Alan Jay Lerner: A man of the movies too.
Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) whom I got to know a little bit when I lived in New York was primarily known as a highly successful songwriter (lyricist) and playwright of musicals. And that is as it should be. After all he wrote such landmark works as My Fair Lady, Camelot, Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon among several others. But what is hardly known, mentioned or fully appreciated is that he was a man of the movies as well. He wrote the screen adaptations to all of the movies filmed from his plays. But he wrote original screenplays as well. His script for An American in Paris (1951) won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In 1956 he won two Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Song for the movie Gigi, a film that he not only helped to produce but to edit as well. That’s three Academy Awards in five years. Not a bad score for a man of the theatre.
In the early 1950s he worked at MGM with the famous Freed Unit and became quite knowledgeable with both the creative and technical aspects of how motion pictures were made. He was quite fond of the medium and wanted to devote more of his time and energies to it. But just as his talents were beginning to mature the movie musical genre went out of style. So he switched his focus to the stage and remained there for the rest of his life except for the occasional foray into the world of movies when one of his plays was being adapted.
On stage he had a series of successful shows with his primary composer Frederick “Fritz” Lowe along with some not-so-successful shows and a few outright flops with other composers. And his last attempt at creating an original musical for the movies The Happy Prince (1973) was also a flop. But that didn’t discourage him. He still thought of film as a where one could be just as creative and in many instances more creative than on stage. He had many ideas he was anxious to try but didn’t live to see them realized.
Alan Jay Lerner was a hard worker on the stage and behind the cameras as well. In the 1956/57 season when he won both the Tony and Academy Awards for his work on both stage and screen a friend on seeing the announcement while visiting with his father said: “My goodness, have you seen this about your son? Isn’t he lucky?” To which his father replied (in writing) “It’s a funny thing with Alan. The harder he works the luckier he gets.”
It is sometime forgotten that he was a fine contributor that indigenous American art form the Hollywood musical. This is just a note to say that some of us do remember and are grateful.