He had an amazing youth. His parents would send him to a Prussian cadet school, as he said, to be gotten rid of for a while. He said that school was "as cruel as it gets''. He especially hated Christmas. When all the other boys went home, just he and one other boy were left. He does NOT have fond Christmas memories. However, one thing it did teach him was how to ride. You HAD to know horses in those days of being a soldier. This was, of course, around 1906-1913 when he was a boy. The teachers would put a Thaler (a one dollar piece coin) under the saddle. If you came back from your ride and the Thaler had moved an inch, you were punished. Needless to say, he learned. THIS would figure in later on when he left New York and went to, of all places, Helena, Montana He was going no where in NY when he was told about a job in Helena that needed someone to ride the mail up the hill to the mining towns and back down to the capital. He actually did this for about a year. At the end of the day, he said he would play piano for the governor and his daughter at the mansion. Amazing story!
Also he boxed and got knocked out by Tony Canconari, a later champion. They must have been featherweights.
And now we go to one of my favorite stories, when he played the Silents back in New York. This was in Yorkville. All of these stories take place when he was in his 20's. Fritz would always throw out the music he was given to play for the movie because he could do a much better job himself by just watching and playing. He thought it was fun. BUT one day, the manager came in at the beginning when he was supposed to play the Star Spangled Banner and he played it wrong because he didn't KNOW the Star Spangled Banner.
So he played the first few bars and then proceeded to stick on a Puccini melody, which, by the way, fits in perfectly with previous phrase, If you heard it, you'd really crack up, BUT the manager raced down to him, picked him up from the piano bench and started screaming at him and pushed him all the way up to an exit and said, "if you don't get the sheet music for this and don't learn this by tonight, you're through!” Needless to say, he learned it and never for got it.
He really wasn't doing very well in New York and was sometimes sleeping in the snow on a park bench. Girls in the middle of the night would bring him coffee and something from a bakery or he would go home with them. He had a tiny apartment with his precious piano, he had studied to be a concert pianist at school and was an exceptional performer, but one day he couldn't pay the rent and the landlord got a crew to come in and take the piano away. He was REALLY UPSET. He told them "You can't do this. This is my life, my life" and then proceeded to play for the piano movers. They apparently were sooo moved by his playing, that they left the piano. This would probably NEVER happen today, but things like this happened in the old days.
Around this time, the 40's, he belonged to the theatrical society, The Lambs Club and so did Alan Lerner. This part is documented and told beautifully by Alan in his book, The Street Where You Live, so there's no need to go there, but after they met at the Lambs, he did tell the story of getting to know Alan and he asked him if he was related to the famous Lerner clothing stores at the time. Alan repeatedly told him no, and then finally one day, he reluctantly admitted it. Fritz said he was so embarrassed, and Fritz kept saying, "it's alright, my boy, It's alright, I forgive you.'' Pretty funny.
Also at this time, one of his best friends was Chico Marx. Fritz loved him. They were about the same size and he thought Chico's piano playing was hilarious. He could imitate it perfectly, as he did many times. I guess he must have met him at the Lambs. They were gambling buddies and both really wild at the time. Fritz had a pretty bad gambling habit until he ran into the Arabs later on the French Riviera after he was successful with My Fair Lady. He lost one million dollars and cut WAY back on gambling.
Alan and Fritz begin with several minor shows, but finally hit with Brigadoon. They were very much like Gilbert and Sullivan: a VERY rocky relationship.
Fritz would talk about music to me later on when we were in Palm Springs together. I too am a composer and a singer, which annoyed him and didn't annoy him. I was writing songs when I lived with him because all I ever did since I was 4 was write songs on the piano and sing. When he started losing it and getting Altzheimers, he would accuse me of stealing music ideas from him. This was,of course, absurd. What I was creating was so completely different and from such a completely different time and era, I couldn't possibly even begin to write like him.
Sometimes he would talk about music at a party at the house where there were several pianos. He would for instance talk about Beethoven and demonstrate different chords and say, "you have to realize, nobody had ever heard anything like this before" and say the same about Chopin. He would try to demonstrate what rubato was. He had a thing about that. He would show with swishing noises with his mouth how the ocean just doesn't come to the shore exactly the same way every time, it comes slowly, it comes quickly, sometimes it fizzles out, etc.
