer" ' lithe, limber, and capable of exuding both fire and ice. Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town, Redhead (1958) and Sweet Charity (1966) brought Fosse four Tonys for choreography. For Pippin (1972), Fosse won Tonys for both choreography and direction, and he created the first successful Broadway TV commercial forever changing theatrical marketing strategy. Pippin's cast included dancer Ann Reinking, who became Fosse's prot'g' and longtime companion.
Fosse directed three musical films: Sweet Charity (1968), Cabaret (1972) which won him an Oscar and the autobiographical All That Jazz (1979). In 1972, he became the only person in history to win a Tony (Pippin), Emmy (Liza With a Z) and Oscar (Cabaret) in the same year. He played a snake in the screen adaptation of The Little Prince (1974), offering a characteristically sinuous dance solo. Fosse's later stage hits included Chicago (1975) and the long running Dancin' (1978), for which he won yet another Tony for choreography. After Big Deal (1986) failed on Broadway, he directed an acclaimed revival of Sweet Charity (1987) starring Debbie Allen. While rehearsing Donna McKechnie for the touring company of that production in Washington DC, the hard drinking, chain-smoking Fosse suffered a fatal heart attack at age 60. Verdon was at his side when he collapsed -- and to the surprise of many, was still legally Fosse's wife. Her tireless efforts to preserve his artistic legacy led to Fosse (1999), a revue of his most memorable stage and screen choreography. This Tony-winning show was co-directed by Ann Reinking, who had long been on cordial terms with Verdon.
(b. George Washington Lafayette Fox)
b. July 3, 1825 (Boston, MA) - d. Oct. 24, 1877 (Cambridge, MA)
Born into a theatrical family on the 3rd of July, Fox's patriotic name was soon shortened into the nickname "Laff" an appropriate moniker for America's first great stage clown. He learned the art of live performance throughout his childhood on stages in and around Boston, appearing with such prestigious actors as Junius Booth, Edwin Forrest and Charles and Fanny Kemble. Fox was particularly influenced by the Ravel family, a British troupe that specialized in French-style "pantomimes shows that placed fairytale characters in melodramas that replaced dialogue with acrobatic comedy.
Fox made his New York debut in 1850, and soon found stardom playing various roles in a stage version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. He interrupted his career to serve as a lieutenant in the Union army. Through the 1860s, Fox starred in a series of musical pantomimes that involved Mother Goose characters being turned into commedia dell' arte clowns. After initial success on the Bowery, he appeared at more respected Broadway venues like Barnum's Museum. Such productions as The Devil's Doctor and Jack and the Beanstalk enjoyed successful two to three month runs, but Fox brought the art form to new heights when he starred in the title role of Humpty-Dumpty (1868). The plot had young Humpty and his Mother Goose playmates turn into harlequinade characters and romp through a candy store, an enchanted garden and Manhattan's costly new City Hall. The score threw together recycled Offenbach and music hall songs, with a lavish (and irrelevant) ballet added for good measure. Fox's Humpty bore no resemblance to the nursery rhyme character he played the role made up as the classic commedia "Clown," a white faced, rubber featured soul who suffers all sorts of indignities in silence. Blending wit with lowdown physical humor, Fox's vulnerable characterization enchanted audiences of all ages and classes.
After starring in Humpty Dumpty for a record-setting Broadway run of 483 performances, Fox headlined an ongoing series of tours, revivals and sequels, eventually playing Humpty more than 1,400 times. A poor businessman, Fox was often ill-used by unscrupulous managers and producers. Although he could be difficult with his fellow actors, he was noted for an abstemious private life, so many were shocked when the great clown began acting irrationally both on and offstage. His once brilliant performances were interrupted by incoherent monologues or emotional breakdowns. Although family and friends blamed this behavior on harmful chemicals in his make-up, his symptoms all too clearly indicated the "softening of the brain" associated with advanced syphilis. After pelting the audience with props during a performance in November 1875, Fox was forced into retirement. He died two years later at age 52. His unbridled style of physical comedy would live on in the routines of many vaudeville and silent film stars. For more on this forgotten star, see Laurence Senelick's carefully researched The Age and Stage of George L. Fox, 1825-1877 (Univ. Press of New England, 1988 Paperback: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1999).
Foy, Eddie, Sr.
(b. Edwin Fitzgerald)
Actor, dancer, vaudevillian
b. Mar. 9, 1854 (New York City) - d. Feb. 16, 1928 (Kansas City, MO)
When his Irish immigrant father died, six year old Foy began performing in local saloons to support his family. He played the variety circuits for years in a series of song and dance acts, eventually rising to musical comedy stardom in such Broadway hits as The Strollers (1901), Mr. Bluebeard (1903), and Mr. Hamlet of Broadway (1908). Foy specialized in eccentric routines and costumes, often appearing in drag to hilarious effect. He spoke with a slurred lisp that audiences adored.
Foy had several wives, the third of which gave him eleven children of whom seven survived infancy. Foy earned reams of publicity with stories about his spirited brood, whose misbehavior he pretended to indulge far beyond the strict standards of that era. In 1910, he formed a family vaudeville act, and "Eddie Foy and The Seven Little Foys" quickly turned into a national institution. With Eddie acting as a stern disciplinarian backstage and an indulgent papa onstage, the Foys toured successfully for over a decade. When Eddy remarried in 1923, the children went their separate ways. A dedicated trouper, the elder Foy continued to appear in vaudeville and starred in the hit Broadway comedy The Fallen Star. He died while headlining on the Orpheum circuit at age 73. His son Eddie Jr. went on to musical comedy stardom on Broadway.
