Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Children of a Loesser Musical

It's that time of year again. It's time to target an Oscar-winning song like it's the chubby, awkward kid inside a schoolyard circle for a unsupervised game of dodge ball. The song is "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a funny composition from Frank Loesser, the Tony-winning talent who wrote the songs for two classic Broadway musicals -- GUYS AND DOLLS and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Big screen movie versions were made of those two Broadway hits. In Hollywood, Bette Davis sang his amusing "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" to a Best Song Oscar nomination in THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943) and Betty Hutton sang his gorgeous "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" to a Best Song Oscar nomination in THE PERILS OF PAULINE (1947). Aretha Franklin covered that ballad on one of her albums. Then came a 1949 MGM musical comedy called NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER. Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban were the lead stars.
Red Skelton and Betty Garrett co-star to handle most of the comedy.
Frank Loesser wrote the songs the stars sing in that musical. His light-hearted "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was included in the NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER score and it brought Frank Loesser the Oscar for Best Song of 1949. Before I bring up something new that John Legend and Kelly Clarkson have done to Loesser's novelty tune, let me tell you the plot of the movie and set the scene for the song's introduction.
Esther Williams was the famous swimming star of MGM in the 1940s and 40s. Moviegoers made a bee-line to movie theaters to see her in a glamorous swimsuit do Technicolor big budget numbers in a big budget studio pool. The story of NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER is set in the Hollywood, California area. Esther plays a championship swimmer who's approached by a man to be his partner in a swimsuit design company. After some consideration, she accepts his offer. It turns out she has a sharp, creative mind and a keen head for business. The company is a hit and she's a successful executive in it. She says "I'm strictly a career girl." Visiting Los Angeles is a star athlete, He's a handsome South American polo player in L.A. with his team for a match. The swimsuit company executive has an idea for an event that would include the polo player who constantly gets his photo in the papers when he makes personal appearances. The executive lives with her ditzy sister. The sister meets the polo player's L.A. masseuse. He's a lovable dork who pretends to be the polo player. Whoever he is, he makes the sister act like Pepé Le Pew.

Big sister is in a snit thinking that little sister is in Jose's apartment to make herself available for romance. She charges over to his place and forces her way in, checking every room for her sister. She's embarrassed to discover that, not only is he alone, he's never met her sister. José (Ricardo Montalban) and Eve (Esther Williams) had one dance number together in the movie. During that number, he tried to give her a kiss. He was unsuccessful. He tries again in his apartment after she apologizes and considers having a drink with him. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is sung on a starry night in Los Angeles. That's the gag of the title and lyrics from Jose such as "But, baby, you'll freeze out there.." and "..never such a blizzard before" as Eve coyly suggests she's leaving. Remember, she's a career girl out to book the celebrity polo player for a top promotional event with her company. Also, José is a harmless flirt. Eve is never in danger.

Then we cut to the loopy, lovestruck sister who's with the man she thinks is a South American polo player.
Notice that in the Betty Garrett and Red Skelton reprise of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that the female is way more aggressive than the male was in the Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams section. Today, politically correct millennials have misinterpreted the female's line "Say, what's in this drink?" to imply a spiked drink with the intention of date rape. Have young singers done their homework? Have they seen the original performance of the entire song in NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER? Has anyone ever pointed out that the most physically aggressive amorous person in the musical quartet is the youngest female? Watch the entire call-and-response comedy number from 1949's NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER performed by Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. Remember that the scene is set on a starry night in Los Angeles.

Recently, there came news that John Legend and Kelly Clarkson wanted to perform the song but decided to write some new lyrics to make it more "woke" and rid it of any sexual controversy. Deana Martin, daughter of the late singer/actor Dean Martin, said that Legend "...should write his own song if he doesn't like this one, but don't change the lyrics. It's a classic, perfect song."

I agree with her. You're John Legend and Kelly Clarkson! Write a new Christmas song. Why tamper with that Oscar-winner from a 1949 G-rated movie musical? Or...pick another retro holiday duet. Do "That Holiday Feeling" performed by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

Through the years, after its Oscar win, that Frank Loesser duet has been recorded as written by Dean Martin with a female chorus, James Taylor with Natalie Cole, Dolly Parton with Rod Taylor and Zooey Deschanel with Leon Redbone for the ELF soundtrack. I saw the few new lyrics for John Legend's "reimagined" version of the song. They are pleasantly bland and do not flow smoothly with the late Frank Loesser's original witty lyrics. People need to stop picking on that old song. Heck. If you want to prove to folks that you're sensitive and aware, rewrite lyrics to "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" instead.

For grins, here's a jovial updated rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" done by two dudes -- John Schneider and Tom Wopat, the actors formerly known on TV as THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, sir! As with any joke, if you don't get it, leave it alone. Move along. Let the rest of us get a kick out of the witty lyrics and amusing byplay.


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