My friends and I begged him to teach a class at Redlands University, where he had a connection, but he always refused. THAT was too bad. He loved Cole Porter and thought he was a genius which was a huge compliment because he thought HE was God and most other writers were worms. He had a huge ego which was a real pain quite often. but he thought the invention of Tea for Two was extremely clever.
Before I tell the story of the song GiGi, I have his Oscar for GiGi at my house. When people come in to my living room, they see the GiGi Oscar and want to hold it, etc. A lot of them say, "Gee, that must have been the most exciting night of your life." I always laugh and say, "Well, no, I was eight at the time." Actually, I did go with my father, Abby Greshler, a Hollywood agent, several times to the Oscars later on. And I was there when Fritz was nominated for The Little Prince score, but lost to Nelson Riddle. More on THAT ONE later.
Re. The Oscar-winning song GiGi, (This is Fritz's story:)
He and Alan were together at a hotel in LA working on the score for GiGi and they were really having trouble coming up with the title song so Fritz was sitting at the piano as usual and Alan was in the bathroom. Fritz would always start composing something by just "noodling around" as he called it on the piano. He kept playing the same phrase over and over. It happened to be the actual second phrase of the song. All 16 notes repeated and repeated. This went on for days. Finally Alan said, "you know, you keep playing that phrase over and over. It's REALLY pretty." So they work on other songs, etc. and finally one day Alan leaped out of the bathroom and hit the piano just anywhere and punched out 2 notes and said, "here...GiGi...DA..DA! Just stick this in front. So Fritz did and put it in the right key to match his other notes, ET VOILA. GiGi was born. Then Fritz went on to create the rest of the melody and Alan wrote the gorgeous words. Pretty nice. They had no idea that would win the Oscar for best song or that GiGi would win 10 Oscars a record that stood for many years.
The Rain in Spain story:
They knew they had to create something to help along the boring diction lessons and Shaw had written the actual "the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain" in his book. So Alan and Fritz started going through his book trying to find something interesting. Fritz heard that line and literally leaped up from the couch where they were reading and raced to the piano and wrote the whole thing on the spot. Starting with "the rain in spain" line. It, of course, stopped the show every night. The audience was so loud after this song, that Fritz wanted to drop On The Street Where You Live.
He said “You can't hear Freddie, so what's the point?”
Everyone, including the director, Moss Hart said "NO! It stays!" (Thank God.)
Everyone knows the story about Rex Harrison not wanting to go on opening night. He actually was scared to death. He was NOT a musical star and was uncomfortable doing it, however, there's a much better story about Rex which has been unprintable that I'm going to include now. It will be up to whoever to decide if and where anyone wants to include this. Here it is as told to moi from Fritz:
It was the last scene rehearsal with Rex and Julie Andrews. He is sitting on the stage and she is singing I Can Do Very Well Without You. And she finishes. And that's supposed to be the end of the show. And she walks off. Rex pauses and says, "SOOO, that's it? I'm supposed to sit here just like a cunt until she leaves? That's IT!? Get yourself another BOY!" and he walks out.
Everyone was shocked. However after about 10 minutes, Fritz said, "You know something, he's right. He's the star." So back at their apartment I don't know if it was later or a couple of days, Fritz and Alan were just sitting there and Alan said, "Let me get the Shaw book. So he starts reading very near the end. He reads "Damn, I've grown accustomed to her face.'' and continues reading for another 5 minutes. Fritz stops him and says, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, what was that about the face?" Alan had no idea what he was talking about. "The face, the face part.'' Alan found it and yet again Fritz leaped to the piano and immediately played
I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face, complete melody and all. Alan nearly died and completed the words within a few hours. They brought it to rehearsal the day and everyone was very happy.
One story I always loved was when My Fair Lady was beginning to be huge and people couldn't get tickets, fans would sleep outside the theater on the ground the night before and wait for the box office to open. Fritz and Alan would go and buy coffee for some of the people on the ground in the cold. They also would give tickets to some of them. Most of the fans never believed who they were and were skeptical about the validity of the tickets, but when Fritz and Alan would get up and leave, they would here, “no, but really he looked just like his picture over there”.
