Frank Loesser (1910-1969) was born a hundred years ago today. He wrote two of the greatest musicals ever to play on Broadway, Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. When Loesser's complete lyrics appeared in print in 2003, I was lucky enough to get the assignment to review the book for the NY Times Book Review. Here are a few passages from that review.
''How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,'' a personal favorite, is a perfect amalgam of satire and mirth. A song advising that ''A Secretary Is Not a Toy'' has this swell couplet: ''Her pad is to write in / And not spend the night in.'' ''Coffee Break,'' another ensemble song, lampoons the daily office ritual: ''If I can't take my coffee break, / Something within me dies.'' There's an amazing moment in ''Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,'' sung by Rosemary, the secretary who dreams of marrying the boss and moving to New Rochelle. The dream has a great big wink in it. She imagines herself ''wearing the wifely uniform,'' basking in the glow of her young tycoon's ''perfectly understandable'' neglect. She would be, she claims, just so
Happy to keep his dinner warm
Till he comes wearily home from downtown.
I'll be there waiting until his mind is clear,
While he looks through me, right through me;
Waiting to say, ''Good evening, dear,
I'm pregnant; what's new with you from downtown?''
The pregnant pause after the semicolon in that last line is marvelous.
Reading ''The Complete Lyrics'' -- assembled with loving care by Robert Kimball, a veteran of similar compilations devoted to Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and others -- and Steve Nelson, a professor of musical theater at New York University, you note things like Loesser's consistently clever use of commercial product names. When he needs a rhyme (and a mate) for a ''doll,'' he comes up with ''a lazy slob'' who ''takes a good steady job, / And he smells from Vitalis and Barbasol.'' As for the secretary in ''How to Succeed,'' no doll is she, nor ''Tinker toy'': ''With a mother at home she supports, / And you'll find nothing like her / At F. A. O. Schwartz!''
an ironic dimension seemingly at cross-purposes with the primary thrust of the music. A superb example is ''I Believe in You,'' from ''How to Succeed.'' The impish, ambitious hero, Finch, stares in the mirror of the executive washroom and sings his love song most aptly to himself, while a chorus of men shaving sings ''Gotta stop that man,'' and kazoos in the orchestra produce a sound like electric razors:
To see the cool, clear eyes
Of a seeker of wisdom and truth,
Yet with the slam, bang, tang
Reminiscent of gin and vermouth.
Oh, I believe in you,
I believe in you.
With Loesser you always got both -- the ''wisdom and truth'' and the tangy cool martini wit. Long may his songs be sung.