Frederick Loewe was born on
June 10, 1901 in Berlin to Viennese parents, Edmond and Rosa. His father,
Edmond Loewe, was a very famous musical star who traveled considerably, including
North and South America, and much of Europe. Fritz grew up in Berlin and attended
a Prussian cadet school from the age of five until he was thirteen. He hated
the school because his parents would leave him there while they toured worldwide.
One of Fritz's most bitter memories was spending even the Christmas holidays
at school with two or three other boys. He never cared for Christmas very
much because of that experience.
By the age of seven or eight,
Fritz learned by ear and played on piano, every new song his father rehearsed
for a new musical in which he was appearing. He was able to play the entire
score and help his father in rehearsals. This impressed his father greatly,
and Edmond suggested giving Fritz music lessons. His mother, however, was
never moved by Fritz's talent, saying; "Oh, they all do that!"
Fritz eventually did attend
a famous conservatory in Berlin, one year behind the virtuoso Claudio Arrau.
Both won the coveted Hollander Medal, awarded by the school, and Fritz gave
performances as a concert pianist while still in Germany.
In 1925, Edmond received an
offer to appear in New York, and Fritz traveled there with him. Deciding to
go separate ways, Fritz decided he was going to "crash Broadway".
But this proved to be difficult,
and Fritz was on the verge of starvation many times, with memories of sleeping
on benches in the snow in Central Park. Finding work in the German section
of New York at the time, "Yorkville", he made his way playing German
clubs and in the movie theaters, accompanying silent pictures as they appeared
on the screen. He would be given a prepared score for each film. Fritz's first
action would be to throw the score in the trash, composing his own melodies
to suit the action on-screen. He discovered that he had a great facility for
this type of improvisation and enjoyed his work. He did encounter one problem
at his first theater: Each performance was to begin with a rendition of "The
Star Spangled Banner", and Fritz didn't know how it went. So, he improvised
a new national anthem on the spot. This didn't go well with the theater owners,
who threatened to fire him unless he learned the piece properly.
When the Depression hit, Fritz
was having a difficult time trying to get one of his musical pieces produced,
or at least to get his songs published. He decided to go out West and see
more of the country. For a while, he delivered the mail in rural Montana on
horseback. After a year, he returned to New York and did some odd jobs, including
a stint at prize fighting.
Fritz began to visit a famous
NY night spot of the time, "The Lambs Club", frequented by theater
people, stars, producers, managers, and directors. One evening, "on the
way to the men's room", he encountered Alan Jay Lerner at a nearby table.
Fritz went up to him, saying "I understand you write lyrics". Alan
replied "Well, I understand you write music".
Alan was working on an idea
for a show, "Great Lady", and they decided to collaborate. It was
not a major hit, but the score received favorable notices. It was the first
time Fritz ever had his music reviewed. Their next effort, "The Day Before
Spring", did a little better, and the team was beginning to receive very
Their first real hit was "Brigadoon",
with it's Scottish theme, and the combination Lerner and Loewe was finally
recognized in theaters around the world. Fritz was 47 before his fame was
Established. In 1952 the musical "Paint Your Wagon" hit Broadway,
followed by the classic "My Fair Lady" in 1956 - the longest running
musical of all time until the record was broken by "Cats". During
the first year of "My Fair Lady's" success, Fritz would go up to
people sleeping on the sidewalk for tickets and offer them cups of coffee.
"Why are you doing this!?" they would ask, looking at him as if
he were crazy. "Because I'm the composer" Fritz would answer. "Yeah,
sure!, they'd respond, " ... and I'm the King of Denmark!". They
never would believe him.
The next production,
"Camelot", received terrible reviews when it opened. The director
and producer of the play got the brilliant idea of having the stars, Richard
Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and
sing a few numbers from the musical, along with an appearance by Alan and
Fritz. The next morning the ticket office was swamped with requests, and "Camelot"
became a huge hit.
Fritz then decided on retirement,
not writing anything until he was approached by Alan Lerner with the book
"The Little Prince", by Antoine de Saint Exupery. Fritz fell in
love with the story and began work on the new production at age 71. Fritz
and Alan created a simple script and score that truly captured the magical
feeling of the book. The new musical fell victim to an overblown and overproduced
Hollywood treatment that ruined the feeling of the play as written. Fritz,
in the meantime, refused to visit London and supervise the arrangement and
recording of the score. The resulting production was their only real flop.
Fritz remained in Palm Springs,
California, in retirement until his death in 1988.
information as related by Frederick Loewe to Francine Greshler.