Memories make movie night special

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015
Shelley Koppel
Your Voice News & Views/Staff writer

STUART — I recently saw an old friend and she looked great.

The Lyric Theatre had a special showing of Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls,” a wonderful show and movie, and one that I had never seen on the big screen. What a difference it made! From the opening “Fugue for Tinhorns” to the closing double wedding, the screen was alive with color, the Michael Kidd choreography and that music. I had always wondered about the casting of Marlon Brando as the gambler Sky Masterson, but after watching him smolder on the big screen, I would have followed him to Havana, too.

Brando replaced Robert Alda, who had originated the role on Broadway, and Jean Simmons replaced Isabel Bigley as Sister Sarah Brown. Frank Sinatra took over the role of Nathan Detroit, but Vivian Blaine, Adelaide, remained for the movie and stole the scenes she was in.

John Loesser, Frank Loesser’s son and the Lyric’s artistic director, took to the stage after the showing to answer questions and tell stories about the show he calls his “illegitimate brother.”

“We were both born in 1950,” Loesser said. “The movie was made in 1955. I’ve spent my entire life with the show and then the film. It’s the 65th anniversary of the show and we’re both going on Medicare.”

“Guys and Dolls” was a big hit on Broadway, playing for more than 1200 performances. It was optioned to Paramount, but they elected not to make the film because writer Abe Burrows was blacklisted as a result of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt. It was eventually made by Samuel Goldwyn Productions and released by MGM.

“The original Sarah was supposed to be Grace Kelly,” Loesser said. “The original stage Sarah was Isabel Bigley. My father got into it with her that she was not singing it right. He slapped her. He didn’t have a temper and he was so mortified that she got a mink coat.”

Frank Sinatra brought his ego with him. He wanted to be cast as Sky Masterson and resented Brando for having what he saw as better songs. The two Franks, Loesser and Sinatra, got into over and over.

“Sinatra wanted to do what he wanted to do and not sing it as my father wrote it,” Loesser said. “He thought Brando had better songs and really wanted to be Sky.”
For his part, Brando was not crazy about Sinatra.

“During the cheesecake scene, Brando screwed it up on purpose. He knew Sinatra hated cheesecake and it took three days to film. He knew Sinatra wanted to be Sky and he rubbed it in. When he decided Sinatra had had enough cheesecake, he did the scene right.”

Loesser has seen all sorts of permutations of the beloved show.

“I have a friend in the Capitol Steps,” he said, referring to the political satire group that visits the Lyric each year. “He was directing ‘Guys and Dolls’ in Washington. He asked if I could come up and talk to the cast. When I got there, it was 12-year-olds. The Japanese are in negotiations to do an all-female version. There are also negotiations for a remake of the movie.”

Loesser said that the family was unanimous that their favorite song from the show was “My Time of Day,” a song Sky sings at 4 a.m. It was cut from the movie.

“It’s exactly Frank Loesser,” John Loesser said.

“Guys and Dolls” was by no means Frank Loesser’s only show. He wrote “The Most Happy Fella,” John Loesser’s favorite show, “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” and 800 songs including “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

“That started as a party song,” Loesser said. “In Hollywood, you didn’t get invited to parties without a ‘bit.’ My father and mother’s bit was ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside.’ It was only done at parties. Then he sold the song for the movie, “Neptune’s Daughter,” She wouldn’t talk to him until it won the Academy Award.”

Loesser said his father refused to see the finished “Guys and Dolls.”

“He hated the process,” Loesser said. “Goldwyn was a major studio mogul and he decided how he wanted it done. We moved back to New York and my father stuck to Broadway. He was very opinionated. I can just imagine him wanting to punch Sinatra because he wouldn’t sing it right. Nobody could tell Sinatra anything. Sinatra had a huge ego. My father had an ego and he knew how his songs were meant to be sung.”

This event was so successful that Loesser is thinking of repeating it next year with the movie version of “How to Succeed.” It will be nice to see another old friend. I hope more young people will attend and hear the stories. These shows are quintessential American musicals, and for all the musical theater and dance students in the area, they are master classes.

The Lyric Theatre is located at 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart. For information about the upcoming season, visit the website or call the box office at (772) 286-7827.