The Just My Opinion Section:
Even though Fritz was 500 and I was 12, (our age difference was 48 years) we loved each other and had a good relationship. I think I lasted the longest of his girlfriends because I made him laugh and he was also a LOT older. He was a difficult egomaniac, but also generous, charming and funny. He had a fantastic second part of his life after Brigadoon hit. It was uphill all the way. (we met on the French Riviera where he rented a yacht every summer. My parents had a villa there)
He was never really understood by the American people because he was pretty reclusive, unlike Alan Lerner. Alan was also involved more with the theater and New York social scene. Fritz wasn't interested. The Kennedy Center wanted only to give an award to Alan Lerner until Kitty Carlisle Hart, who was working for the governor interferred and made a correct fuss about you can't possibly honor Alan without Fritz. She told them they were crazy. It worked. I was there. They both received the award. Fritz was just on the verge of getting Altzheimer's, which really started getting bad just after this. But he loved every minute of the Kennedy Center honors, and said "I would have kicked myself in the ass if I had died five years ago and missed all this!"
Speaking of Kennedy and the Camelot myth. (I always wanted to straighten this out), Fritz was invited to the White House while Kennedy was President. After dinner, the President asked Fritz if he would play some of his music for him. He started playing and Kennedy said, “I'm going to bed now. Would you play GiGi for me until I go to sleep? It's my favorite of all. I'm going to leave my speakers on so I can hear.” So Fritz began playing and played the song several times. Finally an aide came over to him and said, “You may stop now. The president is asleep.” He never mentioned Camelot.
Opinion: I was right there for the creation of Gigi for the stage and The Little Prince.
I never thought GiGi should have been made into a stage show. I thought the new songs they created were forced, boring and cheap. They didn't work. Neither does the show. It still gets performed, unfortunately.
The Little Prince however, I thought was a masterpiece. Alan and Fritz caught the whole tone, poetry, wisdom, and child dream of the book.
The movie just got into all the wrong hands. Wrong director, wrong star, wrong music arranger. The piano score was sooo perfect, it should almost have been left alone with jjust the different characters singing and dancing to that. Like Peanuts (of course it's not jjazz). I never saw so many manilla envelopes coming to the house with resumes of some of the biggest stars in the world trying to get the part of The Pilot. Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, Sinatra, Richard Burton (my choice. He had the right "annoying factor" for scenes with the child and also sensitivity) Anyway, for them to have picked Richard Kiley, with zero charisma is beyond me. The little child prince was wrong. Everything was wrong. If I had been 10 years older, I would have gone to the recording session in London to supervise the score. I knew every note, sang it a ton of times for guests at the house, and knew exactly what Fritz wanted, but I was only 23 and still intimidated by everyone and in worm formation. Fritz wouldn't go and wouldn't even invite Stanley Donnen or the music director to the house. It was almost as if he didn't care. Anyway, some one some day should redo it.
How he found Palm Springs: He came to LA from NY by train in those days to work on GiGi. One weekend when no one was doing anything, a friend said,” hey, why don't we drive to Palm Springs?'' Fritz never heard of it and said, “sure, why not? “ So a group of people from MGM drove to Palm Springs. They were walking down Palm Canyon Dr. and it was gorgeous sunshine and about 80 degrees. Fritz looked at one of the guys and said in his German accent, “wass is ze date?” “umm...February 8th, I think.” So Fritz said, “ well...Zat's for Me!” So he literally said goodbye to these guys, told them he'd get back somehow, and went immediately to a real estate office and bought 13 acres with a crappy tract house and never looked back. He went back there as often as he could and worked on it and it became a virtual showplace with formal gardens after many years. He lived there until his death in 1988, which he always predicted as “if I make this year again past February, I shall live another year.” He actually died February 14th.
One last PS - Fritz was at a rare Hollywood party and the fabulous Judy Garland was there. When she saw Fritz, she raced over to him, grabbed his hand and kissed it. He never forgot that. Really sweet.