Foy, Eddie, Jr.
(b. Edwin Fitzgerald Jr.)
Actor, singer, vaudevillian
b. Feb. 4, 1905 (New Rochelle, NY) - d. July 15, 1983 (Woodland Hills, CA)
Eddie Foy, Jr. began his career in vaudeville with his family at age 5 as part of "Eddie Foy and The Seven Little Foys," and was the only "Little Foy" who remained in show business after early adulthood, going on to a long career in musical theater. (The 20-something Foys can be seen doing their zany act on The Jazz Singer DVD release .) Eddie played "Denny Kerrigan" in Florenz Ziegfeld's production of Show Girl (1929), starred as "Alexander Sheridan" in Jerome Kern's The Cat and the Fiddle (1931) and the played the comic "Kid Conner" in a long-running revival of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill (1945).
Foy offered a brief but delightful impersonation of his father in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). He is probably best remembered for his scene-stealing performance as "Hines" in the stage and screen versions of The Pajama Game (1954/1957), and as the bookie "Sandor" in the screen version of Bells Are Ringing (1960). Much loved by audiences and critics alike, Foy starred as a cartoon character come to life in the short-lived stage musical Rumple (1957) and made his final Broadway appearance as pugnacious "Mikeen Flynn" in Donnybrook! (1961), an unsuccessful musical version of The Quiet Man. He continued to play featured television and film roles until his final years, dying of pancreatic cancer at age 78.
Lyricist, film producer, vaudevillian
b. Sept. 9, 1894 (Charleston, SC) - d. April 12, 1973 (Hollywood, CA)
A onetime boy vocalist on vaudeville's Orpheum Circuit, Freed moved into songwriting and was hired as a lyricist by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) after the development of sound film. Collaborating with composer Nacio Herb Brown, he penned the hit songs "Broadway Melody" and "You Were Meant for Me" for the first Oscar-winning musical, The Broadway Melody (1929). They also provided "Singing in the Rain" for MGM's Hollywood Revue of 1929.
After ten years as a staff lyricist at MGM, Freed developed The Wizard of Oz (1939) and produced the hit screen version of Babes In Arms (1939). Louis B. Mayer was so impressed that he allowed Freed to organize a musical production unit that became the envy of Hollywood. Freed shrewdly surrounded himself with peerless creative talent (Busby Berkley, Vincent Minnelli, Stanley Donen, Robert Alton, Betty Comden & Adolph Green) and a roster of exceptional performers (Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse). With the gifted musician Roger Edens as his top assistant, Freed produced some of the finest film musicals ever, from the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney "let's put on a show" series to Bells Are Ringing (1960). In Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), Freed dubbed the singing for Lew Ayres in the period ballad "You and I."
In the 1950s, the Freed Unit produced several of the greatest screen musicals of all time, including Singing In The Rain (1951), The Band Wagon (1953) and two Academy Award winners for Best Picture: An American in Paris (1951) and Gigi (1958). After the era of original screen musicals ended, Freed's last MGM production was the romantic comedy A Light in the Piazza (1962). Unable to get a new Irving Berlin project past the planning stage, he produced the Academy Awards telecasts from 1960 through 1968. Within a year of Freed's death, the release of That's Entertainment (1974) revived interest in MGM's musical legacy. For more on Freed's career at MGM, see Hugh Fordin's The World of Entertainment: Hollywood's Greatest Musicals (Doubleday, NYC, 1975); paperback edition, MGM's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit (Da Capo Press, New York, 1996).
b. Dec. 7, 1879 (Prague) - d. Nov. 12, 1972 (Los Angeles, CA)
When Victor Herbert refused to compose a new operetta for temperamental diva Emma Trentini, the assignment went to this concert violinist. The Firefly (1912) became a popular hit, and Friml went on to compose twenty Broadway scores and two original screen musicals. After working on a prolonged series of mediocre musical comedies, he returned to composing lush, romantic operettas in the 1920s, with spectacular results. Friml collaborated on Rose Marie (1924) with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II and co-composer Herbert Stothart. This tale of a Mountie in love became a worldwide hit. The Vagabond King (1925) (lyrics by Brian Hooker) included "Song of the Vagabonds" and "Only a Rose," and The Three Musketeers (1928) (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and Clifford Grey) included the ravishing "Ma Belle" and "The March of the Musketeers."
Friml's best known song is Rose Marie's "Indian Love Call" ("When I'm calling yoo-oo-oo-oo"), introduced on Broadway by Dennis King and Mary Ellis and sung on screen by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. In close second is "The Donkey Serenade," a Friml melody adapted by Stothart and lyricists Bob Wright and George Forrest, and introduced by Alan Jones in the screen version of The Firefly (1937). When musical tastes changed in the 1940s, Friml retired from composing for the stage and screen. He remained active as a lecturer, classical composer and concert pianist in his later years, making occasional appearances on TV, including a performance on the Lawrence Welk Show.